Kings prepare for Vegas Summer League

Now that the LeBron talk has settled, and we know he isn’t coming to Sacramento, we can put all our attention and focus on the young group of guys we’ve got going into next year.

The Kings’ draft selections, DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside, stepped on the court Friday at the Kings practice facility to show the coaching staff what they have. Although Cousins and Whiteside showed in college that they’ve got the athleticism and talent to be drafted by an NBA team, many of the players at the practice facility are trying to prove their worth and find a spot on the Kings’ roster.

Even though it isn’t mandatory that they play in the Summer League, Omri Casspi and Donte Greene joined the rookies before they head to Las Vegas.

“I’m a veteran now, so I just try to come out show some leadership,” said Greene. “I could have chosen to work out (during the summer) and not play, but I wanted to come out and show the coaches that I’m ready for the starting job and keep it for the whole season.”

Greene, who was drafted in 2008 by the Houston Rockets, stood out in the Summer League in his rookie season, averaging 22.6 points per game in Las Vegas and finishing the league second in scoring.

Although the players may be fighting for a spot, their performance in Sin City will be scouted by other teams as well. Greene played Summer League ball for Houston but a few months later was traded to Sacramento in a deal with Ron Artest. Last season, shooting guard Wesley Matthews had a spot on the Kings Summer League squad but got substantial minutes from the Utah Jazz during the season.

Casspi, who is petitioning for the same spot as Greene, started working out in Vegas on June 1. Casspi was trying to get bigger. It was obvious how hard he hit the dreaded “rookie wall” last year. How Omri and Greene play in Vegas may determine who will join Tyreke Evans and the rest of the starting five come fall.

Cousins may be another player contending for a starting spot. He was taken in the top five, but the opportunity for the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder to start in October is there. His first test will come Monday, when he goes up against live competition.

“All the talk, all the negative, that’s my fire,” said Cousins. “I think what we’re trying to focus on this year is being a lot tougher and more defensive.”

That mindset is a first for the Sacramento Kings. Adding Evans, Jon Brockman and Casspi in last year’s draft planted the idea that the Kings may become a stronger, meaner team. They drafted tougher and taller with this year’s picks of Cousins and Whiteside.

Both players displayed their ability to use their height, and Cousins, that he could use his weight. He showed everyone that he was the strongest player; he pushed other players around and got to the paint pretty easily.

Cousins also showcased a smooth stroke from 17 feet. Midway through practice, Whiteside exhibited his athleticism and 7-foot-8 arm span, when he pulled the ball from what seemed to be the rafters and dunked it hard. Whiteside did a good job of protecting the rim in drills, blocking shots in one-on-one drills and in the scrimmage.

Assistant Coach Mario Elie led the practice and will be head coach in Las Vegas.

“It was a great day today, we got a great group of kids,” he said after practice Friday morning. “What DeMarcus did was so impressive today with his rebounding, his passing, playing a scrimmage game, telling his coach that he wants the ball down the stretch, making plays. I’m real excited about having him this summer. I’m not saying that everyone else didn’t play well today, but DeMarcus really stood out in my eyes.”

Other players also stood out.

Lee Cummard, a 6-foot-7 guard/forward out of BYU,made a handful of threes in drills. Cummard also stayed a few minutes after the rest of the players went into the locker room, working on free throws.

Sylven Landesburg and Dionte Christmas didn’t play well early on, but looked a lot better in the second half of the morning practice. Landesburg showed an ability to get to the rim, similar to that of Tyreke, while Christmas showed his shooting ability by making a few long-distance jumpers. The chance for one of these players to make the roster is there but it is a spot that won’t come easy.

Ryan Thompson, brother of Kings forward Jason Thompson, was unable to practice because he left Friday morning from Orlando. Thompson is a step ahead of his teammates as he just finished Summer League play in Orlando for the Boston Celtics, where he averaged just over 9 points per game. He is another player who could be that last guard added to the Kings.

“We’ve got a pretty intelligent group. These guys are picking (the offensive and defensive schemes) up very quick. They know what’s at stake,” Elie said. “We have roster spots, so they know we’re one of the teams that, if they have a good showing, they may get invited to training camp.”

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