Posts Tagged ‘Eric Bledsoe’

2014 Free Agency — The Other Dominoes

From NBA.com staff reports

Now that LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland, the belief is many of the other players in the free-agency pool are going to start making deals now, too. Here’s the latest from around the Twitter-sphere and the Internet as we get closer and closer to a real flood of free-agent news …

Update, 1:51 a.m. — Pau to Bulls means ‘Melo stays a Knick?

There’s no such thing as too late for free agent news, and one late-night agreement nearing completion between big man Pau Gasol and the Bulls might mean the end to the will-he-stay-or-will-he-go Carmelo Anthony saga in New York. Is ‘Melo a lock to stay the apple of NYC’s eye?

Update, 12:05 a.m. — Memphis nabs Vince Carter

For three seasons in Dallas, Vince Carter transformed himself into a knock-down 3-point shooter. He wanted to return to the Mavericks, but not at the bargain rate he felt he had been signed on for three summers ago even as his career seemed to be coming to a close. In a surprise, Carter has signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, a team desperate for 3-point shooting.

The Grizzlies shot the fewest 3s in the NBA last season, even with Mike Miller back on the team. And with Miller looking elsewhere, perhaps joining LeBron James in Cleveland, the Grizzlies simply had to get a shooter off the bench.

Update, 9:05 p.m. — Hawks make late entry into Gasol sweepstakes

A few hours ago Pau Gasol tweeted that he was nearing a decision. His suitors had been narrowed to two, reportedly the Spurs and Bulls. Now the Atlanta Hawks have made a late bid for the 7-foot center, envisioning Gasol playing next to center Al Horford.

Update, 8:15 p.m. — Knicks waive Lamar Odom

Lamar Odom‘s comeback is apparently over before it really began.

The versatile forward who won titles with the Los Angeles Lakers very well could be at the end of his NBA career. At 34, it’s tough to see another team take a chance on him. Knicks president Phil Jackson obviously has the L.A. connection with Odom and looked to give an opportunity.

Odom didn’t play at all last season after a rough summer that allegedly included heavy drug use.

Update, 7:05 p.m. — Pat Riley releases statement on LeBron

Heat president Pat Riley, who challenged the Big Three to return to the Heat and fight another day if they’ve got the guts, released the following statement on LeBron James‘ decision to leave Miami and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers:

“While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home. The last four years have been an incredible run for South Florida, HEAT fans, our organization and for all of the players who were a part of it. LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go.

Over the last 19yrs, since Micky and I teamed together, The Miami HEAT has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.”

Update, 6:45 p.m. — Lakers bring back Jordan Hill; Gasol a goner?

The Lakers are slowly but surely starting to fill out their roster now that it appears they will not be getting the services of Carmelo Anthony. Of course, Anthony still has yet to make his decision official.

After trading for guard Jeremy Lin earlier in the day, the Lakers are now set to bring back power forward Jordan Hill.

It’s becoming more apparent that Pau Gasol will have played his final game with the Lakers. He reportedly turned down an offer from the Lakers and is being heavily pursued by contenders such as the Spurs and Thunder, plus the Bulls and the Knicks could be an option if they keep Carmelo Anthony.

Gasol tweeted earlier Friday that he was nearing a decision.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Suns, Kings agree to Isaiah Thomas trade

Phoenix is loaded at point guard, but they’ve made an aggressive play by engaging in a sign-and-trade for diminutive Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas will head to Phoenix on a four-year, $27-million deal.

The surprising Suns rolled with two point guards in the starting lineup last season with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent who the Suns have vowed to keep by matching any offer.

Dragic, named the league’s Most Improved Player last year and who could easily have been an All-Star, will essentially be entering the final year on his contract. He is set to make $7.5 million this season and then has a player option on $7.5 million in 2015-16, an option he will likely opt of to seek a bigger payday.

Update, 5:40 p.m. — Bosh stuns Houston, stays in Miami

In the wake of losing LeBron James, The Miami Heat aggressively pursued Chris Bosh , who appeared to be on the verge of accepting a deal with the Houston Rockets. In a stunner, Bosh accepted Miami’s five, year, $118 million deal.

The Heat are now making a strong push to bring Dwyane Wade  and forward Udonis Haslem.

It’s big news for the Heat, who looked to be reduced to rubble following James’ announcement. And it’s a crusher for the Rockets. They miss out on an All-Star power forward that seemed a perfect fit beside Howard.

Now the Rockets have a difficult decision whether to match the Mavs’ three-year, $45 million offer sheet to Chandler Parsons. If Houston matches, it will eat up the remainder of their cap space.

Only a few hours ago, the Rockets looked to be a vastly improved team. Now they might wind up watching a key player walk to the rival Mavs.

Update, 5:34 p.m. — Swaggy stays in Hollywood

Nick Young is headed back to the Lakers.

Update, 4:25 p.m. — D-Wade going home?

Woj is, as Woj often does, tearing it up. Here, he offers a blurb on Dwyane Wade who, remember, turned down nearly $42 million to get out of his contract with the Heat in hopes of giving Pat Riley more room to get LeBron back.

With that now not happening, would Wade be up for a return to his home town?

Update, 4:03 p.m. — Chicago, Charlotte after Hinrich

Captain Kirk average 9.1 points and 3.9 assists in 29 minutes a game last year for the Bulls.

Update, 3:16 p.m. — More on Lin’s move, Rockets’ Bosh chase

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski provides an update on L.A.’s move to pick up Jeremy Lin from Houston and the Rockets’ pursuit of Chris Bosh:

In an effort to clear salary cap space for Chris Bosh, the Houston Rockets have reached a deal to send guard Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Rockets will send a 2015 first-round pick, and other draft considerations to the Lakers to unload the final year of Lin’s $14 million expiring contract that includes a salary cap hit of $8.3 million based on the deal’s structure.

The Lakers will send cash and the rights to an overseas player, sources said.

Moving Lin to Los Angeles will clear most of the salary cap space necessary to sign Bosh to a four-year, $80 million-plus contract. The Rockets are still working to formalize a commitment out of Bosh, who will leave Miami because of the departure of LeBron James to Cleveland. The Rockets also plan to match Chandler Parsons‘ three-year, $46 million offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks once Bosh has committed, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Bosh was planning to speak to Houston coach Kevin McHale on Friday afternoon, a source said.

Update, 3:05 p.m. — Another move in store for Cavs?

In order to get LeBron James the max contract offer he’s seeking in Cleveland, Alonzo Gee may end up being dealt …

Update, 2:54 p.m. — Report: Lin dealt to Lakers

And, just like that, Jeremy Lin is on his way to Los Angeles …

Update, 2:52 p.m. — Report: Bosh, Rockets inching closer to commitment

Keep reading below, but it looks like the Rockets and Chris Bosh are nearly a done deal …

Update, 2:46 p.m. — Reports: Lakers, Rockets finalizing Lin deal

It looks like Jeremy Lin is headed back to home state of California …

Update, 2:36 p.m. — You know you’re a big deal when …

… the White House chimes in on your latest career move …

Update, 2:24 p.m. — What about ‘Melo? Bulls staying in touch

Carmelo Anthony, much like Chris Bosh, is one of the big free-agent pieces who has yet to reveal/decide where he’s going next. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune says the Bulls aren’t out of the race yet. And, as ESPN reports, the incumbent Knicks are in the race, too … (more…)

Blogtable: A steal of a free agent

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


BLOGTABLE: The Carmelo Sweepstakes | The steal of free agency | Jason Kidd: Discuss


> Who’s going to be the absolute steal of this free agency class, a guy who signs way under where he could have signed and gives way more than most expect?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If some of these reports prove true about the Miami stars’ reconfigured deals, I’ll say Chris Bosh. The prospect of getting a discount of 30 percent or more from his pre-opt-out 2014-15 salary ($20.6 million) would make him a terrific bargain for the Heat or any other contender. He’s got a flexible offensive game — he could do more inside if Miami hadn’t nudged him to the perimeter — and his defense is an asset, too. Other candidates, for opposite reasons: Boston’s Avery Bradley (he might get paid at his current level but take a big step up in game) and Indiana’s Lance Stephenson (assumptions about Lance’s behavior with big guaranteed money could drive down his price).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: He’s not The Matrix anymore, but I could see Shawn Marion joining a contender on a sweetheart deal and making a difference.

Eric Bledsoe (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: We know it won’t be Jodie Meeks. The lucky guard hit a nice pay day with the Pistons. My money’s on Pau Gasol. The odds of my favored scenario actually taking shape probably aren’t great, but I’ve been touting it all along — Pau needs to go play for Miami. He could be dynamite for this team as long as he can stay healthy — but that’s a prerequisite for just about any player over 30. The way the market is shaping up, Miami can give Pau a decent salary, maybe $7 million, $8 million, maybe even a little more. For a chance to play with LeBron and chase titles, that’s pretty good. The Lakers might be able to hit his preferred $10 million – $12 million, but that roster has yet to take any form — let alone the form of a contender.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: LeBron James is going to be the steal, the guy who won’t get paid what he can deliver. But if you’re sticking to “a guy who signs way under where he could have signed,” that’s clearly more under-the-radar: P.J. Tucker. He should have received more attention for Most Improved Player. Now he’s going to become a great value as a free agent. Defense, 3-point range — he will produce more than he will get paid, probably just without a lot of attention.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGreivis Vasquez made a big impact in Toronto when he arrived in the Rudy Gay trade. The Raptors were at their best when he was on the floor and his willingness to pass the ball was infectious. He’s a restricted free agent, but there are other point guards ahead of him on the free-agent market, including one – Kyle Lowry – on his own team. So he could be had at below mid-level money, and he could make a similar impact wherever he goes as a second point guard that can share the floor with the starter. If the Raptors can keep both Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, and Lou Williams returns to form, that could be the league’s best bench outside of San Antonio.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comEric Bledsoe. And he’s a restricted free agent, so whatever offer he gets is going to be below the mark of what he could command on the open market as an unrestricted free agent. He was spectacular during an injury-curbed season in Phoenix, but every executive I have spoken with seems to think he’s the one impact player of this summer that few people are talking about. The Suns have the opportunity to match whatever big offer comes his way, and that means some teams will be scared off, therefore reducing the dollars he can command.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think so much of this depends on the place these players end up. If Greg Monroe, for instance, signs with Atlanta, that allows Al Horford to shift to the power forward spot and could have a huge impact beyond just Monroe’s stats. That said, I don’t think Monroe’s going to be undervalued. If Wade and Bosh and Bron all end up in Miami, as it seems, a bunch of teams who had money saved up may have extra cash to spread around. But the guy who I think is being undervalued right now is Luol Deng. He’s not a name that will sell season tickets, but he’s the ultimate team player, a former All-Star, and a guy who goes all out every night. Some team might be able to get themselves a superstar at a bargain.

Five free agents that just can’t get away

Eric Bledsoe's potential departure from Phoenix would be a big blow to the franchise.

For the Suns to keep rising, they must re-sign the tough, spry Eric Bledsoe (left).

Most teams go into the free agency period saying they have every intention of hanging onto their players. They value them. They respect them. They’re ready to pony up and reward them. Truth is, in some cases, they can’t afford to let players that have become an integral part of the team and their identity walk out the door. It goes without saying that the Heat are all in to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So putting them aside, here’s the top handful of free agents that are just too valuable to let get away:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Knicks (unrestricted) — The new boss of Madison Square Garden Phil Jackson can keep trying to play hard ball and insist that Anthony accept less than a maximum level contract this season. But that truth is the Knicks need Anthony far more than he needs them. His options are many, from joining the Bulls or Rockets to try to lift them to the elite level, becoming another Hollywood star with the Lakers or even going to Miami to raise the temperature with the Heat. The Knicks’ options, if ‘Melo bolts, might include just leaving the ice down permanently at the Garden and letting the NHL Rangers play twice as many home games. Since LeBron has opted out this summer, the fantasy of chasing the game’s biggest name and best player will go back on hold in New York for another several years. The Knicks don’t have the assets to swing a deal for Kevin Love. They have a new coach in Derek Fisher. The declining Amar’e Stoudemire handcuffed the team further by deciding to opt in for $23.4 million. By keeping Anthony, the Knicks give fans a reason to show up or turn on the TV. Without him, they’re irrelevant.

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Suns (restricted) — Never mind that they picked up rookie Tyler Ennis on draft night. When he was healthy for 43 games last season, Bledsoe was a difference-maker and likely could have lifted Phoenix into the playoffs if he’d been around for the full season. Though there might be a few who’d question his durability, Bledsoe is a 24-year-old sheer talent with a very high upside. He and backcourt partner Goran Dragic can both slide over to play shooting guard. But it’s running the show as a 1 where Bledsoe has the potential to carry the Suns into the future and could even crack the All-Star lineup in a very crowded Western Conference backcourt race. General manager Ryan McDonough has vowed to match any offer that comes his way. Bledsoe needs to be the foundation on what the Suns are building in the desert.

Boris Diaw, Forward/Center, Spurs (unrestricted) — You almost never want to tell the Spurs that one individual not named Tim Duncan means so much, especially after they’ve just picked up championship No. 5 by demonstrating that the team concept can outshine superstars by a wide margin in The Finals. But the point-guard-in-a-big-man’s-body Diaw was a very large part of that accomplishment, shifting the balance of power in the series against the Heat when he moved into the starting lineup. There was a great deal of talk on Draft night that the Spurs got the next Diaw-type player in forward Kyle Anderson. But this is a team where the clock is ticking loud and the championship contending days for this bunch will come to an end in another year or two at the most. Anderson will be fine for the next generation, but the Spurs need their crafty passer, good rebounder and underrated defender to stick around in order to have a shot at hanging up banner No. 6.

Marcin Gortat, Center, Wizards (unrestricted) — Yes, the Wizards will have to overpay, but that’s just a fact of life when you’re talking about a big man. Especially when it’s a big man coming off a season of averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and anchoring the front court on a team that is built around guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Gortat is simply solid at both ends of the ball, helping with the efficiency of the offense and stepping up to the play the role of large body stopper at the other end of the floor. In short, he just fits. Plus, the 30-year-old gives Washington a veteran’s sense of perspective. If it comes down to a choice between Gortat and fellow free agent Trevor Ariza, it’s really no choice at all. While Ariza’s defense on the perimeter and streaky offense are nice to have around, the big man keeps everyone grounded and gives the Wizards credibility in the East.

Lance Stephenson, Guard, Pacers (unrestricted) — Was it the moment that he blew in LeBron’s ear? Or when he gave the King that little chuck on the chin? At some point during the Eastern Conference finals virtually everybody leaned in a little closer to the HDTV screen and asked: “What in the world is Lance thinking?” Of course, the answer might have been nothing at all. Surely, the Pacers will have to think long and hard about how far they’re willing to open the wallet for a 23-year-old with a crazy streak. But that’s just it — Stephenson is just 23 and if club president Larry Bird can eventually get through to a player who has been a personal favorite, this team finally reaches its potential. If they let Stephenson get away, the Pacers are giving up part of their identity, their edge and simply take a step back into the soft middle of the standings. Yes, he’s a risk. Yes, he’s going to be infuriating. But yes, Indiana has to keep him.

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: GameTime examines the 76ers’ selection of Joel Embiid

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid could miss year | Knicks want Pau | No rush on Rondo | Suns keep rising | McDermott first step
No. 1: Sixers will take the cautious route with Embiid — Remember all those photos of last year’s No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel in street clothes in Philly. Remember how Nerlens Noel never got onto the court while recovering from his knee surgery. Sixers G.M. Sam Hinkie loudly hinted that this year’s top pick Joel Embiid might be nothing more than a spectator as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie hinted Friday that Joel Embiid, who was drafted third overall, probably won’t play in the 2014-15 season. That’s because the 7-foot center out of Kansas will miss more time than reported while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’ve seen reported some four to six months,” Hinkie said. “That’s not the number I heard. The number I heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months.
“Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. We had that discussion before. I don’t want that to sound glib, because it’s not. It is all that matters, honestly.”

***

No. 2: Knicks want to team up Gasol with ‘Melo — While new team president Phil Jackson has been delivering some tough love to free agent Carmelo Anthony lately with talk of taking a pay cut, it seems he’s looking to add some sugar with the addition of Pau Gasol. ESPN’s Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne say that Jackson plans to reach out to his former Lakers center when the free agency period opens at midnight ET on Tuesday:

Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks’ front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
Time will tell if the Knicks’ internal confidence in retaining Anthony proves justified, given that he opted out of the final year of his contract at $23.3 million — with Jackson urging him to opt in — and will soon be courted face-to-face by a handful of top teams in big cities.
The 30-year-old officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and, as ESPN.com reported earlier this week, is planning to go on visits or hold meetings with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers all before the Fourth of July. It also must be noted as July 1 draws near that the Bulls and Rockets have likewise been radiating no shortage of positivity about their chances of stealing Anthony away from the Knicks.

***

No. 3: Celtics are in no hurry to ship out Rondo — The name of Marcus Smart had barely crossed the lips of NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night when the speculation began about the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in Boston. But Steve Bulpett of the the Boston Herald believes there is no reason to start packing the veteran point guard’s bags. First the Celtics will see if they can make a big name addition — i.e. Kevin Love – over the summer to pair with Rondo before entertaining offers:

The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
What we know for sure is that Ainge will be entertaining some offers for Rondo this summer, but, according to sources, that may still not assure a trade. The opinion here is that the Celts will have a difficult time getting a return for Rondo commensurate with what he means to this team. But they aren’t afraid to wait it out.
Assuming again they are unable to bring in a major player to pair with Rondo, one source confirmed the Celtics would sooner let him walk away than accept a deal that bogs down their salary sheet just to “get something for him.” If they decide trading Rondo is the best course of action, they will dig in and either get what they need to enhance their rebuilding, or they will let him go and take the cap space benefit.

***

No. 4: Suns’ future continues to shine with draft moves — Every team with air in its basketballs come away claiming draft night was a success. However, our own Sekou Smith says that second-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is just selling more sand in the desert after his addition of young talent. After extending qualifying offers on Friday to free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, the Suns and are in a position to improve on last season’s surprising 48 wins and make more noise in the Western Conference:

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.
That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.
“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”
The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.
Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

***

No. 5: McDermott tasty, but Bulls hungry for more — The Bulls did some wheeling and dealing, and actually increased their payroll on draft night, to get a player they believe will be a perfect fit in Doug McDermott. But according to our Steve Aschburner, this is still a summer they will only be deemed a rousing success if Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Love winds up in Chicago:

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony — or theoretically James, a real long shot — as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward — shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson’s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.tory here as you normally would do …

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George clears the air on Lance StephensonJose Calderon believes he could really help Carmelo Anthony…Rockets rookie Capela doesn’t want to wait.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

McDonough’s Suns just keep on rising


VIDEO: Tyler Ennis was a great get for the Suns just outside of the lottery Thursday night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No NBA general manager worth the many lies he’s told and heard in the days and weeks leading up to the Draft will tell you anything other than he got exactly what he wanted on the big night.

When Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough says it, he actually means it. The Suns walked away from the Draft the same way they did the 2013-14 regular season, the surprise winners without any actual hardware to show for it. You don’t need it when you continue to exceed expectations the way McDonough and his crew have.

They finished the regular season with 48 wins, one game out of the playoffs hunt in the rugged Western Conference, and we were rewarded with three first-round picks in a loaded Draft.

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.

That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.

“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”

“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”

The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.

Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

It helps to have the perfect coach, too, in Jeff Hornacek and an All-NBA (third team) point guard in Goran Dragic anchoring things. Operating from a position of strength insulated the Suns from the craziness most lottery teams deal with this time of year. They didn’t have to surrender any of their cap flexibility to add the needed depth they found in the Draft and they can still be players when free agency kicks off July 1.

The Suns’ playoff drought is four years and counting, but you couldn’t tell by the way they are operating. They handled themselves this past season like a team that hadn’t missed a beat since the Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire era. Much of that was due to Hornacek and his mastering the chemistry of the lab experiment roster McDonough handed him before the start of the season.

Things could have gone horribly wrong if Dragic and Bledsoe hadn’t blended together as well as they did early, and if they weren’t able to weather the storm of injuries that plagued them and if role players like Gerald Green, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Channing Frye, Tucker and Miles Plumlee didn’t step up the way they did.

Whatever comes next comes on the Suns’ terms, at their own pace, which is more than any “lottery team” can ask for at this stage of the process.

One way or another, the Suns just keep on rising.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew weighs in on the Suns’ Draft haul

Blogtable: Wrangling over an RFA

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.


BLOGTABLE: LeBron, staying or bolting? | Banking on the Draft | Wrangling over an RFA


> Name me a free agent – let’s make it a Restricted Free Agent – who is liable to sign a big-money offer sheet from another team that his current team will hate to have to match.

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me a quarter and I’ll flip it – heads Greg Monroe, tails Gordon Hayward. Detroit can’t afford to let Monroe go anywhere, but the pressure will be on Stan Van Gundy to figure out ways for Monroe and Andre Drummond to thrive in tandem. Hasn’t happened yet and heftier price tags (Monroe now, Drummond next) will only add urgency. Hayward’s shooting dropped off significantly last season but the Jazz will be paying for the surprising rookie he was – that’s what the competition will bid up – and a slightly overrated piece.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somebody might take a big money flyer on Chandler Parsons that could make the Rockets swallow hard, especially if they haven’t already landed LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe sticks out as the obvious choice, although I’m not sure you could say Phoenix will “hate” to match it. All signs out of the desert suggest they’re prepared to do just that. Keep a close eye on Pistons big man Greg Monroe. A sign-and-trade is a real possibility here.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Isaiah Thomas. I’ll wait to see what happens in the Draft to set that in stone, whether the Kings get a point guard or not, but it’s going to get interesting if a rival tries to turn their small-market salary structure into a piñata with an offer sheet with $8 million in a season or even $9 million. Everyone knows Sacramento will match if the deal is close to the mid-level, so teams know, as is usually the case with a restricted free agent, that it will take a number that will make the other front office wince. Sacramento wants to keep Thomas, and it can’t afford to lose him for nothing. But it also may decide it can’t afford to keep him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGreg Monroe. He’s a good player with strong numbers, but he’s not a very good defender and the Pistons’ frontline of Josh Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond was a disaster (especially defensively) last year. Stan Van Gundy is a great coach and should get the trio working a little better together, but he should also prefer to play someone other than Smith at small forward. If he can trade Smith (and the $40.5 million left on his contract) for some perimeter shooting, great. If he can’t, does he match a big offer for Monroe and hope that he can make a trade down the line? That combination of size and talent would be hard to let walk

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGordon Hayward is a player that the Jazz seemed to love and loathe at times throughout the Ty Corbin era. I’m not sure it makes any sense for them to try and hold on to him in free agency with a new coach (Quin Snyder) and an expected new system that Hayward might not be a great fit in, at least in theory. But with quite a bit of uncertainty lingering over the franchise, I could see the Jazz agonizing over what to do when someone puts big money on the table for Hayward that no one saw coming. The Jazz had a chance to set the price before the 2013-14 season started and didn’t. Now they could wind up paying more than they wanted to if Hayward has a team out there that covets his services.

5 restricted free agents worth chasing

Smaller guards Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe could get some looks this summer. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Despite their stature, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe are big-time guards. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The unrestricted free agents are the ones that draw the most attention every summer, and for good reason. You pick your team and you go there. It’s all clean and simple.

It’s those restricted free agents that muddy the waters. The would-be new team has to overpay to get their attention and then the current team is put on the spot to match. Think the Pacers wouldn’t like to re-think that $58 million commitment they made to Roy Hibbert two summers ago when the Trail Blazers put them on the spot with an offer to their big man?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five restricted free agents who’ll be available on July 1:

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Phoenix Suns — After the Big Three of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, the 24-year-old shooting guard is the top player available in free agency, though he will come at a cost. He missed 39 games with injury, but averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the half season played and makes a great slashing backcourt combination with Goran Dragic. The Suns were 28-15 with him in the lineup and GM Ryan McDonough says the team will match any offer out there to keep him. Since Phoenix has plenty of salary cap space, he’ll be able to do it, even if McDonough has to grit his teeth.

Greg Monroe, Forward, Detroit Pistons – He might as well have spent the past four seasons pedaling on a stationary bicycle, getting nowhere fast with the Pistons. He’s a solid big man who gives you the feeling he might turn into an All-Star level performer with the right coaching on the right team. Since he arrived in Detroit, the Pistons added Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on their front line and there simply wasn’t room for all three in the rotation. With Joe Dumars — the GM who drafted him — gone, Drummond a foundation player and Smith perhaps untradeable (or is he?), it would seem the Pistons won’t want to lay out big money to keep him. If the Rockets strike out shooting for the big names, he’d be a good consolation prize. The New Orleans native might also fit nicely with the Pelicans, if they could find the salary space.

Chandler Parsons, Forward, Houston Rockets — Houston rolled the dice on the Parsons, choosing not to pick up his option in an attempt to clear the most salary cap space to pursue James, Anthony or Bosh. The 6-foot-9 leaper and shooter has been a high-energy gem since the Rockets plucked him in the second round in 2011. He can get to the basket, fill it up from behind the 3-point line and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in on defense. He won’t lead a team, but is a solid third option, exactly the role he’s been playing in Houston. If the Rockets get a name-brand star, he’d go to fourth option and that could make a pricey offer from another team too rich to match. There are a lot of teams where he could slide right into the lineup and really blossom.

Gordon Hayward, Forward, Utah Jazz – After four seasons, it’s pretty clear the Jazz aren’t completely convinced, as evidenced by not agreeing on a contract extension prior to last season. It seems Hayward thinks he should be paid as part of a 1-2 punch, but the truth is he’s probably more of a No. 3 type, just like Parsons. When he was put into the primary scorer role last season, his shooting numbers went down. He needs to land in a spot where he can play off his teammates, especially passers, and get back to being a very solid complementary part. Chances are, he wants to be paid a good bit more than the Jazz think he’s worth and therefore could be “gettable.” The trick will be not to overpay him by too much.

Isaiah Thomas, Guard, Sacramento Kings -- The 5-foot-9 dynamo put up 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season. He’s a hard worker, but definitely a score-first point guard at a position that requires spreading the ball around. His biggest deficiency is on defense, where his lack of size makes him too easy for opponents to pick and exploit. The Kings go through point guards faster than pairs of basketball shoes and now they seem to be leaning heavily toward the new flavor of the month in Ray McCallum. His lack of stature will limit the size of the stack of big bills placed in front of him in an offer, but still could be enough to land him in a new home.

Five teams LeBron should, but won’t consider

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley discusses the Big 3 staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Even before Pat Riley went all Clint Eastwood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” – during his entertaining Thursday news conference, my money was on LeBron James understanding that island hopping for titles on the backs of fans’ emotions isn’t a good look. And so he will ultimately keep gunning for not three, not four, not five … in sun-kissed South Florida.

Of course, Dan Gilbert never dreamed LeBron would dump his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did. So until he says otherwise, there is always a chance The Chosen One will think his work is done here and seek a new hoops metropolis to conquer.

It certainly would be unprecedented, the most dominant player in the game packing his bags yet again, and this time after leading his last franchise to four consecutive Finals and two championships. Who in the history of the game has ever done that?

And yet, there’s something devilishly fascinating about that very prospect.

Could LeBron lift a third team to the NBA Finals? Could he win a third title? A fourth, a fifth?

And for which team would he play?

Forget the Knicks, that move would have to wait until the summer of 2015 when New York has cap space. The Lakers? Always a possibility, but how rewarding would it really be to hang a 17th championship banner in Staples Center all the while being Kobe Bryant‘s personal valet to a sixth ring and even him up with Michael Jordan?

I’ve got five teams — three in the East and two in the West — that LeBron could vault to instant contender. Three of the five franchises have never won an NBA title, and of the other two, neither has won one since 1983. So LeBron would be a sight for sore eyes, and a boon for business in any one of these locales.

I call this list, The Teams LeBron Should, But Won’t Consider.

His desire should be to stay in the Eastern Conference because it’s just a whole lot easier to get through the East than the brutally competitive West. Plus, with the Heat instantly weakened, the path to the East crown would truly be wide open. So here are my five:

1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards’ finances are in as good as shape as the Wizards’ backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as a dynamic duo. Washington needs to re-sign center Marcin Gortat to reproduce a front line with Nene. Add LeBron — who would come in as the elder statesman to the Wizards’ rising stars, so there’s no adjustment period as to who is the alpha dog (assuming Wall can handle it) like there was initially in Miami with Dwyane Wade – to this starting lineup and dare I call them Eastern Conference favorites.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Don’t laugh. And, hey, if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony really want to team up, here’s their spot. There’s so little money on the books that Philly could sign both stars and still have enough left over to add some pretty good role players. These two could come in as the big brothers and lead one of the great youth movements of our time. Think about it, the Sixers already have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel is ready to roll after sitting out all of last season. With the third pick in next week’s Draft, they’ll add another high-caliber youngster, maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Then there’s consummate pro Thaddeus Young. Sounding good isn’t it?

3. Toronto Raptors: General manager Masai Ujiri has already overseen a couple minor miracles in shedding the salaries of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, so what’s one more? The books still aren’t as clear as in Philly, but it can work. Re-signing Kyle Lowry might be out the window, but how about Greivis Vasquez, budding, young star DeMar DeRozan, LeBron, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? I’m pretty sure coach Dwane Casey would be good with it.

4. Phoenix Suns: Imagine LeBron driving and then trying to decide if he should kick it out to Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye or maybe Gerald Green. Imagine LeBron sprinting for fast-break dunks with a perimeter defense that includes himself and the dogged Bledsoe, and a team that stamped itself as one of the great hustling squads of last season. If we thought the old Steve Nash-Mike D’Antonio Suns teams were fun, whoa, this one could fly off the charts.

5. New Orleans Pelicans: There’s some work, not a ton, to be done on the payroll side, and there’s some tradable commodities despite multi-year deals in place (i.e. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon) and nothing should be viewed as impossible when it comes to pairing LeBron with Anthony Davis, right? Greatest inside-out duo since Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal? This pairing has devastation written all over it. New Orleans would never be the same.

However, we all know that no one backs down from a challenge issued by Clint Eastwood.

Morning Shootaround — April 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers’ Gasol open to offers | Suns GM gives Bledsoe big vote of confidence | Irving still non-committal about Cleveland future | Wade says he’s in better shape than last year

No. 1: Lakers’ Gasol open to offers this summer — Much like the season the Los Angeles Lakers experienced themselves, big man Pau Gasol never seemed to find his rhythm on the court this season. Between injuries (including a bout of vertigo that effectively ended his season) to continued clashes with coach Mike D’Antoni, Gasol had a less-than memorable season in Lakerland. As he approaches free agency this summer, Gasol says he’s open to staying with the Lakers — mostly because of teammate Kobe Bryant — as well as moving on to other locales. Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears has more:

Pau Gasol felt nostalgic in what he admitted might have been his last day with the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He’s also excited about his impending free agency and is open to a reunion with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who now runs the New York Knicks’ front office.

“I’m happy for him and the position that he got,” Gasol said. “I’m always going to be a big fan and a friend. I would listen.”

Despite the struggle in recent years, Gasol seemed very much at peace during his postseason media briefing on Thursday. The main reason is because he can help decide his own future as a free agent this offseason.

“This year is a little different,” Gasol said. “Every time I said [he felt sentimental] is because I didn’t know if I was going to be traded. That has been kind of a theme for the last three years. But this year that possibility is out of the question. Now it’s because I will be in charge of my future, my destiny and I have to listen to the different possibilities that I will have on the table.”

Gasol said he would “listen closely” to the possibility of returning to the Lakers. The biggest reason he’d consider returning is to continue playing with Kobe Bryant.

Gasol, however, also said he had “misunderstandings” with D’Antoni the past two years and was uncertain if the status of the coach would affect his decision.

Jackson coached Gasol with the Lakers from 2007-10. Since being hired as the Knicks’ president, Jackson has signed former Lakers forward Lamar Odom to a contract and met with former Lakers forward Metta World Peace. The Knicks would be interested in Gasol in free agency, a source said.

Gasol, 33, made $19.3 million in the final year of his contract and isn’t expected to get anything close to the type of salary again. Joining the Knicks would likely come with a massive pay cut since the most they can offer – without a sign-and-trade deal – is the taxpayer’s midlevel exception, expected to be worth about $3.2 million.

With the Knicks expected to play Jackson’s triangle offense and more of a half-court, such a style of play could be attractive to Gasol. Gasol, however, also said he wanted to play on a championship-caliber team and the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs this season with Carmelo Anthony.

“I want to enjoy the moment and not be too stressed about it, even though at some point I’m going to have to make a decision,” said Gasol, who is improving from his recent bout with vertigo. “It will be exciting. I look at this as an opportunity. For the first, and maybe only time, I will be a free agent where I can choose. It’s exciting. It’s nothing that I’ve experienced in the NBA.”


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with the media during his Lakers exit interview

***

No. 2: Suns GM: ‘Waste of time’ for other teams to pursue Bledsoe — The Phoenix Suns won 48 games and came within a few days of clinching a playoff berth in a season in which few expected them to do more than trudge their way into the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. With guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe leading the charge, the Suns captured the hearts of many and showed that a backcourt with two starting-caliber point guards could thrive in Arizona (if not elsewhere). Bledsoe is a free agent this summer and the Suns have every intention of keeping him around, it seems, based on the strong talk from GM Ryan McDonough. Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com has more on McDonough’s view on Bledsoe in Phoenix:

Bledsoe has been excellent when on the court, and at 24 still has room to improve. The Suns know this, and they’d like for that improvement to come with him wearing their jersey.

“That’s what we’re planning on doing,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday when asked if the Bledsoe will be retained, be it via a contract he signs with the Suns or one that is signed with someone else but matched by the team. “I think Eric did a terrific job after he was frustrated with the injury.

“He came back and played extremely well for us down the stretch.”

Overall, Bledsoe has been every bit the player the Suns hoped they were getting when they pulled the trigger on the trade that brought him and Caron Butler to the Valley in exchange for Jared Dudley and a second-round pick.

“We view him as a core part of our team going forward,” the GM said. “I think there were some questions externally about how it would work with him and Goran going into the season, and we don’t have any doubts that those guys answered the questions and that they’re one of the premier backcourts in the NBA.”

As a restricted free agent, Bledsoe has the right to sign with any team he chooses. After that, though, the Suns have the right to match any offer sheet he signs in order to keep him.

Saying they’ll do that, though, will not necessarily dissuade another team from trying to woo him.

“He’s played well enough and is deserving enough of an extension where I think it would be a waste of time for another team to throw an offer at him and tie up their cap space while other free agents are going off the board,” McDonough said. “But you never know; it only takes one.

“We’ll see what happens. There’s also the chance that we try to work it out in advance and just not let it get to that point, where he has to get an offer and we match. Our preference would be just to to do an offer with Eric and his representatives.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the media during his Suns exit interview

***

No. 3: Irving continues to hedge bets about Cleveland future — Since he was taken No. 1 overall by Cleveland in the 2011 Draft, Kyrie Irving has amassed a Rookie of the Year trophy, two All-Star berths and countless highlights for Cavaliers fans. His future with the Cavs remains the topic of interest most to fans and the team as Irving’s rookie deal will expire after next season, but he can sign an extension this summer. The latter topic is one that Irving continues to remain totally clear on, although he does sound like he’d stay in Cleveland. During yesterday’s exit interviews with the media, Irving talked about his view on staying in Ohio and more. Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer was there and has more:

After the final buzzer sounded, after Kyrie Irving stuck around to hand out not just one pair of shoes, but several, at Fan Appreciation Night, the Cavaliers point guard at long last addressed the fact that he can sign a contract extension this summer.And he came the closest he has to announcing that he would like to remain in Cleveland.

“I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this,” he said. “We’re making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland.

“I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now, but it’ll be something special. I can guarantee that.”

“It’s a big deal for me and my family if they do offer that. It would be exciting, and I’ll make the best decision for me and my family. That’s what it’s going to boil down to for myself.”

A year ago, for instance, he skipped out on the Cavaliers’ Fan Appreciation Night shoe giveaway; this year, he tossed out several.

“This year was a constant learning year,” Irving said. “This was a learning year for me, strictly that. I learned a lot about myself, about being a better point guard from all aspects of the game and becoming a better leader. That, right there, is a work in progress. I’m a work in progress, and I’ve already admitted that.”

***

No. 4: Wade says knees in better shape than last yearThe Miami Heat spent the majority of the 2013-14 season hanging around the top of the Eastern Conference standings and briefly took the No. 1 spot there for a few weeks. But the Heat’s goal has always been getting ready for a fourth straight Finals run (and hopefully a third straight championship) and to do so, that often meant resting guard Dwyane Wade and his balky knees for the good of the long-term goal. Wade missed 28 games this season and hasn’t been a part of a Heat win since March 21, but as Miami readies for Game 1 of its series with the Charlotte Bobcats, Wade says his knees are in better shape than last year at this time. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more on D-Wade and the Heat:

It has been a frustrating ride that saw Wade miss 28 games this season, mostly for a maintenance program for his balky knees.

And yet through it all, including being limited to a maximum of 24 minutes in each of his three games this past week, Wade believes he is in a better place than a year ago, when his knee issues had him out of the lineup just four games into the postseason.

“It’s a lot better than going into it last year,” he said, with the team given Thursday off before beginning playoff preparations Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Now hopefully move on from that, and have a better first round health-wise than I did first round versus the Bucks last year, when I had to miss that game up in Milwaukee. So I look forward to Game 1 and hopefully not having any setbacks.”

“These were a good three games for me,” he said. “It’s better than going into the playoffs without playing. So I’m glad I was able to get a few games in with different teams, different styles, see how they guarded me a little differently.”

What he hasn’t had is much in the way of continuity with LeBron James, with James sitting out the final two games to rest up for what could be a fourth-consecutive two-month playoff grind, the Heat advancing to the NBA Finals in each of their first three Big Three seasons.

“I’m not worried about continuity with him at all,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is we both know what we need to do and we just have to do it. So we’ve played together for four years, so it’s enough continuity right there. So we’ll be fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards star John Wall has a new slogan he writes on his shoes each game … Injured Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari expects to be ready to go for training camp … The Patrick Beverley-Damian Lillard matchup is likely going to decide that first-round series … Celtics reserve center Joel Anthony will reportedly exercise his option for next season …. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy are reportedly on the Timberwolves’ short list of coaches they’d pick to potentially replace Rick AdelmanAmar’e Stoudemire says the Knicks didn’t always buy into Mike Woodson‘s coaching … Ex-Pistons All-Star Grant Hill is reportedly not interested in pursuing a front-office post with Detroit …

ICYMI(s) of the Night: The NBA TV crew makes their predictions for the 2014 playoffs, which, if you haven’t heard, start Saturday …


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Western Conference playoffs


VIDEO: NBA TV makes its predictions for the Eastern Conference playoffs

Jeff Hornacek talks Suns’ 48-win season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Suns’ Goran Dragic is a nominee for Kia Most Improved Player

DALLAS – The Phoenix Suns added their name to a very short list of teams to win 48 games and not make the playoffs. Their pleasantly stunning season has sparked increased debate about whether the NBA should look at ditching the conference model and put the 16 teams with the best record into the postseason.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek vaulted to the top of the Coach of the Year discussion early on and, like his team, never faded. Phoenix was believed to be a team headed for major ping-pong balls come the lottery, a team constructed of journeymen and unproven parts expected to top out at around 25 victories.

The first-time head coach will have competition from Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

“Jeff is an awesome coach,” Suns point guard and team MVP Goran Dragic said. “He was a great player and he understands the game. As a coach, he sees things differently and he is always calm and gives us that extra confidence. He works hard with young players after practice and he gives us the strength to fight the whole season.”

Here’s how Hornacek views his rookie season on the bench:

Q: How did you manage to quickly establish a winning culture in a locker room with high turnover?

A: That’s the one thing going into this season we wanted them to do, just play hard, play together and for the most part they’ve done that. These guys care about each other, they’re a very close-knit team and that gives you an opportunity for success.

Q: How did Gerald Green, NBA.com’s choice as Most Improved Player, find success this season and bouncing in and out of the league?

A: Gerald is a guy who can get his shot off anywhere — and he does (laughs). He’s got great confidence in his shooting. He’s done a much better job of not just settling for the jump shot, but he’ll take it to the basket. If he gets a step and has a chance to jump, you know how good of an athlete he is, he usually gets the ball in the basket. He’s improved in terms of his consistency. It’s not where he’s jacking up 10 3s and making two of them. He realizes that if he’s not making them, he moves in and tries to take a different shot and that’s been big. I think that’s where a lot of his improvement’s come.

Q: It’s been said that you are the perfect coach for him and the system is a perfect fit. Do you agree with that?

A: He’s bought into what we’re trying to do, it kind of fits his style. We don’t mind running up and shooting quick 3s. I think his eyes light up when one of our point guards, Goran or Eric [Bledsoe], sprint down the court and he’s filling a lane. Guys have great confidence in him and they look for him now because they know he can get hot and make six, seven in a row. It’s a big part of what we do and he’s been great this year.

Q: You played for and coached under Hall of Fame Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. What aspects of his coaching style or philosophies did you incorporate into yours?

A: When we went into it I tried to take a little bit from all the coaches. With Jerry, it’s just go out there and try to play every play like it’s your last, that’s what Jerry always stressed and we’re constantly talking about that. We’re an inexperienced team in terms of playing games so those guys are learning on the fly of how to do that night in and night out, and then get to every play. You can’t have three or four plays that, ‘Oh I forgot,’ or ‘I spaced off’ or whatever it is because that’s going to be enough to cost you the game. Jerry was always on that: Play every play like it’s your last and we try to get that from our guys.

Q: Not sure if even you could have predicted the level of success the team had this season. What does it mean for the franchise when 20-something wins seemed to be the ceiling?

A: Well, the whole part of the rebuilding is you’re going to have steps. From a team that was supposed to win maybe 20 games, we thought if we can get to 30, 35, start establishing things, maybe next year make a push for the playoffs and the year after that get in the playoffs, the kind of stepping stones that you have to go through. Maybe we just skipped a rung. I think it’s great.

Q: Why were you able to skip a rung?

A: I don’t know. It’s always tough in the NBA, especially the way guys switch teams nowadays. The chemistry part is big. And our guys, we had 10 new guys, you never how that’s going to come together, they’ve gotten along pretty well. We emphasized in the beginning, you’re a bunch of new guys, you’re a lot of guys that have contracts that end this year or they end next year, so that’s always kind of a recipe for disaster when guys try to get individual, worried about their contracts. I told them stories about some of our guys from the past, that when you’re on a good team that’s when teams want you, that’s when they’ll pay bigger bucks if you’re on a good team. And so if we’re a good team, all that stuff will come, don’t worry about it, just play and try to win games and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve put it all aside and just played.

Q: When did you first see signs that your team could be pretty good?

A: Early in the season we lost a couple of close games to San Antonio and Oklahoma City at their place and our guys; when you’re in a rebuilding mode a lot of times guys are talking about, ‘hey, that’s a moral victory. Hey look, we played well.’ Our guys were ticked off, they were mad about it. So, to me, as kind of a competitive player, I think, I took that as a sign that, hey, we could be OK this year because these guys care and they want to win.

Q: You paired two point guards, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, in the same backcourt. Why did you believe they could complement one another?

A: I just kind of envisioned it because I saw what Kevin Johnson and I went through way back in the day when you had two guards out there and we wanted to be an up-tempo team. We felt that the best way to do that is to have two guys you can outlet the ball to. We don’t need it in one guy’s hand when you can throw it to anybody. We just kind of, [general manager] Ryan McDonough, when we talked about if it could work, he said, ‘yeah I think it would be great getting them from one side to the other. Teams have to look at the mismatches. Someone’s going to have the advantage as good as those two guys are.