Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Aug. 14) -- Vlade Divac's Sacramento rebuild continues

This morning’s headlines:

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Vlade Divac’s royal rebuild in Sacramento continues — Six months later people are stills scratching their heads, wondering what the Sacramento Kings were thinking trading away an All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins for the promise of what Buddy Hield might be some day. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe takes us behind the curtain of Vlade Divac’s royal rebuild:

Divac admitted he could probably have acquired more assets if he had acted earlier, but said he had to change the culture of the team. Cousins’s surly attitude clouded a franchise seeking respectability.

The outlook is more positive for Divac now. He doesn’t hear as much criticism about the Cousins deal because of the subsequent moves he and former executive vice president Scott Perry made to improve the roster. Sacramento signed veterans George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph, and drafted first-rounders De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, and Harry Giles, additions that could make the Kings a playoff contender in the Western Conference (though Randolph’s status is in question after he was arrested on drug charges last week).

“When we made that decision [to trade Cousins], we knew exactly where we were going,” Divac said. “We made a plan and try to execute it. So far, it’s exactly what we want. We have nice, young talented kids, and obviously with the addition of veteran guys [they] are going to teach them on a daily basis what it takes to win, what it takes to be a pro. It’s going to help a lot.”

. . .

It has taken a few years for Divac to see the fruits of his rebuild.

“Our goal is for those kids to learn every day, to play hard and compete,” Divac said. “Good things are going to happen if they do that. We have to worry about us and trying to build what we believe is the right thing. We definitely believe this is the right way to do it. It’s early to say where we are going to be in the years ahead, but we’re headed in the right direction.

“We were ready and we knew exactly what we were going to do when the time comes. We executed exactly what we tried to do.”

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Knicks rookie Ntlikina working on his body — Frank Ntilikina has eyes. He can see the same things we all do, that the physical leap he’ll have to make from international play to the NBA is as steep as anything else he’ll have to deal with when he hits training camp. So, of course, he’s been working on his body. Brian Lewis of the New York Post has more:

As a top-10 pick and foundation piece of the Knicks’ rebuilding process, Frank Ntilikina is going to play in the NBA. But to play well — to be able to start, defend and excel — the young Frenchman is going to have to get bigger and stronger. The wiry 19-year-old is going to have to work as much on his body as his game.

“I’ve been working on my body so far, I’ve been working on my game, on my shot, so it’s good,” Ntilikina said Friday at the Knicks’ training facility in Tarrytown.

“I’ve been working on my body all summer. It’s very important for European players that come from overseas, the first thing we have to do is build our body. You see a lot of changes from every European player versus in the NBA. So I think it’s an important thing for me to do, so I’ve been working on this, working on my game, as [is] every player here.”

The eighth-overall pick talked about wanting to compete against the other elite point guards drafted (such as Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball) at a photo shoot for his Panini trading cards. But even surrounded by other rookies, he looked spindly and baby-faced.

Ntilikina is 6-foot-5 and listed at just 190 pounds. To even compete with unheralded Ron Baker and newly signed Ramon Sessions, he “needs to continue getting stronger,” as his draft profile on the league’s website reads.

He admitted as much himself.

“Yeah, I mean we all know it’s a different level here,’’ Ntilikina said. “But I think defense itself is about mindset and about physical [toughness]. You have to be physically strong. Whatever happens, I will work on it.

“I know I have to work on my body to be able to do some things in the NBA. All these guys are stronger than overseas players. It’s a challenge. I’ll just go in the training room, go on the court and work on it and fix it to try to be the best player I can be.”

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Thunder have plenty of company in revamped Western Conference — There’s nothing like a summer franchise makeover to inspire the imagination of fans about what could be in a coming season. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, a rebirth in the wake of of a KIA MVP season for face of the franchise Russell Westbrook that includes adding superstar help in Paul George (via trade) was just the beginning. But the crew in Oklahoma City, as Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman points out, has plenty of company in a revamped Western Conference:

There’s a monster in the Western Conference.

With two NBA titles in three seasons and a core poised to continue its dominance, Golden State looks like a long-term terror, a juggernaut capable of smashing the opponents in its path for years to come.

But this summer, the West focused on fight, not flight.

“You would think that players and teams would see an opportunity in the East with a fading Cleveland,” said Sekou Smith, who covers the league for and NBA TV. “That’s more advantageous than an ascending Warriors team that doesn’t look like it’s gonna be anything but relentless the next three or four years.”

Instead, three of the four 2017 NBA All-Stars who changed teams this summer – the Thunder’s Paul George, the Timberwovles’ Jimmy Butler and the Nuggets’ Paul Millsap – went from the East to the West via trade or free agency.

The Warriors are a rising tide, and they’re raising all Western Conference boats.

“In all my years covering the league, I can’t remember this kind of migration of star talent one way or the other,” Smith said. “Free agency, trade – even the draft. All of these different factors seem like they lined up for players to go West.”

The result is that a Thunder team that should be significantly improved with the additions of George, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton still figures to be in a dogfight in the Western Conference.

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In teaming George with reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City looks prepped to make a leap into the conference’s top four teams – good enough to host a first-round playoff series

It was a bold offseason move, and though the Warriors remain the class of the conference, the George addition could put the Thunder on par with teams like San Antonio and Houston, which added Chris Paul to a backcourt already boasting James Harden.

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Miami’s Waiters still confident as ever — A little injury setback did nothing to douse the confidence of Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters, who cashed in this summer in free agency with a four-year, $52 million contract. Waiters wasn’t shy in a recent radio interview, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald highlights, waxing poetic on all things:

If you missed Dion Waiters’ interview with HipHopSince1987, some highlights:

“At the end of the day when I was on that court I produced,” he said. “[Miami was] 30-11 in the second half of the season – 23-5 when I was on the court. I wasn’t satisfied at all. For me, it was just a little taste. I’m 25 man. We’re not going nowhere. That’s why I always say, ‘Bet on yourself and double down.’

On his four-year, $52 million contract, Waiter said: “You have to think about that at the end of the day, from what happened last year when they just threw a lot of money out there, it was a lot of bad contracts last year. So this year a lot of teams were more safe like ‘we’re not throwing it out there like that.’ Even though I know like for real, for real what [my contract is] supposed be, I’m blessed with the situation and I’m going to make the best of that.

“But at the end of the day we know what’s up. Got to think about it, no [Florida state income] taxes. You see all that plus bonuses. You’ve just got to really save money. Do the right thing, have fun, but save. I’m 25. I got another” big contract down the road.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson isn’t slowing down at 90 … Not everyone is excited about the Clippers potential move to Inglewood … ICYMI, Saturday Night Live got in some shots at LaVar Ball’s expense … The Trail Blazers remain the “sleeper” team in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes … Don’t let his hobbies fool you, Nets rookie Jarret Allen is a “quiet assassin”