Kings

Three things to watch in Kings' preseason game against Lakers

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Three things to watch in Kings' preseason game against Lakers

Fresh off a win in their preseason opener on Monday, the Sacramento Kings look to make it two in a row. They’ll take on LeBron James and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center Thursday evening.

It’s the first of a brutal back-to-back, featuring two of the heavy hitters in the Western Conference. Following the game in LA, the Kings will board a flight to the Pacific Northwest where they’ll face the Warriors at Key Arena for the first game played in Seattle in a decade. 

Here are three things to watch as the Kings attempt to improve to 2-0 during the preseason. 

Building confidence

It’s a continuing theme, but the Kings are a very young team. Whether it’s summer league or preseason, building a winning culture matters. 

A victory over the Suns is step one. Competing against teams like the Lakers and Warriors is another move in the right direction. Games count for real in a couple of weeks. It would be nice to see the team walk into the regular season with a little bit of confidence. 

Let the game slow down

Harry Giles III looked like a whirling dervish early in the game against Phoenix. He picked up two fouls early and rushed shots at the rim and from the perimeter. As the game continued, he started to settle in and make better decisions, which is huge for his growth. 

Marvin Bagley III struggled with the same issue in the Kings’ debut, but he never found his comfort level. The sooner Bagley has that moment, the better for Sacramento. He’s a high-end talent, but the game is moving way too fast right now. 

Who stops LeBron?

No one really has an answer to this question. For the last 15 years, James has been the best player on the planet. He’s a physical freak and he continues to adapt his game as he moves into the final phase of his career. 

If James is playing the small forward position, Justin Jackson will likely get a first look. If he’s playing the four, Dave Joerger is going to have to get creative. Giles and  Bagley both played the four in the opener, as did Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein. None of them are natural matchups against James.

If the Lakers feature the 14-time All-Star, the Kings could be in for a long evening. 

Kings positioned well at start of NBA trade season, but will they buy?

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AP

Kings positioned well at start of NBA trade season, but will they buy?

SACRAMENTO -– December 15 is a big day in the NBA. It’s the date that the league’s moratorium is lifted for trading players who were acquired during the previous offseason. It officially kicks off Stage 1 of trade season for the league.

The magic started early, with the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies engaging in a potential three-way deal that would have sent veteran Trevor Ariza back to the Washington Wizards for a second tour of duty.

After some crazy finger pointing and misinformation, Memphis was removed from the transaction, and Ariza reportedly is on his way to Washington in exchange for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers.

This is the first of many deals that will go down between now and the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline.  

The Kings have gone from a potential salary dump site to possible buyers in what should be an active market. Sacramento is the only team in the league with measurable salary-cap space, sitting roughly $11 million under the cap.

Vlade Divac and his group also have four expiring contracts in Iman Shumpert ($11 million), Zach Randolph ($11.7 million), Kosta Koufos ($8.7 million) and Ben McLemore ($5.5 million). That's nearly $37 million in moveable assets.

Of those four, Shumpert is the only player seeing regular minutes in the rotation. He has been a big part of the Kings' culture this season. According to sources, moving him would be on the bottom of the team’s priority list when it comes to expiring deals.

Koufos has played limited minutes for the Kings this season. He’s the team’s best post defender, but with a glut of bigs, he’s played in just 14 games this season and should have value around the league.

With so many other options at the power forward position, Randolph hasn’t stepped foot on the floor for Sacramento this season, and McLemore has totaled just 41 minutes through 28 games.

Sacramento has little interest in shopping its two free-agent acquisitions from this past offseason. Nemanja Bjelica is starting at power forward and playing major rotational minutes for coach Dave Joerger.

Yogi Ferrell was out of the Kings’ rotation for much of the season, but he’s found himself back in the mix over the last two games and is scheduled to get a 10-game look at the backup point guard spot. He is inexpensive, and the Kings have a team option on the 25-year-old for next season as well.

The list of players who now have become available for trade is lackluster. No one jumps off the page as a “must have” for Sacramento, but Dec. 15 usually starts the barrage of conversations.

According to reports, the Suns might look to find another home for Oubre. He is a restricted free agent following the season and a potential target for the Kings when they walk into the summer with an estimated $60 million in cap space.

[RELATED: Why KD can see Kings attracting big names in NBA free agency]

The Kings like the former Wizards forward and could make an early run at the 23-year-old, which would then give them the option to match any offer for him during the summer.

Sacramento also kicked the tires on James Ennis (Rockets) and Mario Hezonja (Knicks) during free agency last summer.

Ennis was starting until recently when a hamstring injury put him on the shelf. He’s played solid basketball for Houston and isn’t likely to be moved.

Hezonja has been a bust in New York, averaging 7.3 points on 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 29.1 percent from 3-point range.

Neither of these players present an upgrade over what the Kings currently have at small forward.

Sacramento could use a player or two to fortify its rotation. The Kings are off to a very good start to the season at 15-13. They don’t have a first-round draft pick to offer until 2021, but they have multiple second-round selections in each of the next three drafts to sweeten a deal.

Expect the Kings to come up in lots of rumors over the next two months. They’ve positioned themselves well with regards to the cap, and they look like buyers -- not sellers -- for the first time in a while.

Charles Barkley's moving friendship with Lin Wang started in Sacramento

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USATSI

Charles Barkley's moving friendship with Lin Wang started in Sacramento

One of the greatest stories of friendship ever told started four years ago in Sacramento.

Only two people were sitting at the hotel bar. One was Charles Barkley, NBA legend. The other was Lin Wang, a cat litter scientist from Iowa.

Lin, like many people, wanted to say hi and take a picture with Sir Charles. That turned into a lengthy conversation and a dinner, and then meet-ups the next two nights.

Barkley gave Lin his phone number and told him to call if he ever was in New York, Atlanta or Phoenix. And call Lin did.

Lin’s daughter, Shirley, tells the entire beautiful story of her father’s friendship with Barkley on WBUR’s “Only A Game,” and with insight from the Basketball Hall of Famer himself. It includes visits to the TNT “Inside the NBA” set, Lin surprisingly Barkley by attending his mother’s funeral in 2016, and sadly, Lin’s death during the 2018 NBA Finals.

Lin was a Warriors fan, and his funeral was the day after those Finals. Barkley wasn’t about to miss it: He flew to Iowa to say goodbye to his good friend and delivered some touching words.

Barkley later told Shirley Wang: "It gives me great memories and great joy to know that I was a friend of his. Just hearing about him at the funeral — what he had accomplished and what he was trying to help other people accomplish, just made me even — I wished he bragged more about himself."

Barkley added that he was impressed by Lin. The sports world will be impressed – and moved – by this story of two people who, on the surface, couldn’t be more different but became one dynamic duo.