Sasha Vezenkov

Pacific Notes: Beal, Green, Milojevic, Vezenkov

Bradley Beal lost a chance to play in the last Olympics after being placed in COVID protocols, and it doesn’t appear he’ll be part of this year’s event either, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. The Suns star wasn’t included on the 41-player pool list that was released Tuesday.

“It’s a difficult exercise because we have so many talented players and so many guys who one could make an argument for being on the list,” USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill said during a media conference call. “I had some great conversations with Brad last summer. That was tough. Tough decisions to get it to 41. I’ll be honest. I didn’t think we would be at 41. I thought we would have fewer names. I thought maybe 30 and it was really hard to get to 41 and I imagine it will be very difficult to get to 12.”

Beal remains a productive scorer, averaging 18.0 PPG in his first season with Phoenix, but injuries likely factored into the decision to keep him off the pool list. Beal has been limited to 50 and 40 games the past two seasons, and he has only appeared in 20 of the Suns’ first 44 games.

“I’ll say this with history as sort of a guide here,” Hill added. “A lot can, and will, happen between now and July and we’ve added players to that list. We’ve been fluid at times. We’ll continue to monitor, we’ll continue to evaluate and we’ll see where we are when we get on that plane and head overseas.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Warriors forward Draymond Green was also noticeably absent from the pool list, and Hill indicated that his two suspensions this season played a role in the decision, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “His contributions have been significant, and he is a real part of the legacy of this organization for his excellence,” Hill said of Green, a two-time gold medal winner. “But in lieu of what’s transpired this year, we made a decision to not have him on this list.” 
  • The Warriors will wear a “DM” patch for the rest of the season to honor assistant coach Dejan Milojevic, who died suddenly last week, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The team paid tribute to Milojevic with a ceremony before tonight’s game (video link from Kendra Andrews of ESPN).
  • Kings forward Sasha Vezenkov will be reevaluated in seven to 14 days after suffering a moderate right ankle sprain Monday night, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Vezenkov was dealing with a sprained left ankle going into the game, Anderson adds.

Kings Notes: Losing Streak, Rotation, Murray, NBAGL Team

The Kings remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with a 23-18 record, but they’re in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, having dropped a fourth consecutive game on Thursday. While road losses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee last Friday and Sunday were understandable, Sacramento blew a big fourth quarter lead in Phoenix on Tuesday and fell at home to a depleted Pacers team last night.

“It’s a lot of little things that are turning into big things,” Keegan Murray said of the Kings’ on-court issues, per Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee.

One of those issues is free throw shooting. The Kings’ 72.5% rate from the foul line this season is easily the NBA’s worst mark and the team made just 25-of-44 (56.8%) free throws in its past two losses.

“That’s two games in a row we shoot 50% from the free throw line,” head coach Mike Brown said on Thursday. “I’m not sure what it is. Today we shot more free throws in a shootaround than we ever have in a shootaround since I’ve been here. And yesterday, we shot more free throws in a practice than we ever have since I’ve been here.”

“You go back to the work. You get in the gym,” wing Kevin Huerter said. “You’ve got to build your confidence by trusting the work you put in. We shot ourselves in the foot. This is the third game in a row this has happened against three good teams. It feels like it’s all self-inflicted and that’s why it’s frustrating for us. It’s no secret. We can’t miss 14 free throws at home and expect to beat a team that’s this good, even with the players they have out. That’s stuff that we can control.”

Here’s more on the Kings:

  • Despite the losing streak, Brown seems to have settled into a rotation he likes, with Huerter back in the starting five and Malik Monk, Trey Lyles, Sasha Vezenkov, and Alex Len playing regular minutes off the bench, notes Anderson. “I hate to say this, but I feel fairly comfortable (with the current rotation),” Brown said prior to Thursday’s loss. “Now, that doesn’t mean I may not change again with the way our rotation is right now, but I feel fairly comfortable with what we’re doing right now, and I’m going to ride with it a little bit and give it an opportunity.” Davion Mitchell, Chris Duarte, Keon Ellis, and JaVale McGee are among those not seeing regular playing time as of late.
  • Anthony Slater of The Athletic outlines why the Kings consider Murray essentially untouchable in trade talks, writing that the team views the former No. 4 overall pick as a player who could round out a long-term big three alongside Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. “Keegan is a huge part of our future,” Brown said. “We rely on him for a lot and, to a certain degree, it is a little unfair. Because we’re a playoff team. There aren’t many guys that are in year two that are expected to do what he does.”
  • Anjali Ranadive, the daughter of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, has stepped down from her position as the general manager of the Stockton Kings, Sacramento’s G League affiliate announced today in a press release. She’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. and focusing on her non-profit organization while assistant general manager Gabriel Harris takes on the day-to-day GM responsibilities in Stockton. “We are grateful to Anjali for her contributions to the Stockton Kings over the past two seasons,” Kings GM Monte McNair said in a statement. “Under her leadership the team has excelled on the court and is set for success in the future.”
  • In other Stockton news, the Kings’ G League team added a former NBA first-round pick earlier this week, announcing in a press release that veteran swingman Shabazz Muhammad has joined the roster. The No. 14 pick in the 2013 draft, Muhammad last played in the NBA in 2018 for Milwaukee, but continues to try to make it back to the league.

Pacific Notes: Paul, Brown, Vezenkov, LaVine

Warriors guard Chris Paul seems to have avoided a major injury. Paul exited Golden State’s Tuesday game against Sacramento in the first quarter due to a lower left leg nerve contusion. He underwent an MRI on Wednesday, according to a team release (Twitter link via Andscape’s Marc J. Spears), and it confirmed his contusion and revealed no structural damage.

While Paul has to miss the Warriors’ next two games, he’s scheduled to be reevaluated on Monday.

Paul is an integral part of the Warriors’ rotation, averaging 8.9 points and 7.3 assists per game in 18 appearances (seven starts) this season. With Gary Payton II also out, Moses Moody and Cory Joseph are most likely to pick up extra minutes during Golden State’s upcoming stretch of games.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said rookie forward Kobe Brown will be a part of the team’s rotation moving forward, tweets ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. Lue said he wants to give Brown a chance due to his ability to knock down shots and his physicality. Brown is averaging 2.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in eight games this season after being selected with the 30th overall pick in this year’s draft.
  • Kings forward Sasha Vezenkov had season highs of 13 points and five rebounds during Sacramento’s Wednesday loss to the Clippers, continuing to assert himself into the team’s rotation. According to Eurohoops.net, Vezenkov is still adjusting to the NBA after making the transition from EuroLeague this summer. “It’s like going from the EuroCup to the EuroLeague or from the EuroLeague to the NBA,” Vezenkov said. “It’s hard to adjust, create your comfort zone, learn how the game is played, and earn everyone’s trust. With my work, my character, and my desire to win and help the team, I’m sure everything will be fine.”
  • Stemming from reports that the Lakers are expected to register some interest in trading for Bulls star guard Zach LaVine, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report explores whether such a trade makes sense for Los Angeles. Pincus writes that matching the price (LaVine is set to make $40.1MM this season) and taking on his long-term money (he’s under contract through at least 2026) are huge risks for the Lakers. On top of that, L.A.’s biggest issues this year have been injury problems and dealing with opposing centers and LaVine doesn’t address either of those concerns. Pincus reasons that the Lakers should consider trying to trade for Andre Drummond and Alex Caruso rather than for LaVine.

Pacific Notes: Harden, Warriors, Santa Cruz, Kings Depth, Booker

New Clippers guard James Harden discussed his desire to help the team win a championship during his introductory presser on Thursday, and the Clippers are much closer to winning a chip by acquiring him, Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register opines. However, Swanson argues that trading for Harden puts the Clippers under more public scrutiny, adding Harden to a list of big-name players alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.

The fit between Harden and Westbrook, who have played together twice before in Houston and Oklahoma City, will be interesting to watch unfold. Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times further explores the fit, adding that coach Tyronn Lue said he hasn’t yet talked to the two about splitting ball-handling duties.

I don’t predict the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know, bro,” Westbrook said. “But it’s going to be a process. It’s going to be ups and downs, going to be good games, bad games. It’s not just going to come together and mesh and we’re going to be perfectly fine. That’s unrealistic expectations for everybody. The realistic expectations, like I said, it’s going to be a process. I don’t have the answer to what that is.

Harden said he’s used to adjusting his playing style, having done so in Brooklyn and Philadelphia alongside other superstars, though he expressed displeasure with his role in Philly.

Somebody that can have that dialogue with me and understand and move forward and figure out and make adjustments on the fly throughout the course of games, that’s all I really care about,” Harden said. “It’s not about me scoring … 34 points. I’ve done that already.

Harden is in the final year of his contract and will earn about $35.6MM this season.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • The Warriors are off to a 5-1 start, but they are still figuring out certain lineups, The Athletic’s Anthony Slater observes. In particular, head coach Steve Kerr is still working through the team’s closing unit, and Jonathan Kuminga, Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II are all fighting for spots in that lineup, with Payton closing out Friday.
  • In the same article, Slater reports the Warriors sent Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis to the G League to get playing time in training camp with Santa Cruz. However, Draymond Green argued that the Warriors played with low energy on Friday and that not having the young players there hurt the team. “Next time we have an in-season tournament game, we need them here,” Green said. “You always talk about young guys bringing energy, that’s their job. We don’t have to tell those young guys to bring energy. They do every single day. I wasn’t overly shocked our energy wasn’t there because they lift our energy level. … We need them here. They are a big part of the fabric of this team. We missed them [Friday].
  • With both De’Aaron Fox and Trey Lyles still out for the Kings, Sacramento’s depth is being tested early on, The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Anderson writes. Davion Mitchell and Sasha Vezenkov have been taking on the majority of Fox’s and Lyles’ minutes.
  • After returning to play Thursday, Suns guard Devin Booker is out again for Saturday’s contest against the Sixers, according to Duane Rankin (Twitter link). Head coach Frank Vogel is “hopeful” Booker will play in the second game of the team’s back-to-back on Sunday against the Pistons, but that the short turnaround mixed with ankle soreness is holding him out today.

Western Notes: Jazz, Holiday, Morant, Vezenkov, Strawther

The Jazz were involved in the Jrue Holiday sweepstakes before the All-Defensive guard was traded from Portland to Boston, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Larsen hears that Utah considered an offer that included multiple first-round picks for the standout guard. However, he notes that ESPN’s Bobby Marks said during a radio appearance that the Jazz were wary of pursuing Holiday too aggressively without any assurances that he’d commit to the team long-term. The 33-year-old holds a player option for the 2024/25 season, so he could have been just a one-year rental.

Having missed out on Holiday, the Jazz don’t have a clear-cut option to start at point guard and it’s clear that head coach Will Hardy is “struggling with this decision,” Larsen writes. As Tony Jones of The Athletic notes, each of the candidates for the role has exhibited his flaws as well as his strengths so far during camp and the preseason.

Collin Sexton isn’t a natural point guard and Talen Horton-Tucker and Keyonte George are still relatively raw as point guards, according to Jones, who adds that starting Kris Dunn would make it tricky for the team to find minutes off the bench for Sexton. Jordan Clarkson was also considered a candidate for the point guard job, but the Jazz appear more comfortable having him in a sixth-man role, so the competition could be down to four players.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • When Ja Morant‘s 25-game suspension was announced in June, the NBA indicated that the Grizzlies guard would have to meet certain conditions to be reinstated. The league provided an update this week, indicating that Morant’s suspension won’t be shortened but also isn’t expected to extend beyond 25 games, report Sam Amick and Joe Vardon of The Athletic.
  • Ziaire Williams played well as the Grizzlies‘ fifth starter in Tuesday’s preseason win over Milwaukee, but head coach Taylor Jenkins isn’t ready to commit to that spot for the regular season, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Luke Kennard appears to be Williams’ top competition for that starting spot, with Jake LaRavia, David Roddy, and John Konchar looming as wild card, per Cole.
  • Kings head coach Mike Brown is unsure whether NBA newcomer Sasha Vezenkov will be part of the team’s rotation when the regular season begins, per Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. In a separate story, Anderson points out that Vezenkov started in place of injured forward Keegan Murray (thumb) on Wednesday, but Chris Duarte took Vezenkov’s spot in the lineup to open the third quarter. According to Brown, Vezenkov’s ability to hold his own on defense will be a significant factor in determining his role.
  • Nuggets rookie Julian Strawther, vying for a rotation spot, had an impressive preseason debut on Tuesday vs. Phoenix, piling up 20 points, five rebounds, and three assists with no turnovers in 21 minutes off the bench. Bennett Durando of The Denver Post has the details, observing that Strawther’s ability to space the floor may help earn him a regular role.

Kings Notes: Barnes, Vezenkov, Murray, Second Unit

Harrison Barnes has played for the Kings the last four-and-a-half seasons and he’ll be around even longer after signing a three-year, $54MM extension. After being subjected to so many trade rumors, Barnes is appreciative of his longevity with the organization, he told Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

“I’m humbled and honored. Because there hasn’t been a whole lot of stability here,” he said. “But to be able to build, to see an entire process go through in the same place and say I was part of a successful rebuild, it’s great. I was part of a rebuild in Dallas and wasn’t able to see that go through. But to actually see it through here and hopefully much further, it’s special.”

We have more on the Kings:

  • Sasha Vezenkov scored 12 points in 11 minutes of second half action in a 112-99 loss to the Raptors during the team’s preseason opener Sunday, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee notes. Vezenkov signed a three-year, $20MM contract with Sacramento after winning the EuroLeague MVP award with Olympiacos last season. He’s looking to break into the second unit.
  • Sacramento is looking for Keegan Murray to expand his offensive game in his second season. There were signs of that on Sunday, according to Hunter Patterson of The Athletic. Murray, who attempted almost twice as many threes as twos during his rookie season, looked to create more off the bounce in the preseason opener.
  • Davion Mitchell and Malik Monk, as usual, were the first players off the bench, Patterson adds. Newcomers JaVale McGee and Chris Duarte rounded out the second unit with Trey Lyles, who re-signed with the club this summer.

Kings Notes: Lyles, Lamb, Nowell, Vezenkov, Ford

Trey Lyles has played for five teams across his eight seasons in the league, but he feels like he’s found a long-term home with the Kings, according to Hunter Patterson of The Athletic. Lyles arrived in Sacramento in 2022 at the trade deadline and became a key contributor as the team ended its 16-season playoff drought last year.

The two sides agreed to a two-year, $16MM contract extension this offseason after Lyles made returning to Sacramento his No. 1 priority, according to Patterson.

Last season, I felt at home with the team, city and the fans,” Lyles said. “But I think it really set in once I signed back. This is the first time in my going-on-nine-year career that I’ve been able to stay in a city for longer than two years. It felt good. … So, that was really the moment it was — not a weight off my shoulders, but kind of a breath of fresh air.”

The 27-year-old forward didn’t make a start for the first time in his career, but he had a consistent role, averaging 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16.9 minutes off the bench in 74 games.

Trey’s such a good guy,” Kings coach Mike Brown said of Lyles. “He understands what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s going to bring it every day, and he gives us a lot of versatility.”

We have more from the Kings:

  • Both Jeremy Lamb and Jaylen Nowell signed Exhibit 10 training camp contracts with the Kings, Spotrac’s Keith Smith tweets. Sacramento has room to carry one more player on a standard contract for its regular season roster, and Lamb and Nowell are both candidates for that spot, though the Kings don’t necessarily have to carry a full 15-man roster. Those Exhibit 10 agreements provide a way for the Kings to keep one or both of the players in their organization if they don’t make the regular season roster. Both players will be eligible for a bonus worth up to $75K if they are waived before opening night and then spend at least 60 days with Sacramento’s G League affiliate, the Stockton Kings.
  • The Kings are high on forward Sasha Vezenkov‘s outside shooting, according to Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Domantas Sabonis called the former EuroLeague MVP the best shooter on the team, while De’Aaron Fox said he was one of the best shooters on Earth. “Man, he shoots the [heck] out of the ball,” Fox said. “It’s crazy. One of our shooting drills, I think it’s like 150 shots, and I think he missed seven. … We want him to be comfortable and we want him to know he has a green light to shoot the ball.” The 6’9″ forward is embarking on his rookie season in the NBA at 28 years old and is expected to have a role right away.
  • Guard Jordan Ford grew up rooting for the Kings, Anderson details in another story, and he’s now getting the chance to suit up for the team after he signed a two-way contract in September. “It definitely feels special today putting on the uniform for the first time, the actual threads,” Ford said. “It feels great and I think it’s something that is going to be great through the whole season, just getting to know all the fans and getting to know all the great people, so I’m excited.

Kings Notes: Vezenkov, Monk, McGee

Former Olympiacos star Sasha Vezenkov decided to come stateside for the 2023/24 season, signing a three-year, $20MM contract with the Kings, who held his draft rights. At his introductory press conference on Thursday, Vezenkov said the team’s months-long pursuit to sign him played a factor in his decision, as Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee relays.

I’m really happy, really excited,” Vezenkov said. “It was a big decision for my career and I’m really happy to do it for Sacramento. I’m really thankful to the organization because throughout the last year, they came overseas. They show me their commitment. They show me how much they want me to be here and I’m really happy.”

The reigning EuroLeague MVP had a lot of success playing with Olympiacos, winning back-to-back domestic titles the past two seasons and losing the EuroLeague final to Real Madrid by one point in 2022/23. The Kings’ success last season — winning 48 games and breaking their 16-year playoff drought — was another reason the Bulgarian forward wanted to join the team, according to James Ham of TheKingsBeat.com.

I like to win,” Vezenkov said. “That’s why we play basketball — to enjoy, to win games. This helped in my decision. As we saw last year, the Kings were a fantastic team, playing beautiful basketball, but most importantly, winning.”

Here’s more on the Kings:

  • Adjusting to the pace, space, and athleticism of the NBA can sometimes be a challenge for European players, especially right away. But Vezenkov is confident he’ll make an impact with Sacramento and believes it will be a good fit, per Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops.net. The 28-year-old sharpshooter said it was a “dream” to play in the league. “The NBA was like a goal, a dream for me,” Vezenkov said. “Every kid who plays in Europe wants to come to the NBA. … I am here to help with my experience, with whatever coach needs from me for this team to continue to win games and perform better and better.”
  • Ham of TheKingsBeat recently touched on Malik Monk‘s contract situation in an appearance on ESPN 1320’s D-Lo & KC show (Twitter video link). Monk, who is entering the final year of his deal, will only have Early Bird rights in 2024 after signing a two-year contract with the Kings, and he is not extension-eligible. That means Sacramento will be somewhat limited in what it can offer him in free agency next summer, Ham notes. After a solid regular season as the team’s sixth man, Monk had a breakout performance in Sacramento’s first-round playoff loss to Golden State, averaging 19.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 3.6 APG in seven games (29.3 MPG).
  • Veteran center JaVale McGee is reportedly signing a one-year, fully guaranteed minimum-salary contract to join the Kings after being waived by Dallas. He’s expected to compete for minutes behind Domantas Sabonis, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, who writes that McGee has the trust of head coach Mike Brown, as they won a pair of championships together with Golden State. McGee’s mother also played for Sacramento’s WNBA team, the Monarchs, Amick adds.

Western Notes: Kings, Brooks, Jones, Lillard, Timberwolves

The Kings decided to tweak the roster rather than make major changes this offseason after finally reaching the postseason in the spring. They acquired Chris Duarte in a trade and re-signed Harrison Barnes and Trey Lyles. They also signed EuroLeague star Sasha Vezenkov.

Kings coach Mike Brown is excited to have his core group back and is eager to see how they respond to the newfound respect they’ve gained after snapping the franchise’s long playoff drought.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we can handle the pressure,” the Kings coach said. “It’s flipped now. We’re no longer hunting people; people are hunting us. And there are expectations, so how do we handle that? I believe our guys are ready for it, and with the fans that we have here and the juice they brought last year – let’s go. Let’s get it. I’m excited for Sasha, I’m excited for Chris Duarte, I’m excited about our young guys. It’s good to have the new guys, but I’m more excited about having our guys to be able to run it back and give them the opportunity to grow as a nucleus than anything else.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Grizzlies allowed Dillon Brooks in free agency and traded Tyus Jones. So what have they lost? Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal explores that topic. The Grizzlies have become known for their flashy style and trash talking and Brooks was a major reason for that. Jones was a locker room leader and led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of his four seasons with the club.
  • Trail Blazers fans want the Damian Lillard saga to be resolved soon. In a poll conducted by Jason Quick of The Athletic, 80.4% want the front office to take the best offer for their longtime All-Star and prioritize the team ahead of Lillard. However, the high-scoring guard was voted as the franchise’s greatest player (51.9%), ahead of Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton.
  • Anthony Edwards (United States), Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic), Rudy Gobert (France), Kyle Anderson (China), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Canada) and draft-and-stash prospect Matteo Spagnolo (Italy) are participating in the World Cup, while Luka Garza played for Bosnia and Herzegovina in a pre-qualifying Olympic tournament. That should give those Timberwolves players a head start to the NBA season, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Alexander-Walker agrees with the notion. “I want to use it to propel me for the season,” he said.

Kings’ McNair: Decision To Retain Roster Provides ‘Runway’ To Future Success

While many around the league suspected the Kings were gearing up for a major free agency acquisition entering July, Sacramento ended up largely using its cap space to retain its core. On the night of the 2023 NBA draft, the Kings traded Richaun Holmes and the No. 24 overall pick to the Mavericks to create cap space, which they used to re-sign Harrison Barnes to a three-year, $54MM contract and then later renegotiate and extend Domantas Sabonis on a five-year, $217MM deal.

Sacramento general manager Monte McNair sat down with The Athletic’s Anthony Slater and Sam Amick to discuss the Kings’ decision to retain their core and why he’s higher on their offseason moves than outsiders might be.

“(I’m) not saying that we won’t look at upgrades (or that) we didn’t,” McNair said. “Because we certainly explored all those options. But knowing that one of our options was going to be to bring the bulk of our team back (was appealing).

After making the decision to trade Tyrese Haliburton to the Pacers for Sabonis at the 2022 trade deadline, the Kings spent the subsequent summer trying to build a playoff contender that would end the club’s then-16-year playoff drought. Sacramento drafted Keegan Murray, a 22-year-old rookie who stepped into the rotation right away, and acquired Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter to surround De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis.

What followed was a 48-win season that resulted in the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, ending the Kings’ playoff drought. This summer was quieter for McNair — the Kings drafted Colby Jones and Jalen Slawson, signed Sasha Vezenkov and Nerlens Noel, and traded for Chris Duarte.

Although Sacramento didn’t make a major splash, McNair believes the addition of Vezenkov is a significant one. The Kings acquired the 2023 EuroLeague MVP along with cash from Cleveland last summer for the No. 49 overall pick in the 2022 draft. While Sacramento wasn’t sure at the time if Vezenkov would ever end up in the NBA, McNair believes the team’s stellar play helped convince him to come stateside. Vezenkov signed a three-year, $20MM deal this offseason.

McNair said that he understands the muted reaction from outsiders, but that the Kings were extremely high on Vezenkov for a while and that he’s going to turn some heads.

A lot of people hear ‘international’ and they don’t know them, and then they come over and all of a sudden it’s (Nikola) Mirotic or it’s the Bogdanovics (Bogdan and Bojan) or (Nemanja) Bjelica,” McNair said. “Or you can obviously go back to the Pejas and Turkoglus (former Kings Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu). And once they’re over here, then people get excited about them. But I think people will be surprised, just because they don’t know him very well and what he can do.

The Kings aren’t just banking on Vezenkov, Duarte, and the other additions to help the team improve, according to McNair. Sacramento is extraordinarily high on Murray, who showed promising upside in his first season after averaging 12.2 points in 80 games last season along with starting in all seven of the club’s playoff games. Murray also set the record for threes made by a rookie with 206.

Murray played in the California Classic this summer and turned heads rather quickly with a 41-point outing in a game against the Heat. McNair believes Murray’s ongoing development is a key to unlocking another level for the Kings.

We know we need Keegan to take another step,” McNair said. “And one of the ways he can do that is to be more of a second or third option as opposed to a fourth or fifth option. And it’s hard to do that when you have two all-NBA guys, right? Then you have Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes. So you know, it may take some time for him to do that within the natural flow.

While the Kings’ offseason moves signal a desire to remain in the upper echelon of Western Conference teams, McNair explained that these transactions were as much about preserving future flexibility as they were about staying competitive in the short term. The Holmes trade didn’t just allow for the Kings to bring back Barnes and extend Sabonis — it also freed up $12.8MM in 2024. Every major piece of Sacramento’s rotation is under team control beyond next season except for Monk and Alex Len. That extra $12.8MM of breathing room could put the team in position to bring those pieces back or replace them.

Additionally, the Kings only owe one first-round pick, a lottery protected 2024 first-rounder to Atlanta. Outside of that, the club has a full treasure chest of draft assets and tradable contracts to help facilitate a future move, according to McNair.

McNair understands that the Kings had extraordinary luck with health last season and that other Western teams improved this offseason, but he’s sold on what his team can achieve moving forward.

One mistake you can make in this league is thinking your path will be linear,” McNair said. “We know it’s not going to be a straight line where we just continue to take one step at a time. Hopefully we’re taking major steps forward. But if there’s other road blocks or adversity in the way, you have to have the ability to pivot off of that, whether it’s a better fit or talent. So for us, we feel not just set up this year, but we have plenty of room to the tax line for trades (if needed).

Slater and Amick touch base on more topics with McNair, so I recommend checking out the article in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber.