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Sacramento Kings set for another uncertain season

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Sacramento Kings set for another uncertain season

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings are about to embark on another season in California's capital.

That alone might be considered a success for a fan base that has been beaten and bruised emotionally following the back-and-forth drama over the franchise's future home. Nobody can truly predict what might happen next. If the past few years have proved anything, though, the Kings will keep things interesting again.

Maybe even this time on the court.

Keith Smart begins his first full season as Sacramento's coach with a roster full of talented young players who have yet to mesh - or play defense. After six straight losing seasons, constant coaching changes and no long-term arena solution in sight, Smart understands why the optimism that's been recycled every October in Sacramento is hard for so many to believe anymore.

``We have to surprise people because we're no one in the NBA,'' Smart said. ``We have to pull out all the stops to try to grow as a team.''

Smart encouraged players to take a different approach this summer.

Instead of spreading out across the country to the various cities that they're from, many stayed in Sacramento - or at least came back earlier - to work out together. In between, Smart and his staff visited with some, both to form relationships and to find ways to improve the team.

Smart, who was promoted from assistant coach when the Kings fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start last season, wanted to take every advantage his first full offseason as an NBA coach. He had a one-and-done season with Golden State after taking over for Don Nelson on the eve of training camp in 2010, and had a stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers' interim head coach for the final 40 games in 2003 after taking over for John Lucas.

Even with all the extra time spent studying video and working with players, Smart still has an almost identical roster to the one that finished 22-44 last season and has to compete in a much-improved Pacific Division.

DeMarcus Cousins is one of the NBA's best budding big men but still has trouble controlling his emotions. Tyreke Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year, stayed healthy last season but struggled in his move from point to guard to wingman. And former BYU sensation Jimmer Fredette had a mostly disappointing debut trying to play in a structured system but has vowed to be more aggressive his second time around.

Standout point guard Isaiah Thomas is back after a sensational rookie season. The Kings also added free agent guard Aaron Brooks and fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson, the former Kansas forward and first unanimous first-team All-American since Blake Griffin, to mix with veterans such as Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia.

``We're out there trying to prove so much,'' Cousins said.

Players also bonded over summer workouts, including a week in July when about 10 came to Sacramento, and during the first week of training camp, which Smart moved to Colorado Springs. In particular, Cousins and Evans - who practiced in the gym at such late hours Smart called him the ``cat burglar'' - were working out in Sacramento most of the offseason.

``I think that was just a first step,'' Evans said, ``for us to start playing together knowing we've all got to be on the same page this year.''

No matter what success might come Sacramento's way this season, the franchise's future is still murkier than ever.

Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof backed out of an arena deal in April that Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson trumpeted and the City Council approved. The Maloofs have said the deal, signed off on by NBA Commissioner David Stern, didn't make financial sense for the franchise.

No other plan has been in the works between Sacramento and the Maloofs, which will again open the possibility of relocation if nothing develops by early 2013, not to mention lead to endless speculation from Anaheim to Seattle to Virginia Beach - and everywhere in between - about luring the franchise.

There also appears to be no long-term deal in the works for Evans, who is eligible for an extension with Sacramento until Oct. 30, after which time he will become a free agent next summer. Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie also is in the final year of his contract.

With so many possible distractions, Smart has long preached to his players not to worry about the things they can't control.

``You want them to focus on just the team in the moment,'' Smart said. ``They don't have anyone else out here they have to focus with. They have to focus on just the team.''

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming week, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Defensive line

Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)

Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor

How the defensive line compares

To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star. 

Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances. 

Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months. 

Quote-unquote

Greg Manusky on Payne:

Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.

2018 position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler