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Rondo, Cousins (slowly) orchestrate success for Kings

The phenom center and pass-happy guard are finding their rhythm. Can they get Sacramento back into the playoffs this season?

POSTED: Jan 11, 2016 2:55 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Behind DeMarcus Cousins (15) and Rajon Rondo (9), the Kings lead the NBA in pace this season (102.18).

In This Week's Morning Tip

The Sacramento Kings can give you a headache behind your eye.

There they were on Thursday, doing what good teams do -- dismissing an obviously inferior Los Angeles Lakers team through two-plus quarters, scoring at will, taking advantage of turnovers, doing what it wanted. DeMarcus Cousins was putting on a show for the national TV audience, posting and driving, passing and dropping 3-pointers. A disgusted Byron Scott decried his Lakers' lack of heart at halftime.

By midway through the third quarter, the Kings were up 27. A fourth quarter of rest for the team's top players, Cousins and Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay, was imminent.

And then ... Kings Gonna King.

With Cousins in foul trouble, he couldn't be aggressive. But that was just one guy. The rest of the team went through the looking glass with him. All of a sudden, it wasn't just Kobe Bryant, in his last game in Sacramento, making crazy shots. It was D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, with some Larry Nance, Jr., thrown in, while Bryant was on the bench. The Lakers scored, again and again and again, the 27-point lead dwindling slowly, then all at once. When Clarkson hit a runner with 3:49 left, the Lakers led by one.

Cousins Dominates vs. Lakers

DeMarcus Cousins scores 29 points, grabs 10 rebounds and hands out seven assists to lead the Kings to victory.

The Kings did rally behind their leaders down the stretch, with Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay and Cousins all making big plays. Rondo made a floater with 21 seconds to go to put the Kings ahead and then ripping Clarkson for a steal, leading to two Cousins free throws in the final seconds.

The Kings won ... barely, with coach George Karl saying "I just need someone to cover the dang basketball," as he walked out of his postgame presser.

"That just goes to show that we've got to work on our pick and roll defense," Gay said afterward. "The last two games, our pick and roll defense has been terrible."

Afterward, Cousins spoke in the locker room. He didn't yell or scream. And Rondo approved.

"He gave a great speech," Rondo said.

That dynamic could mean a lot for the future of the franchise.

Rondo Records Triple-Double

Rajon Rondo records a triple-double with 12 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds.

After six months together, "Boogie" and Rondo, the "Connect Four King" have hit it off, famously. (No, Rondo didn't think about letting the kid win even one Connect Four game, in which he claims superiority over all humans. "Then, he'd have a story for the rest of his life: 'I kicked Rajon Rondo's ass when I was eight,'" Rondo said in the layup line before the Lakers game.)

Throughout his years in Boston, it was Rondo who was the talented but often impossible teammate, who drove coaches and teammates to distraction with his smarts about the game -- combined with his insistence that he was always, always right. If that meant breaking off plays, freelancing on defense when coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau screamed at him to be where he was supposed to be, that was part of being Rondo.

Kevin Garnett loved him ... and also wanted to kill him. Ray Allen mainly just wanted to kill him.

Now, it's Cousins -- ridiculously skilled, but whose temperament can drive even those who love him to distraction -- who is in need of wise counsel from older heads. It may make former Celtics burst out laughing, but in Sacramento, Rondo has become that guy.

"That was part of the reason I wanted to come here," Rondo said. "If I didn't have a guy like KG in my ear all the time, a coach like Doc, who knows where I'd be in this league -- if I'd even be in this league. I've been wanting to play with Cuz for four or five years now. I think he's the best big -- he is the best big in the game. And with a little bit of direction, even as far as his knowledge of the game, he can take even a bigger step in this game. I'm enjoying it. He's listening, he's embraced it."

You ask Rondo if Cousins is a better student for him than he was when he was driving Garnett and Rivers crazy.

Cousins Delivers In Win Over OKC

DeMarcus Cousins records 33 points and 19 rebounds to lead the Kings over the Thunder.

"He has his moments," Rondo says. Then, to Cousins: "some of the (bleep) you do, I'll be like, I know I wasn't this bad."

Yeah, he was.

"Me, I'm a believer in, when the ball goes up, you have to get back," Rivers said recently. "Yet Rondo was a 6-1 guard that offensive rebounds. If I didn't have a heart attack, Thibs was having one every game. Finally, he was doing it so much, and doing it so well, you had to give in, and said 'just be careful doing it down the stretch of games.'"

But here he is, after bombing out in just four month's time with the Dallas Mavericks under coach Rick Carlisle, using his frame not just to crash the glass, but to be a human buffer between Cousins and Karl.

We know how badly things began when Karl was hired in Sacramento last spring. There were reports that Cousins didn't want Karl to coach the team (Cousins has denied this). This summer, there were reports that Karl was pushing GM Vlade Divac to trade Cousins (Divac and Karl have denied this).

The Starters: Cousins-Karl Tiff

DeMarcus Cousins unleashed a tirade on George Karl Monday — was DMC wrong to do so?

Then there was Cousins cursing out his Karl early in the season, after a bad home loss to the San Antonio Spurs that dropped the Kings to 1-7. Cousins apologized, and then said he didn't want Karl fired, but Divac didn't back Karl's request that Cousins be suspended for the tirade.

There have been small signs recently of a thaw. Cousins said last week on ESPN's "Jalen and Jacoby" podcast that he and Karl don't need to love each other, they just have to work together. Divac's insistence that both are here for the long haul, and will be here when the Kings move into their new Golden 1 Center downtown next season, means Cousins has to be right.

I asked Cousins after the Lakers game what he needed from Karl to make the relationship continue to work.

"Getting him to lead these troops is the biggest thing," Cousins said. "Putting egos aside, putting personal goals aside. Our main focus is the team. That's it."

And what does Cousins need to give Karl?

Me, I've never said anything about (the) eighth spot. I'm trying to get to five or six. ... Who wants to play Golden State first round?

– Sacramento Kings point guard Rajon Rondo

"The same thing," Cousins said. "The same thing."

Cousins, famously, is a little slow to trust. He grew to like and respect ex-coach Mike Malone. But after just a year on the job, owner Vivek Ranadive -- wanting to play fast like they do down the road in Golden State -- fired Malone early last season. It baffled Cousins like it did almost everyone else in the NBA. The Kings were 9-6 when Cousins missed nine games with viral meningitis, after which Ranadive fired Malone. It made the rest of last season another bitter slog.

But this season, Cousins has been a little easier to smile, a little more willing to show people more of himself. ("I've been in those shoes," Cousins said of the car giveaway. "I mean, people that really know me, they know I have a weak spot for families in need, kids in need, basically kids from the 'hood, in general.")

Rondo's 15 Assist Night

Rajon Rondo drops 15 dimes versus the Blazers.

Part of his ease comes from the work he's already put in, starring on the gold medal winning U.S. World Cup team in 2014 and making his first All-Star team last season. Part of it comes from just getting older and maturing.

And part of it comes from Rondo. Cousins trusts his teammate, in all ways and areas.

"I know his intentions," Cousins said. "His intentions at the end of the day are the same as mine. I can never have a disagreement with a guy like that. Every night we try to go out and do whatever it takes to win the game. You have a guy like that on the floor with you, it's hard to have disagreements ... I know his heart is to win the game. That's why he's the most unselfish player I've ever played with."

I sat back and learned from some of the best players to ever play this game, and I find myself saying a lot of the same things that were told to me as a young player ... It's a blessing that I went through what I went through, and now being able to share the same knowledge that was shared to me, I think it's my duty.

– Kings guard Rajon Rondo

Cousins has expanded his game. At Karl's urging, he's slowly adding the 3-pointer to his bag. He's hardly a knockdown shooter from there, but his 32 percent is a career high -- well above the 25 percent he shot last season, which was way higher than anything he'd shot before.

Through 25 games, Cousins is averaging a career-high 25.6 points per game, but he's taking fewer shots per game this season than in either of his previous two seasons. And Rondo is a big reason why.

He leads the league in assists, with double-figure dimes in 23 of the 35 games in which he's appeared. He's second to Draymond Green in triple-doubles (four) and can still things that very few people with a basketball can see on a court.

"Not to knock any of my former teammates, but he knows how to make the game easy, where I don't have to fight for a basket," Cousins said. "His IQ at the defensive end. And it's not even just on the floor. His mindset coming in is helping mine grow as a professional. He's helping me in more than just one way."

But Rondo hasn't changed all that much in one key area.

"You can't stop him from talking," Cousins said. "That's a voice you hear constantly. It's annoying, but it's great. All day."

Rondo's 16 Assists

Rajon Rondo passes out 16 assists versus the Pacers.

Rondo credits the presence of veteran Caron Butler as much as anything he's doing to help the team improve.

"What's big and what goes unnoticed is Caron's on the bench," Rondo said. "I think he's telling them. So I'm out here doing it, or making a play or certain reads that they can learn from. I see Caron, when I watch film going back, I see Caron over there, with the young guys, pointing. I'm pretty sure he's talking the game ... it's contagious. I always feel like I can teach. Hopefully I'll be a GM one day, or even a coach, teaching the game to the young guys. They're like sponges. They're very welcome and receptive. It's not like a bunch of knuckleheads."

Rondo's still got his shortcomings, though. He's part of the Kings' struggles in their pick and roll coverage. And Sacramento's non-defense is part of why the Kings, while still in the race for the playoffs in the Western Conference, have so much work to do to become a complete team.

The Kings have talent. Cousins is, clearly, the best center in the game. Gay has had wild swings this season but he's still averaging 18 points and almost seven boards per game. Only a handful of starting small forwards, including Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Paul George, do better board work.

Rondo On His Fresh Start

Rajon Rondo speaks with TNT's Rachel Nichols about his great play so far and his fresh start in Sacramento.

Divac gave up way too much to the Philadelphia 76ers in a summer deal that also sent Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to Philly -- the Sixers can swap first-round picks with Sacramento in 2016 and '17, and got a protected '18 first-round pick from the Kings as well -- in order to create salary cap room. But the salary dump netted Rondo and reserves Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos, a Karl favorite.

They have been engaged many times this season, sweeping the season series with the Toronto Raptors, winning at Indiana, beating the Houston Rockets, and beating the Thunder last week in Oklahoma City. But they've also had ridiculous losses, including a home loss to the then-2-31 Sixers just before New Year's.

After the win over the Thunder, the Kings went into Dallas and played toe-to-toe with the Mavs, leading by seven in the second overtime with 1:20 left. But they couldn't close, and Dallas scored the last eight points, including a Deron Williams game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"The crazy thing about it is, it's weird to say, but it was probably one of the best losses for this team," Cousins said. "Usually, after a loss, the locker is down, it's moody. But we came in after that loss, and the guys were pretty upbeat. We knew we played a good team. We knew it was a good loss and a loss we could learn from. I wasn't disappointed at all. Not to make excuses for our team, but we had two starters out, and played in a pretty tough environment. Dallas is a pretty good team."

Rondo's 20 Dimes

Watch all of Rajon Rondo's 20 dimes versus the Hornets as he sets the Kings record for assists.

True. But those are the kinds of games the Kings will have to win the second half of the season if they want to make the playoffs and end their nine-year postseason drought, the second-longest current streak in the league (Minnesota is at 11 and counting). This morning, the 15-22 Kings are two games behind eighth-place Utah in the Western Conference -- though Rondo thinks that's small potatoes.

"Me, I've never said anything about (the) eighth spot," Rondo said. "I'm trying to get to five or six. I'm not setting the bar so low that I just want to get in. Who wants to play Golden State first round?"

Offense isn't the problem. Per NBA.com/Stats, Sacramento leads the league in pace (102.18 possessions per 48 minutes), is third in points per game (behind Golden State and Oklahoma City), is seventh in effective field goal percentage, and is 12th in offensive rating -- despite not shooting or making a ton of threes.

Cousins Nets 32 And 9

DeMarcus Cousins scores 32 points on 11-15 shooting with nine rebounds and two steals versus Phoenix.

But the defense is just dreadful.

The Kings giving up a league-worst 108 points per game. Strangely, Sacramento is doing that despite not allowing a ton of 3-pointers -- the Kings are just 22nd in the league in opponent 3-point percentage.

But it's a combo platter of awful -- starting with the bad screen-and-roll coverage, which leaves Cousins exposed having to protect the front of the rim time and again. It's left Karl to give Seth Curry bigger minutes of late, because Karl believes Curry is the team's best on-ball defender. Karl also wants to play Koufos and Cousins together and put Gay exclusively back at the three, but couldn't use that lineup while rookie big Willie Cauley-Stein was out with a hand injury.

"We're trying to figure each out, honestly," Gay said Thursday. "Everybody says that we can't figure this out, we can't figure each other out. We're still in transition. This team has vets mixed in with younger players, and we're trying to feel the curve as much as we can."

Rondo's Aerial Attack

Rajon Rondo gets the feed from DeMarcus Cousins and skies up for the baseline jam to wow the crowd.

The talent divide isn't going away. Cousins obviously is a half-court guy, yet Karl wants to run. Rondo makes Cousins better, but teams will continue to go under every screen and roll the Kings run and make Rondo hit jumpers, and foul him whenever they can -- he's shooting 50 percent from the line (better than last year, still not good).

Not to knock any of my former teammates, but he knows how to make the game easy, where I don't have to fight for a basket.

– Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, on Rajon Rondo

"We've got so many different styles on this team; trying to figure out how to put it all together, it takes time," Gay said. "Luckily this year, the Western Conference is wide open. You always, just being human, you feel like you're always in it. We didn't think the Western Conference was going to be like this. We want to fight to get in there. Luckily, we've had some pretty bad losses, (but) we're still in striking range."

There are factors on their side. The Kings have played the league's sixth-hardest schedule so far this season. Small forward Omri Casspi, who missed time last week with back spasms, has had a terrific season, posting career highs in points, field goal and three-point percentage and rebounds, and will be important down the stretch. Cauley-Stein's length will help down the stretch, as will Quincy Acy's toughness at power forward.

And, they have Cousins and Rondo. And Rondo has an itch to pay it forward, bringing the championship experience he gained in Boston.

"I talk a lot more," Rondo said. "And I think everything happens for a reason. I was put in the situation in Boston for a reason. I sat back and learned from some of the best players to ever play this game, and I find myself saying a lot of the same things that were told to me as a young player, and I say things to DeMarcus, or Willie, or all the young guys. It's a blessing that I went through what I went through, and now being able to share the same knowledge that was shared to me, I think it's my duty."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (4-0): Oh, good, Klay Thompson's the hottest shooter in the league now. You know, 'cause the Warriors haven't had great play out of multiple positions or anything already this season.

Thompson Scores 36 vs. Blazers

Klay Thompson goes 7-for-10 from 3-point land as he leads the Warriors past the Blazers.

2) San Antonio [2] (3-0): This. Whatever is after "beyond awesome," this is that.

3) Cleveland [4] (4-0): If it's a joke that Kyrie Irving is ahead of John Wall in All-Star votes, Irving got the last laugh last week in D.C.

4) L.A. Clippers [8] (4-0): Held six of nine opponents under 100 points during nine-game win streak, extended with win Sunday over Anthony Davis-less Pelicans in New Orleans.

Thunder Hold Off Lakers

Russell Westbrook powers Oklahoma City with 36 points as they squeak past Lou Williams (44 points) and Los Angeles, 117-113.

5) Oklahoma City [3] (2-2): Rookie Cameron Payne gets into the rotation. Can he stay there?

6) Atlanta [5] (2-1): Hawks stabilize themselves after back-to-back losses to the Knicks with a huge win Saturday over the red-hot Bulls.

7) Miami [6] (2-2): If the Heat can survive this next month -- 14 of 16 games on the road, including games at Golden State, the Clippers and the Thunder in the next seven days -- it can survive anything.

8) Chicago [7] (2-1): If I'm lucky, when I'm in my 80s, I'll still be muttering to myself about how it could be possible so many teams passed on Bobby Portis back in the teens.

9) Toronto [9] (3-1): Off to London for this year's Global Games on Thursday against the Magic.

Raptors Blow Out Sixers

Kyle Lowry scores 25 points to help the Raptors defeat the Sixers 108-95.

10) Dallas [10] (3-1): Next four: Cleveland, at Oklahoma City, at Chicago, at San Antonio. Brrrrr.

11) Indiana [11] (2-2): Lavoy Allen in the starting lineup of late at power forward, as the Pacers go back and forth on the small ball experiment. They are 10-5 in his starts.

12) Memphis [13] (3-1): You learn never to make too much out of one win or one loss in a long season, but coming back from 21 down Sunday against the Celtics, without Mike Conley and Courtney Lee, is as big a win as the Grizzlies have had all season.

13) Detroit [NR] (3-0): Pistons getting huge minutes from reserves Aron Baynes and rookies Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard to make up for nicked Andre Drummond and Marcus Morris last week.

14) Houston [NR] (3-0): Back-to-back wins over the Jazz spring the Rockets past Utah into seventh in the west.

15) Utah [12] (1-3): Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, and right in the nick of time for the Jazz.

Hayward, Jazz Topple Heat

Gordon Hayward scores a season-high 34 points as the Jazz defeat the Heat 98-83.

Dropped Out: Orlando [14], Boston [15].

TEAM OF THE WEEK

San Antonio (3-0): The last time the Spurs lost a game at home, most people thought Boban Marjanovic was a Bond villain who lived in a villa above the Adriatic and was pointing lasers at the South Pacific.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Charlotte (0-4): Seven straight losses for the Bugs, their longest losing streak since the beginning of last season. Defense has again gone south, continuing their season-long inconsistency there.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What does Brooklyn do now?

It was not a surprise that owner Mikhail Prokhorov fired coach Lionel Hollins Sunday, though the Nets were going nowhere fast this season.

It wasn't really a surprise that Prokhorov reassigned GM Billy King. King's status within the organization was increasingly tenuous the last few months, with repeated rumblings that Prokhorov wanted to bring in someone closer to his inner circle to run the team on a daily basis.

But the moves leave a power vacuum within the organization, and it's only a matter of time before it's filled.

There is Brett Yormark, the Nets' CEO, in charge of filling Barclays Center on a nightly basis, and who has long coveted Kentucky's John Calipari to be coach in what would become a second tour of duty with the franchise. There is Dmitry Razumov, the chairman of the team's Board of Directors, Prokhorov's right-hand man for more than a decade, and who was the driving force behind the Nets' pursuit and signing of Jason Kidd as coach in 2014 despite Kidd's literally having just retired as a player days before. There is Irina Pavlova, the president of Onexim Sports and Entertainment, the Nets' parent company, who is Prokhorov's proxy at Board of Governors meetings ("she is at every one and is as engaged as anyone," a witness says). Pavlova has never expressed any interest in being involved in running the basketball side of the operation, but will surely have some say in who does.

Next Moves For Nets

Bleacher Report's Howard Beck discusses the Nets' firing of coach Hollins and the reassignment of GM Billy King.

And there is Prokhorov, mercurial as always, whose real interest in the Nets as more than just an entrée for his businesses into the U.S. market has never really been clear. He spends almost all of his time abroad, only comes to Brooklyn a couple of times a year and, after five years as the team's owner, still generally speaks in well-delivered punchlines when he does meet with reporters here.

Does Prokhorov want to win? Most certainly. You don't pay an NBA-record $90.5 million in luxury taxes in 2014 if you're not serious.

Does he have the slightest idea of how to do so, in long-term fashion? Doesn't appear so, not right now, anyway.

King took the heat for the Nets' recent shortcomings, and rightly so; it's the job. He made the deal with the Celtics that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in 2013 for three first-round picks (2014, '16 and '18) and the right to swap 2017 firsts. But King was acting on Prokhorov's demand to produce a winner, immediately.

The Association: D-Will

Deron Williams talks about not playing well, his relationship with Avery Johnson and the changes taking place around the Nets.

There had been much less clamor when King, acting on ownership's insistence that the team have two superstars when the franchise moved from Jersey to Brooklyn, first went hard after Carmelo Anthony, but then traded Derrick Favors and two future firsts to Utah in 2011 for Deron Williams. At the time, Williams was 26 and considered one of the league's best point guards. There wasn't much clamor when King took on then-All-Star Joe Johnson's massive contract a year later from Atlanta for five players and a protected first-rounder.

But back then, the Nets were sexy, with the 6-foot-8 playboy owner who said he'd get married (que horrible!) if his team didn't win a championship within his first five years, a slice of New York that hadn't had a pro sports team since the Dodgers left in 1958 and billions of dollars at their disposal. Salary cap, schmalary cap.

The Nets won 49 games in their first season in Brooklyn, though coach Avery Johnson only made it through 28 games before being replaced by P.J. Carlesimo, who lost a seventh game on his home court to the Bulls. King made a pass at Phil Jackson, who passed, and was looking hard at Brian Shaw when Razumov, close with Kidd's agent, Jeff Schwarz, pushed for Kidd -- who also was very close with former Nets minority owner Marc Lasry, who'd since gone on to be a part-owner of the Bucks.

The Association: Avery Johnson

Go back in time as the Nets hold a press conference announcing their decision to part ways with Avery Johnson.

The Nets wound up hiring Kidd, who got high marks after a slow start (which included Kidd getting rid of assistant coach Lawrence Frank a month into his tenure) for changing on the fly. He went small, playing Pierce at power forward and playing Williams and Shawn Livingston together in the backcourt, and Brooklyn rallied to make the playoffs and beat Toronto in the first round in 2013.

But Kidd then looked to leapfrog King and everyone else on the basketball side, asking for complete control. When that was rebuffed, Kidd leapt to Milwaukee, where his old friend-turned-Bucks owner Lasry was waiting for him with the coaching job -- even though it was filled at the time by Larry Drew.

Kidd left, King hired Hollins ... but the Nets were already heading south. Pierce went to Washington in free agency, Livingston -- understandably loyal to Kidd -- signed a multi-year deal with the Warriors, Williams was not the same after suffering a series of injuries and Garnett didn't have much left in the tank. Despite being under .500 last season, the Nets made the playoffs and put up a fight against top-seeded Atlanta in the first round before succumbing in six games.

The Starters: Tangled Nets

The crew discuss the state of the Nets and the reassignment of assistant coach Lawrence Frank.

Calipari has consistently said he has no interest in leaving Kentucky, where his total annual W2 can only be estimated when you throw in all the endorsement bucks and/or sponsorships he generates are factored in. There isn't a coach in America with more juice, or who has more meaningful relationships with more star NBA players that have passed through Lexington for a year on the way to the first round of the Draft -- which is precisely why NBA types like Yormark covet him so.

But it's hardly a secret that Calipari has always wanted, someday, to get back to the NBA, where he had his one great flameout as a coach, while the Nets were still in Jersey. His stint with the Nets ended after two-plus seasons, 184 games and one playoff appearance, a quick, first-round dispatching by the Bulls in 1998. But it will take an Everest-sized financial commitment for Calipari to depart from Lexington, where he has his pick of the high school cream of the crop annually, alone among all college coaches with a single promise: play one year for me, and you'll be a Lottery pick. Almost everyone who's taken him up on the deal over the last decade has done so.

If Calipari stays in college and Brooklyn needs an experienced GM, there is former Pistons GM Joe Dumars, who built a championship team in Detroit before things fell apart later in his regime. There is also former Suns and Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo -- whose father, Jerry, has said will not be a part of the 76ers' organization of which the elder Colangelo is now a chief strategist.

There are team execs around the league who are well-respected and ready for a chance to run their own shops -- Oklahoma City's Troy Weaver, Washington's Tommy Sheppard, Orlando's Scott Perry and Toronto's Bobby Webster are but a few. But it seems less likely that Prokhorov will go for a low-volume hire.

Kidd, Lasry On Hiring Controversy

Bucks' Coach Jason Kidd and co-owner Marc Lasry address questions about the timeline of events that led to the hiring.

(Prokhorov also has a potential in-house candidate in Sergey Kuschenko, who built multiple championship teams in the Russian Super League, including Prokhorov's CSKA Moscow teams last decade. CSKA won Euroleague titles in 2006 and '08, and even after Kuschenko left the organization, has continued its dominance of Russian basketball. They have won 13 straight titles while in the Super League, Russian Pro Basketball League and current VTB United League.)

The Nets would also have to look at Danny Ferry, who built the current Hawks' organization from the ground up, hiring Mike Budenholzer from San Antonio as coach, and signing Paul Millsap and trading for Kyle Korver. Ferry left the Hawks' organization after taking a leave of absence making racially insensitive remarks about prospective free agent Luol Deng in a meeting with Hawks ownership and management in 2014. Ironically -- only in the context of King's departure -- Ferry and King, the former Duke teammates, are very close.

Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday that Prokhorov has asked King to consult him on his own replacement, an odd circumstance. If true, it wouldn't surprise me at all if King recommends Ferry for the position. (King hired Danny Ferry's father, former Bullets GM Bob Ferry, as a scout for the Nets a couple of years ago.)

There are any number of high-profile former coaches available as well, from Jeff Van Gundy to Mark Jackson, Mike Dunleavy to Kevin McHale. Former Sonics and Blazers coach Nate McMillan is on the Pacers' staff as associate head coach. Ex-Pelicans coach Monty Williams is on Billy Donovan's staff in Oklahoma City.

Prokhorov Puts Nets Through Crazy Drills

Watch as Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov puts the team through some pretty crazy drills!

Meanwhile, Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau wait patiently, sure to have their pick of big gigs soon enough.

Despite the Nets' 10-27 record, and dearth of future picks, this is hardly the no-win (no pun intended) gig going forward that some would have you believe.

First and foremost, as Prokhorov has shown, he'll pay top dollar for talent, and that means there won't be any players who'll be too expensive to pursue. The Nets had plans to go after Kevin Durant this summer, and while that was an extreme longshot, there were other talents -- like Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, expected to opt out of his deal to become an unrestricted free agent -- that Brooklyn was/is going to come after hard.

Second, Brook Lopez -- who is 27 and signed to a three-year, $63 million deal last summer -- is a top 10 center. Big men aren't as valued in today's game as they once were, but Lopez is still a load to handle when healthy, and gives the team someone to build around -- or, if necessary, a valuable piece to deal if Brooklyn's next decision-maker opts to start over.

Third, Brooklyn, last time I checked, was still in New York. There are lots of guys who will still like to live and play in New York, especially for an owner who'll pay big bucks.

But this is on Prokhorov. The Nets are fixable, if the owner comes to grips with reality. A new GM and/or coach will need time, with almost no Draft picks, to rebuild the roster. They will not need an impatient owner looking to make a short-term splash pressuring them to use even more future assets, or trying to compete with the Knicks, or doing anything other than taking a long-term approach.

Chasing the stars in his eyes is what got Prokhorov in this mess. He has to have clearer vision to start climbing out of the hole his franchise is in.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Don't Mess with Happy. From Ryan Aubrey:

Assuming that Blake Griffin comes back and adjust to the new spaced-out Clippers system, do you think they should go for a major trade, unloading DeAndre Jordan for the likes of a DeMarcus Cousins? Or, should they retool with a smaller trade, maybe unloading Josh Smith and Jamal Crawford? Also with this new system, and guys like Jamal now thriving in it, who do you feel should be traded? Josh Smith? Jamal Crawford? Lance Stephenson? Or no one at all?

Clippers Win 9th Straight Game

Chris Paul scores 25 points to help the Clippers defeat the Pelicans 114-111 in overtime.

The Clippers are rolling, with nine straight wins, and have found a bench rotation that works. Why on Earth would they trade Jordan for Cousins -- or anyone else, for that matter? Jordan is shooting better than 70 percent and blocks everything in sight. No need to make any trades now, and I guarantee you, both Stephenson and Smith will win a playoff game for the Clippers if they're still around in the spring.

It's like picking between diamonds and sapphires. From Kelly Slattery:

I was reading previously about your picks for the best all-time 12-man rosters for each franchise. That got me thinking about who you would put on your all-time, 12-man NBA roster, but with one catch. When people make these lists, they often tend to just pick the best all-time players without thinking about whether they would compliment each other and whether it would work on the court. Basketball is a team sport after all, so I would like your picks with that in mind. Without further ado, here is my all-time, All-NBA 12 man roster:

Starting PG: John Stockton

Starting SG: Michael Jordan

Starting SF: Scottie Pippen

Starting PF: Dirk Nowitzki

Starting C: Hakeem Olajuwon

Bench:

Magic Johnson (Stockton was a better shooter, which is why he starts over Magic.)

Reggie Miller (Could have picked Ray Allen, but Reggie's swagger compelled me!)

Larry Bird

Tim Duncan

Wilt Chamberlain

LeBron James

Jason Kidd (Later, once he became a 3-point threat.)

Offensively, you've got all you need here. Great post and penetration scoring options with lots of three point shooters to kick it out to. Importantly, lots of guys who are happy to be secondary offensive options and are capable passers too. This is crucial with so much offensive talent, and is also why I picked three of the best passing PGs of all time. Finally, the line up possibilities are staggering with nearly everyone being able to play multiple positions.(endital)

Well, what am I going to say, Kelly -- that this team you picked is wrong? That's the great thing about bar arguments ... there's no definitive answer. And I understand your idea of putting a "real" team together. But, since you asked: if I put, say, Bill Russell at starting center ahead of the Dream, I don't think you lose all that much. Maybe a little offense, but my five is so good defensively, it won't matter -- we'll hold every team under 80 points, every night. And, no on Pippen as a starter, not with Elgin Baylor out there. Can't do it. And, an all-time team without Oscar Robertson is not real. Sorry.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggestions on anyone who might be able to kick a 27-yard field goal in the clutch (asking for a franchise) to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (27.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 7.5 apg, .521 FG, .933 FT): Even at six, he could shoot with the best of them.

2) LeBron James (26 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7 rpg, .582 FG, .692 FT): Can't have it all: James's appearance in Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" did not push the comedy to a Golden Globes award Sunday evening. (Matt Damon's "The Martian" won, and when has Damon ever been funny in anything)?

3) Kawhi Leonard (19.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.3 apg, .548 FG, .875 FT): Entering that "why doesn't anyone consider him for MVP" nonsensical realm by lazy writers/constructionists, when everybody with a brain that follows the league considers him for MVP.

4) Russell Westbrook (24.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 11 apg, .373 FG, .861 FT): One rebound shy of his fourth triple-double of the season before fouling out of Sunday's loss in Portland.

5) Kevin Durant (26 ppg, 10 rpg, 3 apg, .518 FG, 1,000 FT): Very cool gesture, KD.

BY THE NUMBERS

22 -- Consecutive regular season losses in Dallas by the Kings, after blowing an eight-point lead late in the second overtime on Tuesday against the Mavericks, and losing on a last-second 3-pointer by Deron Williams. Sacramento hasn't won a regular season game at American Airlines Center since February of 2003. It's the second-longest current regular season win streak by one team over another in one venue behind the Spurs, who haven't lost in the regular season in San Antonio to the Warriors, according to STATS, for 32 consecutive games.

1,262,118 -- All-Star Game votes for Kobe Bryant, who continues to be the leading vote-getter for the Feb. 16 game after the second round of fan totals was announced last week. Stephen Curry is second overall with 925,789 votes, while LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes.

The Starters: All-Star Voting Returns

The Starters take a look at all of the all-star vote leaders and predict if they'll stay

8 -- Cities in Florida that the Magic are considering for a potential NBA D-League team. Orlando currently has a hybrid deal with the D-League's Erie Bayhawks.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Perhaps -- perhaps -- with the Chicago Bulls' resurgence, and Kyrie Irving looking like his old self, we might get an Eastern Conference finals as good as the one I think we all anticipate happening out West.

Inside Access: Bulls vs. Celtics

An inside access look at the Celtics only trip to Chicago this season, which resulted in the Bulls extending their current win streak to 6 games.

2) Don't be surprised to see more Nerlens Noel at center than him playing at the four alongside Jahlil Okafor going forward for the 76ers. Mike D'Antoni, the team's new associate head coach, has been a big Nerlens-at-the-5 advocate since coming aboard.

3) Great to hear, LO.

4) It's been a year, but we haven't forgotten you, Stuart. Your daughters penned the most graceful tribute to you last week.

5) When I win Powerball this week, I will remember you all fondly. Well, most of you.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) I'm absolutely with Doc Rivers on this one -- he is under no obligation to help the Blazers out if they mistakenly listed C.J. McCollum as inactive before last week's game with the Clippers. The teams met with the league once the mistake was found, and before the game began, and if Rivers had given his okay to overlook the error, McCollum could have played. But he didn't. And he shouldn't have. That's on Portland. Lots of people no doubt saw the sheet before coach Terry Stotts signed it. They, or he, should have paid more attention.

2) When the words just don't come out right.

3) RIP, John Johnson. The quintessential '70s small forward, who was the Cleveland Cavaliers' first All-Star, did his most notable work in Seattle with the Sonics, where he won a title in 1979.

Remembering John Johnson

The NBA family mourns the loss of John Johnson, who played 12 seasons in the NBA after being drafted seventh overall in 1970 by Cleveland out of the University of Iowa.

4) I understand the issues baseball writers have with deciding whether or not to vote for players who were undoubtedly connected to substance abuse, one way or another, during the Steroid Era, to that sport's Hall of Fame. It's a terrible conundrum. But how could three people who covered baseball regularly not vote for Ken Griffey, Jr., for the Baseball Hall? I'm sure they have their reasons, but wow.

Q&A: JAMYCHAL GREEN AND K.J. MCDANIELS

With few exceptions, college football's bowl season has been a series of duds and blowouts, with few compelling games. The NCAA hoped (or, hopes) to make its College Football Playoff semifinals a New Year's Eve event. But that wasn't the case this year, with Alabama and Clemson winning snoozers to advance to tonight's championship game in Glendale, Ariz.

A victory by the Crimson Tide would result in the school's fourth national championship since 2009 under Coach Nick Saban. The Tigers haven't won a national title since 1981, but under Coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson enters the game 14-0.

Among the millions who'll have great interest in the outcome will be Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green -- who attended Alabama from 2008-11 -- and forward K.J. McDaniels -- who's in the Houston Rockets' organization, currently playing for Houston's D-League team in Rio Grande Valley and played at Clemson from 2011-14.

This may be a good time to also mention that McDaniels grew up and went to Central Park Christian High School in Birmingham, Ala. And is a big Tide fan. Or, was. Or, is.

Undrafted in 2014, Green signed a three-year deal with the Grizzlies last year after appearing in four games for the Spurs. He's getting regular playing time this season, averaging 15 minutes a game for Memphis as a high-energy reserve.

McDaniels was acquired by Houston last year from Philadelphia, and has been bouncing back and forth so far this season between the Rockets and the Vipers. It's hard for guys who do all year, but McDaniels says he uses his stays in Rio Grande to both work on his individual skills and try to get better as a player with the extended playing time he receives there. Monday night, though, like Green, he becomes a fan.

JAMYCHAL GREEN

Me: I wanted to ask you real quick, how your season is going in Memphis so far.

JaMychal Green: We're starting to get comfortable with the system, and I'm starting to get comfortable with my play, the more that I play. We're having a slow season right now but we're heading in the right direction. It's just a blessing. I can't do anything but thank God for this opportunity.

Me: You had a real strong preseason, but the minutes have been more sporadic in the regular season. How do you stay ready?

JG: I just try to stay mentally locked in. I just try to stay aware of everything that's going on, and when my name is called just try to make the most of the opportunity.

Me: When you were at 'Bama, did you know any of the players?

JG: Yeah, I knew a couple of the players. The football team and the basketball team got along.

It's tradition. It's like, we're supposed to win. Alabama is expected to win. It'll be big for us. The whole state will be buying in to everybody on that team.

– Alabama alum and Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green

Me: I would imagine in 2011, your junior year, when football won the championship, I figure that season was really special for everyone given what happened with the tornado.

JG: Yeah, it was. Especially, like you said, the whole campus was just going crazy. Especially me being there to witness it. The national championship, that was my first time just being in that environment, seeing how the fans and how the students was.

Me: How was the support for the basketball team when you were there?

JG: My first couple of years, it started off slow. But my junior year, we had a good year, and we wound up going to the NIT. We had an opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament, but we made it to the NIT championship game and we were real competitive.

Me: Do you have a game Monday, or can you watch it?

JG: Nah, Tuesday. I'll be able to watch it.

Me: Are you a loud football fan, or a quiet one?

JG: I'm more of the quiet type. I tweet a couple of times, but my mom and my dad, they're the type, they're very into the game. Every play, she's yelling, yelling at the referees that they're making bad calls and things. They're more of the loud ones.

Me: You watch alone, or with the fellas?

JG: It depends where I'm at. When they played Michigan State my family was up there, so we all watched it together.

Me: What do you think another championship would mean to the school?

JG: It's tradition. It's like, we're supposed to win. Alabama is expected to win. It'll be big for us. The whole state will be buying in to everybody on that team.

Me: You know any Clemson guys in the league?

JG: The only one I know is K.J.

Me: Any friendly wagers?

JG: Nah, I didn't get a chance to talk to him ... let him know the next time you talk to him that if he wants to make a wager, I'm on board.

K.J. MCDANIELS

Me: First of all, any divided loyalties, with the Birmingham roots?

K.J. McDaniels: Oh, man, yeah, it's loyalty there. I've been a 'Bama fan most of my life, and my people back home in my area, they love 'Bama. I have a lot of friends that went to 'Bama as well. I know it's crazy. But I'm sticking with my Tigers. That's my school. And they've been playing awesome this year. It's been a joy watching them play.

Me: When you were there, did you know any of the football players well, like Sammy Watkins (now with the Buffalo Bills) or anybody?

KJMD: I was pretty close with most of the guys. They're all good people and hard-working people. Just like the people that are there now. The guys that are there are hard workers. They were proving it before I left. I'm just proud of them on and off the field.

Me: How many games have you caught this year?

I'm gonna wear my colors either way it goes. If they win, I definitely have to brag a little bit. And if Alabama wins, it's just same old 'Bama.

– Clemson alum and Houston Rockets forward K.J. McDaniels

KJMD: I've seen most of their games this year. I have to catch them on TV. I haven't made it back there, but it's been a joy watching them just like it was in person.

Me: Clemson's been good for the longest, but they seem like they always had that bad loss to take them out of the championship discussion. How frustrating was that?

KJMD: I know Coach Dabo, and he's put his all into his players, and they've put their all into him. To see them go down, it was tough. But just still being proud of them, and you have this current team, it's come a long way. It seems like they've just gotten better every year.

Me: I know you're in Reno, but you'll be able to catch the game. Are you one of those guys who watches alone so nobody will hear you cuss at the TV?

KJMD: It really doesn't matter to me. I prefer to really watch it at home, probably with my people. It doesn't really matter. I'll probably be here in the hotel room, but I'm not really trying to go out much and get in trouble. I do a little trash talking. It's easy to trash talk, since it's both hometown team and my school. Either way it plays out.

Me: Who was your favorite Alabama football player growing up in Birmingham?

KJMD: I didn't really have a favorite football player, but they had a pretty good basketball team, and one of my favorite players was Rod Grizzard, actually. And he's in my hometown now and I play basketball with him. He was one of my favorites to watch. I'm actually close with him now. We play back at home in the summertime. I never had a favorite football player there. I knew a few guys that went there, but the team was just my favorite. The whole entire team. They showed great determination and tried to do the same thing every year, tried to be on top every year.

Me: So if Clemson wins, are you going to low-key it when you go back home this summer, or are you going to rock the colors?

KJMD: I'm gonna wear my colors either way it goes. Everybody knows I went to Clemson, so it won't make too much hard feelings. If they win, I definitely have to brag a little bit. And if Alabama wins, it's just same old 'Bama.

Me: Now, I talked to JaMychal Green, and he said if you want to put a little wager down, he's down with it.

KJMD: Oh, man. I'll have to get with JaMychal when I see him. I wasn't able to catch up with him. But it's a big rivalry, especially after this game right here.

Me: One shop question. I know it's been up and down for you, literally, between Rio Grande and Houston this season. Just wanted your impression on how things are going for you.

KJMD: I feel like things are going as planned. I just have to be patient and wait. I feel like I've put in a lot of hard work. I just have to keep getting better every day. That's just my thing, to keep finding ways to get better, staying positive. If that's what I have to do, I'll do it. I love playing with those guys that are there now, being practice with them, getting reps with them, knowing how the intensity goes up in games. It's been a good learning experience for me. I'm excited when I go back; I'm excited when I come here.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41), Thursday, 11:26 a.m., continuing his Twitter not-beef with teammate Zaza Pachulia, who called Nowitzki "soft" in a tongue-in-cheek Tweet for supposedly claiming that Pachulia "injured" him during a Mavs game last week by laying his head on the Diggler's shoulder.

THEY SAID IT

"I'm not asking him to sit out a game. I know his kids got to eat too, but you could at least put a shirt on or something."

-- Samaria Rice, the mother of slain 12-year-old Tamir Rice -- the Cleveland child who was killed by Cleveland police who claimed they believed the toy rifle he was carrying in a neighborhood park was real -- on BET's "News One Now with Roland Martin," on whether she expected LeBron James to make a statement about her slain son. James has been criticized by social activists who wanted him to make some kind of public gesture after a Cleveland grand jury declined to press charges against the police officers who killed Tamir Rice. Samaria Rice added in the interview with Martin that "it's quite sad" that James has said nothing about her son.

"He just leaned over and told me: 'I might not be able to play tonight.'"

-- Blazers guard Damian Lillard, recounting the moments before tipoff last Wednesday when teammate C.J. McCollum found out he would be ineligible to play against the Clippers because Portland Coach Terry Stotts signed the official active list for the game -- which incorrectly listed McCollum as one of the team's three inactive players for the game. McCollum could have played had Clippers Coach Doc Rivers agreed to let him on the court, but Rivers declined the let the error slide. The Clippers won 109-98.

"It's hard because given where you from, it's hard. There's violence, there's gang violence. There's everything. And there's access to a gun within seconds and it's always tragic to know it could be anybody, at any given point, at any given time, no matter who you are, where you are or what you're doing. And that's the sad part about it. But as much as we can and as much as possible, we need to stand on it."

-- Wizards guard Bradley Beal, a St. Louis native, to the Washington Post, on why he decided to accept the White House's invitation last week to sit in the audience while President Obama gave an impassioned speech on his intention to try and decrease gun violence nationally through a series of measures, including requiring more people who sells guns over the internet to conduct background checks on the people to whom they sell the guns.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.