Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Suns’

Analytics Art: Suns fire coach Hornacek, but core issues remain


VIDEO: NBA TV Update on Jeff Hornacek

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Jeff Hornacek began his NBA head coaching tenure with the Phoenix Suns by guiding the team to a completely unanticipated 48-34 record — finishing second in Coach of the Year voting behind Gregg Popovich as a result. Two years later, after Phoenix lost 19 of 21 games and went 0-4 on their latest road trip, Hornacek was relieved of his coaching duties.

From 48-34 to 39-43 to 14-35 (including two losses against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers), the Suns are in an uncontrollable tailspin. Hornacek was made the scapegoat for the team’s failings, but pressing issues go far beyond the man patrolling the sidelines.

So, how did the desert dwellers get here?

Hornacek’s 48-win squad was led by the two-pronged point guard attack of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. The pair combined to average 38 points, 11.4 assists, 7.9 rebounds and 3.0 steals. Their leadership, combined with the three-point shooting prowess of Gerald Green and Channing Frye, helmed Phoenix’s ship.

From there, however, personnel decisions orchestrated by general manager Ryan McDonough undermined team chemistry within that foundation.

After the season, McDonough acquired Isaiah Thomas via sign-and-trade to a modest four-year, $28 million contract, teaming him up with Dragic-Bledsoe in a point guard lazy Susan. The idea was to roster three reliable floor generals so the two-headed monster in the backcourt wouldn’t have to take a breather.

The move had unintended consequences.

Dragic told MassLive.com’s Jay King the following of the situation last year:

“It was tough. It’s only one ball, so all the point guards, they need the ball so they can create or do something for the team. It was tough because most of the time I was guarding position 3s, too, so that was not my game. But at the same time, you have to sacrifice for the team. I thought I did that, but unfortunately, at the end, that was not me. I was not happy. That’s why we made that decision (to ask for a trade).”

Phoenix ultimately decided to trade Dragic to the Miami Heat, as the addition of Thomas threw a monkey wrench into an already promising situation.

It seemed the Suns were poised to move forward with a new tandem in Thomas and Bledsoe, but Thomas was also traded in a three-team deal that sent the 5-foot-9 guard to Boston. Phoenix then acquired Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks in a separate three-teamer in exchange for the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

Knight was a promising, fringe All-Star with the Bucks, but his brief stint in Phoenix has been marred by injuries thus far — which has prevented him from getting into a steady rhythm.

Knight’s numbers aren’t bad, but his 3-point shooting prowess has regressed since joining the Suns (33.3 percent this year compared to 40.9 percent in 52 games with Milwaukee throughout 2014-15). Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, was named to his first ever All-Star berth this year.

Of course, perhaps the most underrated change occurred when Frye left for the Orlando Magic. As a stretch 5 — a center who can shoot from long range, create necessary spacing for slashing guards and run pick-and-pop sets in the halfcourt — the University of Arizona product held plenty of unsung value. Instead of retaining him (Orlando signed him for four years, $32 million), Phoenix eventually replaced Frye with 33-year-old Tyson Chandler.

The former Defensive Player of the Year was inked to a four-year, $52 million deal — $20 million more than what Orlando paid Frye. Considering Chandler is playing just 23.5 minutes per game and has actually been a net negative on the defensive end, the decision to let Frye walk is tough to justify with hindsight.

Hornacek’s Suns have no doubt played below expectations this year, but past personnel moves and the season-ending knee injury to Bledsoe didn’t help his case. In fact, according to a Twitter poll posed by AZCentral Sports, only 4 percent of voters feel Hornacek deserves the most blame for the Suns’ woes.

These are dark times indeed for the franchise in the Valley of the Sun. It’s fair to assume more changes are coming for an organization in complete disarray.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 22


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Remembering Kobe’s epic game | Van Gundy blasts Pistons’ commitment | Aldridge: Picking Spurs over Suns was ‘very close’

No. 1: Remembering Kobe’s 81-point night — It may seem hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors. ESPN.com’s Arash Markazi has a great oral history on the game, we have an entire section of this website dedicated to Kobe’s career and the Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan, who covered the game that night, provides some great stories from the event, too:

Lawrence Tanter had already witnessed plenty from his courtside view as the Lakers’ public-address announcer.

He was there when the Lakers beat the hated Boston Celtics at the Forum for the 1987 championship. He saw Bryant throw a lob to Shaquille O’Neal in a back-from-the-dead rally in the 2000 playoffs. And he watched the Lakers somehow outlast Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

For Bryant’s 81-point outburst, though, Tanter remembered the pen-on-paper challenge for official scorer and longtime friend John Radcliffe.

“He was having a very difficult time finding room in the boxes on the scorebook to put all these points down that Kobe was scoring,” Tanter said. “It was a tedious effort on his behalf to do that because he’d never faced anything like that either. He just kept going, ‘Man, I’ve got to write smaller.'”

Suddenly, Luke Walton wasn’t the cool, collected guy with the quick wit and stentorian voice.

Long before he became the successful interim head coach of the Golden State Warriors, he was a reserve Lakers forward. A pass-first player his entire career, he asked for an assist from Bryant after the Toronto game.

“It was one of the few times I felt like a fan instead of his teammate. I had him sign a ticket for me after the game,” Walton said. “It was incredible. You look up at the scoreboard and see it at, like, 72 and then 78 and then all of a sudden it says 80, and it looks like the scoreboard is broken. I really didn’t even fully grasp it until I went home and watched it on tape that night.”

Bill Macdonald was the ebullient host of Lakers’ pregame shows for Fox Sports West.

He was asked to step up a bit that night and took the place of Lakers play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers, who was contractually allowed by the team to call three NFLplayoff games, including the NFC championship on radio that day in Seattle.

Macdonald had experience broadcasting other sports, but nothing like the Lakers. Certainly nothing like that night.

“I figured this was going to be the only Laker game I ever broadcast. It didn’t matter to me that it was a nondescript Sunday in January, a bad Laker team against a not-very-good Toronto team,” Macdonald said. “The first half was just awful. The Lakers were horrible. They needed every single one of Kobe’s points in the second half to come back.”

Phil Jackson, a share-the-ball proponent who won 11 championships in 20 seasons as an NBA coach, including five with the Lakers, was complimentary of Bryant’s effort at the time but noted, “it’s not exactly the way you want to have a team win a game.”

He chuckled this week when that quote was read back to him. He did it again when told Bryant’s score by quarter — 14, 12, 27 and 28. And again when reminded of Bryant’s shot total — almost one per minute.

“That’s exhausting,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty amazing. The kid is unbelievable.”

Toronto swingman Jalen Rose was the one who guarded Bryant the most. Maybe it’s a form of psychological self-defense, but rather than dwell on Bryant’s point total, he remembers Bryant’s demeanor.

“Kobe never bumped his chest. He never pointed in the crowd. He never trash-talked,” said Rose, now an ESPN analyst. “If Kobe had behaved like that, he wouldn’t have got to 51, let alone 81, because we would have wanted to physically harm him on the court.”

“The greatest thing about Kobe’s 81-point game was that actually wasn’t his best game to me. His best game was actually against a good team, the Dallas Mavs, when I think he had like 60 in three quarters.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

***

(more…)

Blogtable: What’s ailing the Suns?

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: What’s wrong with Phoenix? | Thoughts on a game at Fenway? | Tougher to officiate in MLB or NBA?



VIDEOGameTime’s experts dig in on why Phoenix is struggling

> Things are getting ugly in Phoenix, where the Suns have lost nine in a row and have fallen out of the playoff picture. Who’s to blame here? The owner? The GM? The millennials?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes. It’s a franchise-wide collapse at all levels. Clearly, everyone in Phoenix went all-in after the surprise 48-win season two years ago, but the moves GM Ryan McDonough made — maxing out Eric Bledsoe, extending the Morris twins, trading Goran Dragic for Brandon Knight, signing Tyson Chandler  haven’t worked, and coach Jeff Hornacek hasn’t reached the players that he does have. (Though I get the Chandler move; the Suns were trying to lure LaMarcus Aldridge by having a center in tow, and it almost worked. Almost.) There are still some good players on the roster in Knight, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker, and I still haven’t given up on Alex Len. But until the Suns move Markieff Morris, they can’t move forward.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Owners are responsible in a buck-stops-here way, whether they embrace it or not. But owners gonna own – the stuff we’re talking about with the Suns mostly is on GM Ryan McDonough. It’s his job to both navigate whatever his owner’s peccadilloes might be while overseeing the basketball operation in a much smarter and disciplined way than Phoenix has shown. If you trade a twin and the one left behind squeals as if they’re conjoined, you move the other one — fast. You don’t fire assistant coaches during a season as any sort of solution. You don’t build your team around a cluster of point guards, none of whom brings much coach-on-the-floor authority to the court. Most of all, you don’t squander the built-in advantages the franchise long has enjoyed and the reputation it built as a “destination” market for NBA players.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: That fact that Robert Sarver blamed millennials was, I think, his latest way of saying, “Look at me! I’m your answer.” The owner is rash, impulsive and wants a champagne team on a beer budget. The move to sign Tyson Chandler as a free agent lure for LaMarcus Aldridge was just plain foolish. Now three seasons in, general manager Ryan McDonough’s analytics-driven building plan has done nothing but player checkers with the roster and now leaving coach Jeff Hornacek dangling. Together they’ve turned Phoenix into a, well, desert.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI thought the millennials are to blame for everything. And the media. In this specific situation, though, it’s the millennials, the media, the front office and the players. Jeff Horncek is on the hook as well because any coach should get credit when things go right and blame when things go wrong, but the problems in Phoenix are more about the roster that was put together and some of the players. That means you, Markieff Morris. It’s amazing to think how the world could have been different if the Suns turned out to be more than unexpected contenders for LaMarcus Aldridge.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThere was nobody to blame a few seasons ago when the Suns won 48 games, but nothing good has happened since, especially the moves made by GM Ryan McDonough. He and the Suns loaded up on point guards, took a project center in the lottery, beefed with the Morris Twins, fell out of favor with Goran Dragic, overpaid for an old Tyson Chandler and can’t stop the bleeding now. There’s plenty of season left to get right, but this team seems headed in reverse.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Hindsight doesn’t look too kindly on the moves the Suns have made in the last year. They got only a late first-round pick in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, a terrific offensive player who’s on a very sensible, long-term contract. On the same day, they downgraded from Goran Dragic to Brandon Knight, to whom they had to give a new contract (which pays him about twice as much as Thomas) this past summer. In that same trade, they sent Philadelphia a fantastic asset (the Lakers pick). Then this summer, they gave Tyson Chandler (who’s been a disappointment) a contract that’s going to pay him $13.6 million when he’s 36 years old. All that points at GM Ryan McDonough, but success and failure in this league start at the top and from all accounts, Robert Sarver has had his hands in most or all of the decisions that have been made.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Let’s do the right thing and spread the blame around to all involved. Robert Sarver dumping the Suns’ problems on millennials, and Markieff Morris in particular, is no way to bridge the generational culture gap that exists in Phoenix right now. The fact is the Suns have swung and missed a few times in the Draft and in free agency. No crime there, it happens to the best franchises. It’s how you handle adversity, from the top down, that tells the real story. And the Suns, starting with Sarver, are handling things horribly. There’s no need to vent, publicly, about your team (full of millennials in a league full of millennials, mind you) being spoiled and whiny and unwilling to roll with a program that hasn’t even produced so much as a single trip to the playoffs. And no, cutting a practice short so the team can go bowling, or any other forced team-bonding tricks will fix what ails this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The coach, GM and owner are always responsible. At the same time, the Suns are going through the inevitable decline that awaits every good team after the great players (Steve Nash et al) are gone. It is – unless you can convince the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to sign on as free agents – the unalterable fact of NBA life that franchises must hit bottom for an extended time before rising up again. It happens everywhere, like a law of gravity, and it makes everyone look bad.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSuns owner Robert Sarver’s statements about social media made him an easy Twitter target, but that doesn’t mean that he was wrong about the dangers of social media. At the same time, that doesn’t have anything to do with a basketball team. After all, there are a lot of millennials on the Golden State Warriors’ roster (heck, even their interim coach is one) and they seem to be doing just fine. The real problem in Phoenix is that their team just isn’t very good. They doubled-down on a strategy that was more of a novelty than anything, and once they accumulated four point guards they basically were wed to the idea. I like the idea of zagging while everyone else is zigging, but at some point you stray so far from the rest of the group that there’s nowhere else to go.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic: Suns ‘always changing something’ | Curry annoyed by shin injury | Hoiberg, Bulls praise Butler’s play | McCollum’s star turn | Davis doesn’t mind criticism from Gentry

No. 1: Dragic questions loyalty of Suns’ front office — Goran Dragic has been in the NBA for eight seasons and spent roughly half of that time as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Although he’s currently on the Miami Heat and spearheading the attack of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, he can look back at his most recent stint in Arizona (2012-15) and see how Phoenix has gone from potential upstart team to one of the league’s worst squads. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Michael Lee, Dragic claims that the Suns were too willing to tinker with a core that seemed primed for success:

Dragic is too concerned with his own adjustments in helping Miami regain a spot among the Eastern Conference elite to be overly consumed with the situation in Phoenix. But he has his own theory for why a franchise that seemed so promising is suddenly foundering, based on his own experience with the Suns.

“It feels like they’re always changing something,” Dragic told Yahoo Sports. “They’re not like Miami, San Antonio, those teams that are really loyal when they find something.”

Dragic still has fond memories of his time in Phoenix – six seasons spread out over two stints – and is especially grateful for the opportunity the Suns provided after he chose to return for his second run with the team. They put the ball in his hands and allowed him to use his jet-ski speed and creative improvisations to earn third-team All-NBA honors during a surprising 48-win season in 2013-14 that now looks more like a mirage with the passing of time.

While claiming “no regrets” about his Suns tenure, Dragic remains disappointed by the ending, which he claims was the result of too much tinkering – primarily at point guard, a position the 6-foot-3 Slovenian had already proven he could handle. Dragic made it work after the team traded for point guard Eric Bledsoe in July 2013 and helped the Suns emerge as that overachieving darling. But Dragic was pushed away further from the ball – and inevitably, the team – the following season, when the Suns added another ball-dominant guard, Isaiah Thomas, in July.

“Me and Bledsoe, we built really great chemistry together, we played well and the whole team did. Everybody expected that we’re going to get some big guys that we thought we needed, but they did another move, they bring in a point guard and it was tough,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I was a little bit frustrated. It was tough, especially for me, because I was playing off the ball all the time, and I was guarding [small forwards]. That was tough for me, but they did what they did.”

The Suns don’t have the NBA’s worst record this season, but they have arguably been the worst team in the league over the past two weeks. Phoenix has lost nine straight games, including a home defeat to Philadelphia and an embarrassing road loss to the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers. During the free fall, Markieff Morris was suspended two games for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek; two of Hornacek’s top assistants were dismissed; and Bledsoe – the team’s best player – sustained a season-ending knee injury.

And on Friday, amid all of that turmoil, the Suns will welcome back Dragic, who noticed the fissures in the structure and got out before the unseemly collapse.

“I always believe when you find some pieces that you leave those pieces [alone]. But then you upgrade the other positions. Like San Antonio is doing. They always have the Big Three, but then it’s a good team. They always find another player at another position, so they’re always good. But that’s not my call,” Dragic told Yahoo, with an uncomfortable chuckle. “I was just there to play basketball. I tried to do my job.”

The Suns used dealing Dragic as a chance to again remake the roster as they got rid of Thomas and used a valuable trade chip – a top-three-protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers – to acquire Brandon Knight at the deadline. They later split up the Morris twins, dealing Marcus to Detroit to clear cap space in a failed attempt to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. And the addition of Tyson Chandler has not yielded much. Dragic is sympathetic to the plight of his former teammates.

“I wish them all the best,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I already went through the season with only [25] wins … and it’s not pretty. Most of the guys, we’re really competitive and you want to win a lot of games. And when you get to that mix where you don’t win [in] like 10 games in a row, that’s really tough. That’s really tough. Everything is worse. In your personal life. Everything. I always say I’m hurting sometimes, have a lot of injuries. But if you win a game, I feel great. But if you lose the game, those injuries, they come up. I don’t know how to explain it, winning is such a unique thing.”

Dragic sought that “unique thing” in Miami, where Pat Riley has built a franchise that has been stable and consistently good over the past two decades, with only four non-playoff seasons during his reign with the organization.

“That’s why I didn’t hesitate to sign in free agency, because they are always on top,” Dragic told Yahoo. “They are always looking at that big picture to win a championship. I still remember that year with the Suns, when we made the [conference finals in 2010]. That was one of the best moments in my career and I want to feel that again, to be in the playoffs and to be a contender.”

*** (more…)

Why Suns have fallen on hard times


VIDEO: The Phoenix Suns shook up their coaching roster

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The Phoenix Suns hit a new low point on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) by losing to the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, 111-104. It marked Phoenix’s fourth straight loss, and Philly’s second win of the season.

Adding injury to insult, point guard Eric Bledsoe suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee after eight minutes of action. He underwent successful surgery, and although initial reports indicated he’d be out approximately six weeks, the Suns officially announced Tuesday that Bledsoe will miss the remainder of the season.

Of course, Bledsoe’s injury is just the latest black mark on Phoenix’s laundry list of problems — issues that began to surface long before its star was felled to the sidelines. The frustrations prompted the organization’s front office to sever ties with assistant coaches Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who led the team to an entirely unexpected 48-34 record in his first season, remains on the hot seat as his Suns are 13 games under .500 combined in the two seasons since.

So, what happened? How did the franchise go from Western Conference upstart to hitting rock bottom?

The Markieff conundrum

While in pursuit of free-agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge during the offseason – who was reportedly deciding between Phoenix and San Antonio – the Suns opted to trade Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Detroit Pistons. The salary dump freed up cap space necessary to chase the former Texas Longhorn, but Aldridge ultimately decided to sign with the Spurs. That move prompted a tailspin in the desert. Up-and-coming power forward Markieff Morris was incensed at the organization for trading his twin brother, Marcus. He even tweeted that his basketball future would not include the colors purple and orange.

Morris eventually backtracked from the tone he struck throughout the summer on Suns media day, saying, “I want to be here,” per AZCentral’s Paul Coro.

With that, it seemed the Morris drama had ended, but he still needed to prove his worth on the court. Through the early stages of 2015-16, the former Kansas Jayhawk has failed miserably to do so.

Morris’ player efficiency rating has tanked all the way down to the single digits – a career-worst 9.2. That PER ranks Morris No. 280 out of 324 qualified players, one slot ahead of teammate P.J. Tucker (Phoenix’s starting small forward).

After evolving into a reliable offensive option who could knock down tough shots from a variety of distances, Morris has regressed dramatically as a scorer.

Unless he’s taking shots at the rim, Morris hasn’t even been able to crack 35 percent shooting from any distance. He’s shooting a woeful 37.9 percent overall, the worst mark of his career.

On top of the ghastly production, Morris was recently suspended two games by the Suns for throwing a towel in the direction of Hornacek. Though the towel toss was deemed “conduct detrimental to the team,” you could argue the poor shooting from Morris has been just as damaging throughout the campaign.

It appears from the outside that the best course of action for both parties is to part ways via trade. At this point, however, Morris’ trade value has diminished to the point where Phoenix would be lucky to get any sort of worthwhile return.

Chandler an ill fit

One of the splashy moves Phoenix made this offseason was signing former Kia Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler to a four-year, $52 million deal. For a team with a lengthy track record of not possessing reliable rim protection, this was a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, Chandler has been a shell of his former self.

In a truly incredible development, Phoenix’s opponents have been far superior offensively when Chandler plays. They score a whopping 13.1 points more per 100 possessions when the 7-foot-1 skyscraper is playing.

And if Chandler isn’t a net positive on defense, there’s virtually no reason for Hornacek to give him added minutes as Chandler has been a non-factor on offense.

Phoenix’s offense is better across the board when Chandler sits. From effective field goal percentage to offensive rating, the Suns are superior scorers without Chandler. They even boast a better rebound rate without him.

Historically, the big man has been a valuable pick-and-roll partner — diving to the hoop off screens and slamming home alley-oops. But without the proper spacing in Phoenix’s offense, defenses simply collapse to prevent those lobs.

In short, Chandler has fit like a square peg in a round hole thus far – a terrible development, because he’ll have three years and approximately $40 million left on his contract after 2015-16.

Bledsoe’s health an issue, too

Bledsoe being ruled out for the remainder of the season is a huge blow to the Suns’ hopes. Although Phoenix was likely going nowhere this season with or without Bledsoe, losing his two-way, on-court impact still stings.

In addition to ranking within the top 10 among all point guards by PER, Bledsoe was one of just four players in the league to average at least 20 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals per contest.

By a multitude of measures, Bledsoe was building a rep as one of the best floor generals in the league.

Given that Bledsoe already underwent a meniscus surgery on his other knee back in 2014, the Suns have to be concerned about his future. If health problems continue to plague Bledsoe, Phoenix will have much bigger concerns than fixing team chemistry in 2015-16.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

***

(more…)

Reports: Sinking Suns fire two assistant coaches

By NBA.com Staff

According to several reports, the struggling Phoenix Suns have fired assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting, and league sources say head coach Jeff Hornacek’s job may also be in jeopardy.

Wojnarowski says the dismissals were opposed by Hornacek, according to league sources, but he has decided to stay on the job.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek.

The Suns have lost 10 of their last 15 games, including an embarrassing 111-104 defeat by the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

 

 

 

 

Bledsoe to have surgery Tuesday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Phoenix Suns announced late Sunday that point guard Eric Bledsoe will have surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The damage was suffered in the Suns’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, adding injury to insult.

This is the third torn meniscus that Bledsoe has suffered in his six-year career, but the other two were on the meniscus in his right knee. In Oct. 2011, Bledsoe had surgery to repair the meniscus and missed almost four months. In Jan. 2014, a piece of the meniscus was removed and he only missed about two months. The Suns haven’t announced a timeframe for his recovery at this point.

Saturday’s loss was seemingly rock bottom for the Suns, who have lost six of their last seven games, playing rather awful on both ends of the floor. Head coach Jeff Hornacek is reportedly on the hot seat, 10 of their next 13 games are against teams currently over .500, and 11 of their next 17 are on the road.

They still have Brandon Knight to run the offense, but they will miss Bledsoe’s defense on the ball. They’ve allowed 107.1 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would rank 28th in the league) with Knight on the floor and Bledsoe on the bench.

Report: Suns’ Hornacek on hot seat

A 7-5 start through the season’s first four weeks apparently hasn’t bought the Phoenix Suns or their head coach, Jeff Hornacek, much rhythm now that Phoenix has fallen in the West standings. A bad 24 hours that started Saturday with a loss to lowly Philadelphia at home and a sprained left knee suffered by guard Eric Bledsoe turned worse with ESPN.com’s report that Hornacek’s job could be in jeopardy. As reported by Marc Stein:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference, with fears growing within the organization that the team is no longer responding to Hornacek.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the marquee offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler. But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening up at 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers in which star guard Eric Bledsoe also exited with a sprained left knee in the second quarter.

The Arizona Republic reported Sunday that Bledsoe is expected to miss “extended time” because of the injury, with results of an MRI exam forthcoming.

“Obviously it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the [Sixers loss]. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

It was Philadelphia’s first road win since last March, as well as the first game of a two-game suspension for Suns forward Markieff Morris, who threw a towel in Hornacek’s direction after being pulled from a home loss Wednesday to 12-18 Denver. Morris has been angling for a trade since the offseason.

“Pretty embarrassing, point blank, period,” Suns forward P.J. Tucker told the Arizona Republic on Saturday night. “If something doesn’t change quick, it could get really ugly, really fast.”

This is the final guaranteed season on Hornacek’s original four-year contract. Questions about his future with the club have been in circulation in coaching circles since the Suns elected not to pick up their team option on Hornacek for 2016-17 entering this season.