Gregg Popovich

De'Aaron Fox stronger in third Kings camp, ready to take next step

De'Aaron Fox stronger in third Kings camp, ready to take next step

New coaching staff. New players. Same straw that stirs the drink.

The Sacramento Kings built their roster around young star point guard De’Aaron Fox last summer. They added more pieces to support Fox over the last few months, including head coach Luke Walton and his high-octane offense.

While training camp didn’t start until last Saturday, Fox has been in communication with the Kings' coaches and front office all summer. He has the playbook and he’s been studying up for what could be a very competitive season in Sacramento.

“They’ve given me more stuff than everyone else and I’m just trying to soak in all the knowledge that I can as quickly as possible,” Fox told NBC Sports California.

The coaching staff is all-new, but so are the players. Entering his third NBA season, Fox is tied with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles for the second-longest tenure on the club. Only Buddy Hield, who joined the Kings in February of 2017, has been with the team longer.

“Everybody is new, there isn’t a single person from my first year that’s still here,” Fox said. “It’s a little bit difficult (to process the new information), you’re trying to take it all in on offense and defense, but it’s something I look forward to. I’m pretty much having fun with it, just going through something new.”

Known for his speed, Fox has worked on improving every facet of his game. He knows how important this season is, not only for himself, but for a franchise that is in the midst of a 13-year playoff drought.

Before coming out for media day festivities, Fox hopped on the scale for his preseason weigh-in. After playing at 176 pounds last season, the 21-year-old point guard looked noticeably bigger, which the scale confirmed.

According to Fox, he stacked on 10 pounds, tipping the scale at 186 pounds coming into camp, which is around where he would like to play this season.

“Right now it’s all about just trying to sustain it,” Fox said of his weight gain. “Eating well, making sure that I’m eating enough because of how much practice time and all the games we play. With our strength guys and the nutrition factor, we definitely have a plan for it.”

Fox averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 31.4 minutes per game last season with the Kings and he’s hoping for another tremendous jump both individually and as a team.

It’s likely he sees an uptick in minutes and if his offseason workouts yield even close to what they did a year ago, he should see another substantial jump in numbers.

In addition to working out over the offseason with his trainer and agent, Chris Gaston, Fox took part in Team USA festivities in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles over the summer.

He spent two weeks playing with some of the best players in the league and learning from coaching legends Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.

“I definitely learned how to play with other good players,” Fox said of what he took away from the Team USA experience. “Just everything. Not wasting any movements because everyone on the court is a very good player. You’ve got to be efficient in everything you do and that’s one of the things I learned when I was there.”

Fox still isn’t interested in talking about why he left the national team before they shipped out to Australia and then China for the FIBA World Cup. He may never divulge that information.

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In the end, it shouldn’t matter. Playing for the national program, while an honor, is voluntary. Fox’s commitment is to the Kings, which he has made abundantly clear.

Sacramento has added depth and talent around Fox. He’s done the work to take another step forward in his progression. The quicker he reaches his full potential, the better it is for the Kings.

2019 Team USA World Cup squad has much to learn from 2006’s failures

2019 Team USA World Cup squad has much to learn from 2006’s failures

One of the smartest moves legendary basketball coach Gregg Popovich can make over the next couple days is to darken an auditorium in China and show some 13-year-old video.

Let the current United States men’s basketball team -- in the final hours before the 2019 FIBA World Cup begins -- feast its eyes on the last Team USA to fail.

That team, in the 2006 FIBA World Cup, was unable to successfully defend pick-and-roll offense and ended up trudging off the floor, tipping caps to Greece and then scratching their own heads after a 101-95 loss in the semifinal round.

They returned home with bronze medals and fractured pride.

Coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, that group featured plenty of heavyweight talent, including the entire Banana Boat crew: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. So deep was Coach K’s squad that Chris Bosh, between his third and fourth NBA seasons, came off the bench in all nine games.

Taken to school by a Greek team without a single NBA player, Coach K’s group was superior in every way to the group Coach Pop has now.

The 2019 version of Team USA is without even one superstar. When it takes the floor Sunday in Shanghai against the Czech Republic, it will be led by three-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker and one-time All-Star forward Khris Middleton. Their 10 teammates have zero All-Star games among them. The lone championship ring among the 12 players on the roster belongs to Harrison Barnes, won with the Warriors in 2015. Barnes also is the only member of the team with Olympic games experience, and that was a total of 31 minutes in the Rio Games.

This is a group of good players with limited international experience and merely a dream of demolishing all comers. Coach Pop and his staff, which includes Warriors coach Steve Kerr, presides over the most vulnerable group of American men in major international competition since NBA players began participating in 1992.

These guys need to see the video from ’06.

That’s when the Greeks used the pick-and-roll to practical perfection, leading to a succession of open looks. They shot 62.5 percent from the field, and 44.4 percent beyond the arc. The better team triumphed over vastly better players.

“Their offense beat our offense, and I take responsibility for that,” Krzyzewski told reporters.

“To lose any game is a shock to us,” Anthony said.

Well, a similar Team USA experience is conceivable at some point during the tournament that runs through Sept. 15. Kemba & Co. need to apply all the passion and commitment they can summon, in every game, to avoid such ignominy.

They have to know that, right?

Team USA won three consecutive exhibitions before taking a 98-94 loss on Monday to an Australian team with five NBA players, none of whom has been an All-Star. Never mind that the Americans bounced back two days later, in their final tune-up, for an 84-68 win over a Canadian team without a single NBA player. The personal lessons for Coach Pop’s bunch were in the loss to Australia.

“The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we have to be and how we have to play in this kind of competition,” Popovich told reporters in Melbourne.

That loss snapped Team USA’s 78-game win streak in major international games and exhibitions. It also was the first loss by a USA team composed of NBA players since ’06.

Losing that game may be the best thing that could have happened to Coach Pop and Team USA, the final buzzer a siren informing them that they were on the brink of a competitive emergency.

Some quality teams await in China. Greece has reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the tournament. Serbia, with Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, has the second-best player in the tournament. Spain is too formidable to be dismissed as is, not to mention France with its four NBA players.

When the ’06 team sheepishly accepted the bronze medal, it insisted such a stunning loss in international competition would not happen again. It hasn’t. Team USA routinely crushes opponents, often grinning their way through routs. They are the international gold standard, winning with Globetrotter-like consistency.

[RELATED: Why Gregg Popovich, Team USA trust Kings' Harrison Barnes so much]

This is why, as Melo said 13 years ago, losing to Greece was such a shock.

Show this group the video from ‘06, Pop, and give it to ‘em straight. Right after everybody gets one more look at the video from their loss to Australia. 

Why Gregg Popovich, Team USA trust Kings' Harrison Barnes so much

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USATSI

Why Gregg Popovich, Team USA trust Kings' Harrison Barnes so much

USA Basketball's roster for the men's 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup isn't so much of a "who's who" as it is a "who's that?"

Star after star turned down the chance to don the red, white and blue this summer, leaving the Americans with their weakest collection of talent at a major international tournament in recent memory. Kings forward Harrison Barnes, a gold medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, is one of the few players on the roster with international experience and the only one to win an NBA title. 

That has made him a favorite of coach Gregg Poppovich, according to USA basketball assistant -- and Warriors head coach -- Steve Kerr. 

“Pop trusts him,” Kerr told The Athletic's Joe Vardon. “Pop talks about it all the time with our staff. He knows he can count on him to make the right play and to execute under pressure.” 

Barnes won a title with Kerr and the Warriors in 2015, and was a key part of the team that won an NBA-record 73 games and finished one win shy of a second consecutive championship in the 2015-16 campaign. That kind of big-game experience in the pros is lacking on the rest of the roster, as evidenced by the end of the Americans' 78-game international win streak last week.

Although Barnes averaged just 8.5 points per game through four pre-tournament tuneup games, he knows he will be relied upon to set an example for his less experienced teammates. 

“Just from what I’ve seen from our experience so far, trying to help guys understand what it means to play on an international stage and what we’re going to have to go through to win it,” Barnes told Vardon. “Anytime you have championship experience, whether it was just that journey of going through it, whether it was in ’15 or ’16, whatever it is, that just helps you in this process because you have eight games to lock in and do something special.”

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Team USA opens the tournament in China on Sunday against the Czech Republic. The Americans are no longer certain favorites, as they have been for the entirety of the last decade, and Barnes is one of many players who will be asked to rise to the occasion. 

His coaches seem to think he will.