Posts Tagged ‘Ryan McDonough’

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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

Morning Shootaround — June 10


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Spurs’ struggles late in Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers delaying coaching hire for LeBron?| Report: Cavs offered Calipari $80M | Various factors helped Fisher become coach | Suns’ brain trust shares bond

No. 1: Report: Lakers delaying coaching search for an Anthony-James push News broke yesterday that ex-Lakers guard Derek Fisher has agreed to become the New York Knicks’ new coach, thus taking a name once thought to be on the Lakers’ list off the market. Los Angeles continues to churn through names and interviews in search of its next coach, but could the delayed/slow search be due to its interest in landing Carmelo Anthony and/or LeBron James in free agency this summer? Sam Amick of USA Today has more:

The slow pace of the Lakers’ coaching search that began April 30 when Mike D’Antoni resigned has been timed deliberately with the upcoming free agency period in the NBA, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Specifically, the idea that the Lakers could beat the odds and land the likes of the Heat’s LeBron James, the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony or any of the other superstars who may be free agents on July 1 has led the Lakers to plod through their process so as to not limit their potential options. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the search.

But how much allure do the Lakers still have after their 27-55 season that was the franchise’s worst since they moved to Los Angeles in 1960? We’ll soon find out.

While it appears highly likely that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will remain with the Heat, the outcome of these Finals is expected to play a part in their decisions. And there is a strong hope outside of Miami — from Los Angeles all the way to New York — that the Spurs can pull off the series win and inspire some of the league’s best players to explore their options elsewhere.

Yet according to two people with knowledge of the situation, Anthony’s part in this fluid free agency situation is worth monitoring as James is known to be interested in eventually playing with his close friend. Anthony also has a player option on his deal for next season (worth $23.5 million), and his connection to James has teams like the Lakers, Knicks and even the Heat wondering whether he may be able to join the four-time NBA MVP. The people requested anonymity because of sensitive nature of free agency talk.

Should some iteration of the Heat’s Big Four decide to head West to join Kobe Bryant and offer the Lakers an instant rebuild, they would be more than welcome to the team that has only three players with guaranteed contracts on their roster for next season (Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre). The Knicks, meanwhile, would love for everyone to delay their plans for one season by opting in only to head for The Big Apple in the summer of 2015 when their payroll drops all the way down to about $17 million.

The reality that the Lakers may not hire a coach until July leaves their candidates in limbo, as they have already interviewed six former head coaches in Byron Scott (New Orleans Hornets, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers), Lionel Hollins (Memphis Grizzlies), Mike Dunleavy (Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers), Kurt Rambis (Minnesota Timberwolves), George Karl (Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Seattle SuperSonics, Bucks, Denver Nuggets) and Alvin Gentry (Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Clippers, Phoenix Suns).

(more…)

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

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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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

Executive of the Year: Ryan McDonough

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: McDonough answers questions from fans

Architects and general contractors hear all the oohs and aahs. Demolition crews just try to get in and get out, completing their gnarly but necessary work without soiling the carpet.

Phoenix’s Ryan McDonough figured to be one of the latter, doing a lot more tear-down than build-up in his first full year as the Suns’ general manager. Only he axed and crowbarred his way to something pretty impressive, winding up as the choice here at Hang Time HQ as the NBA’s 2013-14 Executive of the Year.

Technically, none of us in the media votes for the EOY — that’s done by executives from the 30 teams. But McDonough would get points from anywhere for helping turn the Suns into one of the league’s happiest stories from start nearly to end. Don’t put too much stock in that flameout in the final week. The Suns nearly doubled last season’s victory total (they won only 25 then) and became only the second team to win 48 and miss the postseason since the NBA went to its 16-team format. Their record would have tied for third in the East.

This is a tale of the Suns rising in the West and the role McDonough played. In this year of (cough) “tanking” — more accurately described as avowed rebuilding — Phoenix was supposed to be bottom and center. McDonough made moves to clear the roster, open up salary-cap space and stockpile draft picks, rounding up a coaching staff fresh and upbeat enough to endure the losing without fraying.

Double their victories? Bah. Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged the Suns’ over/under at 21.5, a swoon from last season.

It didn’t take long for Phoenix to make the experts look silly. They won five of their first seven and were 17-10 by Christmas. They topped last year’s victory total before the end of January and were in sixth place a day after the All-Star break.

How did this all come together? Let us count the ways in which McDonough transformed-not-tanked:

  • He hired Jeff Hornacek as a rookie head coach, getting someone who, true, faced no pressure to win and brought a temperament suited to taking the expected lumps. But the former NBA shooting guard had played for and learned from some of the game’s most-innovative coaches – Jerry Sloan in Utah, John MacLeod and Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix, Doug Moe in Philadelphia — synthesizing a strategy from them. Hornacek didn’t need to hitch himself to a franchise/superstar player, getting plenty of whole from the sum of Suns parts. His players feel ownership in the surprising results, while he hasn’t had to wrangle any massive egos.
  • Trading for Eric Bledsoe, though, was a big-time move, worthy of the most ambitious contender. McDonough liked Bledsoe’s rookie contract, sure, but he also liked the prospect of sticking him alongside Goran Dragic in the backcourt. That gave Phoenix maximum playmaking options and the tandem clicked — the Suns were 23-11 when the two started together.
  • Acquiring Bledsoe brought along veteran forward Caron Butler, who was so leery of suffering through a dreary season that he lobbied for and got a trade to … Milwaukee? Worked out OK for Butler eventually (he ended up in Oklahoma City), worked out better for the Suns, who got back backup guard Ish Smith. Smith has been a valuable and speedy reserve.
  • Let’s not forget the future first-round draft pick McDonough got for veteran Luis Scola, another fellow who preferred a backup role on a good team to a starting job with a projected loser. But wait, there was more: the Pacers also sent Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee to Phoenix. Plumlee has been a helpful big, but Green has been reborn — or sold his soul to ol’ Lucifer. The much-traveled wing with the rarely harnessed skills is a top contender to be voted 2013-14′s Most Improved Player.
  • Gifting center Marcin Gortat to Washington, along with Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee for injured Wizards big man Emeka Okafor and a future first-rounder. Everyone knew the prognosis for Okafor — out all season with a herniated disc in his neck — so nothing screamed “tank!” more than McDonough swapping healthy for hurt a few days before Opening Night. Washington has been thrilled with Gortat but you’d have to say he’s been valued there more than he’s been missed in Phoenix. Plumlee has plugged in fine and Gortat’s erasure — along with Jared Dudley‘s, a disappointment with the Clippers — has enabled the Suns to play faster.

McDonough didn’t have his fingerprints on all Phoenix improvements. Dragic is getting all-NBA attention, Markieff Morris earned himself a bunch of Sixth Man votes and Channing Frye might be Comeback Player of the Year if the league hadn’t replaced that with the MIP. All preceded McDonough in Phoenix.

But McDonough has served competing masters, positioning Phoenix well with picks and with money to woo free agents. Shouldn’t be long before our Exec of the Year puts down his crowbar and picks up a scalpel to tweak a team well past the tear-down stage.

The contenders:

Daryl Morey, Houston. Landing Dwight Howard, despite the once-glamorous Lakers’ advantages, was a biggie unto itself. But this darling of the analytics crowd has been wheeling and dealing creatively all along. The Rockets are a playoff handful for any opponent, any round, and might be set up best to take a real run at Carmelo Anthony should the Knicks scorer actually consider leaving New York.

Rod Higgins, Charlotte. Hiring Steve Clifford, another COY contender, was a move that smacked of the Bulls tapping Tom Thibodeau in 2010. Signing Al Jefferson proved to be a bigger win-win, dropping Big Al into the Bobcats’ culture to be a leader and an anchor, while eliciting the best performance of his career.

Neil Olshey, Portland. Did you know that Robin Lopez was going to have a breakthrough season? Or that Mo Williams would prove so effective off the bench behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews? The biggest benefit of those Olshey moves was calming LaMarcus Aldridge, the All-Star power forward who no longer makes noise about exiting.

Danny Ferry, Atlanta. Letting Josh Smith walk while opting instead for Paul Millsap, at a much better value (two years, $19 million vs. Smith’s four years, $54 million), was a heist for Ferry. So was the easy decision to match Jeff Teague‘s offer sheet from Milwaukee at a reasonable price — four years, $32 million — for a full-service point guard without most of Brandon Jennings‘ (three years, $24 million) flaws. Ferry also hired Mike Budenholzer, Gregg Popovich’s former right-hand man with the Spurs.

Masai Ujiri, Toronto. Sometimes it’s addition by subtraction, moving Rudy Gay to Sacramento to get the bump every team apparently does when unloading the skilled forward. And sometimes it’s the move you don’t make at all: Dwane Casey had one of those “expiring contracts” that don’t have much allure among coaches, and the guy who hired him (Bryan Colangelo) got deleted last summer. But Casey’s defensive bent and calm, mature approach were given enough time to pay off in the Atlantic Division crown.

 

Most Improved Player: Gerald Green

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns forward Gerald Green has provided plenty of highlights this season

No question, the Kia Most Improved Player Award is the most difficult of the awards to choose, and consequently the most debatable. It can keep the picker tossing and turning for nights on end.

What exactly are the parameters here? And, frankly, whatever the parameters, there’s a sizable group of guys who certainly seem eligible.

Should Kevin Love, already an All-Star, be under consideration because he missed the majority of last season with a twice broken hand and has come back with the best statistical season of his career? Or is such improvement expected from an establishled All-Star?

What about New Orleans’ second-year forward-center Anthony Davis. What a season he’s had. Except, do we also expect such improvement from the No. 1 overall pick?

Should Suns second-year center Miles Plumlee get a serious look? He’s been a solid starter from Day 1 after sitting for 68 of 82 games as a rookie with Indiana. There’s simply no data for comparison. Or, is that the ultimate comparison?

Electrifying dunk artist, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, has past data to compare, and this season compares remarkably favorably. Then there’s Oklahoma City point guard Reggie Jackson, Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Pheonix’s Goran Dragic.

Speaking of Phoenix, it realistically has four candidates — Plumlee, Dragic, Markieff Morris and Gerald Green.

Wait, stop right there: Green.

Yes. The, lanky 6-foot-8 wing debuted in the league in 2005. Eight years later, he’s rocketed straight out of the blue. That’s improvement.

Green, 28, was the 18th overall pick of the Boston Celtics. After two seasons he was traded to Minnesota, then traded to Houston, waived by Houston, signed by Dallas and out of the league before he turned 24. Out of options in the NBA, he played in Russia for two years and another in China. He came home, played in the NBA D-League and finally got another shot in the NBA in the second half of the 2011-12 lockout season with the Nets.

He played well enough to sign a three-year contract with Eastern Conference power Indiana. He fell out of the rotation last year, and just prior to this season got traded, along with Plumlee and a first-round draft pick, to rebuilding Phoenix.

Poof. Green is legit.

Once a freakish athlete that lacked court awareness, Green still isn’t exactly a textbook on fundamentals, but he is more mature and more in control as he mixes gravity-defying dunks with dribble drives, high-rising mid-range fallaways and deep, deep daggers.

“Gerald Green, if he’s hot, he can score with the best of them in this league,” Mavericks sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki said.

How’s this for scoring: Since the All-Star break, with every game mounting in importance as Phoenix still guns for a playoff spot entering Monday night’s crucial Game No. 81 against Memphis, Green is averaging 19.1 ppg on 45.4 percent shooting overall and 43.1 percent from beyond the arc in 29.6 mpg. His effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) — adjusted to account for 3-pointers being more valuable than 2-pointers) in that span is 54.8 percent.

Green’s season scoring average (15.9 ppg) is more than double what it was last year with the Pacers (7.0). He’s played in all 80 games, starting 47 times in injury situations. In Indiana’s slower, halfcourt-based offense, Green shot 36.6 percent overall and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. Unleashed in first-year coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack, he’s blistering opponents from deep at 40-percent clip, while shooting 44.5 percent overall.

Hornacek has proven to be the perfect coach for Green, patient through mistakes and poor decisions, and always keeping the shooting light green.

“We wanted to go up and down [the floor], and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s,” first-year Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said earlier this season. “And Gerald checked all of those boxes.”

Check.

Five contenders

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The sixth-year center has come of age, leading the league in field-goal percentage (67.5 percent) and rebounds (13.7 per game) — practically doubling his total rebounding from last season (7.2). He’s also averaging a career-best 10.4 ppg.

Goran Dragic, Suns – “The Dragon” has had a brilliant season after making room for fellow point guard Eric Bledsoe. Dragic easily could have been a Western Conference All-Star as he’s been the Suns’ MVP, 20.4 ppg and 5.9 apg while shooting 50.6 percent overall and 41.5 percent from deep.

Markieff Morris, Suns – Also a Sixth Man of the Year Award candidate, averaging career-highs by a wide margin with 13.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg. He’s transformed himself into a dangerous mid-range shooter, making 48.3 percent of his shots, up from 40.7 percent last season and 39.9 percent as a rookie.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers – Who had Stephenson pegged as the league-leader in triple-doubles or the Pacers leading rebounder at 7.2 rpg? He notched his fifth triple-double with Sunday’s 17-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist effort to knock of Oklahoma City to break a triple-double tie with All-Stars Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah.

Reggie Jackson, Thunder – He got his training on the fly during the 2013 postseason. Since then, he’s provided the Thunder with stability and scoring off the bench … and as a starter during Russell Westbrook‘s injuries this season. Jackson is averaging 13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg and 3.9 rpg in 28.5 mpg. He averaged 14.2 mpg last season.

Blogtable: Writing An Ending In Phoenix

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.


Getting Evan | Defensive showdown | The story of the Suns



VIDEO: Phoenix Suns Top 5 Plays of the Week

The Suns have been a great story. Do you see a happy ending in Phoenix?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Suns already have locked up a happy ending to this season, regardless of playoff positioning. They already have won more games than last season, have significantly improved both offensively and defensively (from 29th and 23rd in 2012-13, respectively, to 8th and 14th now), are above .500 on the road and, in Jeff Hornacek, have a keeper and a leading candidate for Coach of the Year. They won’t win their last game unless it’s No. 82 (and they miss the postseason entirely), but Phoenix is way ahead of schedule in the happy department.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A couple of weeks ago I thought they were cruising toward the most surprising playoff berth in years.  But the Warriors have stopped their free fall and, more critically, the Grizzlies have quietly turned around a bad start.  They’re 18-7 in their last 25 games and gaining fast on the last playoff spot in the West. As long as the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph combo stays healthy, the Grizzlies will be the team that squashes the fairytale ending in Phoenix.

Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Even if they slip out of the playoffs by the end of the year, the big picture view can only be seen as a happy ending. Remember, no one thought this team would win 25 games. I do think, however, the Suns will hold on and make the playoffs. It looks like Eric Bledsoe will return soon and that will give the club a big boost heading into the final month of games.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s pretty much impossible not to see one. Barring an epidemic of serious injuries or a 25-game losing streak, the Suns will have accomplished more in about three-fourths of the season than anyone could have imagined. It’s late-February and they’re on pace for the playoffs. The attitude, a big concern for new GM Ryan McDonough when he came in, has been great. A lot of players, some carryovers and some newcomers, improved. Trades and free-agent signings paid off. Jeff Hornacek as coach and McDonough were rookies on the job who performed like veterans. Phoenix would have to work very, very hard to turn that into an unhappy ending.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If you’re talking about a playoff berth, the answer is no (as much as I’d love to see them in the postseason). They have the toughest remaining schedule of the four teams competing for the last three playoff spots in the West, with an absolutely brutal April. And they’re now just a game in the loss column ahead of the Grizzlies, who would have the tiebreaker thanks to a 3-0 head-to-head record so far. Eric Bledsoe’s return would help them defensively, but there’s still no indication of when that return will be. The Suns will have three or four first round picks in this year’s Draft, though. And that could certainly produce a different kind of success.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt depends on what we’re talking about when the words “happy ending” in this case. If it’s simply making the playoff field, yes, I think a “happy ending” is in the offing. That said, the Suns will have to fend off Memphis and Minnesota to hold on to that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff chase. The best part is the Suns seem built for the grind that will come over the next couple of months. They won’t shy away from the fight that is sure to come with trying to hang on to one of those playoff spots. But as long as they remain reasonably healthy, I think they have as good a chance as any team in the mix for that eighth and final playoff spot. The only problem is what you get for bagging that prize … a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: For the Suns, isn’t any ending other than finishing at the bottom of the West a happy ending? Going into this season, I don’t think anyone predicted the Suns would even be hanging around the postseason race, much less in the thick of it with just weeks to go. Hopefully Phoenix fans can appreciate that even if the Suns don’t make the playoffs, they’ve shown that they can win and play hard even when undermanned and outmatched. They’ve still got salary and roster flexibility to play with down the road, but for now, let’s just appreciate what a great ride it’s been for Phoenix this season.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: It depends on the subjective definition of ‘happy’. In many ways, this is already a happy ending for the club: instead of being last in the conference, they have surprised everyone and are currently holding a playoff spot. Their future is secure with young players to build around like Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, the Morris twins, Miles Plumlee, and rookie Alex Len. They have an expiring contract of Emeka Okafor that will clear up cap space and they could have a number of first-round picks in the loaded 2014 draft. As for this season, I see them making the playoffs but losing in the first round. For a team that finished bottom in the West last year, I would consider that and their exciting future a happy ending.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If the definition of happy ending is making the playoffs then yes, they’re a good shot to make it. Currently they’re two games clear of Memphis. If the definition is winning a playoff series then no, I don’t think they can touch any of the top four teams in the West.

Long, Bumpy Road Finally Smooths Out For Former Dunk Champ Gerald Green


VIDEO: Gerald Green has emerged as a solid contributor for the Suns this season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The dunk was so unbelievable that TNT analyst Kenny Smith hyperventilated to broadcast partner Charles Barkley during the 2008 NBA All-Star slam dunk contest.

He blew it out, Chuck!” Smith gasped. “Chuck, he blew it out!

Gerald Green indeed puffed out a candle stuck into a cupcake on the back of the rim. The reigning slam dunk king soared above the cylinder, blew out the flame and flushed the basketball in a single, stunning move.

The joint blew up. Green lapped it up. And for one night, the then-22-year-old Green was no longer just a bench warmer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Green is now days from turning 28, and he has never been happier. He is worlds removed from that sizzling February night in ’08, his cupcake dunk never more meaningless. These days, he is a key contributor for the surprising Phoenix Suns.

The wildly athletic wing wants substance to define the rest of his career, a journey that began as a straight-out-of-high-school phenom, the Boston’s Celtics’ first-round pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.

A rocky NBA start

Gerald Green (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Gerald Green
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Green came out of high school with a remarkable athleticism and a tantalizingly smooth jumper. He was a mostly good-natured but naive kid, a skinny baller from Houston’s southeast side. His dunks soon became the stuff of legend.

Still, Green was incapable of thinking the game beyond a playground level, oblivious to the pressures and demands of the NBA world.

“I always treated basketball when I was younger like a hobby, something I loved to do, something that kind of kept me away from doing something bad or doing something crazy,” Green told NBA.com during a phone conversation on the team’s recent road trip. “It was an extracurricular activity in my life. But once I did it for a living, I still kept treating it as a hobby instead of a job.”

After a forgettable 2008-09 season with the Dallas Mavericks, his fourth NBA team in four years, owner Mark Cuban laid out Green’s essential flaw in front of an audience of NBA executives and basketball writers at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the context of explaining how valuable advanced statistics can be, Cuban turned to fellow panel member and Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and famously said: “We had Gerald Green. You had Green. He does stuff [athletically] that makes you say, ‘Oh My God!’ …  He just doesn’t understand the game of basketball.”

Most NBA executives were in agreement. Green just didn’t get it.

‘The tools to be successful’ now

There is irony today in Cuban’s comment. In ’05, Suns first-year general manager Ryan McDonough was cutting his teeth in the Celtics’ front office. He scouted Green extensively and liked what he saw. Boston drafted Green with the 18th pick overall, but two unimpressive seasons later packaged him in the deal to Minnesota that landed Kevin Garnett.

This summer, McDonough traded forward Luis Scola to Indiana for young center Miles Plumlee and Green.

“The way coach [Jeff] Hornacek and I wanted to play, we wanted to go up and down and try to make the team younger and more athletic and shoot a lot of 3s, and Gerald checked all of those boxes,” McDonough said. “I think he’s proved now that he does have the tools to be successful. It just took him a little while to put it together.”

It doesn’t mean Green’s sharpening basketball IQ is quite Kobe-esque yet. Last week at Minnesota, Green swished a difficult baseline fadeaway in the final seconds, first freeing himself to get the ball and then rising high to release it over the defender. On Monday, he went 2-for-16 in a painful overtime loss at New York to end a disappointing trip at 1-4. (more…)

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns willing to pay Bledsoe | Raptors react to Gay trade | Raptors rolling | Malone tutors Thomas

No. 1: Suns willing to pay Bledsoe – The Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe have a good thing going this season. With Bledsoe at the helm, Phoenix is off to a surprising 19-11 start and would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Suns realize it will cost them to retain Bledsoe during free agency this offseason. But, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPLA.com, they are willing to spend:

“What he’s done so far is what we thought he could do,” [GM Ryan] McDonough said.

But they just didn’t know for sure.

That’s why when it came time to lock Bledsoe into a contract extension, the Oct. 31 deadline passed without a resolution, making Bledsoe a restricted free agent this summer.

“Sometimes that works out and both parties think it’s a good deal for them. Other times it doesn’t,” McDonough said. “Obviously we don’t have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don’t have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we’ll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.”

Whatever it takes?

“Correct,” McDonough said. “Any reasonable offer.

“We have some advantages. We’re able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We’re able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we’re holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric’s had a good experience here so far. He’s played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we’re doing.”

For his part, Bledsoe said he’s fine with the situation.

“I was telling [my agent] over the summer, if the contract doesn’t happen I’m ready to play a full season,” Bledsoe said. “I was confident because I’d worked hard all summer, and I knew that I was going to play a lot more than I did the last three years, so I was ready.”

When that came to bear, Bledsoe said he put the situation out of his mind.

“I’ve just got to play,” he said. “I’m focused. I need to keep moving. I’m not worried about [the contract]. If I get worked up about it, I won’t be focused on the game.”

***

No. 2: Raptors React to Gay Trade — Mostly every NBA player realizes that this league is a business and trades happen. Still, this knowledge does not make receiving the news of a trade any easier for players to hear. NBA-TV Canada offers us a rare look at how the Toronto Raptors reacted to the news of a trade on a recent episode of their series Open Gym (reaction starts around the 10:00 minute mark):

***

No. 3: Raptors RollingThose same Raptors who were shocked to hear about their friends being traded have bounced back just fine. They’ve won five of their last six games and appear to be a rare team in the Eastern Conference who can actually win. And they’re doing it with toughness, a word rarely used to describe the Raptors in recent seasons, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

Once again turning up the intensity, the attention to detail, the effort and the toughness when it came down to winning time, the Raptors rolled in another excellent fourth quarter, holding the Bulls to just four field goals on 24 shots in the final 12 minutes of an 85-79 victory.

They did it in what is becoming typical Raptors fashion: Turning the screws when the game got tight.

“These are the kinds of games you have to play if you’re going to be serious about being a playoff team,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors won for the fifth time in the last six games and seventh time in the last nine.

“We have to play with that kind of toughness, that physicality, if we’re serious about being a playoff team.”

Toughness was the buzzword of the night for a game that at times was barely watchable. There were no moments of sustained offensive flow, no fast breaks or transition baskets; it was tough, hard-nosed, beat-’em-up basketball and the Raptors never retreated an inch.

Digest that for a moment: A team that used to have a reputation for softness more than anything, hit first, hit often, hung around and beat a veteran team at its own game.

“You have to meet their force with force if you’re serious about winning,” said Casey. “We did that and we have to continue to do that and I’m not going to let up. I’m not going to relent from that because that’s who we are, it’s who we’ve got to be. I know, to win in this league you have to be a physical, bad-behind team.”

[Demar] DeRozan was, for one of the few times this season, a non-factor offensively because every time he got near the ball, a second or third defender was there to harass him.

“If I have to be the decoy and that helps the next person on this team get an open shot, I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s at the point now where I know I can score the ball whenever I want, but if they don’t need me to do that at that point in time, then I will do whatever I can, whether it’s rebounding, creating a shot for a teammate or whatever it is to get us a win, that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

That attitude is all-encompassing with this group right now.

“I think the guys in this locker room believe — we believe in each other, we believe in what we’re trying to do,” said Lowry. “I think we know we have a chance to do some things and we can take care of business when times are tough. We’re showing the team camaraderie and spirit that we have, we’re all happy for each other.”

.***

No. 4: Malone Tutors ThomasSacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has proven so far this year that his strong play last season was not just a fluke. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on an impressive 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point. He credits a lot of his success to the relationship he’s established with new head coach Michael Malone. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the lowdown:

The partnership between Michael Malone and Isaiah Thomas continues to develop as the coach consults the point guard on the best ways to improve the Kings.Malone said fixing some of the Kings’ late-game problems comes down to him calling better plays, and that’s where his relationship with Thomas can help.

“Those things take time,” Malone said. “And one thing I like about Isaiah is we’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of dialogue, and he’s open, wants to learn and he’s trying to figure it out. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of going through it and picking the spots for when do I attack.”

Thomas has referenced Malone and himself more often when talking about plays the Kings should run and the best way to get the ball to players. He and Malone spend a lot of time talking about the Kings.

“On flights sitting together, before practice, after practice, we’ve had a lot of conversations,” Malone said. “Before games where we’ve sat and spent whether it’s been 20 minutes, 45 minutes just talking about the game, players, where guys are most effective, where he can pick his spots. We’ve had a number of conversations.”

Malone’s goal is to create synergy between himself and Thomas because he plays most of the minutes at point guard.

“Isaiah’s got to be an extension of me on the court,” Malone said. “He’s got to make sure he’s getting guys looks, know what plays to call, now what matchups he’s going to exploit and how to get those guys going where they’re most effective, and that’s part of his maturation of going from being a scoring guard off the bench to being a playmaking guard.”

Malone said consulting with Thomas or any other player is part of his job and he wants his players’ input.

“I preach trust a lot, and if I don’t trust my players, it’s just a hollow word,’ Malone said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kyle Korver has now hit a three-point shot in 101 straight gamesKevin Garnett went without a field goal for just the second time in his careerKyrie Irving will undergo an MRI on Wednesday after feeling a ‘pop’ in his left knee

ICYMI of The Night: Paul George decided to end 2013 on a strong note with this dunk toward the conclusion of yesterday’s game against the Cavaliers:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Paul George