Ty Lawson Blossoming into New Role as Denver Nuggets Leader

DENVER — If the Denver Nuggets are adopting a universal theme for the 2014-15 season, one that figures to see them right in the thick of the competition for a coveted playoff spot in the Western Conference, it would easily be leadership. 

This is a team with no established superstars but plenty of depth, quality players and veteran talent. Nonetheless, during what’s widely viewed as a do-over after last year’s injury-plagued campaign, someone has to emerge as a leader. 

That player is Ty Lawson

The speedy point guard who averaged 17.6 points and 8.8 assists per game during the 2013-14 season is ready to take on a new role. Now in his sixth season, re-joined by Arron Afflalo and the hordes of players who suffered season-ending injuries last year, Lawson is ready to become a true leader for this team, both on and off the court. 

We’ve had a lot of conversations this offseason, and we had a lot of conversations at the end of last season,” Denver head coach Brian Shaw said during his press conference at Nuggets media day. “That’s the position I played—I mean, obviously, we were different players—but I expect more from him than anybody on this team because he’s our first line of offense and our first line of defense.”

It’s a sentiment that doesn’t faze Lawson in the slightest. When he was asked about Shaw’s view of him and whether those expectations were a bit unfair, he didn’t hesitate before accepting the responsibility, even noting that it was understandable because his coach played the same position he now does.

And it’s a tricky position, due to the weight of on-court pressure.

Especially in today’s NBA, a point guard isn’t necessarily just a player who’s going to dribble the ball up the floor before passing it off to someone who can do the heavy lifting in the scoring column. There are plenty of floor generals who have become dynamic scorers, and there are likewise quite a few who excel when they’re allowed to serve as distributors.

Lawson doesn’t necessarily want to pigeonhole himself into either role. In fact, he recognizes that the team’s success will often come from him willingly involving his teammates.

I don’t want to average 20 and 10 because then I’m taking too much away from my teammates,” he explained, though he also noted that he expects to lead the team in scoring. Shaw wouldn’t commit to naming a player as the likely scoring leader, instead pointing to the wealth of options as a strength of the team and an aspect that made the Nuggets difficult to plan for.

But Lawson would, and it’s a healthy mix of aggression and assertiveness that he’s striving for.  

With a horde of assembled microphones and television cameras encroaching on what little personal space he was granted, the dynamic but diminutive point guard was asked how many players in the league were better than him at his position.

Six? Seven? Eight? 

“Maybe one,” Lawson said, allowing a slight grin to creep across his face. When pressed, he would reveal that player as Russell Westbrook, largely due to the jaw-dropping exploits of this past postseason. He also gave explicit credit to Kyrie Irving, the “up-and-comer,” and Tony Parker, “the champion.” 

For what it’s worth, I had him at No. 9 among point guards in the B/R NBA 200, based solely on his work during the 2013-14 season. 

I need to be more assertive,” he explained when I asked him what he could do to leave no doubt in his mind that he was the very best. “I waited until the third quarter too often, and I need to start off strong.”

Improving his left hand is important. So too is continuing to attack the basket and making defenders pay for coming off their men, especially now that Danilo Gallinari and Afflalo are back in the lineup and set to rain in deep jumpers. But it’s still that mental game that is so key for the 5’11″ point guard who will be 27 years old at the start of the season. As fast as he is, and as much attention as his churning legs draw, it’s the inches between the ears that matter more than anything else this season. 

We’ve talked about leadership, and if he’s not a vocal guy, I’m fine with that,” Shaw told the media day masses. “But you have to lead by vocally leading, or you have to lead by example. And he understands that in order for everybody to follow him, he has to lead by example. They’re not going to listen to him if he’s not in there putting in the work and getting after it.”

One change that may fall under the radar is a scheduling one.

Lawson is an admitted night owl, a player who prefers to come into the gym at midnight and work on his shooting. But this year, he has to set an example for those around him, which might mean altering his schedule and allowing the impressionable young players—Garry Harris and Quincy Miller, for example—on the Denver roster to see him drip sweat onto the practice court. 

As important as it is for Lawson to thrive as an individual and continue climbing the statistical leaderboards in Denver history—he (career assists and three-pointers made) and Afflalo (three-pointers made) are the only active players listed among the franchise leaders on the walls of the practice gym in the Pepsi Center—it’s even more vital that he make an impact on everyone else.

The six-year vet isn’t just going to do what’s comfortable. He’s not content to fill the same role any longer. 

Lawson acknowledges that leadership is something that can be learned, and the Nuggets are hellbent on making that happen, even if the route that leads them to such an achievement is an unorthodox one. But hey, when there’s a natural leader at your disposal, why not take advantage of him? 

“One of the things I wanted to do with him and still may do with him before we get too heavy into it, I wanted to take him to a Broncos practice so he can see Peyton Manning and how he directs traffic and everybody follows in line behind him,” Shaw said. “But they only do that because they know the work ethic and the time that he puts in. And his teammates respect that.”

Lawson is on board. Nate Robinson, though, is not. Well, unless the Nuggets will let the Seattle-born point guard wear his Seahawks jersey, which might not go over so well given the results of Super Bowl XLVII and Denver’s overtime loss in Week 3 of this current season. 

“I think so [that he's committed to working harder],” espoused the Denver head coach near the end of his press conference. “He’s excited about Arron coming back and having some more weapons on the floor. Having Gallo and JaVale back, and the rest of the guys healthy. He’s said all the right things, and he’s working hard, so I’m looking forward to him having a big year.

“He wants to be an All-Star, and so it’s just that time where he should start feeling it and understanding what it’s going to take.”  

So far, it seems as though Lawson certainly does. He’s buying into everything, whether it’s the system Shaw is running now that he’s gained explicit knowledge of his players’ strengths and weaknesses, the ability of his teammates or the need for him to step into his new role. 

How can he be an All-Star, though? Lawson knows how tough that is, especially after putting up such stellar numbers in 2013-14. As a guard, it requires being on a playoff team, he explained. Ideally one that’s primed to earn home-court advantage for the first round of the postseason.

If leadership can help these dark-horse Nuggets make such a gargantuan step, well, there’s a nice goal for the upcoming season. 

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Jerry Colangelo Calls James Harden the Leader of Team USA

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo was just answering a question, but in the process he may have given this team both guidance and a slick slogan.

Don’t fear the beardfollow it.

Those are my words, not his, but what he actually said about starting swingman James Harden wasn’t too much different.

Colangelo, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post, said he wants Harden to lead this team and feels he has the tools for the task:

Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader. Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.

… I don’t know if he’s been waiting [to lead]. It’s evolved. He came in as a pretty high draft pick. Got off to a great start in Oklahoma City. Whether he was disappointed or surprised by what transpired, he found himself in another uniform and that’s part of life in pro sports and the NBA, and I think he’s adjusted to that and his numbers get bigger and he’s being recognized more and more as the player he is. And this is a great platform for him to come out as a leader.

In some ways, Harden would be an obvious choice.

He is the only player on the roster to have earned All-NBA first-team honors last season. Harden is also one of the two players left from the 2012 Olympic gold medalists, along with Anthony Davis.

Then again, Colangelo may have had to put some thought into this. There are areas that could have given him some hesitations about handing over the keys to the bearded baller.

“Harden is only 25 years old, and he has only been a starter in the NBA for the past two seasons,” noted CBS Sports’ James Herbert. “He’s not known as a big rah-rah guy, and his lackadaisical defense has attracted so much attention over the past few months that his offensive brilliance has become underrated.”

Add Harden’s foot-in-mouth comments from earlier this summer—he called himself and Dwight Howard the Houston Rockets “cornerstones” and dubbed the rest of his teammates “role players or pieces that complete our team,” via Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star—and he might seem as more of an awkward choice than an obvious one.

However, this call may have been made for Colangelo.

This team was supposed to be following the leads of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, but both withdrew from the roster earlier this summer. Paul George’s two-way play might have put him in the running for a leadership role had a gruesome leg break not ended his run.

Frankly, there weren’t any conspicuous leadership candidates left. Anthony Davis is 21 with two years of NBA service on his resume. Derrick Rose is a major question mark after losing all but 10 games to knee injuries the past two seasons. Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry have shown some of the same defensive deficiencies as Harden.

Not to mention that Harden’s defense has looked significantly better on Team USA’s game film than it did on a certain viral video that pushed his problems under the spotlight. He looks more engaged now, and he says there’s a reason for that.

“First of all, you got the top players in the world on your team, so if you’re not focused and locked in on defense, they are going to embarrass you,” Harden said, via Lee. “I think our coach has done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re keyed in.”

If he can add defense and leadership to his already versatile skill set, he could serve as a reminder of the positive changes that can come out of this experience.

 

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Kyrie cops to not being leader that Cavs needed

The Cavaliers point guard opened up in an interview.

      
 

 

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Irving: ‘I haven’t been a leader – not at all’

The Cavaliers point guard opened up in an interview.

      
 

 

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New York Knicks Look Like Leader for Carmelo Anthony in Free Agency

In the end, when the frenzy of free agency subsides and the biggest stars once believed to be “on the market” return, inevitably, to their former teams, we’ll wonder why we ever believed Carmelo Anthony when he said he was out for more than money.

As a starting point, we should never begrudge athletes for maximizing their earning power. Their careers are short, injuries can make them even shorter and we’d never be so critical of employees in another profession for trying to collect as much cash as possible.

What we can do, though, is continue to roll our eyes when athletes say they want to win, that money doesn’t matter, and then conduct themselves in a way that says money does, in fact, matter very much.

For Anthony, a whirlwind tour of teams offering a better shot at contention than his New York Knicks is nearing its end. He was transported by limo, wined and dined, pitched on the formation of new Big Threes and offered everything a competitive NBA player could want.

He was even provided visual aids, just in case he couldn’t quite picture how he’d look in different duds.

But in visiting the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, he was never once offered a five-year deal worth $129 million, which is why it’s starting to look like he’ll return to the one team that can give him such a gargantuan financial commitment:

Now, Anthony could prove us all wrong if he suddenly decides to take $17 million per year from the Bulls. But even then, we’d still know it was never only about winning for Melo.

The Bulls would give him a much better shot at reaching the Finals than any other team currently on his radar, but taking up every cent of available cap space to sign with them doesn’t square with team success being Melo‘s sole priority.

If it were, he’d already be locked into a verbal agreement with the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs for a dirt-cheap rate. And really, the fact that neither of those scenarios ever felt remotely possible suggests that, deep down, we all knew Anthony wasn’t serious when he said money didn’t matter.

The rest of the NBA seems to be catching on as well, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Plenty of speculation exists throughout the league that Anthony, despite publicly saying he would take a pay cut to play for a winner, still desires a maximum or near-maximum offer.”

Despite that intuition, Phil Jackson did some of his best subtextual needling in recent weeks, repeatedly bringing up Melo‘s commitment to take a pay cut in order to build a winner in New York.

Per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com, Jackson said:

When I take his word, he’s the one who opened that up, that it wasn’t about the money. So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he’s a team player, that he was going to do what’s best to get our team ahead farther and faster.

That’s a play on Melo‘s pride, one Jackson hopes will make Anthony feel like he’s going back on his word if he insists on the max from the Knicks.

Of course, even Jackson realizes how unlikely keeping Anthony for less than $129 million is. In virtually the same breath, he also mentioned the NBA’s changing financial landscape—one that could soon make $129 million look like chump change.

Per Youngmisuk, Jackson continued: 

But you know, that’s not going to be an issue. I think there’s gonna be things happening in the league in the near future in the NBA that’s gonna grow this league, and monetarily it’s not going to be an issue for us to do it.

He’s referring to the impending renegotiation of the NBA’s national broadcast rights, which will happen after the 2016-17 season. With player salaries tied to league revenue, they could spike dramatically after a new TV deal is signed.

Maybe we’ve got Melo all wrong. Maybe he’ll believe Jackson has the power and vision to reshape the Knicks, and he’ll take less money to return to New York. If that happens, we’ll owe Anthony an apology.

But the signs aren’t pointing that way.

They’re pointing the way they’ve been pointing all along. Anthony, despite his very clear comments to the contrary, wants to be paid.

And the Knicks are in the best position to pay him.

That’s fine. We can’t fairly call Anthony greedy for cashing in—if that’s what he ultimately does. It’s possible Jackson will also lure Pau Gasol as a complementary piece, and who knows what other useful free agents might be drawn to New York if Melo returns?

If that’s how things play out, maybe Anthony will get his money and a shot at contention in the weak East all at once.

The Knicks still have the appeal of their big market, and Jackson’s presence can only help their attractiveness. And, perhaps most importantly, they’ve shown a willingness to spend wildly—a willingness that re-signing Anthony would only reinforce.

And if we’ve learned one thing from all of this, it’s that players—good ones, especially—tend to end up on teams that are willing to pay them as much money as possible.

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Richmond loses scoring leader for rest of season (Yahoo Sports)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Richmond scoring leader Cedrick Lindsay will miss the rest of the season because of knee injuries.

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Can DeMarcus Cousins Be a Leader of a “Great Team”?

DeMarcus Cousins is the face and the leader of a struggling Sacramento Kings basketball team.  He is playing at an All-Star level clip, but the team is still flatlining in the Pacific Division standings and nowhere in the vicinity of being a great team.

Through January 30, Cousins has put up a relatively impressive stat line of 22.6 PPG, 11.6 RPG and 1.2 BPG.  He also has been extremely efficient by marking down a 26.58 PER (Player Efficiency Rating), which factors in a player’s accomplishments to result in a per-minute production reading.

As a result of his recent strong play, Cousins was invited to the USA National Team.

Cousins is now in his fourth year in the Association, and he is the cog that the Kings and new owner, Vivek Ranadive want to use to win and build a perennial contender.  However, immaturity is still plaguing Cousins.  

A great example was when Cousins pulled teammate Isaiah Thomas from a post-game handshake with Chris Paul.  

Cousins had some unflattering words for Paul, but he took his actions too far.

Ranadive believes that Cousins will eventually get over the problems, which include being tied for the league lead by racking up 11 technical fouls.  He also has 156 personal fouls through January 30, but he is still considered the face of the franchise.

As a result, Cousins was rewarded with a maximum extension resulting in four more years at $62 million.

Cousins had hinted earlier last year that he felt there was a future with the Kings in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix.

Taking a team no players really want to go to, a team considered the worst in the league, and through all the struggle and all the negativity, they found the way to win. I want to put Sacramento back on the map. I want to be an instrumental part of things changing here.

The major problem is that this team doesn’t have the pieces in place to be a title contender in a very competitive Western Conference.  Ranadive is going to have to rebuild the franchise from the ground up.

Cousins is the pillar of the frontcourt, but he needs some young, talented players to surround him. 

Rudy Gay is definitely an upgrade at small forward, but Jason Thompson, Carl Landry or once-promising Derrick Williams are not game changers at the 4.

In the backcourt, the Kings have Isaiah Thomas, who is a young building block to go with a shooting guard rotation that includes first-round pick Ben McLemore.

The one thing Cousins has in common with Coach Michael Malone is that he doesn’t like to lose.  Malone also forces him to be the team leader and understand how his actions affect the team on a daily basis.

As great of a year Cousins is having, the question still remains whether he can assert himself to the elite level or will he bounce around at a level similar to the retired Derrick Coleman?

Cousins is an extremely talented player who can dominate on offense and is still finding his groove on defense.  In this highlight, Cousins takes the lose ball and decides to drive all the way for the easy slam.

Coach Malone is the right guy to do it, as he has had previous experience with a burgeoning star like LeBron James in Cleveland.  James is a two-time NBA Champion, who is now considered to be the greatest of his generation.

Cousins sees the forest through the trees and knows that he has to put in the work to get to the postseason.  He needs to show the rest of the NBA that he can be a steady player, one who can dominate on both sides of the ball every night.

He will also be helped if the Sacramento Kings can finalize and build the new arena. The new arena will stabilize the franchise after the craziness caused by the potential move to Seattle.

The new arena will also solicit free agents by showing the Association that there is a solid ownership group in place that is not afraid to spend the money.  Couple that with Ranadive’s drive to put a contending team on the floor, Sacramento is realistically three to four years away from being a legitimate destination.

That estimate would put Cousins in the third year of his four-year extension and right in the prime of his career.  However, the pieces must be in place for that dream to happen.

The Kings currently sit with the worst record in the Western Conference and have the fifth-worst record in the NBA.  As a a result, they are in a great position for a top-three pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent years.

If Cousins can add another weapon, and possibly a player who can impact a game early on in his career, Cousins could show off his leadership skills and be the catalyst for another significant run by the Sacramento Kings. 

This is Cousins’ time to shine and build the once-proud Kings back into a great team, and Ranadive won’t even have to mow his lawn.

 

 

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Tom Gola, NCAA rebounding leader and NBA All-Star, dies

Tom Gola won an NCAA championship at La Salle and NBA championship with the Warriors.

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Meet Antoine Mason, the NCAA’s Runaway Scoring Leader with a Famous Father

Every time Antoine Mason leaves the Niagara locker room to head back out for the second half, an intimidating presence is waiting for the NCAA’s scoring leader before he takes the court.

It’s his father, Anthony Mason. Yes, that Anthony Mason of the 1990s Knicks who was one of the scariest dudes to stare down in basketball.

Anthony has found a nice retirement niche: Turning his son into a pro.

The story of Antoine is much like his father’s, minus the part where son grows up to a life of riches with his pops in the pros.

Antoine was under-recruited as a high school player and didn’t receive any major offers. Anthony, an undersized power forward at 6’7″, also had to go the small-school route at Tennessee State. He averaged 28.0 points per game as a senior and was drafted by the Trail Blazers in the third round of the 1988 NBA draft.

“I know what it takes to make it,” Anthony said. “All you ever hear when you go to that level is how hard it is. The odds are 20,000 to one. That was my chip.”

Anthony bounced around overseas and in the CBA and USBL between cups of coffee in the league before finally catching on with the Knicks in 1991.

He’s reliving that history through his son.

Antoine, a fourth-year junior, averages 28.3 points per game this year—it’s a goal of his to beat his dad’s senior-year average—and he has aspirations to play in the NBA.

“I think the NBA is within reason,” Antoine said.

“Let’s keep it honest,” Anthony said of Antoine’s pro potential. “He’s the No. 1 scorer in the country. Somebody’s watching.”

So far, only one NBA scout has made it to a Niagara game this season.

The reality for most small-school stars putting up big numbers on struggling teams is that they’ll get their chance overseas.

Of course, the stories of small-school guys making it (Steph Curry at Davidson, Damian Lillard at Weber State and Kenneth Faried at Morehead State) have given hope to players like Antoine.

The big difference between Antoine and the success stories is that Curry, Lillard and Faried all played on winning teams. The Purple Eagles are 4-13 under first-year coach Chris Casey.

And that has been the story for several of the recent NCAA scoring leaders. They rack up stats and empty dreams playing on mediocre teams. Curry and Jimmer Fredette have been the exceptions. Antoine fits more with the group below of recent scoring leaders from small schools. Reggie Williams from VMI is the only one of the four to play a minute in the NBA.

But Antoine does have the benefit of knowing a guy with some connections, and like Curry and Lillard, his numbers aren’t the typical empty stats of a chucker on a bad team.

Antoine is one of the best drivers in college basketball, and that’s a statement that would be true if he played at Kentucky or Niagara. He can drive either direction—he’s a righty who goes left more than he goes right, according to Synergy Sports Technology (subscription required). He was born a lefty, like his father, but his grandmother switched the fork from his left hand to his right hand.

“No telling what he might have been if he was left-handed,” Anthony said. “We’re hard to check.”

The ability to go either direction and take a hit or two has made him tough to keep out of the paint, where he has an array of runners and scoop shots. He makes a solid 50.8 percent of his twos and leads the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (8.8), per KenPom.com (subscription required).

“He’s an efficient scorer,” Casey said. “He’s not just running down and chucking up shots. His numbers are quality numbers.”

The only area of his offensive game that needs improving is his outside shot. He’s a 30.4 percent three-point shooter, and Anthony says he has a hitch they’re working to eliminate. At 6’3″, it’s tough to make it to the league without a jumper.

That’s the bonus of playing at a place like Niagara. Casey has been willing to still give Mason the green light. After all, he’s the second-best three-point shooter percentagewise on his team.

Anthony also likes that his son gets to play multiple positions and diversify his game at Niagara. He’s experienced what’s it like to have a son at a major program as well. His older son, Anthony Mason Jr., played at St. John’s from 2005 to 2010 and is now playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the D-League.

“What I like about small colleges is you get a better chance to play your position,” Anthony said. “If you go to a Kansas or a Kentucky, if you’re a center, you’re a center. If you’re a shooting guard, you’re a shooting guard. When you’re at a smaller college, like myself, I played across the floor and I think that helps you at the next level than just playing one position.

“It doesn’t matter what school you go to, if you can play, you can play. Any time you got into competition with anybody at a big school who had a name, then you destroyed them and people didn’t see where you go as long as you can play the game.”

Anthony made sure Antoine learned at a young age that he could hang with anyone.

When Antoine was in middle school and tearing it up in the suburbs of Westchester, Anthony took him to Rucker Park.

“Because if you don’t play in the city, you don’t play basketball,” Anthony said. “He was getting his ass handed to him at first. When he stuck it out, I knew he was going to be special.”

In Antoine’s one opportunity against a “big school” this year, he scored 34 points in Niagara’s opener against Seton Hall from the Big East.

Niagara also played Curry’s alma mater, Davidson, a program that has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments.

Antoine struggled through back spasms for most of the game, but he ended up scoring 16 of his 21 points in the final eight minutes to help Niagara pull off the upset.

“I was either going to go out on the ground with a back spasm or it was going to get better,” Antoine said.

“His work ethic and his tenacity and his attitude, ‘I’m not going to let somebody stop me’ reminds me of myself,” Anthony said. “I never thought I could be stopped.”

No one has stopped Antoine either. He’s scored 30 or more points nine times and his season low is 18. The NCAA’s second-leading scorer, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, averages 3.3 less points per game.

Antoine said he talks to his dad every day and he has continued to play a big role in his development. Along with the halftime pep talks, the two watch film after every game in an attempt to get rid of bad habits.

And those halftime chats are apparently working. The Purple Eagles have been outscored by 126 points in the first half this year, and they’re plus-six after halftime.

“We try to eliminate the next game,” Anthony said. “If something’s not going right in the first half, we try to adjust and he’s great at adapting. So you don’t have to go a whole game making a mistake.”

At the end of the year, father and son will have a decision to make together. Antoine graduates in the spring, but he still has another year of eligibility left because of a foot injury that forced him to redshirt as a freshman.

He could book it for the pros after he wins a scoring title or spend another year working on his weaknesses at Niagara. The odds may be against him, but he has a father who knows what it takes and believes in his son.

“He hasn’t reached his apex yet,” Anthony said. “If he can fix that jumper, no telling what he can can score.”

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.

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Rodman leaves NKorea without word if he met leader (Yahoo Sports)

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman left North Korea on Monday without answering questions from the media on whether he had met with leader Kim Jong Un. The two struck up a friendship when Rodman first traveled to the secretive state earlier this year. He arrived in North Korea on Thursday, a week after North Korea announced the execution of Kim’s once-powerful uncle, sparking speculation by foreign analysts over the future of the Kim regime.

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