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Sacramento Kings set for another uncertain season

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Sacramento Kings set for another uncertain season

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings are about to embark on another season in California's capital.

That alone might be considered a success for a fan base that has been beaten and bruised emotionally following the back-and-forth drama over the franchise's future home. Nobody can truly predict what might happen next. If the past few years have proved anything, though, the Kings will keep things interesting again.

Maybe even this time on the court.

Keith Smart begins his first full season as Sacramento's coach with a roster full of talented young players who have yet to mesh - or play defense. After six straight losing seasons, constant coaching changes and no long-term arena solution in sight, Smart understands why the optimism that's been recycled every October in Sacramento is hard for so many to believe anymore.

``We have to surprise people because we're no one in the NBA,'' Smart said. ``We have to pull out all the stops to try to grow as a team.''

Smart encouraged players to take a different approach this summer.

Instead of spreading out across the country to the various cities that they're from, many stayed in Sacramento - or at least came back earlier - to work out together. In between, Smart and his staff visited with some, both to form relationships and to find ways to improve the team.

Smart, who was promoted from assistant coach when the Kings fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start last season, wanted to take every advantage his first full offseason as an NBA coach. He had a one-and-done season with Golden State after taking over for Don Nelson on the eve of training camp in 2010, and had a stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers' interim head coach for the final 40 games in 2003 after taking over for John Lucas.

Even with all the extra time spent studying video and working with players, Smart still has an almost identical roster to the one that finished 22-44 last season and has to compete in a much-improved Pacific Division.

DeMarcus Cousins is one of the NBA's best budding big men but still has trouble controlling his emotions. Tyreke Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year, stayed healthy last season but struggled in his move from point to guard to wingman. And former BYU sensation Jimmer Fredette had a mostly disappointing debut trying to play in a structured system but has vowed to be more aggressive his second time around.

Standout point guard Isaiah Thomas is back after a sensational rookie season. The Kings also added free agent guard Aaron Brooks and fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson, the former Kansas forward and first unanimous first-team All-American since Blake Griffin, to mix with veterans such as Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia.

``We're out there trying to prove so much,'' Cousins said.

Players also bonded over summer workouts, including a week in July when about 10 came to Sacramento, and during the first week of training camp, which Smart moved to Colorado Springs. In particular, Cousins and Evans - who practiced in the gym at such late hours Smart called him the ``cat burglar'' - were working out in Sacramento most of the offseason.

``I think that was just a first step,'' Evans said, ``for us to start playing together knowing we've all got to be on the same page this year.''

No matter what success might come Sacramento's way this season, the franchise's future is still murkier than ever.

Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof backed out of an arena deal in April that Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson trumpeted and the City Council approved. The Maloofs have said the deal, signed off on by NBA Commissioner David Stern, didn't make financial sense for the franchise.

No other plan has been in the works between Sacramento and the Maloofs, which will again open the possibility of relocation if nothing develops by early 2013, not to mention lead to endless speculation from Anaheim to Seattle to Virginia Beach - and everywhere in between - about luring the franchise.

There also appears to be no long-term deal in the works for Evans, who is eligible for an extension with Sacramento until Oct. 30, after which time he will become a free agent next summer. Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie also is in the final year of his contract.

With so many possible distractions, Smart has long preached to his players not to worry about the things they can't control.

``You want them to focus on just the team in the moment,'' Smart said. ``They don't have anyone else out here they have to focus with. They have to focus on just the team.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do.