James Ham

Isaiah Thomas has every reason to 'Stay Paranoid' after settling for a minimum deal in Denver

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AP

Isaiah Thomas has every reason to 'Stay Paranoid' after settling for a minimum deal in Denver

“Stay paranoid.” It’s one of the strangest taglines ever uttered by an NBA player. Perhaps Isaiah Thomas has reason to feel that way.

The pint-sized point guard signed a one-year, league minimum deal with the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. It’s a shocking fall from grace for a player who led the Boston Celtics to an Eastern Conference-best 53-29 record two seasons ago. 

Coming off a season in which he finished third in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points per game and fifth in MVP voting, the two-time All-Star struggled with hip issues last year, limiting him to just 32 games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.

Instead of “backing up the Brinks truck,” Thomas once again is starting at the bottom at just 29 years of age. He’ll join his former coach with the Sacramento Kings, Michael Malone, who always has raved about the 5-foot-9 guard. 

It’s a familiar place for the former University of Washington star. Taken with the 60th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, IT took half of his rookie season to steal the show and earn the starting point guard position in Sacramento. 

Thomas flourished under Malone, posting 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game in his final season in a Kings uniform. When healthy, the trio of Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins looked like building blocks for the struggling Kings franchise.

But in the summer of 2014, management decided early on that they weren’t going to retain the fan favorite. The Kings’ brass, led by Chris Mullin and Pete D’Alessandro, were convinced that Thomas was a reserve and not a starter at the NBA level.

The Kings talked about matching offers for Thomas up to the $5 million-per-season range. When he received a 3-year, $21 million offer from the Suns, D’Alessandro dealt Thomas for Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception. 

Neither Mullin nor D’Alessandro lasted long after that decision. The duo chose to sign Darren Collison instead and pushed the notion that Thomas never would have been happy with a reserve role with the Kings. 

Thomas struggled in a crowded backcourt in Phoenix and was shipped to Boston midway through his first season. With the Celtics, he quickly found a niche and became a star. 

Landing in Denver gives Thomas the opportunity to rebuild his value on what should be a very good Nuggets team. It also gives him a chance to play for a coach who long has been one of his biggest supporters. 

Thomas likely will come off the Nuggets' bench behind budding star Jamal Murray. He’s a dynamic scorer and adds another playmaker for a team ranked sixth in the league at 110 points per game last season.

After missing the big payday, Thomas will jump back into the free agent pool next summer when there will be plenty of teams with salary-cap space. Or maybe he’ll find a home with his former coach and decide to stick around in Denver.

In a strange twist, Thomas isn’t the only former King to find the free agent market tough this summer. Cousins, who like Thomas, looked primed for a huge contract, took a one-year, $5.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Gay, the oldest of the three, re-signed with the San Antonio Spurs for one year at $10 million. 

Who could have possibly imagined that Gay would make more than both Thomas and Cousins combined heading into the the 2018-19 season?

After Thomas averaged 18.9 points and 5.1 assists per game through his first seven seasons, there was no market for him. Injuries played a role in his reduced value, but it’s hard to imagine him not having a bounce-back year in Denver.

Don’t count out Thomas. He’s a fiery competitor, and he’ll play for a coach who understands how to maximize his potential. The chip on his shoulder just got bigger, and his “stay paranoid” mantra just became a little more real. 

Jackson, Giles pave the way for Kings' first Summer League win

Jackson, Giles pave the way for Kings' first Summer League win

The Sacramento Kings picked up their first win of the Summer League in Las Vegas Tuesday afternoon, knocking off the Memphis Grizzlies by a final of 94-80. With the victory, the Kings improved to 2-4 overall on the summer.

Wins and losses don’t mean much, but there are plenty of items to glean from the games. Here are five takeaways as the Kings move towards the elimination phase of the tournament.

- Justin Jackson looks great as a primary scorer. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely he’ll have that role when the regular season starts in October. As a focal point, Jackson dropped in 20 points or more for the fourth time in six games. He shot an impressive 8-of-13 from the field and knocked down 2-of-4 from long range on his way to a 20-point, two-rebound performance. 

- Harry Giles is gaining momentum. The Kings haven’t had a player like Giles since Ron Artest. The 20-year-old big plays the game with an intensity and force that Sacramento desperately needs. He still makes plenty of rookie mistakes, but his defensive acumen is off the charts, especially for a player that’s sat for most of the last three seasons. He posted his second double-double of the summer, finishing with 11 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. In three games in Vegas, Giles is averaging 12 points and 7.7 rebounds in 23.3 minutes a contest.

- Frank Mason has struggled to find his footing while running the show, but he looked better against the Grizzlies. The second-year point guard managed to score 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and chipped in 13 assists. Mason currently ranks third in assist during the Las Vegas Summer League at eight dimes per game. He’s struggled to get his offense going, but he’s setting up his teammates well and he turned the ball over just once in 26 minutes of action.

- The Kings are loaded at the center and power forward positions, but Zach Auguste looks like a player worth giving a longer look. The 25-year-old out of Notre Dame scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and added a block and a steal in 19 minutes of action. He’s mobile, rebounds and has a nice post game. The Kings only have two roster spots open for the regular season, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to offer Auguste an invite to training camp and possibly a look in Stockton this season. 

- Anthony Brown and Matt Jones both contributed to the Kings’ win. At 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, Brown has good size for the wing spot. He’s bounced in and out of the league over the past three seasons after being taken in the early second round of the 2015 NBA Draft. Jones spent last season with the Bighorns after going undrafted out of Duke in 2017. He can shoot the rock, but the Kings are set at the shooting guard position. 

Report: Kings ready to extend offer to Marcus Smart

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USATSI

Report: Kings ready to extend offer to Marcus Smart

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seems to be the latest mantra from the Sacramento Kings from office. 

After swinging and missing on shooting guard Zach LaVine, it appears the Kings may have a new target, according to NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely.

Smart is an interesting proposition for Sacramento. The 24-year-old defensive specialist can play the point guard, shooting guard or small forward position and would provide another playmaker for the Kings.

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Smart plays the game with a tenacity that would fit well in Sacramento’s new-look squad. His versatility would fill plenty of holes, but his lack of perimeter shooting is a concern.

In his fourth season with the Boston Celtics, Smart posted 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds in just under 30 minutes a night. He missed 28 games this season due to a torn tendon in his right thumb, but returned to action for the playoffs. 

Selected with the sixth overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, Smart has played 261 games, including 83 starts for Boston. 

There is no word yet on what the Kings might offer for Smart, but they have approximately $19.5 million in cap space and two roster spots to fill. Like LaVine, Smart is a restricted free agent and the Celtics would have 48 hours to either match or allow him to start a new chapter of his career with the Kings.