On the eve of All-Star Weekend, Shaq pays tribute to the fans of the Phoenix Suns, Kobe, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, and of course, Shaq’s main man, JaVale McGee . Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
DALLAS – As Michael Beasley slammed a chicken tenders basket at his locker about 90 minutes before his Phoenix Suns were to face the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, he seemed more pleased with the savory french fries than digging up the past yet again.
“These fries are good, man,” Beasley said between shoveling handfuls of the greasy goodness into his mouth.
Beasley’s first season with the Phoenix Suns, one promising a fresh start on what some might hail as an overly generous three-year, $18 million contract considering his past work history, has not been so tasty for Suns fans to digest.
The former No. 2 pick has been bad, so bad that halfway through the first half of the season he lost his starting job on what is now the worst team in the Western Conference. The saving grace at this point for the Suns and their leery fans would seem to be that the final $6.25 million on Beasley’s third season, in 2014-15, is non-guaranteed.
But Beasley, sounding as honest as when he critiqued those fries, said he wants to be the guy who helps turn this once-proud franchise that rose to great heights on the sturdy, trustworthy and fan-friendly shoulders of Steve Nash.
“That’s the plan,” said Beasley, who turned 24 earlier this month and remains a 6-foot-10, 235-pound and heavily tattooed enigma. “Hey, I definitely want the fans to support me and understand me, but I realize with my past, it’s a long shot.”
On Jan. 2, just two months into the season and three weeks after veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell tweeted that a Suns source deemed Beasley “toxic,” a headline in the USA Today screamed: “Michael Beasley has bottomed out in Phoenix.”
Already? Was it true?
“Tomato, to-mah-to, I guess,” Beasley said. “It really don’t matter. Only thing you can do is look forward to the future. I realize what I’m doing — career-low in every category. But it’s time to, like I said, I’m going to go hard. I feel like if I play hard, I have great games, not even great games, good games. I haven’t had a good game yet, haven’t had a great game in a while. If I play hard I have good games, we win most of the time.”
Interim Suns coach Lindsey Hunter, who served as director of player development before being promoted in the wake of Alvin Gentry‘s recent firing, said he worked closely in his previous post with Beasley and earned a mutual trust, yet he’s at a loss to explain the player’s early missteps when this was supposed to be a fresh start, a clean slate.
Yet, through Hunter’s words comes the depth of the task at hand to transform this young, often troubled player who has no practical foundation of discipline or even organization to build upon, into a cornerstone of a franchise, or at the least, a reliable teammate.
“He’s still growing. He has a lot of room to grow and I think he’s willing to do that. And we’re challenging him,” Hunter said. “He’s been on a couple of different teams and people have given up on him. We feel like if we give you all the tools you need to get yourself together than we’re giving you a great opportunity and you should take advantage of it. And he has.
“He’s wanting to change, wanting to get himself together, get himself, like, have a schedule for himself,” Hunter continued. “Those are things we take for granted, but Mike has probably never done that in his life. And so once we get him to understanding that, hey, put all this together and basketball will be easy, then he’ll be great.”
That day seems far away as the Suns’ front office is faced with no easy answers.
Beasley, as he attests, is averaging career lows across the board: 10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 21.5 mpg and a 39.3 field-goal percentage. After rifling through the chicken finger basket and dressing for the game while rapping out loud the inaudible lyrics streaming through his headphones, Beasley managed 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting and four rebounds. He recorded a team-worst minus-17 in 20 minutes and the Suns lost for the 30th time in 45 games.
Beasley’s game was particularly disappointing coming off the previous night’s 25-point effort as the Suns went toe-to-toe with the Spurs in San Antonio before wilting late. In fact, in the previous six games, Beasley produced some of his best-scoring games of the season such as scoring 20 points in a win at Chicago after having gone five consecutive games with two points or less, and then 19 points in another rare road win at Sacramento.
Ever since his one season at Kansas State, nothing is certain with Beasley. Will he change? Is it possible? Only Beasley can really know if it is.
“It’s life. My past is my past and mine’s not pretty. Nobody has a pretty past,” Beasley said. “Everybody in the world did things they regret, are not proud of. I get that a lot from a lot of different people saying, ‘Man, in my 20s, you’ve got a long way to go to mess up as bad as I did.’ I say that because we all have pasts, every single one of us. Nobody’s perfect.
“We all have things we’re not that proud of, things we wish we could take back. The great ones learn from them and that’s what I did, I learned from my mistakes. The lunatics just make the same mistakes.”
By the final year of his deal, and for their sake hopefully sooner, the Suns will for sure know which one they’re dealing with.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Phoenix Suns became the fourth team to undergo a coaching change this season, parting ways with head coach Alvin Gentry on Friday.
Gentry took over for Terry Porter in the middle of the 2008-09 season, took the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2010, and compiled a 158-144 record with the Suns. But in the wake of Steve Nash‘s departure, the Suns put together a flawed roster. After Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, they’ve lost 13 of their last 15 games and stand in last place in the West at 13-28.
Despite some offensive talent, the Suns rank 23rd in offensive efficiency and have the league’s worst offense (95.8 points per 100 possessions) since Christmas. Defensively, they rank 26th, though they were decent on that end of the floor whenever Michael Beasley was on the bench.
Paul Coro from the Arizona Republic has the report from Phoenix…
The Suns have parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry after the team posted its worst record for the first half of a season in 25 years.
An interim coach was not immediately known, although lead assistant coach Elston Turner would be the next in line and has been a finalist for other league head coaching jobs.
The Suns lost at home Thursday night to Milwaukee for the first time in 26 years to fall to 13-28, the franchise’s worst midpoint record since the 1987-88 team went 13-28 coming out of the drug scandal.
Gentry, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby had a late-night meeting but Gentry was not let go at that time. A decision was made Friday morning.
Gentry follows Lakers coach Mike Brown, Nets coach Avery Johnson and Bucks coach Scott Skiles out the door this season. Reports have player development coach Lindsey Hunter as the lead candidate to step in for Gentry.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.
Teams win games by outscoring their opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If a player isn’t scoring, he can help his teammates score and also prevent the opponent from doing so.
But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?
Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.
At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Thursday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season.
On Wednesday, we looked at the players with the biggest on-off court differential in regard to their team’s offensive efficiency. Today, we look at the defensive end of the floor.
Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as a pair at the bottom of the list.
For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s defensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.
Because the Celtics use a unique substitution pattern with KG, you can get a pretty clear idea of the impact he makes. No other Celtics regular has played more 63 percent of his minutes with Garnett.
You probably figured Garnett would be at or near the top of this list, but 14.4 points per 100 possessions? That’s an amazing number, and it’s an indictment on Brandon Bass (382 minutes with Garnett off the floor), Jared Sullinger (331) and Chris Wilcox (297) … and Paul Pierce (391) and Rajon Rondo (432).
It’s also an endorsement of both former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma and guard Avery Bradley, because the Celtics’ defense only fell off 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Garnett stepped off the floor last season.
Bradley’s return (he made his 2012-13 debut on Wednesday) offers some hope, but interior defense will continue to be an issue whenever Garnett rests. (more…)
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.
Steve Aschburner: Let’s assume Carlos Boozer is too old an answer here, that JaVale McGee is too early an answer here and that Andrew Bynum is too obvious an answer here. Ersan Ilyasova is too below-the-radar for most folks, and I’m assuming that Rudy Gay soon demonstrates his true value either on the court for Memphis or in a trade package when the Grizzlies face some hard economic reality. So I’m going with New Orleans guard Eric Gordon, a player who has missed 112 of a possible 179 regular-season games over the past two-plus seasons. Gordon was handed a $58 million contract last summer despite his knee problems and has been accorded “franchise guy” treatment by two organizations and a suitor or two. He remains a potential star and, remember, in the NBA staying healthy isn’t just luck, it’s a skill.
Fran Blinebury: Roy Hibbert. After getting his big money, he’s down across the board in points, rebounds, field-goal percentage and even free-throw shooting. He gets a run for his money from Dwight Howard, who for all the noise, the drama and the diva tendencies, has just not played like a guy who will be offered the keys to the Lakers’ franchise. But he’ll get them anyway.
Jeff Caplan: Michael Beasley is tremendously under-performing his contract, but the Suns should have known better. So, hellooooo, Roy Hibbert. With Danny Granger down, Hibbert’s numbers are have taken a hit across the board. He’s not even shooting 40 percent from the field — inexcusable for a traditional big man, after being near 50 percent last season. Maybe expectations were too high simply from Hibbert being offered the max by other teams. The Pacers had to match, but they need more than Hibbert’s bringing.
Scott Howard-Cooper: If you are going strictly on contract, and rightly take Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bynum out of the mix because of injury, it’s Pau Gasol. But if this is about regressing in urgent ways, say hello to DeMarcus Cousins. His behavior is worse than before, his play is backsliding, and the Kings are going down with him. Cousins is the most important player on the team. That’s a measure of value beyond salary.
John Schuhmann: Amar’e Stoudemire is too obvious an answer, right? Jeff Green is probably an obvious answer too, but he’s my answer. Green deserves a ton of credit for coming back from heart surgery, but that doesn’t mean he deserved $36 million guaranteed. The Celtics need Green to keep their vets fresh and to keep things from falling apart when they go to the bench, but that hasn’t happened. He’s shooting 41 percent and he’s got the worst per-possession plus-minus in Boston’s rotation. Green has the physical tools to be a great player, but he’s never really been able to put it together. Now would be a good time.
Sekou Smith: If we go around identifying guys who aren’t “living up to their contracts,” the line around headquarters here could get pretty long. Williams isn’t even the highest paid player on the Nets’ roster — that distinguished honor belongs to shooting guard Joe Johnson. But neither member of the Nets’ starting backcourt, easy targets in light of what’s gone on in Brooklyn the past 10 days, can touch Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum in this category. The former Los Angeles Lakers big man has yet to grace us with his presence this season, due to injury, of course. At least Williams, and Johnson for that matter, are in uniform most every night.
Coach Alvin Gentry is signaling another round of lineup changes for the Suns. Fair enough. They’re 7-13, have lost five in a row, including to the Pistons (by 40!) and Raptors, Gentry is searching for anything close to a good fit after a summer roster renovation, and this season in Phoenix is for developing rather than the playoffs. So search away.
But a possible demotion for Marcin Gortat? Now we’re talking signs of trouble.
Gortat was the biggest certainty of the entire roster at the start of camp, a double-double man in 2011-12 in his first full season there, one of the underrated centers of the game, a sign of consistency on a team slowly moving forward without Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Gortat and Luis Scola, one of the main newcomers, were supposed to be the tandem of veteran bigs who would keep the transitioning Suns in telescope range of respectability. Among several looming problems in Phoenix, center wasn’t one of them.
Except there was Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic noting Friday that Gortat was a candidate to be pulled from the starting lineup along with small forward Michael Beasley, an obvious choice at 37.4 percent from the field. If so, this goes well beyond the planned hunting for the right lineup combination.
But, wrote Coro:
Lineup moves might not be isolated to the Beasley situation. After a sensational start, Gortat’s play has dropped off drastically to the point that veteran Jermaine O’Neal went from rotation fringe to a departure from the team for his aunt’s death to playing crunch-time minutes instead of Gortat. Against Dallas, Gortat made an alleyoop on the Suns’ first play and then missed all seven of his other shots. The Suns rallied without a center (Jermaine O’Neal after taking an eye poke), as Luis Scola and Markieff Morris teamed for 28 points and 26 rebounds.
Gentry already made one set of moves earlier, putting Morris in for Scola at power forward and Shannon Brown for Jared Dudley at shooting guard. Now Gortat is at 11.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 31.1 minutes, while shooting 52.2 percent, and the Suns are looking at the possibility of turning over the entire front court before the season is a quarter old.
Gentry is saying, according to the Republic, that it is “more than likely” Beasley will be going to the bench, as soon as Saturday against the Clippers and probably in favor of P.J. Tucker, if Tucker is ready after spraining his right knee Thursday. If an accompanying switch comes at center, the options are not as clear. The Suns could go with O’Neal or try to keep playing small with the Scola-Morris pairing that worked well the last game.
On opening night everybody is undefeated and optimistic. But that doesn’t mean some players — young and old — aren’t more under the gun to step forward and establish their place in the league. So we present a couple of fistfuls of guys who need to hit the ground running:
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers – It’s been four seasons now of occasional flashes and teases. Now that Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are simply yellowed pages in the history books, it is time for Batum to be the twin support along with LaMarcus Aldridge that is a bridge to the future. Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard might draw a lot of attention in the backcourt along with fellow newbie Meyers Leonard in the middle, but after getting his big paycheck, Batum must deliver the goods every night.
Michael Beasley, Suns — As Bob Dylan might have sung, how many roads does a man walk down before he’s considered a bust? This is already the third stop on the reclamation tour of the former No. 2 overall pick, and if he can’t succeed in coach Alvin Gentry’s offense-friendly atmosphere in Phoenix, what’s left? Beasley can score. He can rebound. What he has to prove is an ability to keep his head in the game and with the program.
Andrew Bogut, Warriors — There’s virtually nobody in the league that questions his ability as a passer, scorer and defender in the middle. The only question is his durability. It’s been four years since Bogut played more than 69 games in a season and twice he’s managed only 36 and 12. Coming back from a fractured ankle, he missed the entire preseason schedule and only practiced for the first time on Monday. The Warriors need him on the floor to even think of making a run at the playoffs. (more…)
It’s just two weeks from tonight when Miami and Boston resume their blood feud on the occasion of the Heat’s ring ceremony, and then the rebuilt Lakers will take on the Mavericks to close out the TNT doubleheader on opening night.
But that means there is still time for adjustment, improvement, healing and just plain eyeballing players who had something to prove going into training camp. Now midway through the preseason schedule, here’s a six-pack who still bear watching:
Jeremy Lin, Rockets — Nobody expected him to walk in and turn the clock back to the “Linsanity” of last February. But now that he’s been installed as the face of a completely rebuilt team, the Rockets need Lin to play more confidently and effectively than he’s shown in his first four preseason games. The point guard has made just 21.1 percent of his shots, including 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, and averaged 4.7 assists.
“I’m just trying to find my rhythm, find my comfort level again,” Lin said. “I can’t live with this in a season. I have a lot to learn.”
“He’ll have to be better,” said coach Kevin McHale after a particularly dismal effort against the Spurs on Sunday, where Lin made just 1 of 10 shots.
“That’s going to be a thing where he’s going to have to … He’s a young kid. We’re not talking about a 30-year-old guy, 10-year vet. You’re talking about a guy that has 20 starts under his belt.” (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The start of training camp is just days away.
There are 30 teams that believe deep down this is the year they do it. This is the year that it all comes together. This is the year that they win it all again in Miami, finally win it in Oklahoma City or finally break through and make the playoffs in places like Sacramento, Detroit and New Orleans.
The power of positive thinking will be on full display around the league when players convene for the initial stage of the 2012-13 season.
Not all of those hoop dreams will be realized, though, and there will no doubt be teams that are convinced they are prepared to take that next step this season when they simply are not.
But we’re focusing on the positives today, peering into our crystal ball and trying to identify the teams with the goods to make good on whatever promise they’ve shown in recent seasons, Drafts and in the offseasons (in free agency and trades).
There are no guarantees, of course. Injuries and other unforeseen issues can alter the fate of a team at any time.
We’ve checked the radar, though, and the skies are clear for HT’s Five Teams On The Rise … five lottery teams with a chance to move into the realm of playoff contention:
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, 21-45 last season
They were supposed to go away for five or six years after the departure of Lebron James and rebuild quietly. Then Kyrie Irving showed up and forced us all to reconsider. The roster is slowly but surely being fortified to surround a budding star like Irving with a supporting cast capable of making a little playoff noise at some point in the near future.
Anderson Varejao looked like his usual pesky self in London during the Olympics and Tristan Thompson showed significant promise last season as well. They’ll form the foundation of a frontcourt rotation that will include rookie center Tyler Zeller and rugged workman Samardo Samuels.
The only thing that worries us about the Cavaliers is whether or not rookie Dion Waiters is ready to assume his role as Irving’s backcourt sidekick. We were a bit surprised to see him picked where he was in the June Draft, but we were forced to reconsider when a handful of coaches and two league executives we trust gushed about him after the Draft.
Bottom line: With the fearless Irving as the ringleader (he learned from the best in Las Vegas this summer), the Cavaliers have a fighting chance this season.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS, 31-35 last season
Bucks general manager John Hammond was the league’s Executive of the Year in 2010 for a reason. If he believes that the Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings combo is the key to getting this team back to the playoffs, we’ll ride with him. And it’s not like we needed to be convinced. Ellis has always been on our most underrated list and Jennings continues to do his thing without the respect he deserves for the improvements he’s made since entering the league.
Hammond wasn’t afraid to recognize that Andrew Bogut wasn’t the right fit for the franchise, a move that will either look like a disaster or pure genius depending on how things for turn out for Bogut and the Golden State Warriors this season. The Bucks, instead, are opting for the big-man-by-committee approach this season with Sam Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson manning the paint.
Ersan Ilyasova was a bit of a revelation last season and should give Bucks fans another dose of hope about this season and the future of the franchise. It’s not often a team stumbles onto a gem like Ilyasova, an unselfish worker bee who is effective on both ends of the floor with the range to shoot from deep and the size and versatility to guard as many as three different positions.
Bottom line: The pressure is on and Bucks coach Scott Skiles usually does some of his best work in those situations.
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.”