Cleveland Cavaliers

JaKarr Sampson shines light on huge hole with Kings' roster

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AP

JaKarr Sampson shines light on huge hole with Kings' roster

The NBA game is about mismatches. Good teams know how to exploit their advantages. Teams like the Sacramento Kings look for ways to hide their deficiencies. 

Sacramento came out of the offseason knowing they had an issue in their roster make up. The team lacked a combo forward that could handle bigger wings and also slide over to the power spot to challenge stretch fours. 

Rookie Justin Jackson was the only small forward on the roster listed above 6-foot-6 and he is slight of frame at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds. At the power spot, Skal Labissiere and Zach Randolph have plenty of skill, but guarding the perimeter is an issue.

Enter JaKarr Sampson.

Sampson signed a two-way contract with the Kings during the offseason, giving Sacramento the ability to call on the 24-year-old forward for up to 45 days during the season. Listed at 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, Sampson stepped up against 13-time All-Star and four-time league MVP LeBron James on Wednesday evening and made a tremendous contribution.

He finished the night with a modest six points, but his 16 rebounds and physical defense against James shined a light on the Kings' glaring hole in the roster. 

“JaKarr had been playing me tough all game,” James said of Sampson following the game. “I know him, he knows me from our summertime workouts back at St. V. But you know, big brother’s always going to have the last laugh.”

James came away the win. His Cavs team is fresh off two straight NBA Finals trips and they were riding a 12-game winning streak. They came into the night favored by 12.5 over Sacramento and barely escaped with the 101-95 victory. 

After playing for the Reno Bighorns earlier in the week, Sampson started and played 32 minutes for Dave Joerger. The argument could be made that the athletic forward didn’t play enough. 

When Sampson went to the bench at the 3:29 mark of the third quarter, the Kings held a five-point lead. He returned to a tie game with 6:34 remaining in the fourth. James scored 10 of his game-high 32 during that stretch and he found his range from the perimeter.

“I’m just happy to see him back at this level,” James said. “Works extremely hard, is a great competitor. I’m happy Sacramento is giving him an opportunity.”

There is something to be said about knowing your role. Sampson came into the night knowing that he needed to bring energy and physicality when going against James. His incredible rebounding night was just icing on the cake. 

“He was excited and he was up for the challenge,” Vince Carter said. “He’s aggressive, he has a high motor, he loves to play and he’s not really afraid.”

Sacramento doesn’t have another player like Sampson. He fits an immediate need for the ball club, but his contract status limits the way they can use him moving forward. With 15 players already on standard roster, the Kings would have to either trade or waive a player if they wanted to make a permanent spot for the St. John’s product. 

With only five veterans on the roster and commitments to 10 young players, nine of which were first-round selections, the Kings are in a difficult position.

Expect Sacramento to pick and choose their spots with Sampson. They have plenty of time to make a decision on his future with the team. For one night, he was the designated LeBron James stopper.

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

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USATSI/AP

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns. 

Durant applauds Kyrie for making 'basketball move' in trade request

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USATSI

Durant applauds Kyrie for making 'basketball move' in trade request

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here

Kevin Durant understands the scrutiny Kyrie Irving has faced. 

Irving was blasted by many for requesting a trade away from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, Durant went through the same with his decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. 

"He chose the basketball route," Durant said to reporters Wednesday night after a Golden State Warriors practice. "He chose to go somewhere where he's going to maximize his basketball skills."

Through his first 14 games with the Celtics, Irving is averaging 20.6 points and 5.2 assists per game. 

"He made a basketball move, and that's the most respected move is to keep it at ball. So, he's playing his best basketball," Durant continued.

Headed into Thursday night's game, the Warriors (11-3) and Celtics (13-2) are the two hottest teams in basketball. The Celtics own a 13-game win streak after starting the season off with two straight losses. 

"He's stepped into a leadership role and this team has taken off because of him," Durant says on Irving and the Celtics.