James Ham

Report: After starting 0-3, Suns fire head coach Watson on eve of Kings game

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USATSI

Report: After starting 0-3, Suns fire head coach Watson on eve of Kings game

Drama. The Sacramento Kings have done their best to avoid the non-basketball related issues that often come with the NBA game, but they’ll walk into someone else’s firestorm Monday night in Phoenix.

The Suns have fired head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Phoenix has dropped all three contests, including a 48-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night and a 42-point defeat at the hands of the Clippers on Saturday.

Before the firing, veteran point guard tweeted out a message that has since gone viral.

Whether Bledsoe was referring to Watson or his impending release is unknown at this time. 

Watson leaves with a 33-85 record in parts of three seasons with the Suns. He took over for Jeff Hornacek midway through the 2015-16 season. According to Wojnarowski, Suns ownership and management is currently meeting with the team’s assistant coaches and Jay Triano is likely to be named interim head coach.

Skal Labissiere showing signs of growth: 'The NBA is still super new to me'

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AP

Skal Labissiere showing signs of growth: 'The NBA is still super new to me'

The 2017-18 Sacramento Kings season is about development and finding a core to build around. De’Aaron Fox is already showing signs that he is the long-term answer at the point guard position, but the Kings need more than an army of one.

Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson and Willie Cauley-Stein are being given a chance to play rotational minutes early in the season, and flying under the radar is second-year big, Skal Labissiere.

Early in the season, Dave Joerger has relied heavily on veteran Zach Randolph for big minutes at the power forward position, but Labissiere is quietly building momentum. Three games is an extremely small sample size by any standard, but Labissiere is heading in the right direction.

“Whatever coach wants me to do, that’s what I’m going to do out there,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen after the game. “I’m just going to go out there and play hard and help this team get a win.”

In 23.7 minutes per game so far this season, Labissiere is averaging 11 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, .7 steals and .7 blocks. If he were playing starter minutes, those numbers project substantially higher.

Labissiere burst on the scene in Sacramento after the DeMarcus Cousins trade during All-Star weekend last season. Before getting an opportunity in the rotation, he spent plenty of time in Reno and behind the scenes working on his game with the Kings’ coaching staff. He played 33 total games during the 2016-17 season, including 26 straight to finish the year.

“I’m still trying to get comfortable, I’m still learning,” Labissiere said. “The NBA is still super new to me, I haven’t even played a full season yet. As a group, we’re still learning each other. I think by mid-year, we’ll be fine.”

The 21-year-old Haitian-born big came into the league with a sweet jumper, but he’s added more range in year two. He hit his first 3-pointer Saturday night against the Denver Nuggets, but throughout camp you could see him shooting with the guards and there are plenty of sets where he’ll get opportunities as the season pushes forward.

In addition to adding the long ball to his arsenal, Labissiere has also worked to improve his playmaking ability. He’s averaging 3.7 assists per 36 minutes and that number has a chance to improve as the team’s chemistry on the court improves.

“The offense runs through the bigs, so we have to be able to make plays for the guards,” Labissiere said. “I’ve been watching a lot of tape trying to figure out where the help is coming from, where I can pass the ball, who I can pass the ball to. That’s one thing I’ve been working on.”

Labissiere still has plenty to learn. He’s struggled with turnovers early in the season and he needs to add strength to hold his position in the post. But his offensive game is advanced and it won’t be long before the Kings turn to him more and more as a weapon.

Sacramento has plenty of young breakout candidates entering the season, but few have the ceiling of Labissiere. The early returns are promising.

Gameday: Big underdogs, Kings face Nuggets looking for second straight win

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USATSI

Gameday: Big underdogs, Kings face Nuggets looking for second straight win

With a win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, the Sacramento Kings are feeling good heading into their first back-to-back on Saturday. They’ll face a Denver Nuggets team that lost their season opener to the Utah Jazz and is looking for their first victory of the season.

The combination of George Hill and De’Aaron Fox at the point guard position was too much for Dallas to handle on Friday. Hill poured in 21 points, including two huge shots down the stretch and Fox came away with his first 10-assist game of his career.

Denver added veteran Paul Millsap in the offseason to match with rising star Nikola Jokic. Jokic struggled in the opener, but still managed to post seven points, eight assists and 12 rebounds. The Kings will have their hands full trying to slow the 7-footer.  

OPENING LINE:
Nuggets by 11

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Nikola Jokic -- Cauley-Stein has posted back-to-back double-doubles to start the season and comes in averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebound and two blocks in 29 minutes per game. Jokic is one of the more versatile bigs in the game. He picks and chooses his spots to score, but his passing ability makes him a dangerous player.

WHERE THEY STAND:
Kings: 1-1

Nuggets: 0-1

INJURY REPORT:
Kings: SG Bogdan Bogdanovic (right ankle sprain) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out

Nuggets: No injuries to report

SERIES HISTORY:
These two teams split the season series last year and hold an identical 86-86 record against each other all-time. The Kings lead the Nuggets 65-63 during the Sacramento-era.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
MORE TIME FOR FOX - The Kings speedy young guard is showing that he’s ready to carry more of the load. In his first game, he posted 14 points and five assists. In Game Two, he set up his teammates for a team-high 10 assists while adding nine points and six rebounds. He’s averaged 25 minutes a game in the first two, but his play is already commanding more.

GIVING BUDDY SOME LOVE - Lost in the shuffle of the team’s first win was an nice all-around performance from Buddy Hield. The second-year guard was one of eight Kings to grab five rebounds or more against the Mavs, but Hield’s late board in traffic was probably the play of the night. If he can post more 13 point, six rebound, three assist games early in the season, he’ll find himself on the court more often than not.

MORE FROM SKAL NEEDED - Skal Labissiere has all the potential in the world, but he’s off to a quiet start through two contests. He needs to be more aggressive calling for the ball and continue to hit the glass hard. He’s averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds in 23 minutes per game, but one of those came with Zach Randolph on the shelf. He’ll need to earn minutes like everyone else on this team.

QUOTE:
“My coach has that much confidence in me, a 19-year-old kid to stay on the floor in crunch time, and when he has that confidence in me, my confidence goes up that much more.” -De’Aaron Fox on coach Dave Joerger sticking with him down the stretch in the Kings’ first win.