Labissiere's Haitian heritage nothing to be ashamed of


Labissiere's Haitian heritage nothing to be ashamed of

“You promised me I was going to reach the NBA …”

Those were the first words Skal Labissiere said to his father after he was successfully dug out of the rubble of his Porte-au-Prince home following the Haitian earthquake on January 12, 2010.

The 6-foot-7 13-year-old, along with his mother and brother, were dragged out of the wreckage of his home. A wall had fallen on him, pinning him in the seated position for three hours. He couldn’t move his legs and spent the next few weeks of his life living in a school-turned-makeshift-shelter trying to learn how to walk again.

Skal is lucky to be alive. He came to the United States because he played basketball. He didn’t know the language. He left his family behind to go to a private Christian school in Memphis where no one spoke his native French or Haitian-Creole. He taught himself English and he prayed for a better life.

It’s a harrowing tale that has been rehashed countless times. Labissiere even wrote about it himself for the Players' Tribune leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft. It’s well worth a read.

Make no mistake, Labissiere is a proud Haitian-born young man. He even made such a statement earlier this week in the Kings locker room while the players were involved in a lively discussion about hairstyles.

He is from one of those ‘Shithole Countries’ the President of the United States described during meetings involving DACA and border security.

Labissiere isn’t going to talk about politics. He’s not going to rip into the President with a worthy sound bite. He didn’t even want to talk about Haiti when storms ravaged the Caribbean Island last year.

It’s tough to balance what is going on in our country and in the world today. As a sports reporter, you try to stay out of the fray politically. Despite having a platform, there is always going to be the “stay in your lane” contingency out there.

I know a little about Haiti. But I know a lot more about Skal Labissiere.  

In the past 18 months since the Kings drafted the talented 21-year-old out of the University of Kentucky, we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s been a guest on the Kings Insider podcast multiple times and we’ve had plenty of both on-the-record and off-the-record conversations.

What I can tell you is that Labissiere is good people. He is respectful, caring and deeply religious. He is also funny and someone you hope finds success.  

I can also tell you that his teammates love him. The Sacramento Kings organization loves him. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would have a negative thing to say about the young man.  

It’s not about whether he is a good basketball player or not. It’s who he is as a person that makes Labissiere special. He has a smile that lights up a room, and he works as hard or harder than any player in the building.

Skal wants to be great. He does the work  to be great, but when things aren’t going his way on a basketball court, he is the first off the bench to cheer on his teammates.

You can tell when things aren’t going as planned. He quietly wears his emotions and frustrations in his body language. But he always makes time and he never complains about his situation.

Skal Labissiere represents the best the league has to offer. He spent his summer planning and conducting a youth basketball camp in Haiti. It was the first time he was able to return home since he left in 2010.

Labissiere isn’t the only good guy in the Kings locker room. They have plenty. But his story is unique.

Skal is an incredible representative of the NBA, Sacramento and his native Haiti. The league is a better place with him in it.

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings


Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

The murmurs have already started. Teams are lining up for a potential run at one of the game’s best players. We aren’t talking about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George, who all have early termination clauses in their contracts this summer. That trio will dominate the news July 1 when the NBA’s free agency period begins. 

There is another player who has an ability to change the course of a franchise and the way things are heading, who might become one of the biggest trade targets in recent league history. 

No one really knows the entire story about what is going on with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have their side and Leonard’s team likely has a different version. What is known is that the 26-year-old small forward was cleared by San Antonio’s medical staff to resume game action a few months back. 

Leonard returned to the court for a nine-game stretch during December and early January. And then he shut it down again. 

The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Players of the Year has been diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadricep. He’s bounced back and forth between San Antonio and New York City all season, having his injury evaluated and re-evaluated by both the Spurs and his own medical team.

Where the Spurs go from here is anyone’s guess. They have the best two-way player in the game and he has made the decision on his own not to play. 

A season ago, San Antonio rattled off a 61-win season before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They made additions in the summer to make another run, but without Leonard, they didn’t stand a chance.

To make matters worse, the Spurs roster is aging quickly. Manu Ginobili turns 41 in July. Pau Gasol is almost 38 and Tony Parker will be 36 soon and in the last year of his contract. Six players in their rotation are 30 or older and the clock is ticking.

Leonard’s decision wiped out any chance of winning a ring for the Spurs. It also threw away one of the few seasons left for a couple of his teammates.

For the last four decades, San Antonio has been the model NBA franchise. They don’t get into situations like this. And now they have to make one of the most difficult decisions a team has to make. 

To complicate matters, Leonard has two years left on his five-year, $94 million deal he signed in 2015. The final year is a player option worth $21.3 million and it’s very unlikely that Leonard will exercise that option.

Why is this of interest to the Sacramento Kings? It might not be, but that won’t stop fans from turning to the trade machine to find a way to land Leonard in purple and black.

Anytime a player of this ilk comes available, it’s within every team’s best interest to at least make a call. It’s possible the Spurs would turn the Kings down three seconds into the conversation. Then again, they might listen.

While San Antonio is going to want a star in return for Leonard, that isn’t the way these things usually work out. The question then becomes, do the Kings have the assets to acquire Leonard?

It’s very possible that the Spurs can get more than what the Kings would be willing to offer. Sacramento has a group of young players, two or three of which might draw interest. They also have a top seven pick in the upcoming draft.

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their draft pick prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. League rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in back-to-back seasons and Sacramento has already given up their 2019 pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015. 

The Kings can make a selection for another team and consummate a deal once the new season begins in July, so there is still an opportunity to include the pick in player form. 

San Antonio would likely ask for multiple young players, as well as the Kings’ 2018 selection. Sacramento also has cap space and a few veterans on expiring contracts to make the dollars and cents work. 

Whether the Kings could come up with the pieces to make a deal work is debatable. The real question is, should they try and chase Leonard if he becomes available? 

The simple answer is no. 

No, the Kings shouldn’t offer up a top 10 pick and two or three of their young core to acquire one of the game’s best players. 

Take all of the issues that Leonard has had this season and throw them out the window. At 100 percent health, the risk is still too much for a team like the Kings to take.

It’s about the contract and it’s about the talent that you would have to give up. The Los Angeles Lakers might be able to absorb the risk of trading for Leonard. They would likely have to give up Kyle Kuzma and plenty more to make something happen. But they would also have a fighting chance of retaining Leonard once he opts out of his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kings fans will reach deep on this, bringing up that Chris Webber made the decision to stick around in Sacramento back in 2001, inking a seven-year, $122 million deal. 

Not only were those different times, but the Kings’ franchise was on a roll. Webber was the best player on one of the best teams in the league. He was also surrounded by quality teammates, many of who remain extremely close more than a decade later.

Leonard would come to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. It is also a franchise that would have to give up plenty of assets to acquire him. He wouldn’t make the Kings an instant success and although the team would have plenty of money in the summer of 2019 to not only pay Leonard, but add a few more pieces, the risk would never be worth the reward.

If the team truly believes that Leonard is an option, they might as well draft a high quality player in 2018, develop the current talent base, make a move or two to improve the roster and then chase the All-Star wing a summer later when they have upwards of $70 million to throw around.

It’s a fun conversation, but one that can only lead to ruin for a team like the Kings. The best chance to turn things around for Sacramento is to stay the current course and continue to develop the players on the roster. 

If the team can begin to build something, landing the right player and then keeping them around will happen for the Kings.

Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery


Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery

The Sacramento Kings’ win over the Houston Rockets in the season finale has officially cost the team a spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. After posting identical 27-55 records, Sacramento and the Chicago Bulls were part of the NBA’s coin flip rule Friday afternoon at the Board of Governors meetings. 

Unfortunately for the Kings, the Bulls picked up a victory in the game of chance and now sit in the sixth spot in the pre-lottery standings. Sacramento holds the seventh position, but both teams have an equal opportunity to move up into the top three positions when the lottery is officially held on May 15. 

Once the top three selections are drawn, the draft goes in order of worst remaining record, taking coin flip results into consideration. If the Kings do not move into the top three and no one slated behind them in the draft move up, they will draft No. 7 overall. 

There is also a small chance that Sacramento doesn’t move up and one or more lottery teams behind them in the standings jump up. In this scenario, the Kings could draft as low as 10, but the statistical probability of them falling that far is astronomical. 

Here are the odds for the potential draft positions for the Kings this season. Both the Kings and Bulls have an 18.3% chance of moving into the top three picks.

No. 1 overall selection: 5.3%
No. 2 overall selection: 6.0%
No. 3 overall selection: 7.0%
No. 7 overall selection: 57.3%
No. 8 overall selection: 22.6%
No. 9 overall selection: 1.8%
No. 10 overall selection: less than 0.0%