Alec Burks

Kings hit stretch run with versatile roster and plenty of veteran depth

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AP

Kings hit stretch run with versatile roster and plenty of veteran depth

In what looks like a minor roster move, the Sacramento Kings have inked Corey Brewer to a second 10-day contract. Brewer, 32, has yet to see action in a Kings uniform after signing his original deal on Feb. 8.

Why bring back Brewer if there isn’t a spot in the rotation? It’s about versatility.

While the 12-year NBA veteran has bounced around the league like a pinball over his career, he brings a tenacity on the defensive end that the Kings desperately need.

At 6-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Brewer can match up against twos, threes and fours in the modern NBA game. Whether it’s a five-minute stretch or locking down an elite player for 25 minutes, Brewer knows his role and takes pride at doing his job.

That seems to be the focus of the Kings’ acquisitions at the deadline. In a rebalancing of the roster, the Kings sent out Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere and Ben McLemore.

In return, they brought in Brewer, along with Harrison Barnes, Alec Burks and Caleb Swanigan. Where they lacked size before, they no longer do.

Barnes has quickly found a home as the team’s starting small forward, taking over Shumpert’s spot in the rotation. His ability to play the three and the four allows coach Dave Joerger to try new things and through three games, he’s played Barnes a team-high 36 minutes a night.

“We definitely got bigger, Harrison is a legit three and can slide to the four,” point guard De’Aaron Fox told NBC Sports California last week. “Other than that, we brought in some more shooting, guys that can score, put the ball in the basket. I think we got a little bit better.”

Like Barnes, Burks is extremely versatile on both ends of the court. He can play some point, move over to the two and in a pinch, slide down to the three in smaller lineups. He also allows Bogdan Bogdanovic an opportunity to catch his breath and play off the ball for stretches.

“With Alec, we have a smart, veteran player who can do a little bit of everything,” Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California. “He knows how to play.”

Burks is still getting acclimated to the speed and pace the Kings play at, but he has been a steadying influence when he’s played. Like Barnes and Brewer, he understands that it’s the little things that sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing at the NBA level.

For a team that walked into the trade deadline with major needs, Vlade Divac and his staff did a nice of job of filling gaps. They brought in multi-positional veterans that might make a two or three game difference in the standings during the stretch run.  

“That’s what the NBA is, kind of position-less and guys that are able to everything on the floor,” Fox said.

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings 2019: Standing of every team at All-Star break]

The Kings have talked about position-less basketball for a while, but their roster through the first half of the season wasn’t anywhere near as versatile as it is today.

With just 25 games remaining, there isn’t a lot of time to let the pot simmer. Joerger needs to quickly find a way to put the pieces to his new puzzle together. It’s a tall task, but Divac delivered him a group of solid veterans that understand their roles and what it takes to get to the next level.

Vlade Divac helps De'Aaron Fox, Kings through NBA trade deadline sting

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USATSI

Vlade Divac helps De'Aaron Fox, Kings through NBA trade deadline sting

SACRAMENTO -- At 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, TV cameras were lined up outside the Kings' locker room. Before the team even had time to clear out Iman Shumpert’s locker or pull down his name plate, a blitzkrieg of media stormed the room looking for the remnants of the animated veteran.

Slow pan shots of Shumpert’s jersey were taken. Players were questioned. What would become of the Scores?

By 7 p.m., wing Justin Jackson had been removed from the floor, and within the blink of an eye, he too was headed out of Sacramento. The second-year pro was able to step into the Kings' locker room at halftime to wish his now-former teammates good luck on their journey.

With a broken spirit, the Kings were lambasted by the Houston Rockets that evening by a final of 127-101.

With fewer than 30 minutes for Kings players to process the roster overhaul, cameras were allowed back into the locker room following the loss. It was an emotional room and an awkward reminder of the human element that often is forgotten with regard to professional athletes.

Rookie big man Harry Giles attempted to leave the locker room quietly out the main exit, but he was caught by the bright lights attached to focusing lenses. The 20-year-old stood in front of a blank white wall, and did his best to keep his composure.

Willie Cauley-Stein allowed his emotions to spill out during his postgame interview.

“Just the energy in the room -- who is the first people you hear talking when you walk into our locker room? Shump and JJ,” the 7-foot center said. “That energy is gone, and that ain’t going to come back.”  

Surrounded by two empty lockers, point guard De’Aaron Fox was engulfed by the media as well.

The stall to his left is a constant reminder that even a leader like Garrett Temple can be traded. The locker to Fox's right represented a childhood bond with Jackson dating to their days as AAU teammates.

With both cabinets bare, Fox appeared slightly isolated. For one evening, the 21-year-old’s swagger seemed shaken.

Somewhere in another part of Golden 1 Center, Kings general manager Vlade Divac and his group were busy putting the finishing touches on a few more transactions.

The Kings’ front office had won the day by their estimation. They landed size at small forward in 26-year-old Harrison Barnes, and depth in the backcourt with Alec Burks.

They had filled their two two biggest needs, and done so without hamstringing the franchise financially or giving away any of their core group.

That last sentence was easy to write, but it fails to capture the reality of what a group of 15 players feels.

Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson were part of the main group. And while they didn’t see a lot of playing time, Ben McLemore, who was later waived, and Skal Labissiere, who was traded Thursday morning, also were part of the delicate and complicated family of players.

Sacramento took to the court with new faces and the need to rebuild chemistry Friday night against the Miami Heat. Before they took on that task, at least one Kings player needed to have a conversation with Divac and clear the air.

It’s complicated, but doing what’s best for the whole doesn’t always feel good to the individual. Needing some clarity, Fox walked into Divac’s office looking for answers. He walked out feeling better about the situation.

“When it happened right before the game, there was a little sting,” Fox told NBC Sports California on Sunday afternoon as he prepared to take on the Phoenix Suns. “It was kind of unexpected but not too unexpected. I think it was good for the team, and I do trust what Vlade’s doing. Since I’ve been here, it’s all positive things and great things. I think we’re still stepping in the right direction.”

Divac said that door always is open and that he welcomed the conversation with Fox and anyone else who needs to chat.

“Personally, I love it, not just De’Aaron, everybody -- how they react,” Divac said in a one-on-one conversation with NBC Sports. “It shows to me that everyone has a heart. The emotions are there. I love it.”

[RELATED: How Kings remade one-third of their roster at trade deadline]

As chronicled by The Athletic's Sam Amick, Divac used his own experiences to help his young point guard walk through the trades. Divac, one of the stars of the NBA European invasion in the late 1980s and early '90s, was a Los Angeles Laker for seven years. And then one day, he wasn’t.

In a gut-wrenching move for the Serbian-born center, Divac was traded to the Charlotte Hornets on July 11, 1996, for a high-school prospect named Kobe Bryant. The move stunned Divac but also gave him a unique perspective on the business side of the NBA.

While it’s likely the moves were the right ones to make, could Divac’s timing have been better? In the high stakes world of professional sports, you don’t always get to control things like timing.

“I don’t choose when I’m going to make a deal, when it happens, it happens,” Divac said. “If I had the choice, I would use better timing. But you never know when it’s going to happen.”

Unlike Shumpert and Jackson, Barnes actually had suited up and was playing for the Mavericks at the time the trade was first reported. In 26 minutes of play, Barnes scored 10 points for Dallas before being pulled from the game.

The conversation with Divac was exactly what Fox needed to clear his head. When you’re in the thick of a playoff race and the culture behind the scenes is good, it’s hard to see how the team could make changes that might help better the chances for success.

“Just the direction that we’re trying to get the team to go,” Fox said. “We do feel like we got better after the trades. We’re just working on chemistry after the trade, and ultimately, trying to make the playoffs with such a young team.”

Taken with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fox has elevated himself to franchise cornerstone in his sophomore season. While there might come a time when Divac comes to his point guard before pulling the trigger on major decisions, there always will be a need for a separation of roles within an organization.

“Things happen on the fly,” Divac said. “His job is to lead this team on the court, my job is to create the team, [head coach Dave Joerger's] job is to put all that together and coach. Everybody has their own thing. We have to communicate. We have to discuss. But everybody has to do their job.”

[RELATED: Kings' Bagley reminds Suns what they passed on in draft]

As for Fox, he won’t forget his time with his former teammates, but the current experience seems to have helped further the bond between he and Divac.

“Our relationship has definitely developed over the year and a half I’ve been here,” Fox said. “I think it’s just going to continue to get better.”

Despite very little practice time, the Kings have rattled off back-to-back wins since the trade. It will take time to create bonds and build chemistry both on and off the court with the new players, but the early returns are promising.

Kings vs. Suns watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

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USATI

Kings vs. Suns watch guide: Lineups, injury report, player usage

SACRAMENTO -- After a big come from behind victory on Friday over the Miami Heat, the Kings have an opportunity to finish their homestand at 5-1 Sunday afternoon. They'll host a Phoenix Suns team that is struggling, but managed to hand the Kings a loss the last time the two teams faced off.

Sacramento trailed by 17 points in the late third quarter against the Heat, but stormed back in the fourth and finished the game on a 19-2 run. Newcomers Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks made nice contributions in their debuts, but it was a team effort that put the Kings over the top.

Without any incentive to win, Phoenix has dropped 13 straight and sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 11-46. They have talent, but so far this season, they haven't figured out how to best utilize their young group of players.

Kings Pregame Live on NBC Sports California begins at 2:30 p.m., with tipoff scheduled for 3:00. All coverage can be seen on the MyTeams by NBC Sports app.

Sacramento concludes their pre-All-Star break schedule with a stop in Denver on Wednesday. They'll start the home stretch with three tough road games, beginning on Feb. 21 with their final match of the season against the Golden State Warriors.

Line

Kings by 9.5

Projected Lineups

Kings
PG De’Aaron Fox
SG Buddy Hield
SF Harrison Barnes
PF Nemanja Bjelica
C Willie Cauley-Stein

Suns
PG Elie Okobo
SG Devin Booker
SF Mikal Bridges
PF Josh Jackson
C Deandre Ayton

Injury Report

Kings 
No injuries to report.

Suns
PG Devin Booker (hamstring) probable, SF T.J. Warren (ankle) out, PG De'Anthony Melton (ankle) out.

Rotation Outlook

Kings

Coach Dave Joerger's group is dealing with a flurry of trade deadline deals that reshaped a third of his roster. The team was able to meet and do some light work together on Saturday, but with little time in the schedule, the team will have to find a way to integrate the new players on the fly.

Barnes started at the small forward spot in his first game in Sacramento and finished the night with 12 points and seven rebounds. Joerger moved him to the power forward spot to open the second half and he played a team-high 37 minutes in the win. Expect more of the same over the next few games as Joerger searches for combinations of players that work well together.

Like Barnes, Burks saw minutes in his first game with the Kings. Joerger moved the veteran guard all over the place in his 15 minutes of court time. The Kings love his size and versatility and he will likely see plenty of time on the court as they move into the stretch run.

According to Joerger, Corey Brewer, who inked a 10-day contract on Friday, is not expected to see rotational minutes, although that could change. The 32-year-old forward matches up well against a team like Phoenix who has plenty of length and athleticism at the three and the four.

Suns

Booker is scheduled to make his return after missing two games with a hamstring issue. The high-scoring guard has yet to make an appearance against Sacramento in the previous three matchups between the teams.

Phoenix made a move at the deadline as well, bringing in combo-guard Tyler Johnson in a swap with the Heat. Johnson has burned the Kings a few times in his career and can be dangerous if he catches fire from the perimeter.

The Suns come into the game 24th in the league in scoring and 28th in points allowed. They also rank 30th in 3-point percentage, 30th in rebounding and 29th in turnovers per game.