Kings

Ben McLemore returns after birth of his daughter: 'Dream come true'

Ben McLemore returns after birth of his daughter: 'Dream come true'

SACRAMENTO -- Ben McLemore was noticeably missing from the Kings three-game road trip. The fourth-year guard has rarely been unavailable for a game during his time in Sacramento, but he stayed home so he could attend the birth of his first child.

The proud papa gushed at practice Tuesday afternoon as he announced the birth of Teagan Joyce McLemore to the media.

“I’m blessed and excited and happy to have this opportunity to have a beautiful young baby girl in my life right now,” the 24-year-old shooting guard said. “It changes a lot for me right now. I’m definitely in a state of shock and at a loss for words. At this point, I’m just like, man, I’m really a father. It’s a dream come true.”

Drafted with the seventh overall selection of the 2013 NBA Draft, McLemore has played his entire career in a Kings uniform, including 215 starts. He came to Sacramento as a 20-year-old kid from St. Louis and he’s grown up a lot in his time with the Kings.

With just 12 games remaining in the season, McLemore’s future with the club is in question.

“I’m really not even focused on that,” McLemore said about his future. “I’ll let my agent, Rich Paul, and my circle kind of handle all of that and keep me up to date on things like that.”  

If Sacramento chooses to extend a $5.4 million qualifying offer to the wing, he will enter the summer as a restricted free agent, which gives the Kings the opportunity to match any offer. If they decline the qualifying offer, McLemore becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any NBA club.

At times this season, McLemore has been lost in the shuffle at the shooting guard spot. He’s had bright moments, but also challenges as the Kings brought in Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and Buddy Hield to compete for minutes at his position.

On the season, McLemore is averaging a career-low 7.2 points per game in just 18.2 minutes a night, but he’s shooting 39.4 percent from behind the arc. Since the start of February, McLemore is shooting 51.3 percent from 3-point range, but consistent minutes have been tough to come by.

“I’m just going out there and playing free,” McLemore said of his recent success. “I’m not worried about anything. I’m just going out there and playing my game. Not thinking about it too much, just letting the game come to me.”

Nothing is certain moving forward for McLemore. His focus is on finishing the season strong and of course, that new baby girl.

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

The time is coming. Whether it’s this week or two weeks from now or the start of next season, young big man Marvin Bagley III is going to work his way into the Kings’ starting lineup, where he could reside for the next decade or so.

His talent is undeniable, and he continues to show flashes of brilliance. His 32-point, seven-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns last week comes to mind.

But the stretch run is here, and for the first time in more than a decade, the Kings are playing for more than just lottery balls. In most seasons, this is when Sacramento usually turns the team over to players like Bagley for crucial developmental time on the court.

With just 25 games remaining and Sacramento just a game back of the eighth seed, coach Dave Joerger is still trying to balance the future and the present. Yet It’s becoming more and more clear that the future and the present are one in the same.

Over the first six games of February, the game is slowing down for Bagley, and he’s playing his best basketball of his rookie season.

Since returning from a knee injury in early January, the former Duke star is posting 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game off of Joerger’s bench. In February’s first six games, those numbers jump to 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game.

Bagley’s ability to score in the post gives Sacramento’s high-octane offense a new wrinkle. As his shot selection improves and he develops as the roller in the two-man game, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft is only going to get better.

“He has a special talent, nobody can block his jumpshot,” teammate Buddy Hield said last week. “He’s gifted and I just want to see him succeed at the highest level.”

In Sacramento’s equal-opportunity offense, having a big body to feed in the post is a nice luxury. It also doesn’t hurt that Bagley is one of the best rebounders on the team, especially on the offensive end.

“He jumps so high, it doesn’t matter what anybody does,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Just pick a spot, get to it and be able to just rise up.”

[RELATED: Webber confident Kings are headed for brighter days]

With Bagley stepping up his game, veteran Nemanja Bjelica has seen a reduction in court time. After carrying the team through stretches early in the season, the former Euroleague MVP struggled in January.

Bjelica has bounced back a bit in February, averaging nine points on 38.1 percent shooting from 3-point range in 18.8 minutes per game. Bagley has taken some of his playing time, but newcomer Harrison Barnes has seen time at the four as well.

Joerger has been clear throughout the year that Bjelica’s shooting ability opens the spacing on the floor for Fox and the team’s up-tempo style. The addition of Barnes at the deadline may give Joerger even more flexibility with his rotations.

Bagley has been shooting with the guards following practice, and he’s pushed his 3-point attempts to nearly two per game during February.

The rookie is shooting just 27.3 percent from behind the arc on the month, and 25.5 percent on the season. If teams don’t have to defend Bagley on the perimeter, it complicates things for the Kings’ offense.

If the Kings were struggling, it’s likely that Bagley would already be starting. With the team in the thick of the playoff race, Joerger has a tough decision to make about if or when Bagley assumes his position with the opening group.

Count Chris Webber as firm believer in new era of Kings basketball

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USATSI

Count Chris Webber as firm believer in new era of Kings basketball

The Kings have had quite the presence at NBA All-Star Weekend.

First, De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marvin Bagley III all stood out during the Rising Stars game.

Then Fox participated in the Skills Challenge, falling to eventual runner-up Trae Young.

He was followed by Hield, who took third place in the 3-Point Contest.

It represents just the second time in franchise history that the Kings have had four players participate in events at mAll-Star Weekend. The last time it happened, well, it was a different era of Kings basketball.

In 2002, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic were All-Stars, Stojakovic won the 3-Point Contest, Hedo Turkoglu played in the Rising Stars game, and Gerald Wallace competed in the Slam Dunk contest.

That season, of course, finished with a memorable Game 7 loss to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals. The Lakers went on to win the championship that season, and the Kings have never been closer to a title since.

Sacramento entered this All-Star break with a record of 30-27, one game back of the Clippers for the final playoff spot in the West. A new era of Kings basketball has been established, and a prominent member of the former certainly has noticed.

Webber has been in attendance at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte as an analyst for TNT, and in speaking with Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee, he related that he's not surprised by what his former teammate, Kings general manager Vlade Divac, has been able to accomplish.

"Vlade has believed in these guys, especially Fox and Buddy, telling me a long time ago they were going to change the trajectory of the team,” Webber said. “The great part about it as a Sacramento fan is, I know Vlade, he doesn’t just work for the organization, but he is a fan of the city. He wants it to be great, not only on the court but in the community as well.

"And, yeah, he’s going to (turn) it around. He already has. He said, ‘Give me two years.’ He’s done that. Just wait till we give him a little bit more time."

[RELATED: Webber joins 12 others as Basketball Hall of Fame finalist]

Webber has fond memories of his time in Sacramento, particularly of the fan support during the years of playoff contention.

"During that time, I remember that was the most passionate basketball experience, professionally, that I ever witnessed, from the city shutting down for the playoffs to the first playoff series we had (when) J-Will and myself took pizzas out to the fans who were out there tailgating before the games,” Webber said. “From the fans and how passionate they were, to the cowbells to Sign Lady and just everyone there, from the vendors all the way to the owners, you knew it was a feeling of community. Vlade is trying to recapture that."

Sacramento will have plenty of work to do over the final 25 regular-season games, but there's no denying the new era of Kings basketball has impressed that of the old.