At 29-44, the Sacramento Kings have not yet been eliminated from playoff contention. However, they enter Monday's action 6 1/2 games out of the Western Conference's No. 8 seed with nine games remaining, so let's be grown-ups and acknowledge that Sacramento's season will be over in 2 1/2 weeks. Somehow, against all odds, it seems that George Karl will cross that familiar mid-April finish line as the Kings' head coach, despite ongoing acrimony stretching all the way back to last summer that seemed to reach a fever pitch at the All-Star break. That Karl continues to lead the Kings, however, doesn't necessarily mean the players are following.
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Let's turn the clock back to Friday night. After spending the bulk of this season out of Karl's rotation and parked at the end of the Sacramento bench behind a glut of better established or longer-tenured veteran guards, Seth Curry — the younger brother of Golden State Warriors superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry — slid into the starting lineup for Friday's matchup with the Phoenix Suns. He performed well, defending hard and scoring 12 points with four rebounds, an assist and a block in 26 minutes of floor time as the Kings blew the doors off the woeful Suns.
After the game, Karl didn't exactly rush to bury the younger Curry beneath effusive praise, according to Blake Ellington of Sactown Royalty (emphasis mine):
Following the win over the Suns, Sactown Royalty asked Karl what he thought Curry's future is as an NBA player.
"I think Seth will be a combo guard, play both 1 [point guard] and 2 [shooting guard]. I think usually those guys when I look at them, I see them probably trying to score a little bit too much and I think he probably should become more of a playmaking point as much as a scoring point," Karl said. "But he's going to be around for a couple years. He's definitely going to have a few more years of someone; I think we have him for one more year. I think he has a tenacity to him and a good basketball feel to him. Now he's just got to be confident and consistent."
That damn-with-faint-praise assessment — "he's going to be around for a couple of years" — didn't seem to sit too well with Curry. More from Sactown Royalty:
Curry tweeted a snake emoji after the game and later deleted it.
The emoji, of course, references a tweet sent by Kings superstar DeMarcus Cousins back in June depicting a snake between what appeared to be blades of grass ...
— DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) June 23, 2015
... which, given the number of times Karl's been referred to as some variant of "a snake in the grass" over the years, seemed like a pointed (if somewhat passive aggressive) shot at the coach, whom Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported had been actively trying to push the All-Star big man out the door.
Curry remained in the starting lineup for Sunday's meeting with the Dallas Mavericks, and once again answered the call, scoring 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting with three assists, a rebound and a steal in 23 minutes as Sacramento walloped Dallas by 22 points. After the game, Curry was targeted for the walk-off interview ... only to be joined by a giant colleague with a clear message:
"Hey, you gonna be in this league a long time, boy," Cousins said as Curry smiled. "Remember that. A long time."
Boogie's very public, very pointed show of support drew the notice of Seth's big brother and Cousins' fellow Western Conference All-Star:
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) March 28, 2016
That relationship seemed to reach a new valley earlier this month, when Cousins unleashed a tirade at Karl stemming from what he felt was insufficient backing with officials. That outburst resulted in a one-game suspension that Boogie said came from Karl rather than from the Kings organization, which Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac didn't deny. Now, Cousins seems to be openly poking at Karl's comments about the young Kings, including Curry and 2015 first-round draft pick Willie Cauley-Stein.
The 7-foot Kentucky product, drafted largely on the strength of his defensive skills and potential to become a versatile world-class stopper, broke out offensively this weekend. He scored 26 points on 11-for-19 shooting with six rebounds, three steals and two blocks to beat Phoenix, and followed that up with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds and two assists against the Mavs. Once again, though, when asked to assess Cauley-Stein's breakout, Karl poured some cold water on the rookie's hot hand ... and Boogie was right there to reignite the flames, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
Karl said Cauley-Stein’s offense had been “blessed” by playmakers around him.
“A lot of his success has been, we made really good passes and it’s easy to make dunks and lobs,” Karl said. “He’s got to make a good play and then someone else has probably got to be a decoy, then someone else has to make a good pass. The last two games we’ve gotten numerous situations like that, and that’s exciting for everybody.”
Cousins credited Cauley-Stein for working to improve his game.
“Willie’s out there creating his own shot, creating his own offense,” Cousins said. “Showing he has the ability to do so.”
Point guard Rajon Rondo joined Cousins in bigging up their fellow Wildcat, according to The Associated Press: "We're seeing what Willie can do. It's the end of the season and he's playing with a lot of confidence. There's not too many restraints on him as there were when he first came in as a rookie. So now he's a little more relaxed and able to do things that we haven't seen him do all year."
To be fair, it's not as if Karl has somehow ventured completely beyond the pale of good taste by suggesting that Seth Curry might not have secured a long-term NBA livelihood after two solid starts, or by noting that more than three-quarters of Cauley-Stein's pro buckets have been dunks and layups, and have been directly assisted. It's just ... what's the point of doing that, you know? Of doing it after 22-point wins? Of doing it when surprisingly strong late-stage play from young players stands as one of the only possible positive things to say about the Kings with just a couple of weeks left in a 10th consecutive playoff-free season?
Maybe the point is just to return fire in whatever way possible against owners who may or may not have hoped you resign so that they don't have to pay out your full salary after the firing that just about everybody expects to come soon after the Kings' season mercifully ends. If that's the case, well, fair enough; it certainly wouldn't be the weirdest bit of dysfunction to come down the pike in Sacramento over the years, and it would represent a fairly fitting ending to yet another season in which the KIngs' off-court drama far outstrips their on-court accomplishments.
Speaking of which, a lineup note ahead of Sacramento's Monday game against the Portland Trail Blazers:
The Sacramento Kings are resting DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli tonight.
— James Ham (@James_Ham) March 28, 2016
Naturally. Gotta rest everybody up before trying to snag elusive Win No. 30!
We'll keep our eyes peeled as the youth-led Kings try to play spoiler for the playoff-hopeful Blazers ... and, win or lose, we'll listen even more attentively to what everybody says after that.
"We're just trying to finish the season out strong," said Cousins after the "much-needed win" over Phoenix. "End on a positive note. And, y'know, get the funk out of the locker room."
I wonder which emoji the Kings would use for "funk."
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