Posts Tagged ‘Alex Len’

New situations for second-year players


VIDEO: Learn more about the Greek Freak on ‘Inside Stuff’

What a difference a year makes. And another 60 draft picks. And coaching changes. And trades, free agency and retirement. And medical updates. Especially medical updates.

Paul George getting hurt creates an unexpectedly large opportunity for Solomon Hill with the Pacers, C.J. McCollum gets a training camp in Portland and a running start into 2014-15, Alex Len tries to keep up with the other Suns after missing almost all of a second consecutive summer league because of health problems, and that’s just a partial list. Many of last season’s rookies to watch are this season’s special intrigue, second-year players who will be under a spotlight beyond the usual tracking.

We’re talking playoff implications here and serious questions about career direction. Including:

Victor Oladipo, Magic — Oladipo greatly enhanced his draft stock by dramatically improving his perimeter game as a junior compared to the first two seasons at Indiana, then regressed to 32.7 percent on 3-pointers and 41.9 percent overall as an NBA rookie. That was either a typical difficult transition to the pros, compounded by playing a lot more point guard than before, or the start of chatter that he was a one-hit wonder as a college shooter.

That, in turn, matters in a big way in Orlando. The potential impact of the No. 2 pick in 2013 who at the time projected as a two-way player, based on that final season with the Hoosiers, would be stunted if opponents don’t need to break a sweat when he gets the ball 18 feet from the basket. Beyond that, the Magic need shooters. If Oladipo isn’t one, they need them even more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — New coach Jason Kidd wants to give Greek Freak, a small forward as a rookie, a look at point guard, despite Kidd’s many options at the positions. There isn’t the same need after adding Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall later in the summer — in addition to returnees Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters — but the implications of Antetokounmpo succeeding or failing at the point are big. If it works, Milwaukee could throw a matchup problem of historic proportions at a opponents and projected power forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick of 2014, would have more of an opening to show versatility at small forward.

Cody Zeller, Hornets — When Josh McRoberts went from Charlotte to Miami as a free agent, Zeller went from likely backup to the new starter after a 2013-14 of 17.3 minutes per game and a drop to 13.3 in the first round. He is a good fit next to center Al Jefferson, an athletic power forward to offset the center’s slower pace and post game, a good passer who will find Jefferson and new offensive threat Lance Stephenson, but Zeller needs to produce no matter what to help make the Hornets in a playoff a regular sighting.

Alex Len, Suns — Ankle problems last summer, a fractured right pinkie this summer. The 2014 issue isn’t nearly the concern in Phoenix, but the No. 5 pick in ’13 needs to show he can stay healthy. He played 42 games as a rookie, mostly watching as Miles Plumlee, just acquired from the Pacers, took complete control of the starting job at center. Len has a lot of ground to make up.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves — The good news is that the first pick in 2013 does not face the same pressure in Minnesota as he did in Cleveland, not with Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 this year, headlining the package that went to the Twin Cities for Kevin Love. Of course, that’s also the bad news. People are expecting that little of Bennett.

Counting him out after one season, even a season of 4.2 points and 35.6 percent from the field, is a mistake. Bennett may have been the top choice only because it was a bad draft and likely would have gone somewhere around the middle of the lottery this June, and there may still be questions about whom he defends, but this is a bounce-back opportunity. Then it’s up to him.

Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves — Speaking of Minneapolis big-man watches. The difference is Dieng went No. 21, was always going to be a good value pick in that range, and showed the kind of improvement the second half of his rookie season that makes a team look forward to what comes next. Nikola Pekovic, Dieng, Thaddeus Young, maybe Bennett — Minnesota has a chance for a center/power forward rotation.

Ben McLemore, Kings — Sacramento officials couldn’t stop celebrating its good fortune a year ago that McLemore was still on the board at No. 7. Then he was given a clear path to the starting job at shooting guard and couldn’t hold it, finishing at 37.6 percent from the field. Then the same Sacramento officials used the 2014 lottery pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. While saying all the right things about remaining committed to McLemore, of course.

Solomon Hill, Pacers — Even if Chris Copeland gets the start at small forward in place of the injured George, any measurable bench production from Hill, the No. 23 pick a year ago, will be important. To Indy, of course, in trying to turn longshot hopes for another playoff run into reality, but also to Hill in the wake of getting just 8.1 minutes in 28 regular-season appearances.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers — Limited to just 38 games by a broken left foot, a repeat injury from college, he is now an integral part of hopes in Portland. A solid (or better) contribution from McCollum and the Trail Blazers have a proven backup shooting guard who could play emergency point guard. Poor production and the Blazers have more depth problems with a bench built mostly on players trying to squeeze another season or two out of their career or prospects all about unrealized potential.

Trey Burke, Jazz — From the third-leading vote getter for Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo, to possible transition mode within months after Utah spent its 2014 lottery pick on Dante Exum, who has made it clear he is a point guard and wants the ball in his hands. Maybe Burke and Exum play together, especially with Exum projected as being able to defend shooting guard, although he has yet to show the consistent perimeter game to handle the role on offense. Maybe Burke’s relative experience and leadership skills keep him first on the depth chart as Exum makes the jump from high school ball in Australia. But one of the best parts of the Jazz last season is far from locked into the job.

Injury costs Len another Summer League


VIDEO: Alex Len made an impression in limited action at the 2014 Summer League

LAS VEGAS – He thought the right pinky was jammed or, at worst, dislocated. No big deal. Alex Len simply grabbed it with his left hand, popped the finger back in place and kept playing.

When they took X-rays on site at UNLV to make sure, though, the Suns found Len had actually fractured the finger. One game, and then no more Summer League. No more Summer League for the second year in a row, actually.

Big deal.

It’s only July, leaving enough time to be ready for the start of camp, and it’s only a pinky, when anything is better than another ankle problem, but the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft losing important teaching moments in back-to-back summers is still a blow to his development.

“It was disappointing,” Len said. “I was excited about summer league, to get some playing time, get back playing. To get injured in the first game, it’s not the best news.”

He was hurt when the finger got tangled in a Warriors’ jersey as Len was reaching for the ball in the third quarter Saturday night at Cox Pavilion. Len had played all of 25 minutes.

“This summer league was big for him,” said Mike Longabardi, the Suns assistant running the team here. “We wanted to get him those reps. The only good thing is this was like a freak injury. He should be fine. He’s worked really hard. I think he’ll be OK.”

A year ago, surgery on both ankles cost Len the chance to work out for teams before the draft, then Summer League, and then kept him to limited activities in training camp and slowed the start of his regular season. Len eventually made 42 appearances at just 8.6 minutes per as starting center Miles Plumlee capitalized on the trade from Indiana to Phoenix and the chance to play a lot, turning in a very encouraging 2013-14 of 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 51.7 percent from the field.

“I look at it as a positive,” Len said of the latest injury setback. “I’ll be able to work on my lower play — on my base, work on my legs — and still I can improve my left hand. I’ve just got to take advantage of that.”

Suns center Len living Ukraine crisis from afar


VIDEO: Alex Len throws it down for the and-one

OAKLAND – Early Sunday, the New York Times reported that violence erupted in Ukraine at separate rallies backing and opposing the secession of Crimea, including a demonstration where pro-Russia supporters attacked with whips, while the Washington Post talked of another surge of Russian troops into the disputed peninsula.

And then Alex Len played basketball.

It has been like this for weeks now. Watch the news – sometimes via the United States networks, sometimes from Ukranian media, sometimes from Russian outlets – Skype with his family in eastern Ukraine, an area so far safely away from trouble. Play center for the Suns. Wake up the next day and continue the conflicted journey all over again.

Sunday, it was thinking about his homeland in conflict, hoping he will convince his grandparents to turn their planned visit to the United States in a couple weeks into something more long term and maybe even permanent, all before starting for the third game in a row as Miles Plumlee continued to be sidelined by a sprained right knee. The angst of worrying about family and friends, followed by 15 minutes against the Warriors at Oracle Arena with three points, three rebounds and two fouls.

“My family’s still over there,” Len said. “My grandparents. I still talk to them. It’s really confusing too, because if you watch Russian, American and Ukrainian news, everybody says different things about what’s going on over there. I’m not really into politics. For me, personally, I just want everybody to kind of stay together. It’s crazy. The country is just falling apart.”

Len was raised in Ukraine and played for the national team at the junior and, currently, senior levels, while also spending two seasons at the University of Maryland and turning into a possibility for the No. 1 pick in the draft thanks to a breakout 2012-13. The Suns took him fifth amid concerns about problems with both ankles that would follow him into his rookie season.

No Ukranian-born player had ever been taken higher, bettering Vitaly Potapenko going 12th to the Cavaliers in 1996. Len instantly became a major part of the Phoenix rebuilding, even with surgeries on both ankles that would cost him summer league and slow his progress into the regular season, and even as acquiring Plumlee and Gerald Green from the Pacers for Luis Scola turned into an important part of the Suns far exceeding most expectations. The important thing was that Len was getting more healthy, with the right ankle doing well and the left improving by the month, to where he is down to occasional pain.

Now, though, he spends hours at a time with his mind in another part of the world. Getting on the court, for games or practices, has become a refuge as Len has increased his workload to 9.4 minutes in 29 games.

“I worry about my parents. I talk to them almost every day on Skype,” he said, although his mother has spent a lot of time in Phoenix this season helping Len adjust to NBA life in a new city. “My grandparents. I ask them what’s going on, what’s the news. They update me every day, call me and tell me what’s going on.”

Len isn’t even sure if Ukraine, in the same Group C as the United States, will have a team for the World Cup of Basketball beginning Aug. 30 in Spain. He isn’t sure what Ukraine will have in ways more important than sports.

And even if there is a team, he is unsure he will play at a time when the focus will be in getting healthy and being ready for the Suns, his priority. No final decision has been made and he plans to meet with Ukranian coach Mike Fratello after the season. Len did say he will “most likely” leave the decision up to Phoenix.

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

(more…)

Bledsoe Emerging From Paul’s Shadow




VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe sinks the game-winner for the Suns in a win over the Utah Jazz

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What good is an opportunity in the NBA if you don’t take advantage of it?

For Eric Bledsoe, formerly of the Los Angeles Clippers (where he served most recently as Chris Paul‘s back up), the first three years of his career served as the set up for the opportunity he’s taking full advantage of now with the Phoenix Suns.

The Clippers used Bledsoe to bolster their depth, a move that removed one of the most physically talented young (Bledsoe is 23) players at the position to a situation that would allow him to flourish without the restriction of playing behind a future Hall of Famer. That, of course, meant that Bledsoe would no longer be mentored by Paul and he would not be able to learn under Rivers, who helped smooth out many of the rough edges in All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s game in Boston.

But the freedom Bledsoe is playing with under Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is helping Bledsoe emerge from Paul’s shadow in a way that will prove to the rest of the league that he’s ready to shed his promising prospect label and truly become a legitimate starting point guard in the league.

This is the part of the player metamorphosis that has always fascinated me. You never know for sure what a guy is capable of until he’s plopped into that pressure cooker on a nightly basis. Bledsoe — 22.8 points, 7.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds to go along with 50 percent shooting from the floor — has proved to be more than capable of handling the increased responsibility for a Suns team that has been stronger (3-1) out of the gate than most anyone expected.

I think it helps tremendously that Bledsoe is now working in an environment where everyone has been thrust into new roles with expectations on their individual contributions raised dramatically, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic pointed out after the Suns win over the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night:

Goran Dragic became a co-captain. Eric Bledsoe became a starter and a co-captain. Marcus Morris and Gerald Green have become rotation regulars. P.J. Tucker could be a full-season starter. Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee went from watching a season — for far different reasons — to starting. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin have gone from amateurs to pros.

“It’s a lot of guys who are getting a chance to prove themselves,” Tucker said. “I love it. Every day, we have guys around us who really want it and really want to play and help us win. That’s why we’re always going to be in games. It’s like night and day from last year. There are going to be inconsistencies, no doubt about it. But as long as we fight, play hard and play together, I can live with that.”

This season is a proving ground for most of the Suns, whether it is for bigger roles or bigger money — like Bledsoe and Tucker, who are in their contract years.

There is an eagerness about the group, whether it is to practice or improve. Coach Jeff Hornacek has enhanced that by opening up competition at every job and showing a willingness to turn to any player in key moments.

“We want them to be hungry because they want to win and do things as a team,” Hornacek said. “Within that, they’ll be able to prove that they can play this game at a high level. With Ryan, hopefully all the players he brings here are hard workers, because that’s Step 1 of anything. You could have the most talented guys in the world but if they don’t work hard, they’re not going to do well. We’ve got a bunch of guys on this team that play hard. That’s Step 1.”

For Bledsoe this chance to prove himself is even more crucial since he’ll become a restricted free agent at season’s end. He’s auditioning as a starting point guard for the entire league. The parts of his game that would have been cloaked from decision makers and the public as a back up will be on full display all season as the Suns’ catalyst.

How he continues to respond to that showcase factor will speak volumes about not only the player and competitor Bledsoe has become, but also about the player and competitor he could grow into in the coming years.

It’s enough to make the Suns, a team many had written off before the start of the season, a team to keep a close eye on as the season progresses, the same as Bledsoe!


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe leads the Phoenix Suns in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans

Beasley Will Walk Thin Line With New Suns

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Ryan McDonough, the 33-year-old rookie general manager of the Phoenix Suns has been on the job for some 80 days and already he’s showing some moxie.

Since drawing some blank stares as if his pick of Maryland big man Alex Len at No. 5 was a desert mirage while Kentucky 7-foot center Nerlens Noel, long projected to go No. 1, or Kansas scoring guard Ben McLemore stood in plain view, McDonough has now begun to rattle the thin roster he inherited.

He turned solid, if unspectacular, guard-forward Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick into potential All-Star-quality guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler. Now, McDonough is on the verge of unloading fast-declining forward Luis Scola, an ill-fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s favored up-tempo offense, in a trade with Indiana that will reportedly net lanky and athletic journeyman Gerald Green and project center Miles Plumlee, plus a lottery-protected first-round pick.

Not that those trades will launch the Suns into playoff contention, but the additions fill two key areas on McDonough’s list as he remakes the roster: athleticism and a fundamental work ethic. Which delivers us to the doorstep of the one player on the roster [note: my speculation only] McDonough would love to jettison if only he could: Michael Beasley.

Asked during the Las Vegas Summer League if he believes the always tantalizing, but troublesome 6-9, 235-pound power forward can be a positive force during this important transitional season, McDonough answered with a team-wide message — one that should resonate loudest between Beasley’s ears.

“I guess what I’ll say generally about that is we’re going to treat everybody the same,” McDonough said. “There won’t be any special treatment for anybody on the roster and as Jeff [Hornacek] and I told all the guys coming in, we don’t care how much money you’re making, where you were drafted, how long you’ve been in the league, what, if anything, you’ve been promised in the past. We’re going into this as an open competition, and when training camp comes, guys who buy in and play the right way and play hard will play, and those who don’t, won’t.”

In a league brimming with bright, young talent, Beasley, 24, has been far more raging headache than headstrong virtually since the day the Miami Heat drafted him second overall in 2008. Last summer, inexplicably, the gracious Suns, Beasley’s third team, handed him a three-year, $18 million deal. Still, Beasley ignored the cue that this was his big shot at a second chance, an opportunity to turn around his selfish and tiresome act, as well as his floundering career.

Former Suns coach Alvin Gentry benched the unproductive Beasley last season in fourth quarters as early as December, and finally stripped him of his starting job. Following the fired Gentry, interim coach Lindsey Hunter had no answers for Beasley’s inattention to defense or just about anything else.

Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had selected Beasley No. 1 over Derrick Rose? The Heat at No. 2 could have drafted No. 4 Russell Westbrook, No. 5 Kevin Love, No. 6 Danilo Gallinari, No. 7 Eric Gordon or No. 10 Brook Lopez.

If Beasley doesn’t answer this wake-up call, he won’t be afforded another chance. He is fortunate the NBA is not the non-guaranteed-contract world of the NFL, where a player can be cut and his contract flushed in a moment’s notice. It’s the only reason he has a job today.

Beasley averaged career lows across the board last season. His poor play and worse attitude drained a club that was already outmanned on most nights. But it’s not just on the court that Beasley will be expected to reform. His inability to stay out of hot water off remains troublesome. In May, police were investigating Beasley in connection with a report of sexual assault at his home.

The 2013-14 Suns will need a lot to come together fast to contend for the eighth seed. But under Hornacek’s guidance and with blue-collar players like P.J. Tucker along with twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — all three of whom played on the Suns’ summer-league squad — and the additions of the up-and-coming Bledsoe and a tough-minded, respected veteran like Butler, Phoenix will play hard.

Beasley will either take this last, flashing-neon-sign-of-a-hint that his career is on the line, or, as McDonough said, he won’t.

Suns Hopeful Veteran Frye Will Return

HANG TIME WEST – The Suns are hopeful but far from certain that Channing Frye will make a comeback in 2013-14 after missing all last season with an enlarged heart.

“We’re optimistic that he’ll be able to play, but we’re still gathering information about it,” general manager Ryan McDonough said. “We don’t know yet.”

The dilated cardiomyopathy was discovered last fall during a routine preseason physical. At the time, the Suns said Frye would be out indefinitely, with the expectation it would be a long absence, only to have the uncertainty close to carrying into a second training camp and perhaps longer.

Frye, a Phoenix native, is 30. He played for the Knicks, as the No. 8 pick in 2005, and the Trail Blazers before signing with the Suns in 2009. Best known as a shooting big man, the power forward-center has career averages of 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Asked for his gut feel whether Frye will be with the Suns this season, McDonough said, “I hope he’s able to play.”

Is that realistic?

“I think it is,” McDonough said. “I hope so…. It depends what the doctors say. With something like that, you want to get a consensus. A strong consensus. So we’re having him see as many specialists all over the country as he can. Whenever that consensus is – hopefully it’s soon, so that we know – but as long as it takes, basically.”

Meanwhile, in another health issue that could impact the Phoenix frontline, McDonough said rookie center Alex Len, already sidelined during pre-draft workouts and summer league by surgery on his left ankle to correct a partial stress fracture, is expected to be ready for the opening of camp after surgery on the right ankle last Friday. The Suns described that as “precautionary” tlo address “a very small stress fracture.”

“We think he’s going to be ready for Day 1,” McDonough said. “He just had minor surgery on the other ankle, on the right ankle, and it’s going very well. I think he’s going to be off crutches soon and probably in a walking boot for a few weeks. We’re hopeful that he’ll be on the court and able to do full workouts by early-September, and that’ll be give him a month to get ready for training camp, so we’re expecting he’s a full go by training camp.”

Even Len without health concerns as the No. 5 pick in the draft would likely arrive as the backup center. As much as the Suns obviously see him as a building block to the future, and as much as trades are possible on several fronts heading toward the regular season, there is no indication that Len’s presence means an immediate end to Marcin Gortat in Phoenix.

Blogtable: Summer League Must-Sees?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 37: Dwight’s choice | Smartest early-offseason move | Summer League must-sees


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What will you be looking for at Summer Leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll be looking for the guys who cannot play at the NBA level. And then swiftly blotting them from my view. Sounds harsh, but it’s important when so many players are invited to these July sessions merely to flesh out the workouts for key draftees and free agents. Someone on Twitter suggested the other day that the guys who matter should wear specially colored jerseys for the folks viewing at home and I like the idea. These are not equal-opportunity auditions. They’re exploration, validation and confirmation of the players teams already consider to be worth their massive commitments in time, scouting and salaries. It doesn’t matter which of them is MVP in Orlando or Las Vegas, just that they separate themselves from all the future Euroleague, D-League or rec league participants running the courts with them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m interested in seeing if Victor Oladipo will be able to live up to the Magic’s desire for him to be able to play significant minutes at the point. Also keeping an eye on the young crop from OKC. With the departure of Kevin Martin, it will be an opportunity for Jeremy Lamb to step into that wing shooter’s role. Can Reggie Jackson take another step forward at the point?  Does rookie Steven Adams have a chance to contribute this season? Due to their financial constraints in the small OKC market, the Thunder need to keep infusing young blood to run with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well, we’ve already seen Jason Kidd‘s coaching debut and his first technical, so… like everyone else I like to see how the top picks handle their first NBA exposure in Vegas, especially the guards, the guys that will be handling the ball a lot or getting plenty of chances to put it up. Players like Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams, Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo. How poised are they, how confident, how smooth, do they make good decisions? Another fun aspect of Summer League is that there’s usually a sleeper that jumps up. Nothing was more exciting than a few years ago when Jeremy Lin stole the summer from John Wall.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Shifts, good and bad. Who has improved from last season to be in position to really help their team, and who is still trying to find their way? What second-rounder could unexpectedly push for a spot in the rotation? What once-upon-a-time name is seeing the last best chance to catch on somewhere disappear? Summer League should come with sedatives because inevitably someone will do well in Orlando or Vegas and then fade into the background when the competition gets real in November.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I will be scrutinizing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot. He’s got the makings of a great defender and playmaker, but has the ugliest shooting form that I’ve ever seen, with a turn to the side and a nasty hitch. It needs to be totally broken down and built back up again. Right now, the results don’t matter. But I’m curious to see if the work he’s been putting in with new Bobcats assistant Mark Price has produced a noticeable difference in his form.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve already seen some of what I’m looking for from Victor Oladipo, who has been even better than I expected him to be in Orlando. I wanted to see if the top picks in the Draft would stick out on a Summer League floor the way you want them to, the way the teams that drafted these guys need them to stick out. I’m most curious about Anthony Bennett, but we won’t see him due to the shoulder surgery and four-month rehab he’ll need before he’s game ready. But I need to see the same things from Otto Porter Jr., Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Ben McLemore, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Michael Carter-Williams and several others. There’s always a few rookies who will surprise us in Summer League. But this is our first glance of the most high-profile rookies in a truly open and competitive atmosphere since they were in college or playing overseas. I want to see how they respond when some journeyman desperate to make an impression and a NBA roster is trying to snatch their confidence with all those eyes watching. Do they respond to the challenge like a future star? Or do they curl up and melt in the moment? This is our first chance to find out.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It’s hard for me to watch these Summer League games and not remember the live blog I did last season, when guys like Dionte Christmas went off for huge games. Dionte Who? Yeah. So if anything I’ll watch these games with not just a grain of salt, but with my head buried in an entire box of salt. Summer League is a place where dreams can come true, but we can also get so wrapped up in the potential these guys possess that we overlook flaws. There are reasons, after all, these guys are playing in the Summer League to begin with.

Suns Go For A Rebuild … Again

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HANG TIME WEST – It’s official: this part of the transition away from the Steve Nash-Grant Hill years in Phoenix is devoted to cleaning up the last transition.

The new general manager just acquired the new point guard of the future, 53 weeks after the previous general manager acquired the previous point guard of the future. Which came after the mangled coaching change that had to be corrected. Which came after investing $18 million over three years, not all guaranteed, to get free agent Michael Beasley, although snagging snag him away from whom has never been entirely clear around a league often not pining for Beasley (at even less money).

Change happens and change really happens when a franchise ends a long chapter by trying to find life after Nash and Hill, but the move to get Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers in the three-team deal that also delivered Caron Butler is noteworthy. What had been apparent in the days before the Draft has become a certainty early in free agency.

Ryan McDonough, hired as general manager on May 7, gave Michael Carter-Williams the long look of a second in-person workout for the No. 5 pick. He didn’t care that the Suns a year earlier, under Lance Blanks, invested a lottery choice on another point guard, Kendall Marshall. And McDonough certainly didn’t care about the roster in place when he selected center Alex Len despite the presence of veteran Marcin Gortat.

Then came news of Bledsoe and Butler to Phoenix, J.J. Redick from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade and Jared Dudley from the Suns to the Clippers, and a pair of second-round picks to Milwaukee, and it was official. McDonough had worked hard to get a new point guard, either to replace or play with Goran Dragic, but either it was someone instead of Marshall.

The Draft-night call was intriguing enough. Take Ben McLemore, arguably the best talent in the Draft, for the team that was 28th in the league in 3-point shooting and 23rd in overall field-goal percentage? Take Nerlens Noel, ditto, for the team that finished 26th in scoring defense and 25th in shooting defense? Get Len, the best true center on the board, as an overall value? Go with one of the several point  guards, including Carter-Williams, who would have been reasonable choices in that range?

There was no wrong call, especially among the McLemore-Noel-Len grouping. Gortat averaged 11.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg in 30.8 minutes and was one season removed from a double-double, but it was easy to justify Len as one of the five best prospects of the Draft. It was also easy to see the chance to trade Gortat into additional assets once Len shows himself capable of the starting job. Plus, Gortat turns 30 at midseason.

Things broke right for Phoenix when, after passing on McLemore, a potential starter at shooting guard was still available at 29. Archie Goodwin was the first to say he should have gone back to Kentucky for a sophomore season, and even say it while stating he wasn’t close to NBA-ready, but remains a legit prospect. He was eight months removed from being considered a lottery possibility, before an inconsistent season that could have been simply been life as a freshman or not living  up to the considerable hype of his arrival in Lexington. Goodwin still has something.

The underrated Dudley, another positive character guy for the Clippers locker room, is a loss. But Bledsoe-Dragic-Goodwin is a real future in the backcourt, with returnee Shannon Brown and whatever Marshall contributes on the court or in trade. Len is a bigger part of the long term in Phoenix than Gortat. Butler is 33, but also heading into the final season on his contract and, oh, yeah, he’s not Beasley.

The Suns are moving forward again, making a transition while trying to erase the previous transition.