Cracks showing in Kings’ foundation
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As the final second bled away in what appeared to be another forgettable loss in an already forgettable season, Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof stood near the basket stanchion and gazed upward, watching as the heavens delivered the rarest of basketball miracles. Maloof’s eyes traced the arc of Tyreke Evans’(notes) 48-foot prayer as it dropped through the rim just over Maloof’s head. The buzzer-beating shot instantly triggered the type of celebration usually reserved for NBA championships, not a late-December victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Evans and teammate DeMarcus Cousins(notes) jumped on the scorer’s table. Maloof and the Kings’ cheerleaders danced at midcourt as whatever few fans remained in the building roared their approval.
“We need a little luck,” Maloof said later, stating the obvious.
For one night, at least, Evans’ shot had given the Kings a brief respite from their misery. Once one of the NBA’s proudest franchises, Sacramento now owns this season’s worst record and remains buried under the rubble of a rebuilding project that has so far failed to yield any promise of a more stable future.
Evans has been slowed all season by a sore left foot, but of late that has seemed to be the least of the team’s problems. The Kings branded Cousins one of their franchise cornerstones after making him the fifth pick of the draft, but the 20-year-old center has instead generated as much controversy as on-court contribution with his immaturity and turbulent relationship with the team’s coaching staff.
The Kings were so excited about Cousins’ potential, they slapped a big banner of him on the side of Arco Arena for two months. To help his transition, they also hired his high school coach, Otis Hughley, as an assistant. Cousins has shown glimpses of his talent, including a 21-point, 16-rebound performance against the Grizzlies. But his first few months in the NBA have also raised the same concerns about his attitude and maturity that trailed him after his lone college season at Kentucky.
Already, Cousins has had verbal confrontations with Kings coach Paul Westphal, assistants Truck Robinson and Mario Elie and strength coach Daniel Shapiro. He was once kicked out of practice by Westphal and most recently was fined and lost his starting job for making a choking gesture toward the end of an overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors. Frustrated, the Kings have even considered sending Cousins to their Development League affiliate in Reno, Nev.
When asked if he wished he’d handled some of the incidents better, Cousins said, “No, because every mistake I made was a positive mistake I made. I learned from it. It made me a better person.”
Cousins describes his relationship with the coaching staff as “fine,” even though his agent recently released a statement to the media criticizing the Kings’ handling of the rookie. “I like to win, and if we don’t, I’m mad about it,” Cousins said. “That’s it.”
Westphal will now say only that Cousins is “making good progress.” “Is he a finished product?” Westphal said. “Far from it. I’m impressed with his desire and his ability. I think he’s going to be a fine pro, possibly even an excellent pro. It’s a process, though.”
Maloof dismissed speculation that the Kings might trade Cousins.
“We’re not trading him,” he said. “He has too much talent. He’ll grow out of this thing. What he’s going through is nothing serious. It’s just growing pains.
“But the guy has a lot of talent. You can’t find big men with that kind of talent in the NBA.”
No one disputes Evans’ talent either, not after he won last season’s Rookie of the Year award. But he sprained his left ankle while trying out for Team USA over the summer, and has since been slowed by plantar fasciitis in the same foot. Evans said he will continue to play and will undergo shockwave treatment on the foot either during the All-Star break or after the season.
“Instead of a step forward he has taken a step backward because of his foot problem,” Westphal said. “That to me, more than anything, is a major reason for our record.”
Westphal’s own job security has been called into the question, though sources said the team’s ownership reaffirmed its commitment to him in a recent meeting that also involved president Geoff Petrie. Westphal, who has a 31-70 record in two seasons in Sacramento, was given a vote of confidence in the meeting.
“When I got this job we had discussions with Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs about how are you going to handle it if things don’t come together as fast as everyone wants them to come together,” Westphal said. “I told them, ‘You got to stay positive, build on it and keep your eye on what the team is trying to do and how it’s going to get there.’ ”
Maloff acknowledged the past two seasons have taken a toll.
“When you rebuild, it’s a painful process,” Maloof said. “We’re very, very excited about the future. We’re going to stay the course. We’re not going to do anything that’s going to use up our [salary-]cap space. We’ve waited this long. We’re going to get another great draft pick this year.
“We’re going to have anywhere from $20 million to $30 million in cap space. We’re going to use it. We’re going to use it all.”
Barring a few more miracles like Evans’ shot, that does little to offset the grim reality the Kings are facing the rest of this season.
“There is a lot of talent out there,” Evans said of the NBA. “It’s not going to be easy for us to go out there and win.”
Anthony rebuffs Jordan
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was interested in making an offer to acquire Carmelo Anthony(notes) from the Denver Nuggets until, sources said, the All-Star forward informed Jordan through a representative that he had no interest in playing for the struggling Bobcats or signing a contract extension with them.
The Bobcats figured their chances of getting Anthony to sign an extension were slim, but explored the possibility anyway given that Anthony has had a good relationship with Jordan as one of his product line’s top endorsers. Anthony will make about $6 million this season through the Jordan Brand. Sources said the two still have a solid relationship.
League sources said Charlotte forwards Gerald Wallace(notes) and Boris Diaw(notes) have drawn significant trade interest, but none of the offers would bring back fair value in return. The Bobcats continue to insist they’re interested in doing a deal simply to cut costs.
New Bobcats coach Paul Silas likes point guard D.J. Augustin(notes), but the team also wouldn’t mind an upgrade at the position. The Bobcats are open to taking back a quality player with a long-term contract and are also seeking an athletic center – all of which raises a couple of fair questions:
Sources said Felton was seeking a deal from Charlotte that averaged $10 million annually. He turned down a five-year, $42 million offer followed by a five-year, $35 million offer, then ended up signing a two-year, $14 million deal with the New York Knicks. Sources also said Charlotte traded Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks because he had requested a trade and wasn’t happy playing for former coach Larry Brown.
While Chandler is now flourishing in Dallas, he barely played in the playoffs with Charlotte under Brown last season.
New home for Camby?
Veteran center Marcus Camby(notes) doesn’t like change, and sources said he would prefer to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers past the trade deadline. There is one exception, however: Camby lives in Houston in the offseason and would welcome the chance to play for the Rockets.
The Blazers, however, continue to say they currently don’t have any significant trade discussions involving Camby.