TrueHoop: Sacramento Kings
Special to ESPN.com
There are plenty of rationales floating around as to why Ranadive fired Malone. Almost none of them implicate the 2-8 slide since DeMarcus Cousins came down with a nasty case of meningitis as anything more than the Trojan horse that provided cover for the decision. The most revealing answers Ranadive has given have been about style. He wants the Kings to play fast and reactive, like a jazz band. He wants them to abandon their plodding, grinding ways for a hyperkinetic style without classical restrictions like positions. Ranadive wants to re-engineer the Kings from the circuits up. That they have only one true 3-point threat to fan out to the corners on a fast break doesn’t factor into the philosophical revolution Ranadive is planning. Winning isn’t so much the point as the theoretically inevitable result of innovating a new coordinate system and language for basketball.
The problem is that Ranadive isn’t a decorated basketball thinker; he’s a wildly successful Malcolm Gladwell-lauded technology businessman. Ambition looks like hubris, because he doesn’t have any credentials beyond coaching his daughter’s youth team to a national championship game. There might not be another basketball revolution out there for Ranadive to innovate up, but he’s going to try. The NBA is in a golden age of discovery and advancement, fueled by new-money owners and veterans of the technology industry. Analytics have changed how players are scouted, the way the game works possession by possession, and how fans interact with their favorite teams.
Ranadive is at the forefront of this wave and his Kings are as much basketball team as they are science experiment. Where even the most ambitious of his contemporaries are working for marginal gains, he is a heart-on-sleeve futurist. Exhibit A: The system that Sacramento’s D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns, is running. Holding on to Malone would have been the sensible basketball move, as he helped create an environment where Cousins could thrive and presided over improvements from most other Kings. But at his best, Malone probably rates out as a good, traditional coach. “Good” and “traditional” would be desirable adjectives for most coaches in the league, but not for the Kings. They’re dreamers.
Ranadive has spoken with grandiose effect about NBA 3.0. He’s teased Sacramento’s new arena as “one of the most iconic structures on the planet,” and pitched Nik Stauskas as a taller Steph Curry. His whole professional career, Ranadive has thrived by seizing on little opportunities and untouched ideas, then blowing them up to an extreme. You don’t make it as a tech pioneer without aggressive self-belief. It’s logical to assume he’ll run the Kings like he’s run many successful companies, and early returns bear this out. He is betting that the NBA is ripe for another strategic renaissance and he’s not settling for a coach who is simply good and traditional.
Ranadive’s intergalactic ambition makes for a revealing contrast with Robert Pera’s tenure as owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. Pera is the youngest owner in the NBA at 34 and, like Ranadive, he entered the league with big ideas. He also sent away Lionel Hollins early in his time as owner and, this summer, was very close to letting Dave Joerger walk before he eventually retained him. The Grizzlies are now second in the West at 21-4 with a core largely unaltered from the time before Pera took over. Pera intended to make big moves that marked the Grizzlies as his territory, and he did. But they were confined to the front office, and never affected the Grizzlies’ on-court chemistry.
Pera had his own ideas about how the team should work, yet he ultimately resigned himself to the inarguable fact that team success is primarily tied to personnel. The Grizzlies organization is one of the most analytically progressive in the league, from Joerger up to Pera, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Grizzlies play revolutionary basketball. Style isn’t a relevant indicator of how forward-thinking a team is. Playing ugly doesn’t mean playing inefficiently.
The idea that Ranadive will force the Kings to play 4-on-5 with a cherry-picker is a paper tiger, an easy target that’s been blown out of proportion, but it’s a signifier of how he sees the league. Rather than focus on acquiring the best players he can and hiring a coach to spin them into a functioning unit, he is concerned with acting as chief visionary, and that’s the central tension of the Sacramento Kings. In a vacuum, looking toward the future and refusing to settle are beneficial organizational strategies. But centralizing capital-I Ideas at the expense of the actual basketball team can be detrimental. Instead of asking “How can I put DeMarcus Cousins in the most efficient structure I can?” Ranadive is asking “How can I change the fabric of basketball?"
The NBA won’t continue to evolve without powerful people like Ranadive actively pushing boundaries and taking risks. But there is too much entropy in the NBA world. Where Ranadive sees firing Malone as the first domino in an evolution toward an elite, innovative Kings team, Cousins might see the signs of a trigger-happy ownership group that wants to implement an unfeeling vision no matter what. Unlike Ranadive, Cousins does the boots-on-the-ground work of winning basketball games. Essentially, Ranadive is gambling on his ability to see the future and get there before any other team.
It’s a tremendously risky proposition, one Kings fans are totally unfamiliar with. After seven glorious -- nearly great -- seasons with Rick Adelman, the Maloofs' reign in Sacramento was the diametric opposite of Ranadive’s relentless ambition. After a long period of malaise, Ranadive’s impatient time at the helm looks tinged through with megalomania. Casting off Malone abruptly while things were going bumpy feels impulsive and rash, yet it was in service to an ideal. He envisions himself an auteur -- as evinced by his draft room takeover -- but the crucial point that Ranadive misses is that innovation in the NBA is player-centric.
This is the orthodoxy that Ranadive thinks he can overcome, that the system can somehow supersede the player rather than simply amplify his talents. The honeymoon period he enjoyed as Sacramento’s savior is now over. With the firing of Malone, Ranadive will now be judged on his own merits, not against the Maloofs. Philosophical ambition and snappy mantras will play only as long as the Kings win basketball games. Malone’s dismissal would have been understandable if he was inadequate, but he clearly was not. The first quarter-season of 2014-15 has been the best stretch of Kings basketball since Adelman left, and Ranadive threw it away because Malone wouldn’t buy into his eccentric ideas. It’s not about basketball, because if it was, Malone would still be the coach. As Ranadive ignores the present, his futurism rings hollow. It is still early in his tenure, but right now, he looks more like an ideologue than a visionary.
Patrick Redford is a contributor to VICE Sports, Deadspin and The Classical. Bug him on Twitter @patrickredford.
Special to ESPN.com
It’s been a rough 48 hours for the former tech giant. The firing of popular head coach Michael Malone on Sunday night has been received quite poorly almost across the board. The media has come calling in search of answers, and Ranadive has a list of five points, memorized, that he wants to share.
“There are five things I want to say,” the soft-spoken Ranadive begins. “The first thing is -- look, I know the fans have reacted to this aggressively, and it just underscores for me that we have the best fans in sports. They’re passionate, they’re engaged, they let their views be known, even if they don’t agree with what we’re doing.”
Ranadive is correct. Sacramento Kings fans are dumbfounded. After a 9-6 start to the season, DeMarcus Cousins came down with viral meningitis and hasn’t played since. Without Cousins, the Kings are 2-8 and losers of four straight.
Now 11-14 on the season, D’Alessandro, with the backing of Ranadive, handed Malone his pink slip.
“Michael Malone is a good man, he’s an honorable man and that he did great things for this organization,” Ranadive says, moving to Point 2. “I, personally, and the Sacramento Kings will always have the highest respect and regard for Michael Malone. And that whatever he does, we know that he will continue to have a great career in the NBA.”
The typical exit speech from an owner when a coach is fired. In Sacramento, there is a template sitting in a drawer somewhere.
“When we got Michael Malone, we believed it was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Ranadive, who hired Malone soon after he agreed to purchase the Kings and before he hired D’Alessandro. “I was handed the keys to the kingdom, and the place was literally and figuratively falling apart. The roof was falling down, we hadn’t sold a single ticket. There was chaos, even anarchy, in the locker room, and the draft was only weeks away. So we needed a coach that would restore structure, restore discipline, restore a system, defense and I consulted with some of the experts in the business, and they said he was a great choice.”
This third point should come in bold print. Chaos and anarchy are perfect descriptions for where the Kings were when Ranadive took control of the team from the Maloofs, who nearly sold the team to owners who intended to move to Seattle. In 18 months, Malone transformed one of the most dysfunctional locker rooms in the league, without giving up on Cousins.
Described as both a disciplinarian and players' coach, Malone laid a foundation that interim coach Tyrone Corbin, the former head coach of the Utah Jazz, now takes over.
“The NBA has become like the high-tech business,” Ranadive said. Point 4. “Just because you invented the iPhone, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels, because somebody else is building a better iPhone. Just because you win 50 games, doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you win 16 games in a row, doesn’t mean that you don’t look for Ray Allen to make your team better. So we live in a time when good enough isn’t, and we need to keep getting better. So while we have a good foundation, we needed to pivot. We needed to go.”
Ranadive wasn’t finished with this point. In fact, of the five, this is the one he says led to Malone’s dismissal.
“Defense is great, but we need defense and offense,” he said. “We need to go from a rules-based organization, which was important when you had chaos, to a values-based organization. From kind of a programmatic offense, to a read-and-respond, free-flowing offense. I like to use a music metaphor. We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised. What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”
Known for his defensive coaching acumen, the Kings under Malone felt more like the New York Knicks from the early 1990s. Before owning the Kings, Ranadive was a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, long known for their offense. D’Alessandro was the assistant GM for George Karl’s high-octane Denver Nuggets.
There was a clear mismatch in styles. While the brass preached pace, Malone emphasized defense. A middle ground was never reached.
Now the last point.
“This ownership group has shown a willingness to open its wallet,” Ranadive said. “Open it for the players, for the coaching staff, for the facility, for the old arena, the new arena, the downtown Sacramento development, and we will continue to do that because we have the best fans in sports.”
After running through his list, we have time for one question before we lose our spot on the white leather couch. Ranadive has taken a beating in the press, both locally and nationally. How is he holding up under the scrutiny?
“I’ve been beaten before,” he said. “They said that Seattle had won, and we would never be able to keep this team. People said that Cousins was toxic, and he was a cancer and we should get rid of him. They said that Rudy [Gay] was terrible, and even if he came, he would never stay. They said if Isaiah [Thomas] left, the team would fall apart. So look, I’m surrounded by really smart people, and they give me great advice. They call the shots, and I support them.”
Special to ESPN.com
The Kings spent the first half-decade of this century playing vibrant, synaptic basketball in front of boisterous crowds, but injuries and a mangled reloading project sent them scuttling toward basketball obscurity as quickly as they’d risen to join the NBA’s elite. In 2008-09, two years after their eighth straight playoff berth, they won 17 games. They were an irrelevant blank slate of a team, toiling to the lottery in a decrepit arena, playing John Salmons heavy minutes and napping so far on the fringes of the NBA zeitgeist you couldn’t see them unless you squinted. Believing in the Kings was like rooting for a ghost.
There were brief glimmers of hope, as there are for any team. Kevin Martin rode his jittery offensive game to near-stardom, and Tyreke Evans won the 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, but their talents spoiled before the team could do anything with them. Those Kings were aimless, unmoored from any kind of long-term plan. They kept slipping and falling on banana peels that they themselves were throwing. Ownership was, at best, apathetic toward the on-court plight of the team, and more likely actively scheming on how they could pull up stakes and move the Kings to Anaheim, Seattle, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach or anywhere else. The fans that made ARCO Arena unplayable for opponents were sent out on an ice floe while the Maloofs gazed elsewhere.
The recession exacerbated the problems surrounding the team from every side. The Maloof brothers saw their Las Vegas-based properties radically devalued, and the Central Valley suffered as much as anywhere in the country. Suddenly, relocation was no longer a looming specter off on the margins of the Sacramento inferiority complex, it was an existential threat. Los Angeles was winning titles while the economically wrecked capital was looking at life without an NBA team.
See, the Sacramento civic identity is bound up in its contradictory proximities. Between San Francisco and Stockton, there is a daunting spectrum of cities Sacramento could be. Sacramento is the capital of California, sure, but it feels nascent and lumpy. The old line goes “Sacramento is a great place … to be from.” The Kings are an aspirational signifier, a mark that the city takes itself seriously and intends to become more than a Central Valley outpost or the Bay Area’s weird little cousin. When Phil Jackson called it a cow town in 2002, he put words to the regionally held anxiety that Sacramento, a diffuse, unglamorous city, was altogether unworthy of its team.
I couldn’t leave a game for years without thinking, “Was that my last one ever?” Thankfully, I don’t know when that will be. Jackson was wrong. The Maloofs came right to the cusp of a move to Anaheim and then a sale to a Seattle-based group -- the saga was so painfully drawn out that it has its own 1,500-word Wikipedia entry -- but NBA and city officials pulled them back both times. The drama and the worrying all ended when Vivek Ranadive officially bought the keys to the franchise from the Maloofs on May 16, 2013. Two antagonistic years of fake arena deals, under-the-table agreements and shady political maneuvers dressed up as grassroots activism culminated in an outcome Kings fans ached for. It was exhausting.
The team that Ranadive inherited was a tragicomic bunch, stuck running antiquated sets and squabbling with one another over who could take the most meaningless shots. Everyone was auditioning for a role elsewhere after the inevitable roster shake-up that comes with a new ownership group. There was a special awfulness about those pre-Vivek teams. The cartoonish vodka pitchmen at the top were so obviously apathetic about the team as anything other than a business object that games felt farcical. Fans showed up and cheered, because Kings fans have supported horrible teams for 25 years, but you never got the sense that the franchise could responsibly develop DeMarcus Cousins or any other young talents.
It’s only Year 2 of the Ranadive era, but that hangdog legacy is dead. This is the team of the expanding, forward-thinking Sacramento. The noxious self-defeatism of the Maloofs is all gone, and the new Kings are finally caught up with the rest of the league. Ranadive and his team are enthusiastically trying to push every boundary they can, for better or for worse. Some of their forays past the bleeding edge of basketball orthodoxy -- like biometric data gathering and the idea of playing with an ultimate frisbee-style cherry picker -- have drawn criticism and mockery. But look at their good ideas -- like signing up for the Catapult tracking system and hiring advanced stats wizard Dean Oliver -- next to the questionable ones, and you’ll see that the Kings aren’t blindly swinging out for megalomania or the sake of selling themselves as “NBA 3.0.” These new Kings are ambitious and aggressive about winning as many games as they can with whoever they employ or shuffling their roster around until it works.
For fans, this ambition is altogether unrecognizable. They have followed their team to the edge of what looked like a flat world and seen the abyss. Success, whatever shape that takes on if it comes, is at least in the parlance of the Kings now, and that’s obtusely scary. There’s a specific sense of paranoid joy that comes with going all-in. Losses hurt now, which is its own kind of novelty. When Vivek took over, the team crossed a rubicon. They’re probably in a transition phase, but don’t dare say that to the flesh-and-blood Kings.
The team started 5-1, their best in a decade and a half. After a wonky first season of trades and an on-the-fly identity reconfiguring, Michael Malone has his system in place, and management is edging closer to a roster that is of their making. The Kings aren’t playing pretty basketball, but it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t quite make sense if they were.
Instead, their style has a visceral crunch to it. Some of this is the Kings’ first competent defensive scheme in 10 years. Some of it is Cousins’ immutable bigness. For all their early successes, the Kings aren’t a finished project, and they exude this roughness on the court. But it’s more satisfying this way. Reggie Evans cosplaying a tornado, Ben McLemore finally learning to channel his athleticism, the team’s craggy idiosyncrasies speak of ACTION and POWER and other big, loud words that the Kings have never embodied before. For a franchise just getting over deep uncertainty, winning ugly is the loudest and most gratifying way to assert importance.
The Kings, now 6-5, may or may not matter this April, when the playoffs start. But for the first time in years, it’s the biggest priority. For years, it was putting roots down in Sacramento and defying the city’s geographically circumscribed narrative. Somehow, that worked, and it’s time to move on up. There is no ride off into the sunset now. This season isn’t the epilogue. This is the start of the Kings’ time as a legitimate, functioning NBA team.
Patrick Redford is a contributor to VICE Sports, Deadspin, and The Classical. Bug him on Twitter @patrickredford.
Special to ESPN.com
The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.
Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.
Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.
Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.
Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.
Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.
Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.
Golden State WarriorsTravis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.
Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.
Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.
Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.
Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.
Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.
Los Angeles Clippers
Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.
Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.
Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.
Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.
DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.
Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.
Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.
Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?
Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.
New Orleans Pelicans
Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.
Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.
Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.
T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?
Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.
Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.
Portland Trail Blazers
C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.
Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.
Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.
Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.
Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.
Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.
San Antonio Spurs
Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.
Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.
Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.
Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.
Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.
Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.
D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.
Big and Bigger pic.twitter.com/gSWB9GoJB3— Vivek Ranadivé (@Vivek) July 9, 2014
Bhullar is listed at 7-foot-5 and 355 pounds. He went undrafted last month, but he signed with the Kings after the draft and has been working with them in advance of the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts Friday. Bhullar, who was born in Canada and is of Indian descent, averaged 10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.9 blocks per game in two seasons at New Mexico State.
Special to ESPN.com
With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.
The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.
The deal: Trade Machine
Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014
This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.
The deal: Trade Machine
Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016
Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.
Brooklyn NetsThe deal: Trade Machine
Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett
Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.
The deal: Trade Machine
Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014
The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.
Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.
The deal: Trade Machine
Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014
Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.
The deal: Trade Machine
Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014
Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.
Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”
I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.
It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.
The deal: Trade Machine
Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014
Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.
The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.
Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy
I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!
Golden State Warriors
The deal: Trade Machine
Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016
I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.
The deal: Trade Machine
Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017
This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?
Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?
The deal: Trade Machine
Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West
I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.
Los Angeles Clippers
The deal: Trade Machine
Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford
I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.
The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.
Los Angeles Lakers
The deal: Trade Machine
Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners
In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.
The deal: Trade Machine
Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017
This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.
The deal: Trade Machine
Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018
The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.
The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.
The deal: Trade Machine
Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league
Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.
New Orleans Pelicans
The deal: Trade Machine
Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon
Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.
New York Knicks
The deal: Trade Machine
Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]
The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?
Oklahoma City Thunder
The deal: Trade Machine
Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017
I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.
The deal: Trade Machine
Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014
I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.
The deal: Trade Machine
76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014
The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.
The deal: Trade Machine
Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015
This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.
Portland Trail Blazers
The deal: Trade Machine
Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland
This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.
The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.
The deal: Trade Machine
Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry
This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.
San Antonio Spurs
Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich
This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.
For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.
The deal: Trade Machine
Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016
It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.
The deal: Trade Machine
Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014
Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!
The deal: Trade Machine
Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene
This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.
It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.
What Adam did was fantastic. I support him 100 percent. He sent a very clear, unequivocal and decisive message that we will have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.
The NBA, and I call it NBA 2.0, is a global game, it's a global brand. It has a universality to it. And so I will not just second the motion, but lead the motion for us to do as Adam recommends. I believe that the other owners will support it as well. (Note: 29 of 29 have already expressed support.)
The owners I know, they all are colorblind. That was the irony of this situation, that the NBA is one of the most colorblind institutions in the world. To have that be challenged or embarrassed in the way Mr. Sterling did with his comments is bad for the game of basketball, and it's bad for the league.
It's a global institution and it has values. With technology and social media now, if something happens, you have the evidence and it's known to people. What the commissioner said was exactly right. It was brought to his attention. The evidence was there. The proof was there. He investigated it and he acted. I think it's a combination of circumstances. One is the changing nature of the sport, the universality of it, the global nature, it being more than a game, it being a set of values, and also now through social media and technology there's much more information available.
I expect it to happen quickly.
The commissioner has shown that he's decisive and we will be guided by Commissioner Silver.
Even if all that happens, we're saying, so, OK, you get punished. But you get a billion-dollar profit as punishment. Look, I don't think what the commissioner is saying is the least bit unreasonable. I fully support it.
I learned about it because one of my boys sent it to me. The TMZ article. I looked at it and I was shocked. It was extremely distasteful. The Gandhi quote came to mind. If you slight one person, then you slight us all. You slight the universe. You slight the whole world. It wasn't just Magic Johnson, it was all black people, and really, everybody.
I'm someone who has compassion. I'm not one to kick someone when they're down. But there has been no remorse or no statement. I believe that the commissioner did everything right.
Hopefully this brings about this dialogue among people, and it's something that will be discussed at dinner tables all over America and all over the world. Hopefully some good comes out of it in that you know, people get an even better understanding of each other.
I asked some people of color what they thought about this, and they shrugged and said, well, what's new? That hurt me deeply. I just think that maybe some goodwill come from this and there will be a more gentle dialogue and the NBA will be shining example of how we deal, and how we have a policy of zero tolerance on these issues.
To hear these stories and to hear people say yeah, we hear that every day. And so I can fully understand how a black person would feel. I just think that the fact that the commissioner acted on it at lightning speed, decisively, beyond maximum measures, it just shows that he's going to be a great commissioner.
I feel for the players and particularly the Clippers. I hope that with this bold action they can go back and play a great game. I texted Doc [Rivers] the day it happened and I told him to remember that the owners are just custodians. The game really belongs to the players and the fans and the city. Remember the great Jesse Owens who had to compete under the eye of Hitler. There are athletes who've had to compete under difficult circumstances before, I'm sure there will be difficult circumstances again in the future. Let's just have a great game.
I didn't hesitate to speak out when this first happened, and I feel very very confident the other owners will act according to Adam's wishes.
ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:
Quotes were gathered by ESPN.com writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.
Special to ESPN.com
We had the chance to catch up with Ranadive by phone earlier this week, and he gave us the inside scoop on the Kings' widespread use of analytics, his plan to solve tanking, and why he felt comfortable hitching the wagon of his franchise to DeMarcus Cousins.
What did you think about Malcolm Gladwell's conversation with the commissioner (Adam Silver at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference)? They touched on a lot of topics.
I think what’s most interesting is that the new commissioner is putting his mark on the NBA very quickly. He has this very open style and there are no questions that are off limits. He's inclusive; he’s open. I think he’s very quickly putting his imprint [on the league].
I had an interesting hallway conversation with him where I was talking about how, as the game becomes global, different cultures react in different ways, and that we’ve gone overboard in calling technicals when somebody celebrates. We talked a little bit about that. I said that as long as it doesn’t delay the game, then it’s part of the entertainment. What’s wrong with it? And he said, “Well, what about taunting?” And I said, “So what? I think taunting is cool.”
I happen to agree with you, but I think you might have a little bit more of a vested interest in that, considering the players on your team.
Well, the guy I was referring to about the technicals was actually Quincy Acy! And the commissioner turned around and said, “Yeah, you’re right.” One of the best parts about the early era was taunting. That was highly entertaining. He acknowledged that. What I like about him is that he’s very open and as you saw in the interview with Malcolm, nothing is off limits. He did a great job of defending why cities need to support sports teams, and I think he is doing a fantastic job.
One of the last questions Gladwell asked the commissioner was what one change he would make to the league if he had a magic wand and could change anything he wanted instantly. The commissioner said he’d increase the age limit. What would your one magic wand change be?
That’s the "V Plan." Do you want me to tell you the V Plan?
I would love to hear about the V Plan.
So, basically, we have this issue with how the draft happens and people allegedly tanking. So when I was flying back from the conference, someone looked at me and asked, “Hey, have you thought about this?” People have come up with different ideas -- this idea of The Wheel, and this and that. And so I thought about it and I came up with a solution that I believe will solve most of the issues, and I call it the V Plan.
There’s two parts to it. Part I is that you freeze the draft order at the time of the All-Star break. Then, everything [pertaining to the current lottery system] remains the same, but it’s frozen based on the standings at the All-Star break. Then there’s no gain in not playing at the highest level for the remainder of the season. That’s Part I.
Part II is that at the end of the season, the top seven teams from the Eastern Conference and the top seven teams from the Western Conference make the playoffs. Then for the eighth playoff spot, the remaining eight teams have a sudden-death, college-style playoff in a neutral venue, like Vegas in the West and Kansas or Louisville in the East. (Note: This idea is similar to Bill Simmons' "Entertaining as Hell Tournament,” first floated here and was discussed by Silver in his chat with Gladwell at the Sloan Conference.)
That would inject such excitement into the league. Teams would no longer be incentivized to lose. Their fans would have something to hope for, like a Cinderella team that got into the eighth spot. It would solve most of the issues that we’re facing with the way the draft happens right now.
There has been a lot of talk in NBA circles recently about health, sleep and injuries, with Catapult technology and things like that. How do you think that area of analytics will affect the league in the future and how heavily are you investing in it with the Kings?
We’re on the leading edge of all of that. We’re actually going to look at more data than any other team. We’re going to look at about 30 gigabytes of data, which is probably more than all the data that existed in the history of the NBA in that area.
We’re very big believers in that. The whole analytics space has gone from being one-dimensional, where you were looking at a box score, and analytics moved forward and you were still looking at player scores. Rows and columns of player scores. And now the analytics are also moving into a space-time thing. So you’re looking at spacing, and combinations of players, and you have a lot more data.
Look at Rudy Gay. You could look at one level of numbers and say, “In Toronto he’s scoring 24 points a game, so he’s great.” And then you go next level and say, “Yeah, but he’s only shooting [X] percent, so he’s terrible.” What we did is, we looked at all six years of data, we looked at spatial data, we looked at what happened with a big guy, and what would happen if he was the second or the third option. We concluded that his efficiency would go up dramatically, and sure enough, it’s gone up 20 percentage points. (Note: Gay’s true shooting percentage has increased from 46.8 with Toronto to 57.4 with Sacramento this season, a jump of 8.6 percent. His player efficiency rating, a measure of per-minute efficiency, has gone from 14.7 in Toronto to 20.5 in Sacramento.)
So we think that there’s a revolution happening. Basketball is a big data problem for me. The same will obviously apply to the draft. We’re using machine learning, and neural-network technology with the draft. It’s really hard when a player comes out after one year, to say, “Is that going to be The Guy?” So we’re looking at data to try to predict what NBA player the guy might end up looking like.
Then, of course, using preventing measures for health. I get a report every week now, where I monitor a whole bunch of metrics for our players. I’m continuously monitoring them. We’re looking at bands of certain kinds of metrics. We’re very much on the leading edge of all these areas, and we’re very committed to leveraging that.
Are you using the Catapult technology in practice?
We’re using variations of that. We actually used Catapult. There are competitors, and we’ve experimented with a variety of them. It’s measuring every single thing, and looking how that varies from week to week. I literally get a report, every single week, with a whole bunch of metrics that I look at.
Do you think that kind of data is more helpful in terms of preventing injuries or in creating custom practice schedules for a team or an individual player?
Well, both. We want to do things where we minimize the chance of injury. If you combine that kind of data with analysis, oftentimes there is a correlation between certain kinds of things and injuries. We want to get to the point where we have extremely customized training regimens for all of our players, depending on their position, their skills, their weight, and various metrics that we look at.
You went through a rather unusual hiring process when you took over the team in that you hired a coach before you hired a general manager. How did you decide to go that route, and how did you decide on Mike Malone and Pete D’Alessandro?
I had worked with Malone with the Warriors (Note: Ranadive was a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors franchise before purchasing a majority stake in the Kings) and I had the highest regard for him. I’d seen him in practice and I’d seen him in games for two years. I’d been to training sessions with him and been with him in the draft room.
He was the 21st century kind of coach that I wanted. The style of play -- we want to be like the Spurs, but exciting. We want to create a winning franchise that is a perennial contender, and we also want a strong defense, combined with up-tempo play. Malone is a coach’s son, and there was high demand for him. I knew that I wanted him, so I made a deal with him that once I bought a team, he would be my coach.
For the GM, I went through a pretty exhaustive search. What I was looking for was, I said: Who is the smartest guy? Who’s got the most passion? And who’s the hungriest? That’s how I hired people in my software company.
When I spoke to Pete, I told him, “I’ve got three other candidates that are finalists for this job, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get job. I will interview you, and most likely it will be for an assistant GM [position]. If you want to come out, come out, but the chances of you getting it are 1 percent.” He came out, and the night before I gave him a call and said, “There are just five questions I have for you,” and then he just absolutely blew me away. Blew me away. He was the kind of 21st century GM that I was looking for.
Looking at that, we don’t hold the fact that you haven’t done something against you. (Note: Malone had never been a full-time NBA head coach, nor D’Alessandro a full-time general manager.) Mark Zuckerberg was 21 when he invented Facebook. That’s just how we think.
You said you wanted to be like the Spurs, but exciting. Play up-tempo, but also have a good defense. I know your defense has improved over the course of the season, but you’re playing a little slower now than early on. How do you feel that the offense has looked, not necessarily in terms of performance, but in the aesthetics of the way you wanted to play?
I think clearly we have more work to do on offense. We have more turnovers than we would like. We need to move the ball around better. We’d like it to be more up-tempo. We have a lot of young guys on the team.
I want to basically play a new brand of position-less basketball. I want to have these super-athletic, young guys that can run and feel out the game. Guys like Rudy Gay, and Derrick Williams, these are guys who can play the 1-2-3-4 positions. There’s work to be done on offense but I think we’ve made progress.
Very soon after you took over the Kings, you gave DeMarcus Cousins a maximum contract extension. You hooked the wagon of the franchise to his back. What was it about him as a player that made you confident that he’d be able to lead the era of basketball that you’re looking to create?
He represented the 21st century player that I talk about. He’s a mismatch for just about anybody. He’s too big for the smaller guys and he’s too quick for the bigger guys. He can play facing the basket, or with his back to the basket. The game we had [March 23 against the Milwaukee Bucks], he had these amazing passes. He’s arguably the most skilled big man in the game.
He plays really hard. I know that he’s had issues with his temper and so on, but when I took over the franchise, the first thing I did was I texted him and I said, “Hey, my friend Steve Jobs likes to say ‘Let's put a dent in the universe.’ So let’s do that in the NBA.” And just like one of my kids, he sent me a three-word text back just saying, “Sounds good, boss.”
That was the start of my relationship with him and his mom. Before we gave him the contract, it was over the summertime, and I said, “Look, I just want one thing from you. I want you to be the first guy in and the last guy out. As long as you do that, we’re good.” And he did. He lost a bunch of weight; he was the hardest-working guy in practice. The coaches have done a great job with him, and his numbers reflect it. He’s had amazing numbers.
There’s still more work to be done, but I am very pleased with where he is.
Jared Dubin writes for the TrueHoop Network and is a coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity.
The question is nearly two years in the making. It didn't work out for him in Houston or Philadelphia, and there were a few D-League experiments as well. He has been called a bust, but that is an oversimplification.
White’s story is about as complex as it gets. As the muscular former first-round pick tries to acclimate to his new team, he is not interested in delving deep into the mental health disorders that almost knocked him out of the league for good. It is a daily struggle that unfortunately has played out on a national stage.
Whether it’s tonight or whether it’s on Sunday, how excited are you to get this first game over and done with?
I’m really excited. Obviously, it’s been a long road, you know. A really up-and-down road, a lot of things involved in the road. For me to be able to get to this point, I’m just really thankful, even more so than excited. No matter what happens, I’m just thankful that I’m able to be here still and persevere through tumultuous times.
Professional sports have become a vehicle for social change over the last few years. We’ve seen it with Jason Collins. We’ve seen it with the bullying situation with the Miami Dolphins. How much do you want this to not be about trying to make change for you personally? How much do you want this to just be about basketball?
I mean, as tough as that is to get across, because of the position I was put in, as one of the first people to challenge the mental health process and procedure and things like that, it really was never about changing the landscape for me. It’s more so about surviving myself in this setting. Like I’ve said in the past, my advocacy for mental health and the way that mental health is treated extends far beyond the court and it will always be that way, whether I play, whether I don’t play. I’m playing because I love it. I’m playing because I want to. It brings me joy. Not to bring about any social change.
If this platform, with as much as we know about mental health and how important it is now, if this platform has to serve as what motivates us to change it, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.
You’ve had a little bit of time to see (the Kings). How do you fit in with this group of players? And you’ve had a little bit of time to self assess, are you good enough to be one of the best 400-plus players in the world that gets a shot on this stage?
I think I'm good enough. I don’t know who else would agree or disagree with that, but I think I’m good enough. As far as the team goes, I’m young, just like a lot of these guys. I think that kind of allows me to gel and fit in well anyway. A lot of us grew up through our high school years playing against each other, playing with each other. I still remember me and DeMarcus (Cousins) being at the first LeBron (James) camp together. We relate to each other. And as far as what I can bring -- whatever is needed. Whatever they ask, hopefully I can execute that.
Are you ready to shake the stigma as one of the highest picks ever taken in the NBA draft to never play a minute on the court?
I never really pay attention to those stats. Being close to my situation I understand that it’s far more complex than most people can ever realize. As is such with most situations. What you read in the media, the situation is far more complex than that, no matter what we’re talking about -- politics, sports, religion. It’s a complexity that on the surface you can’t really tell. Even if I was never to play a game, I understand and appreciated the process of what I’ve gone through to this point and there are people involved, so it’s tough.
Are you ready to do whatever it takes -- whatever this team needs, be it on the floor, getting on a plane, whatever it is that a regular NBA player has to deal with?
Yeah, for sure. I think so. But at the same time, I think I’ve always been ready. The misinformation age would have you believe that I wasn’t ready to do some of those things. But it’s a lot more complex than that. That’s all I can say about it.
The misinformation age, I just have to ask you, is that the age we are in? Are we in the age where you are what people read about you and think about you, regardless of whether it’s completely accurate?
Oh yeah, situations as you know, as we all know, there are always a lot more variables than you can put into words in whatever column you get or how many characters you get in a tweet or however many words your story can be on your blog. The situation has more variables than you are allowed to print most times. You don’t get three- or four-page blogs or tweets. I understand that and as much as I think that people misread what’s going on with me, at the same time, I’m not blameful to them. I just understand that that’s the landscape. And I’m OK with that.
James Ham is an editor for Cowbell Kingdom.
Special to ESPN.com
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJimmer Fredette has played his last home game in Sacramento. He's hoping for more playing time.
The Jimmer Fredette era in Sacramento ended on Thursday afternoon when the Kings announced that they had reached an agreement to buy out the former BYU star. Just days after his 25th birthday, one of the most proficient long-range shooters in the game is about to become a free-agent target for some of the league's best teams.
There are too many reasons to address why Jimmer-mania didn’t work in Sacramento. Franchise instability, rotating coaches and a guard-heavy roster are just a few. The Kings franchise is in recovery mode. From the coach, to management, to ownership, everything is new.
It was clear on Oct. 31 when general manager Pete D’Alessandro decided not to pick up the former first-round pick's fourth-year option on his rookie contract, that Jimmer’s days in Sacramento were limited. He becomes the eighth Kings player to leave the roster during this whirlwind first season under new management.
Fredette took time Friday to discuss his time with the Kings, how he fits into the NBA world and what is next for the former college player of the year.
What is your takeaway from your two and a half years in Sacramento? Why do you think things didn’t work out while you were here?
You know, it was a great character-building experience for me. Obviously I appreciate the fact the the Kings even drafted me. They drafted me pretty high and it was a great opportunity for me to start my career. Sometimes things don’t work out the way that you want them to when you start your career, but it’s all about learning and becoming better and I think I’ve definitely done that.
A lot of fans don’t think you got a fair shake in Sacramento. Do you think you at least got an opportunity to show what you can do?
I was able to play well in a lot of my games in Sacramento and then there were some other games where I didn’t play so well or I wasn’t able to even get on the court or anything. But you go through ups and downs, and a lot of guys do that for their first couple of years in the NBA. That’s the way that it is and you just have to continue to work and go as hard as you can. I feel like when I got an opportunity to play, I played well and I think I showed that I can be a good player in this league and help a team out. I think I was able to accomplish that when I was able to play. Obviously, sometimes I didn’t play as much as I wanted to, but that’s OK. You just have to continue to work hard and I think I did a good job when I was presented with the minutes I was able to play and progress as a player.
You and I talked the night before the trade deadline and you didn’t know what was going to happen and it was really nerve wracking. How grateful are you that Kings, even though they weren’t able to trade you, that they came back and said, we are going to let you go somewhere else. We are going to let you finish out this season wherever you can and just move past the Sacramento experience?
I appreciate it very, very much. Vivek [Ranadive] and Pete [D’Alessandro] and everybody that was involved -- Mark Mastrov and the guys in the front office -- they were all true to their word. They said they wanted to do what was best for me and for my career and they were able to do that. Because of that, I really appreciate them and them all as human beings and as owners and front office people of the team. I think they were able to appreciate the way that I handled things and because of that, I think we had a mutual respect and we were able to get something done. It will be beneficial for both parties. So far, Vivek and Pete and these guys have done a great job with this organization and I’m appreciative of the opportunity I had here and for them being true to their word and helping me in the betterment of my career. So I appreciate them and all that they have done for me.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJimmer Fredette: He shoots; he scores.
The one thing about this coach and the organization, is that they’ve always been upfront with me and told me exactly what they were thinking, which I’m very appreciative of. I knew that going in that they weren’t going to extend my contract for the next season and they said it was something they had to do. From that point on, I knew what was going on the whole time. Coach would come up to me and tell me if I was going to play or if I was out of the rotation and kind of what they wanted me to do as a player on the floor. So this group of guys has been vocal with me and communicated well with me and I think they do that with all of the players on the team now. I think the relationship they have with the players is really, really good. Better than what we’ve had in the past. So I think they’re moving forward in the right direction, they’re trying to do things the right way, which is a good thing.
This is a non-team specific question, because I know you are still deciding where you may play next, but what are you looking for in your next team? What is the criteria? Is it playing time? Is it an opportunity to win, even if it is only for 25 or so games? What are you hoping to find?
I just hope to go to a team that wants me to be a part of their roster and believes in me and wants me to help their team win. That’s what I’m all about. I just want to be a winner and a guy that goes out and helps his team play extremely hard. We play for each other and hopefully I will be able to find a team that believes in my skills and believes in the same things I believe in -- in playing for each other and playing as hard as we can every night and going out there and leaving all on the floor and hopefully being able to win. So that’s what I’m kind of looking for and hopefully I’ll be able to find that.
You’ve had enough time to do sort of a self-evaluation in this two and a half seasons in the NBA. How do you fit at the NBA level and what do you expect from yourself going forward? How do you fit in the league as a whole?
I think I fit in the league very well. I think the league is slowly and continually moving towards the 3-point shot, which is one of the strengths of my game. You always need guys to space the floor and be able to create shots for themselves, but also create for others. I think I can play on ball and I think I can play off ball and I think that’s what makes me good at this level. I can do both and I can play with different types of guards. I think that makes me useful in this league. Being able to shoot the basketball at a great percentage at the 3-point line, I think all teams are looking for that. So I think I can have a successful career in this league if I continue to work hard and believe in myself and believe in my abilities and find the right fit for me.
How do you balance your personality with your incredible following? Because you’re not “Jimmer-mania.” You’re not “You got Jimmered.” That’s not you. Those are fan creations. How do you move forward to your next situation knowing that you have a legion of fans still behind you?
I appreciate all the fans out there very much. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without the fans. I’m appreciative them and all they do to support me and still believe in me. It makes me feel good that I still have fans out there that believe in me. For myself, I just continue to be the same guy. I mean, I play basketball and that’s what I do for a living. I love it and I think it’s unbelievable that I’m able to do this and I’m in position. I know I’m very fortunate. But it doesn’t change me as a guy. I’m just still the same normal guy that I have been that came from Glens Falls, New York. I try not to change or let the hoopla get to me. I just know that basketball is fun and I have a great time with it, but that’s not ultimately the thing that makes you the happiest. Family and your relationships and your friendships, those are the things that make you happy. So if you have perspective, I think it helps you out a lot. It keeps you humble. It keeps you sane. And you don’t worry about all of the things around you. I want to be successful and I want to show the fans out there that have believed in me that I will be successful in this league someday and that I’ll play really well, but at the same time, I’m just the same normal guy.
You’ve tried things one way in Sacramento. When you go to your next team, are you going to try and do it the same way? Or when you walk into this new experience, are you going to try to be a little bit more of who you were as a college player and let it fly without worrying so much about fitting in?
That’s why I think it’s so important for me to find the right fit. A coach that believes in me. A team that believes in me to just go out and do what I do on the basketball floor. Sometimes it’s hard to play if you’re looking over your shoulder for anybody. But if I can just go out and have a mentality to play my game and be me on the floor, then I think that I’ll be very successful in this league. It’s all about finding that certain place and that’s what I’m going to try and do. Other than that, I’m going to go in and be the same guy. I want to do whatever it takes to win. That’s my mentality going into whatever team is next.