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UK's Calipari: 'We're not very good right now'

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UK's Calipari: 'We're not very good right now'

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari sounds like an exasperated professor who just started teaching Chinese to a bunch of freshmen.

Smart and talented they might be, but it's still a whole new language.

That's why the Wildcats coach scoffs at anybody who would anoint the defending national champions the team to beat.

``Whoever did that needs to be drug-tested,'' Calipari said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. ``We're not very good right now. I think we'll be a good team eventually, hopefully, but right now we're just average.

``Good players, good kids, they're trying. Just young. Don't play hard enough. Don't play full possessions. Out of control. Don't know each other, which isn't surprising. We have no roles right now. We're all trying to figure out who's who.''

Of course, it's only October. Check back in March.

Calipari will get little sympathy in a league that figures to only get stronger with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri. There are new coaches at South Carolina (Frank Martin), Mississippi State (Rich Ray) and LSU (Johnny Jones) and new stars like Tigers point guard Phil Pressey, the preseason SEC player of the year.

Teams will play 18 conference games this season instead of 16 with the expansion, and divisions are no more in hoops.

The most scrutinized change might be which blue-chip recruits are sporting the blue-and-white Kentucky jerseys. That's not so unusual, but Calipari insists this time it's different.

The Wildcats must replace six NBA draft picks, including the top two in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This entirely new starting five won't have the same support from more seasoned players like, say, last year's sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones. Certainly not senior Darius Miller. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is back after averaging 12 minutes a game.

``I've always had two or three veterans,'' Calipari said. ``Everything we're doing is practically new to everybody. This is a different deal. We've got good kids who are good players, but we're not a good team.

``That's the challenge of it. What would you expect? We lost every player from last year. It just takes time. You don't just go and all of a sudden they get to know one another.''

Those recruits include another shot-blocker to replace Davis in top national recruit Nerlens Noel, along with Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.

Florida's Billy Donovan must replace No. 3 pick Bradley Beal, another one-and-done star, and point guard Erving Walker. High-scoring guard Kenny Boynton and center Patric Young return, though, for a team that has made the regional finals each of the past two seasons.

Missouri has only one starter and three lettermen returning from a team that won 30 games last season but was stunned by 15th seed Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Their second-round opponent would have been the Gators.

That starter, though, is the 5-foot-11 dynamo Pressey, a finalist for the Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard.

Haith expects four transfers to have immediate impacts, including former Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi and Earnest Ross, who led the SEC's Auburn in scoring and rebounding two years ago. Another transfer, Oregon's Jabari Brown, is eligible starting in December.

Now, Haith gets to try to develop chemistry with new players sort of like Calipari does annually at Kentucky.

``I applaud Cal, what he's done,'' the Missouri coach said. ``I think it's very difficult what he does in terms of having a whole new team every year, basically. Last year's team, he did have some veterans, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. I think he'll tell you that helped, but the nucleus of his team has always been young guys. He got those guys to play so hard on the defensive end. That's always the thing with young kids, getting them to understand how hard they've got to play on the defensive end of the court, and he's done that.''

Haith said he watched tapes of SEC games over the summer to get a sense of the style of his new league.

``I think the one thing that really stands out is the athleticism of this league,'' he said. ``It's a very athletic league. I also think they play a style in terms of tempo defensively a little differently than the Big 12. There's more pressing. There's more aggressive play, extending the defense, in this league than there was in the Big 12. That's something we have to get used to.''

Besides Kentucky, no SEC team had more turnover than Vanderbilt, which lost its six leading scorers from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Guard Kedren Johnson is the top scorer back and he only averaged 3.1 points a game.

``Even though the talent is different, the expectation is not,'' coach Kevin Stallings said. ``Hopefully our guys understand very well that we're not going to compromise or lower our standard even though we've had a great deal of turnover.''

The new teams have the returning coaches lobbying for more teams to get into the NCAA tournament after only four made it last season, not counting Missouri.

``Like with the Big East and a lot of these teams that have expansion right now, I think you're always looking to try to get half your league in legitimately,'' Donovan said. ``I think we should be legitimately talking about getting eight teams into the tournament.

``That's what we're looking at trying to do right now. With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, that should be a realistic goal for this league.''

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Caps attempt to address blue line depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny

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Caps attempt to address blue line depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny

Facing serious questions about their defensive depth, the Caps took a step towards addressing that depth by trading for Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Kempny. Chicago will receive a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 draft in exchange.

Washington has played the majority of the season with two rookie defensemen in the lineup in Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. The team is giving up 2.98 goals per game which ranks 20th in the NHL. If there was one weakness the Capitals absolutely needed to address, it was defense.

RELATED: SEE THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS

Kempny, 27, has played in 31 games for Chicago this season tallying one goal and seven points. He is a left-shot defenseman who carries a cap hit of $900,000. His contract expires at the end of this season.

For his career, Kempny has played in 81 NHL games, all with Chicago, Kempny has scored a total of 15 points.

The Capitals have two third-round draft picks in 2018 after acquiring Toronto's third-round pick in the trade that sent Marcus Johansson to New Jersey. Chicago will receive the higher of the two picks at season's end.

MORE CAPITALS: BLACKHAWKS FANS TOSSED AFTER DIRECTING RACIST REMARKS AT SMITH-PELLY

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NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

The 2017-18 NBA season has reached the halfway point with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game taking place in Los Angeles, Calif., this weekend.

But as the season shifts toward the second half NBC Sports Washington is taking at the major NBA awards and which players are positioned to bring home the hardware at the end of the 2018 season.

The season is far from over the second half is where the awards are won. Will Ben Simmons hold on to his lead in the Rookie of the Year running? Will LeBron James surpass James Harden for the MVP award?

Below are the detailed results of the NBC Sports Washington NBA midseason awards. 

The voting panel consists of NBC Sports Washington's Steve Buckhantz, Kara Lawson, Chris Miles, Travis Thomas, Adam Wise, Chase Hughes, Nick Ashooh and Troy Machir.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

2017-2018 NBA Midseason Awards

Rookie of the Year:

Nick AshoohDonovan Mitchell, Jazz. While Simmons gets to work with another franchise player in Joel Embiid, Mitchell saw Utah's second-leading scorer traded at the deadline (Rodney Hood), and has had center Rudy Gobert miss tons of games with injuries. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of at least 11 games and he leads all rookies in scoring, on a team that could make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Steve BuckhantzBen Simmons, 76ers. Rookie of the year would be Ben Simmons, and while there are more than one outstanding young players in the game, he seems to be the most unstoppable and the one with the greatest upside, especially if he hones his shooting skills.

Chase Hughes: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons has returned from injury to be a rookie sensation, consistently flirting with or recording triple-doubles. He is going to be an All-Star for a long time.

Kara LawsonBen Simmons, 76ers.

Troy MachirBen Simmons, 76ers. This is tough because Simmons 1) isn't really a rookie 2) Doesn't have any range on his jump shot, and 3) gets to play with Joel Embiid. Donovan Mitchell is the best player on his team and is doing it all without Rodney Hood (trade) and Rudy Gobert (injury). I still lean toward Simmons, but Mitchell will probably steal from him in the second half. 

Chris Miles:  Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. As Damian Lillard put it, he’s actually leading his team. Secondly he isn’t a “red-shirt rookie” like his top competitor Ben Simmons. This is a two horse race if anyone picks someone else that’s a failed drug test.

Travis ThomasBen Simmons, 76ers.  He’s the second best player on a team destined for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. His combination of size and court vision reminds me of a young Magic Johnson.

Adam Wise: Ben Simmons, 76ers. I don't like the rule that he's technically a rookie (ahem, Blake Griffin winning over John Wall in 2010-11) but he's a triple-double threat every night and you can't ignore that. Donovan Mitchell is a close second.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Most Improved Player:

Nick Ashooh: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. It’s always tough to pick the MOP, because sometimes it’s more about bigger opportunity that showcases the game a player already has.

Steve BuckhantzJaylen Brown, Celtics. Every time I see him play, the results are amazing. A very close second would be Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks.

Chase Hughes: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Oladipo went from decent to stardom seemingly overnight and has made the Pacers look very smart for trading for him.

Kara Lawson: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.

Troy Machir: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. We've always known Oladipo has elite athleticism and talent, but the change in scenery meant more opportunities to lead and develop. He's gone from a solid start to a bona fide perennial All-Star in less than half a season. 

Chris MilesVictor Oladipo, Pacers. He’s running away with this award. I taught him how to shoot over the summer so I can’t wait to get my residuals.

Travis ThomasVictor Oladipo. The local product is an All-Star now and he’s the only bright light on a team that’s overachieving, proving he’s also a leader. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers being in the Playoff picture without Oladipo.

Adam Wise: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Should Tim Hardaway Jr. have a say in this? Giannis has upped his "wow" factor this season and it was already among to tops in the league. He's can't-miss viewing when he's on the floor.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Sixth Man of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Lou Williams, Clippers. No brainer here. "Lou-Will" is one of the top scorers in the NBA despite playing just 32 minutes per game.

Steve BuckhantzLou Williams, Clippers. He's making shots of the bench like Jamal Crawford and has had numerous game winners. I also like Terry Rozier of Boston. He's an excellent player with a huge upside.

Keely Diven:

Chase Hughes: Lou Williams, Clippers.  could have been an All-Star this year, he has been that good off the Clippers' bench. The guy is putting up career numbers and got a well-deserved contract extension along the way.

Kara Lawson: Lou Williams, Clippers. 

Troy Machir: Lou Williams, Clippers. There are several good candidates, but this is Lou Williams' award ... again. He's averaging over 20 ppg and coming off the bench AND nearly made the All-Star Game. When has that ever happened before?

Chris Miles:  Kelly Oubre, Wizards. Yep, I went full homer on this one. Dude is legit and this summer the “should Oubre start” camp is going to revolt if he keeps this up.

Travis ThomasLou Williams, Clippers. He should be every year. In fact they should rename the award, Lou Williams Of The Year. He’s averaging 23 points a game coming off the bench for a team going nowhere fast.

Adam Wise: Lou Williams, Clippers. He should've been an All-Star ... and he doesn't even start! 

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

Coach of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets. D’Antoni has kept the Rockets in contention for the top spot in the west, which means a true competitor to the Warriors. They’ve already had two double-digit win streaks, and now that he finally has a roster that fits his system, it’s not just Golden State that can run teams off the floor.

Steve Buckhantz: Eric Spoelstra, Heat. Just when you think they really don't have a lot going on in South Florida, he consistently keeps his squad in the game and has them poised to make a run in the post season. Brett Brown of the Sixers and Brad Steven of the Celtics would also get consideration.

Chase Hughes: Gregh Popovich, Spurs. The Spurs are third in the stacked Western Conference despite missing Kawhi Leonard.

Kara Lawson: Dwane Casey, Raptors.

Troy Machir: Dwane Casey, Raptors. The Cavs and Celtics are the talk of the East, but the Raptors are the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. Casey doesn't get enough credit, which is why I'm writing about him here. 

Chris MilesBrad Stevens, Celtics. I hate Boston, everything about it. Just being forced to pick this guy means I don’t have to write an explanation.

Travis ThomasBrad Stevens, Celtics. Boston has continually overachieved under Stevens tutelage. Despite the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward, Stevens still has the Celtics primed for a run at the NBA Finals.

Adam Wise: Dwane Casey, Raptors. Toronto seemed to be an afterthought in the East after everyone got all excited about the new faces in Boston and Cleveland. He's figured out how to use a deeper bench, while also giving ample minutes to his stars in DeRozan & Lowry. The Raptors are very well in the hunt for the top seed for that reason.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY

NBA Most Valuable Player:

Nick Ashooh: James Harden, Rockets. He leads the NBA in scoring, second in assists, and has Houston poised to give a legit push to the Warriors out West.

Steve Buckhantz: James Harden, Rockets. You can always make a case for the great players and how they elevate the athletes around them, and this is an award that's best suited to someone AFTER the season ends, but right now I'd go with Harden, who continues to play at a high level for his squad. Lebron will be there in the end, as will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. 

Chase Hughes: James Harden, Rockets. He is the NBA's leading scorer, is second in assists and is leading the charge for the Rockets, who have the league's best record.

Kara Lawson: James Harden, Rockets. 

Troy Machir: James Harden, Rockets. LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet, but James Harden is the NBA MVP at the midway point. He's still the elite volume scorer he always was, but he's evolved into a player that makes his teammates around him better. Also, he scored a 60-point triple-double. 

Chris MilesJames Harden, Rockets. His 60-point triple-double should say enough. His team is also 26-1 when he has Chris Paul and Clint Capella. They also gave it to the Warriors and are in contention for the top seed in the West. Lebron James is second and could supplant Harden depending on how the season ends.

Travis ThomasJames Harden, Rockets. You could have made the case for him the past three seasons but other guys balled out of control and earned the award. This season it’s undeniable, he’s averaging  over 30 point per game and leading one of the best teams in the league.

Adam Wise: James Harden, Rockets. He's used the runner-up to the award as motivation this year. While the rebounding numbers are down (Clint Capella has gobbled them up), he's still near the top of the league in assists and he's leading the NBA in scoring. Oh yeah, and his play has elevated the Rockets into the "Could they really beat the Warriors in the playoffs?" discussion.

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2017-2018 NBA MIDSEASON AWARDS GALLERY