HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the Steve Nash era over and no sign of a Valley of the Sun-themed version of the Big 3 on the horizon, fans of the Phoenix Suns are bracing themselves for a rebuilding project that could be as painstaking a process as they have witnessed in years.
It’s a fact of life for fans of basically every franchise in the NBA (save for the Lakers), and a reality that the Suns organization is tackling in a somewhat unconventional and rather refreshing way.
Instead of scrambling for a quick fix or looking for some superstar to rescue them, the Suns are focusing their attentions within their program and going about the business of trying to build a playoff contender from the inside. They are making player development the staples of their operation, with 17-year NBA veteran Lindsey Hunter leading the charge as the coach in charge of helping develop homegrown talent.
Hunter began working out players this month with more individualized plans to come in September, when voluntary sessions begin.
“We’re trying to put together a system where we’re no longer looking for outside influences to create a better product,” Hunter said. “We want to do it right from the interior. A lot of people say, ‘You got to go get better players,’ which is true. But you have to make what you have better and we’re serious about it now.”
The Suns intend to hire a young former NBA big man and make the staff available to players “24-7,” General Manager Lance Blanks said.
“This is really important to me,” Blanks said. “It’s not something that was needed. What the organization was doing worked. It won at a very high level. Different personnel and situation. This will create a lot of continuity between front office, coaches and training staff.”
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – This is the time of year for positive spin around the NBA. No matter what moves your team made in July, it’s going to have a positive outlook on the near or distant future.
The Phoenix Suns are one of those teams that’s looking long-term … for the most part. Franchise icon Steve Nash is gone, along with Grant Hill. The Suns have added some mid-level free agents and trade acquisitions, but it will be tough for them to compete in an improved Western Conference.
Suns general manager Lance Blanks sees the Suns as a team in transition, but he’s not not up for going the Orlando Magic route by completely bottoming out for the next two or three years, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reports…
The roster has changed, but the commitment to a wide-open, entertaining playing style remains — and the front office has done it all with an aim toward returning the team to a sustainable elite status.
“The first goal was to be able to put a team out there that would handle the next era of the organization — the rigors and challenges,” Blanks said. “A transition like that is not always seamless. We wanted to make sure we had people to weather the ups and downs of entering the next era and also find guys whose career paths and trajectories fit the future of the organization. Just about every guy is a fresh-start guy.”
The Phoenix Suns continued an aggressive rebuild of their franchise Sunday when they submitted the highest bid for free agent forward Luis Scola and were awarded the rights to the 32-year-old forward, according to league sources.
Because of Scola’s contract with Houston, which had $10 million in unguaranteed money in the final year of the deal, the Suns had to submit a bid of at least $3.3 million per year for Scola, and commit $10 million over three years.
Several teams, including Dallas and Cleveland, were believed to have submitted bids for Scola, who was amnestied on Friday by the Rockets in order to clear more cap room for potential runs at Orlando’s Dwight Howard, or to be able to take on other big contracts in potential trades if they don’t get Howard. Scola, according to a league source, wanted to go someplace where he would play right away.
The Suns knew it would be difficult for them to retain franchise player Steve Nash, and the team agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers earlier this month for the 38-year-old guard. But the Suns were able to get two future first-round and two future second-round picks, along with $3 million, for Nash.
And Phoenix has come out of the gate in free agency, signing former Rockets guard Goran Dragic to a four-year, $30 million deal, and quickly following that up with a three-year, $18 million deal for Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley. The Suns tried to get Hornets restricted free agent Eric Gordon, giving him a four-year, $58 million offer sheet. But New Orleans insisted all along it would match any sheet for Gordon, and it did.
Life is a lot better on Draft night than in free agency for the fellows selected second each June.
That point was driven home again Thursday with reports that Hasheem Thabeet and Michael Beasley are headed to new teams, yet again, as they seek traction to their sputtering NBA careers.
You would think that getting picked just one spot from the top would yield happiness and security for lads like them and others, but it often doesn’t work out that way.
Thabeet, the No. 2 pick in 2009, will join his fourth team in four seasons when his modest two-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder becomes official next week. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details on the move for the reigning Western Conference champs:
The addition of Thabeet all but guarantees veteran center Nazr Mohammed will not return to the Thunder. If not, that paves the way for third-year center Cole Aldrich to step into the primary backup role behind starter Kendrick Perkins. Thabeet is expected to be the third-string center.
Adding Thabeet also helps the Thunder preserve precious salary cap space, most of which will go toward paying its young players. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already are locked into maximum-allowable contracts. Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor are all now eligible for extensions to their rookie deals.
What the Thunder is doing in bringing in Thabeet, 25, is taking a flyer on a one-time promising prospect without paying him much and hoping he can develop into the player he once was capable of being. If he does, the Thunder gets a steal. If not, the team will not have lost anything. (more…)
HOUSTON – It sure doesn’t look like the Timberwolves will be content to just tread water until Ricky Rubio returns from his ACL injury. The promising team that appeared headed for a playoff berth when their star point guard went down in March is aggressively attacking free agency.
The Wolves are evidently getting ready to extend a four-year, $50-million offer to Portland swingman Nic Batum. But that’s just a start in Minnesota.
The team also has plans to meet with Lakers free agent power forward Jordan Hill and are said to be trying to put together a trade with L.A. that could land Pau Gasol. Boston center Greg Stiemsma was flown into Minneapolis for a visit on Sunday morning.
Beating 28 other teams for an NBA championship no longer is enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. Beating their Staples Center roommates, the Los Angeles Clippers, is of utmost importance now, too, in a way that it never was prior to the Clippers’ big intra-arena triumph in the Chris Paul Sweepstakes back in December.
So every opportunity for the two franchises to joust on the same battleground provides a chance to assess winners and losers. Or in the case of Thursday’s moves and non-moves: Which L.A. team won on NBA trade deadline day?
The Clippers, as third team in on the Denver-Washington deal that swapped Nene and JaVale McGee, acquired Wizards shooting guard Nick Young. Long considered to be a conscienceless gunner whose greatest fame came earlier this month when he hoisted a layup attempt completely over the backboard, Young was dumped by Washington in its attempt to appear more serious. But he could end up starting for the Clippers and he came at a bargain price (Brian Cook and a second-round pick). Here’s a snipped of what Helene Elliott wrote for the Los Angeles Times:
“You’re not going to replace a Chauncey Billups, his experience and his leadership and what he brings to the court,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I think Nick will give us another explosive scorer out there.”
The deal wasn’t finalized until two hours before the Clippers squandered a 17-point lead over the Steve Nash-less Phoenix Suns in a 91-87 loss at Staples Center that left them 9-11 since Billups exited the lineup. Young, who averaged 16.6 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting for the woeful Wizards, isn’t expected to make his Clippers debut until Tuesday.
That delay postpones the thorny decision on how Del Negro will handle an even bigger glut of guards alongside Paul. “A good problem to have,” [GM Neil] Olshey said. For now, it looks like Young will start and Randy Foye will go back to the bench.
“Of course that’s the biggest issue, managing the personnel, managing the minutes and trying to make it all work in terms of chemistry,” Del Negro said. “And this group is just getting together. We’ll see how it all comes together. I’m not sure there’s a perfect game plan now.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, added guard Ramon Sessions, dumped veteran Derek Fisher and failed to do anything else capable of moving their needle, be it trading Pau Gasol for something flashy or taking a chance on Michael Beasley’s potential. Sessions is a young, athletic player who has been available pretty much constantly, and Fisher is a sentimental fan’s favorite for his long service and clutch shooting who is closing in on his 38th birthday.
L.A. moved Fisher to Houston with a first-round pick for backup big man Jordan Hill, and they sent out Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and a 2012 first-round pick to the Cavaliers for Sessions and guard Christian Eyenga. Not all that exciting, done as much to dump salary (Fisher is due $3.4 million next season, Walton more than $6 million) and minimize luxury-tax liabilities.
But Sessions is expected to fit well in coach Mike Brown’s pick-and-roll sets and, within a narrow range of options, can create scoring plays for himself. Hill could provide some help up front. And there’s one more thing to consider before giving the Clippers the better trade grade from Thursday.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who finally had one of his better games (11 points, nine rebounds) for a change, was sarcastic with the media after the meeting, saying they were “waiting” for the media to enter, which finally happened at 11:05 p.m. Thursday.
Kenyon Martin joked about the NCAA tournament.
What wasn’t a joke was the Clippers blowing a 17-point lead to a Suns team that didn’t play starters Steve Nash or Grant Hill because Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry wanted to rest his stars because the team was playing the second of back-to-back-to-back games.
“It was very productive,” Blake Griffin said about the meeting. “And it wasn’t a point-the-finger-at-somebody meeting. It was good. … But it wasn’t about guys trying to get their feelings hurt, guys trying to hurt people’s feelings. It was about this is real. We’ve got a good team and we’ve got to do better.”
The glut of guards, the chemistry questions and Del Negro’s own history from his time in Chicago (he had an altercation with Bulls VP John Paxson two years ago) make it hard, then, to stamp “winners” on the Clippers. Even in the L.A. competition, even just on trade day.
With a point guard corps that includes championship-tested veteran (and starter) Derek Fisher and his veteran backup, Steve Blake, the Lakers were looking to add a younger body in the backcourt that perhaps provides the best of both players’ skills.
L.A. may have gotten exactly that by swinging a trade with Cleveland for point guard Ramon Sessions, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Also moving to Los Angeles in the deal is athletic swingman Christian Eyenga, who has appeared in just six games for the Cavs this season and has mostly been in the NBA D-League. Here are the gritty details:
The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired point guard Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a multi-player deal that will bring the Cavs the Lakers’ 2012 first-round pick, according to league sources.
The Rockets, Bulls and Celtics have all had conversations with the Lakers about Gasol, who was still unsure of his status after the Lakers’ win in New Orleans Wednesday night:
Before Gasol headed to the team bus, he thanked a handful of reporters, shaking their hands in the locker room … just in case.
“One way or another, time’s going to tell,” he said after scoring 18 points and taking 10 rebounds.
Gasol is not expected to be traded Thursday despite talks with Boston, Chicago and Houston in recent weeks. “I might wake up after the deadline,” Gasol said, alluding to the fatigue he felt from a chaotic few months.
The Lakers revisited talks to acquire Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley on Wednesday, multiple league sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com. Several variations of the trade have been discussed. One would land Beasley on the Lakers in a three-team deal that would send Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford to the Wolves and Luke Ridnour from Minnesota to Portland. Los Angeles would give up one of its two 2012 first-round draft picks in the deal and use its $8.9 million trade exception, acquired when it traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks in December, to absorb Beasley’s approximate $6.3 million salary. Portland would also receive the Lakers’ first-round pick.
As of late Wednesday night no deal was completed, but a source familiar with the negotiations said, “the sides have momentum.”
Our man David Aldridge adds the following about the deal:
Rumors of this deal broke Wednesday evening, but Blake played for Los Angeles in the Lakers’ overtime win over New Orleans. Crawford did not play for Portland in the Blazers’ blowout loss in New York, but Beasley accompanied the Timberwolves to Utah, where they were to play the Jazz tonight. A source involved in the discussions said Thursday morning that the deal was on the table but not yet agreed upon.
Crawford was held out of the Trail Blazers’ loss in New York last night, the official reason given was tendinitis in his right knee. But it’s no secret that Trail Blazers have been exploring their trade options for Crawford.
Beasley would give the Lakers an option at small forward that they have been searching for. And Crawford gives the Timberwolves a short-term option in the backcourt (he is expected to opt-out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent again this summer) to help ease the blow of Ricky Rubio going down for the season.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Brook Lopez is definitely back. He put on an offensive show for the Nets last night in their win over the Mavericks.
A trade deadline cynic would argue that he was being showcased as well. He’s long been rumored to be the piece the Nets would have to deliver to the Magic in a potential blockbuster deal for Dwight Howard.
The broken right foot that cost Lopez 32 games this season appears to be in fine shape, he dropped 38 points and the go-ahead free throw to power the Nets over the Mavericks last night. His every move will be analyzed as the perfect bait for the Magic, who have to make a decision to either deal or not deal Howard before the March 15 deadline.
Deron Williams gushed about his current big man after the win over the Mavs, telling reporters:
“He was a monster tonight. He carried us from the start of the game and it makes a difference, I’ve said it all season. … He knows how to play the game and we’re glad to have him back.”
Williams has to be measured in his praise. And the Nets have to be careful with Lopez, who outside of his ability score, isn’t in Howard’s category in any way. If they see him play at a high level for long enough, they might start to rethink this notion of moving him for Howard or anyone else.
Still, you can’t argue that Lopez has great timing. The Nets have won three of their last five games, and that includes wins over the Bulls, Knicks and now, the reigning champs.
BEASLEY BEING SHOWCASED, TOO?
Go ahead and add Timberwolves’ forward Michael Beasley to the list of players being showcased as the trade deadline draws near. So what if he’s still coming off the bench.
Rookie Derrick Williams and Beasley dropped 27 points a piece as the Timberwolves knocked off the Clippers in Los Angeles. They’ve both been overshadowed this season by All-Star power forward Kevin Love and rookie sensation Ricky Rubio. But with rumors swirling about the Timerbwolves hoping to get involved in a potential deal for Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Beasley would have to be a part of that deal.