Bogdan Bogdanovic

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.

Kings trio puts on a show at 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge in Charlotte

Kings trio puts on a show at 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge in Charlotte

If you like defense, then you probably didn’t enjoy Friday night’s 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge. If you’re all about highlight reel dunks and ill-advised alley-oop passes, then bring on the rookies and sophomores.

In a wild up-and-down game, Team USA ran away from the World Team for a 161-144 victory to help open up the first day of NBA All-Star weekend in Charlotte, N.C. 

If you needed a quote to describe the action on the court, 40-year-old honorary coach for the World Team Dirk Nowitzki had you covered.

“Our transition defense is like I’m out there,” Nowitzki said during the broadcast. 

Kings star De’Aaron Fox picked up the start for the American team at point guard, and looked to set up his teammates. He scored just two points, but chipped in a game-high 16 assists in the win, including a clean look to Sacramento teammate Marvin Bagley III. 

After taking home the MVP hardware last season, Kings sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic started for the World team and finished with 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting from long range. He added six assists and five rebounds in the loss.  

Bagley, meanwhile, brought his jumping shoes, and put on an aerial assault on the rim. 

The 19-year-old made an impact on the offensive end, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. He and Fox both missed a pair of crazy dunks in the final minute, but Bogdanovic threw his rookie a bone to finish the night.

[RELATED: Fox sdends message on potential Kings-Warriors series]

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kyle Kuzma dropped in 23 of his 35 points in the first half for Team USA, and came away with MVP honors. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons scored 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting to lead the World Team.

Fox will return to the Spectrum Center to compete in the Skills Challenge on Saturday. He’ll likely stick around to cheer on Kings teammate Buddy Hield, who is scheduled to compete in the 3-point contest later that night.

Kings quartet looks to make big splash at 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend

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AP

Kings quartet looks to make big splash at 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend

The Sacramento Kings are taking over Charlotte, N.C. for the weekend. Four players from the team’s young core are taking part of the All-Star festivities.

De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley will suit up as part of the U.S. Team in the Rising Stars Challenge, which is scheduled for Friday evening at 6 p.m. PST. They’ll face off against teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is looking to defend his MVP title from last season’s Rising Stars win as a member of the World Team.

For Fox and Bogdanovic, they’ve been there before. While they appreciate the honor, it doesn’t have the same freshness that it does for Bagley, who grew up going to All-Star weekend with his family.

“Now to actually be a part of it and play in it and kind of see it from a different point of view now that I’m in NBA, it should be exciting,” Bagley said. “I can’t wait to get down there and experience it and have a lot of fun.”

Bogdanovic has joked in the past about his place in the game. At 26-years-old, he’s been a professional basketball player for years. Being considered a “rising star” is bit confusing for the Serbian-born wing.

In his second NBA season, Fox has his sights set on being a fixture for the annual showcase. While he appreciates the honor of participating in the Rising Stars, he’s just looking to have a good time, not stress over taking home any hardware from the event.

“I don’t care, I go out there and just play,” Fox said earlier in the week. “Of course you’re trying to win.”

In addition to his Rising Stars duties, Fox will also participate in the Skills Challenge, where is a 5-2 favorite to win.

It’s the first event on Saturday evening with a start time of 5 p.m. PST and he’ll compete against Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Kyle Kuzma, Nikola Jokic, Nikola Vucevic and Mike Conley.  

“He has obviously a great chance,” Bogdanovic said. “He’s the fastest player in the league and on that challenge. He’s just got to make the shots and that’s it. Easy win for him.”

Fox’s starting backcourt mate, Buddy Hield, agreed with Bogdanovic’s assessment.

“He’s built for it - his quickness, his passing ability, all he has to do is make the shot and he’ll be fine,” Hield said of Fox.

Hield has aged out of the Rising Stars game, but after shooting the lights out in the first half of the season, the third-year guard will participate in the 3-point shootout against a crowded field of some of the game’s great marksmen.

“I think he can shoot with the best of them, especially if he gets hot,” Fox said Hield. “The rest of those guys can shoot, but Buddy belongs. He definitely belongs in that conversation.”

Hield is having a breakout season for Sacramento, averaging 20.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game. He currently ranks four in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 44.9 percent and only James Harden, Steph Curry and Paul George have hit more triples than Hield this season.

“I’m a big competitor, if I go out there, I might get 30 a couple of times,” Hield said. “But when it comes to All-Star Game, it’s different with anxiety and momentum and everything.”

The 3-Point Contest is the second event on Saturday evening. Hield will compete against Devin Booker, Danny Green, Joe Harris, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Dirk Nowitzki, Kemba Walker and brothers Seth and Steph Curry.

[RELATED: Steph Curry predicts he'll beat Seth, win 2019 NBA 3-Point Contest]

Hield received a huge endorsement as a dark horse in the competition from the Warriors’ Klay Thompson, who took home the trophy in the event in 2016.

Odds makers give Hield the second-best chance of winning the event, behind 2015 champ, Steph Curry.

“I don’t care what Vegas said.” Hield said. “I always bet on myself, no matter what."

The quartet of Kings will return to Sacramento early next week. They’ll have a day to prepare for the final 25 games of the season beginning next Thursday’s big matchup against the Golden State Warriors.