Jabari Parker

Kings' Jabari Parker ready for Sacramento debut; Alex Len getting closer

Kings' Jabari Parker ready for Sacramento debut; Alex Len getting closer

SACRAMENTO -- With 28 games remaining in the 2019-20 season, the Kings hit the practice court for one last workout before starting the stretch run Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.

It was a lively practice, with Bogdan Bogdanovic hitting 90 consecutive free-throw attempts, a couple of new faces hitting the practice facility floor and the reigning 3-point champ speaking to the media.

Here are a few notes and quotes coming out of Wednesday’s practice.

Jabari Parker is ready

After sitting out since Jan. 3 with a shoulder impingement issue, and playing just once since Dec. 23, Parker is confident he’ll play Thursday night when the Kings face the Grizzlies.

“Yeah, I’ve been expecting to play the last couple of games,” Parker said following practice. “Hopefully I’ll get out tomorrow, keep my hopes high.”

Any enthusiasm regarding Parker should be tempered slightly. The 24-year-old forward has played just one game in almost two months. He isn’t in basketball shape and will take time to get up to speed with Sacramento. That doesn’t mean he won’t score the ball, he might just have to be used in short bursts.

“Hopefully just be that guy that can score, be that guy that can create on the offensive end, be uptempo on both sides of the floor,” Parker said, of what Kings fans should expect when he makes his debut.

Alex Len is getting closer

Len fully participated in practice, but he still needs more time before jumping back in the rotation. Acquired along with Parker at the deadline for Dewayne Dedmon, the 7-footer hasn’t played since Jan. 24 due to a strained right hip flexor.

Atlanta updated his condition on Jan. 31, putting him out of action for another 7-10 days. With the Kings short-handed in the post, they could use the former No. 5 overall pick from the 2013 NBA Draft.

"Last night's practice he did full contact, everything else he was in," Walton said. "Today he was a full go and he looked good out there. He was moving well and hopefully, we'll get him back this weekend if not early next week -- depending on how he feels in the morning."

Len is averaging 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and .8 blocks in 18.6 minutes per game for the Hawks. The only healthy and available center on the Kings’ roster heading into the stretch run is Harry Giles.

[RELATED: What Kings must do down stretch to make NBA playoff push]

Congrats

While it has nothing to do with the current state of the franchise, a heartfelt congratulations go out to former Kings coach Dave Joerger, who recently exchanged wedding vows with Kimberly Irons in Paso Robles.

Joerger spent three seasons as the Kings' coach from 2016 to 2019, compiling a 98-148 record.

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

What Kings have to do to erase early struggles, make NBA playoffs push

The post mortem on the 2019-20 Kings season isn’t ready to be written just yet, but it's getting late for Luke Walton's team. After a promising season last year, the Kings come out of the All-Star break at 21-33, seven games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Injuries, bad beats, two-minute report failings and playing down to competition have turned the first two-thirds of the season into a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of year. With 28 games remaining, do the Kings still have a chance to turn the season around?

The short answer is yes, the Kings still have an opportunity to end their 13-season postseason drought. The long answer is more complex.

The Kings open their post-All-Star break schedule at home with a matchup against the Grizzlies. If they can find a way to beat an up-and-coming Memphis team, they would give themselves a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season.

A loss would put them eight games off the pace, with a 1-2 record against Memphis. Game over.

If the Kings can get past the Grizz, they have a small window to make up ground. They travel to Los Angeles for a game against the Clippers on Friday. The last time the Kings were in Staples Center, they lit the Clippers up for a franchise-record 21 3-pointers in a 124-103 win.

After the trip to LA, the Kings continue their four-game road trip with stops in San Francisco to play the Warriors, Oklahoma City and Memphis. Sacramento is 2-0 against the Warriors and 1-1 versus both the Thunder and Grizzlies on the season.

Following the four-game road trip, the Kings return home to host the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. At the end of this eight-game stretch, the Kings either will still be breathing or their season will be over.

A 5-3 record over this grouping of games really is the worst the Kings can afford. A 4-4 stint or even a 3-5 record would be a huge blow in one of the last remaining soft spots in the schedule.

Even if the Kings make it through this stretch with a 5-3 record or better, they have a long road in front of them. They play 11 of their final 20 games at home, with eight of those games coming against clubs with a .500 or better record. Ten of those remaining games are against teams currently in the postseason picture.

The schedule is one issue, but in order for Sacramento to make up ground, they also have to pass over additional teams in the standings. The Kings trail the Phoenix Suns by a half-game, the New Orleans Pelicans by a game-and-a-half, the San Antonio Spurs by two games and the Portland Trail Blazers by three games.

In short, the Kings would need to jump over five teams in the standings over the final 28 games to make the playoffs.

The remaining strength of schedule, according to Tankathon.com, favors both the Blazers and the Pelicans in this situation.
Remaining strength of schedule (win percentage of remaining opponents):

Grizzlies            .554
Suns                  .522
Spurs                .488
Kings                 .487
Trail Blazers     .467
Pelicans            .449

Strength of schedule only is one of the issues facing the up and coming Grizzlies. Having one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, Memphis has very few players who have been in this situation before. Jonas Valanciunas has 43 career playoff games under his belt. Kyle Anderson played in 30 postseason games with the Spurs and newly acquired Gorgui Dieng has played in five. Tyus Jones (4) and Grayson Allen (2) round out the team’s total playoff experience.

If the Grizzlies fall, which is entirely possible, that still leaves a bevy of teams standing between the Kings and an elusive postseason berth.

The Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals last season, but they’ve struggled to stay healthy and build momentum all season after a series of roster moves. The Spurs are riding a 22-year postseason streak and they always seem to flourish in the window directly following the All-Star break.

The Pelicans just started integrating top pick Zion Williamson into their rotation and they are 5-5 since his arrival. Phoenix is just 3-7 over its last 10 games and their strength of schedule is difficult.

[RELATED: Buddy's Friday night out didn't slow him in 3-point contest]

Despite losing their final two games heading into the All-Star break, the Kings are 6-4 over their previous 10 games. They’re playing better basketball, keyed by the insertion of Bogdan Bogdanovic in the starting lineup, Buddy Hield finding a rhythm off the bench and the arrival of veteran Kent Bazemore.

The odds are not on the Kings' side, but if they can get healthy, integrate Jabari Parker into the rotation and get on a roll, there still is time to at least make this race interesting. It starts Thursday against the Grizzlies. If they can’t get that one, then none of this matters.

Jabari Parker nearing Kings debut after NBA trade deadline whirlwind

Jabari Parker nearing Kings debut after NBA trade deadline whirlwind

The NBA trade deadline always is an interesting time. The buildup is intense, especially for players in the locker room. They get asked uncomfortable questions about their future. They might have to leave their families and friends behind and live in a hotel in a distant city.

Pins and needles turn into a new reality for players around the league as reports hit social media and then are confirmed. It’s a wild, emotional time for almost everyone involved.

For Jabari Parker, whom the Sacramento Kings acquired along with center Alex Len in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline last week, this isn’t the first time he has been traded at the deadline. In fact, it’s the second year in a row that he ha had to make an adjustment on the fly and join a new team for the final 30-plus games of the season.

It’s part of the business of the NBA and it usually gives players a unique perspective on what to expect, especially once they’ve been through the process once or twice.

“I knew what I signed up for when I chose this, it’s just a matter of building,” Parker said. “Life throws everything at you. Life is not real steady, everybody has challenges. And that kind of perspective kind of takes me far and gets me prepared for moments like this.”

Parker has struggled with injuries throughout his six seasons in the league. He’s currently dealing with a shoulder impingement that required a procedure in December, and he also tore the ACL in his left knee twice in his first three seasons in the league.

The 24-year-old forward has played in just one game since Christmas and he has missed the last 19 games, but he’s getting very close to a return. He would like to play on Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2014, although the Kings might have something to say about that.

“If it’s up to me, I’d play today,” Parker said on Saturday. “But it’s not up to me. I’m just trying to take the safest way.”

He’s stepping into an interesting situation. The Kings have struggled all season long, but they currently are on a hot streak and they are attempting to claw their way back into the postseason race.

“I feel good, I’m just trying to get as [much] practice as possible before I try to get in some games,” Parker said about his injured shoulder. “Preparation is key, especially where our team is right now. You see we’ve been winning and I don’t want to try to slow us up.”

While injuries have defined his early career, Parker can bring something different to the Kings’ roster. He is a combo forward that can really fill up the basket. He averaged 15 points and six rebounds per game for the Hawks, while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor.

He isn’t a great perimeter shooter, but there is plenty to like about his game and he’s still young enough to improve.

“Mindset-wise, I always try to count my blessings because right now, I’m healthy, I’ve got a clear space, I have good people around me -- those three things I can take and the sky's the limit,” Parker said. “Really, just having that kind of mindset, is key for me.”

The Kings have been after Parker for a while. They chased him during free agency in 2018 before he signed with the Chicago Bulls. He’s on the books for $6.5 million this season and has a player option for the same amount next year.

[RELATED: Divac admits Dedmon wasn't player Kings expected to see]

If he sticks around, the Kings have another young scoring option to work with. If he opts out, Sacramento will have found a way to completely get out from underneath Dewayne Dedmon’s contract, whom the Kings dealt to land Parker.