Posts Tagged ‘Suns’

Aching finish can’t hurt Nash’s legacy


VIDEO: Steve Nash to miss entire 2014-15 season with nerve issue

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.


VIDEO:
Relive Steve Nash’s top 10 career assists

He had done it in most every other manner before: back-to-back MVPs, eight-time All-Star, the only player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on 3-pointers and 90 percent from the line four times. That’s two more than Larry Bird and three more than everybody else, third all-time in total assists, first all-time in free-throw percentage with at least 1,200 makes.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a good defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.

The wave of Canadian players into the Draft the last few seasons? That is partly on him, too. Probably not to the extent of the expansion Raptors taking root in Toronto and the expansion Grizzlies in Vancouver. Maybe not even equal to the impact of Vince Carter winning the slam-dunk crown at All-Star weekend 2000 as a Raptor, given the impact of that event on kids and the basketball explosion in Toronto in particular.

But the guy who hadn’t played for a team in Canada since high school became the Nash-ional hero.

There’s Andrew Wiggins. Anthony Bennett. Kelly Olynyk, from British Columbia. Tristan Thompson. Nik Stauskas.

Stauskas was 14 or 15 — he doesn’t remember exactly — and part of a new breed of Canadian kids, the ones who didn’t grow up automatically playing hockey. His AAU coach, Anthony Otto, had known Nash for years and arranged for Stauskas and another prospect, Kevin Zabo, to spend a couple days being tutored by Nash in Phoenix. Two star-struck teenagers, a future Hall of Famer and an empty gym.

“I got a chance to work out with him and see him up close and the fundamentals he had,” Stauskas said. “For me, it was just like, ‘He’s not quick, he’s not strong, he doesn’t have a crazy build or anything and here he is a two-time MVP.’ You’re like, ‘Man, this is possible. If you work hard and do what he does, this is really possible.’ “

There were times Zabo, now at San Diego State, and Stauskas, now a Kings rookie as a lottery pick, stopped their individual work and watched Nash — now also general manager of the Canadian national team —  in another part of the gym, for as long as 20 minutes. Just watching the Suns guard go through drills.

A technician like Nash had that kind of draw. It was hard not to stop and watch him at every opportunity, even when he played with Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal in Phoenix or Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. The chance to watch is almost certainly over as age claims another victim, but the disappointment of the hobbling finish for someone who had earned the right to go out on his terms doesn’t matter to the legacy.

It changes nothing. And everything.

Suns try lineup with three point guards


VIDEO: Suns look to build on momentum from last season

It was probably inevitable the Suns would go there eventually, and exhibition games are the time to push the envelope, so push away. The details just happened to be Thursday night, US Airways Center in Phoenix, 3:12 remaining in the second quarter against the Spurs.

Point guard Goran Dragic, point guard Eric Bledsoe and point guard Isaiah Thomas were used together for the first time and probably not the last. There is no indication it will be a common sighting, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise if coach Jeff Hornacek opts for microball in situations during the regular season, depending on the opponent and whether Phoenix simply needs a burst of energy at that time of the game.

The appeals and drawbacks are obvious: The Suns could force the tempo they like, but would risk getting turned into little more than speed bumps on defense by going 6-foot-3 (Dragic), 6-foot-1 (Bledsoe) and 5-foot-9 (Thomas), not to mention risking injury from getting stepped on. They would have to counter by staying in scramble mode the entire time, trying to force turnovers or get the opponent horribly out of rhythm since playing straight up wouldn’t be much of an option.

The immediate feedback Thursday was an 11-2 run with the Bledsoe-Dragic-Thomas grouping, although that doesn’t really count as evidence of anything, not when it’s against the pseudo-Spurs with three starters and sixth man Manu Ginobili getting the night off or nursing injuries. Coach Gregg Popovich didn’t even make the trip to Phoenix. The actual value for Phoenix was the chance to take the unique lineup out for a test drive to see how all five Suns on the court played off each other, especially the three, in something other than a scrimmage setting.

“We were small but everybody got in and rebounded and we pushed the tempo and the lead just went up,” Bledsoe, who had three defensive boards during the run, told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. “We definitely was having fun out there. Everybody was sharing the ball. I know Isaiah did a great job.”

It’s an adjustment period for all three, and not just if they’re on the court together. Thomas is coming to a new team as a free agent and making his first move as a pro after three seasons with the Kings, Dragic is learning how to play with him, and Bledsoe is back for his first full season after missing 33 games in 2013-14 with a knee injury, with added expectations after re-signing at five years and $70 million. It worked with Dragic and Bledsoe then and it can work with IsaiahDragsoe now, with the same starters as before and Thomas winning Sixth Man of the Year.

Phoenix has three more exhibition games before opening the regular season Oct. 29 at home against the Lakers.

Kerr finally gets his chance with Curry


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew analyzes the transition of Steve Kerr

OAKLAND – They have joked about it for months now, Steve Kerr and Bob Myers, Kerr and Larry Riley, and Kerr and Stephen Curry, over the phone and in person, through the years and over international borders in an outcome so strange it comes with a laugh track.

A little more than five years later, everyone has unexpectedly met here, Kerr as the new Warriors coach, Myers as the general manager and primary recipient of what didn’t happen, Curry as the All-Star point guard, and with Riley still part of the organization as director of scouting. Roles have changed. Lives have changed.

One thing has remained true, though: Kerr has never been so happy to lose.

He was the Suns general manager in June 2009 and wanted Curry in the draft. Badly. There was phone call after phone call between Kerr and Riley, his Warriors counterpart. There were internal conversations among Phoenix management about the risk of trading 26-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 20 points and eight rebounds — and the risk of keeping Stoudemire with free agency a year away and growing health concerns.

The Warriors were very interested, intrigued by the chance to get the known of a proven power forward over the uncertainty of a scoring point guard from mid-major Davidson. They also really liked Curry and, in fact, doubted he would be on the board when Riley picked seventh. Arizona’s Jordan Hill was the fallback, probably for both sides, for the Suns if a deal had been arranged and for Golden State to keep if no deal was in place.

It got close, but never imminent. The Warriors were not going to trade for Stoudemire unless he at least showed strong likelihood of re-signing as a free agent the next summer, and Riley had yet to so much as ask the Suns for permission to have the conversation. And if Golden State and Stoudemire did talk, the result would have been the same. He was not going to commit to anything at that point other than showing up, playing hard and keeping an open mind about the future, an understandable stance that almost certainly would have ended the talks bouncing between Phoenix and Oakland.

Plus, once Blake Griffin (Clippers), Hasheem Thabeet (Grizzlies), James Harden (Thunder) and Tyreke Evans (Kings) were picked and the Timberwolves followed with the infamous Ricky Rubio-Jonny Flynn double dip of points guards at five and six, Curry was still available at seven. Riley’s stance hardened. No longer was it just weighing acquiring Stoudemire as a possible one-season rental while also sending out Andris Biedrins and big salaries as cap balast, it was believing Curry would be special. Riley would be demoted to director of scouting and replaced by Myers in 2012, but also secure a positive place in Golden State history by not biting on the tantalizing lure of an athletic power forward that put up numbers.

The Warriors took Curry seventh and he turned into a star. The Suns kept Stoudemire one more season and 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and played it right to not get into a bidding war with the Knicks in 2010 free agency.

And….

The Warriors ended up hiring Kerr to coach. To coach the entire roster, obviously, but with Curry as the best player and one of the main attractions of choosing Golden State over the option of working for long-time friend and coaching mentor Phil Jackson with the Knicks.

How life could be different if Kerr got his wish in 2009.

“I may not be here,” he said.

It was one of the first things they talked about after Kerr was hired in May, when he was home near San Diego and called Curry on a postseason golf outing in Mexico. Kerr couldn’t bring him to Phoenix, the new coach told his point guard, so Kerr would come to Curry.

“He’s said a couple times, ‘You know, I really wanted him,’ ” said Myers, an agent in 2009. “Obviously any coach that has the opportunity to coach this team, that’s one of the first things mentioned, if not the first, which is, ‘I get an opportunity to coach that guy.’ And not just his talent on the floor, but who he is as a person. It makes perfect sense to me. I’d want to coach him too if I was a coach. We’ve joked around about that.”

Because they can now. Now that Kerr finally has Curry on his side.

Kerr gets the job and coast he wanted


VIDEO: New coach Kerr looks ahead to 2014-15 season

Steve Kerr told Phil Jackson, his former coach with the championship Bulls and the new head of basketball operations in New York, he would coach the Knicks. Basically accepted the job. The contract had to be worked out, obviously no small matter, but Kerr was set for Madison Square Garden.

And then he wasn’t.

The TNT commentator who went to high school near Los Angeles, college at Arizona, previously worked in Phoenix and now lives in San Diego ultimately could not convince himself to be a continent away from his wife and kids. And to hear Kerr tell it, he didn’t have to convince an understanding Jackson. Either way, it became the only opening the Warriors needed.

Golden State grabbed Kerr as its coach. It had a replacement for the fired Mark Jackson and Kerr had an ideal situation of landing his first sideline job with an established, winning team on the West Coast. He had added another twist to his strange road — from unfulfilling years as Suns general manager to enjoying TV work in California, not New York, and the career path he expected after leaving college, before an unexpected playing career and all those championships kept getting in the way.

NBA.com: Did you always know you wanted to be a coach one day or had the plan been to get back into the front office?

Kerr: When I left Phoenix, I never had any desire to get back in the front office.

NBA.com: Why is that?

Kerr: I like being on the court. I enjoyed the job, but you’re never on the court as a GM. You’re always upstairs and talking to agents. It’s a more-corporate position. I’d rather dress like this (T-shirt, shorts) every day to practice, to be honest with you. I like working with players and I like the game itself.

NBA.com: Did you find yourself not liking the GM job in Phoenix?

Kerr: I liked it when we won. We had a great year the last year.

NBA.com: But in general, because that’s going to be the same with almost any job, that you’re going to enjoy it more when you’re winning. But did you find yourself thinking, “This isn’t for me”?

Kerr: I knew when I left after my contract ran out and I decided to go back to TV, I thought that it was a great experience for me but I had no desire to go back and do it. Coaching was much more intriguing to me.

NBA.com: Was that one of the reasons you left, because it just wasn’t fun?

Kerr: Yeah. That was one of the reasons. And a big part of it was family. My kids, all three were high school or below in San Diego. The opportunity to go back to TV and live the good life was there. That meant a lot to me at the time because of the ages of my kids. Now, two of them are in college, one is not too far off from college, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on my home life. It’s just a much better time of my life to pursue this and commit fully.

NBA.com: You had other opportunities before this. Why did this feel right and the other ones didn’t?

Kerr: I had plenty of opportunities. I had probably four or five teams over the last few years (to be a head coach), not necessarily offer me the job but contact me about the possibility. It was very intriguing.

NBA.com: Any that you were offered?

Kerr: No. Without an interview, nobody said, “We’ll give you the job.”

NBA.com: Why not (interview with), “Let’s see where it goes.”

Kerr: Because I knew I wasn’t ready, family-wise mainly. I wanted to be at home for my daughter’s last year of high school, for example. Once she graduated high school, which was a year and a half ago, then I really started to focus on it. But I still had a year on my TV contract, I loved working at TNT, my son and my daughter were both playing college sports, I wanted to be able to go to their games. I was just really enjoying myself. So I figured I’d just wait until the timing was right and not only the timing but the circumstances. So to be here, in Golden State with a team that won 51 games, in a great city, I’m from California, raised in California, with an ownership group that I was familiar with, (Warriors president) Rick Welts a great friend from Phoenix, and a good young roster and my daughter lives two miles away and goes to Berkeley. It’s like ideal.

NBA.com: Did you have to make a Knicks-or-Warriors decision?

Kerr: Yes.

NBA.com: What did that come down to?

Kerr: Everything I just referenced. New York was very intriguing, especially my relationship with Phil and the opportunity he was presenting me, and the Knicks, the franchise itself and the history. But it would have been a really, really difficult situation in terms of the family and being all the way across the country. I just felt better suited to work with these guys here, this younger roster with a more established core. It just felt more comfortable.

NBA.com: How much of it was the Knicks are not in as good a position as the Warriors in terms of being able to win now?

Kerr: The fact that they were in the East and were a year away from cap room was really intriguing. I think the Knicks are a playoff team right now and I think they’re going to get better and I think a year from now they’ll have a chance to make a real splash in free agency. The basketball situation, particularly being aligned with Phil, was very intriguing actually. It much more came down to lifestyle and family and the established roster here. On the flip side, we’re in the West. (He laughs) That was a negative. But can’t do much about that.

NBA.com: How close did you come to taking the Knicks job?

Kerr: I came close. It was very difficult to turn down. Agonizing. I actually at one point told Phil I was going to come, without knowing anything about contracts and without really talking in detail about certain circumstances. At one point I told him, “I’m coming,” but the caveat that we need to hash the rest of this out. And that’s when the Golden State job opened up and that’s when they were able to contact me and I was able to explore it. The timing was weird.

NBA.com: Was it a matter of you were not comfortable with the terms that the Knicks were putting out, the contract itself? Or the time it took to put the contract together, that’s when the Warriors opened and the Warriors slid in?

Kerr: They did. The Warriors did slide in.

NBA.com: Was there any problem with what the Knicks were talking money wise and years wise?

Kerr: No. I had no problem with the money. That was just normal negotiation. A lot of it was figuring out logistics and, like I said, there were some family considerations. And all the while I’m working every other night for TNT, so I never had a chance to actually go to New York and sit down with management. I had dinner with Phil in the city when I was working a Nets game for TNT, but I never had the chance to visit the facility. It was just awkward with the whole process.

NBA.com: Do you second-guess yourself? Do you regret the way you handled it — saying yes, committing to it before things had really been worked out?

Kerr: A little bit. It’s a human thing. Phil couldn’t have been better when I told him I was going to go Golden State.

NBA.com: He didn’t feel burned?

Kerr: Not at all. Because he understood. In fact, he said, “If you had come here and regretted it, it would have been the worst thing for both of us.” That’s why Phil’s Phil. He understands people. In hindsight, it probably would have been best not committing, not saying anything, just saying, “Look, I need to talk to Golden State.” But the timing was an issue on both ends. It was very tricky. Anyway, it all worked out. I think the Knicks ended up with a great coach and Derek (Fisher) and Phil will do well together and I’m happy to be here with (general manager) Bob (Myers) and the team.

NBA.com: Because you two have such a history, was it difficult to tell Phil you were not taking the job?

Kerr: It was agonizing. But his reaction made it a lot easier.

NBA.com: He didn’t try to change your mind by inviting you to do some yoga and meditate over it?

Kerr: I was already doing yoga and meditating over it.

NBA.com: What is the biggest impact you can bring with this team?

Kerr: I think empowering the guys with the real sense of how we can get to our goal.

NBA.com: In terms of the mental? When you talk about empowering, you mean….?

Kerr: First of all, I feel good about my ability to connect with guys and to lead. They’re already a good team. I feel like it’s relatively easy to identify what we have to do to get better and I have a staff in place that is going to give the team every opportunity to do so, especially with (assistant coaches) Ron (Adams) and Alvin (Gentry) and their long-time expertise in this league. I think we have a good plan. Last year’s team won 51 games. As I said, it’s a talented group. I just feel like from here to take the next step they need direction, they need the idea of how we’re going to do this, and that’s what we try to provide.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 23



VIDEO: GameTime: USA Basketball final roster

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA thinks big | Rose looks fine | Birthday boy Kobe takes on the years

No. 1: Size matters to Team USA — While many eyes were on the status of Bulls guard Derrick Rose as Team USA moves closer to the start of the FIBA World Cup next week in Spain, the surprise coming out of Friday night’s final cuts was the inclusion of four big men on the final roster. Our John Schuhmann says that USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo made the decision to go with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee and that will put some pressure on Kyrie Irving, as the only full-time point guard, to hold up and perform as Team USA goes for the gold and a guaranteed berth in the 2016 Olympics:

So the U.S. will have just one full-time point guard — Irving — on the roster, with (Steph) Curry starting at shooting guard and Rose unlikely to play every game. That could be some extra burden on the Cavs’ All-Star, but the USA’s best talent is still in the backcourt and the staff clearly wanted extra depth up front, with Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee backing up Davis, who could see some time at power forward.

The need for three back-up centers is a bit puzzling, especially since Davis will likely rank first or second on the team in minutes played. Two of three back-ups will certainly have limited roles.

But the U.S. may have its sights set on the frontline of Spain, which features Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The hosts are the clear favorites to reach the gold medal game from the other side of the bracket, though they’ll have a tougher road than the Americans.

***

No. 2: Rose plays, survives final cut for World Cup — The whispers and the questions were out there ever since Derrick Rose sat out Wednesday’s warmup game against the Dominican Republic due to “general soreness.” Would he be able to withstand the grueling World Cup schedule? Would he be able to be a team leader for Team USA in Spain? Those questions were answered when Rose played 13 minutes Friday night against Puerto Rico and was named to the 12-man final roster. Chris Strauss of USA Today says that Rose’s presence is welcome in the Team USA locker room:

“Derrick brings something that we don’t have as far as being able to push the ball so fast and get into the paint, and (he’s) so athletic,” USA guard James Harden said. “He made a couple cross-court passes for open threes. He looked phenomenal.”

“I feel very confident about Derrick. I think Derrick feels very confident,” (Mike) Krzyzewski said. “I thought he played great tonight. These guys want to play with him. It’s part of getting back is to be around a group of peers. These guys are his peers who want you to be really good. You’re already really good but if James Harden wants (Curry) to be really good and (Curry) wants Derrick Rose to be really good and Kyrie, it’s a different thing. That’s what we’ve seen over the years and that’s where the brotherhood develops. It’s one of the cool things about what’s happened over the past nine years (of USA Basketball).”

***

No. 3: “Old man” Kobe faces his biggest challenge — Never mind just blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. As he turns 36 Saturday, Kobe Bryant has to confront the stronger winds that surround his comeback from a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times checks with in different members of the Lakers organization and other NBA figures for a look at what to expect from the Black Mamba when training camp opens in just over five weeks:

“Quite honestly, I think we’re going to see a better Kobe Bryant than we’ve seen in the last couple of years because he’s had time to rest and rehabilitate,” said Dr. Alan Beyer, executive director of the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine.

Beyer said Bryant is not at an increased risk to reinjure the areas that sidelined him last season but acknowledged he is more susceptible to injuries associated with advanced basketball age.

Working in Bryant’s favor is an almost maniacal devotion to staying in shape and perfecting every aspect of his game. Coach Byron Scott said he had to tell Bryant to cool it when Bryant talked about wanting to play pickup games nearly two months before the start of training camp.

“I was like, ‘Slow down a little bit, Kobe,’ ” Scott said.

There could be a more awkward conversation in the days ahead. Scott said he had a target number of minutes per game in mind for Bryant — though he would not disclose it publicly and has not discussed it with his best player — intended to keep him fresh for what Scott hopes is a playoff push late in the season.

It could be a hard sell for a player notoriously stubborn about his playing time. Bryant averaged nearly 46 minutes a game in the six games preceding his Achilles’ injury in April 2013 and was on pace to play all 48 minutes against Golden State when his left foot buckled late in the fourth quarter, all in the name of helping the Lakers reach the playoffs.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before the Timberwolves closed the deal with the Cavs to send Kevin Love to Cleveland, the Suns tried to beat the buzzer with an offer of Eric Bledsoe… Everything is different now for Heat rookie Shabazz Napier, getting used to a new league, new team, even a new basketball … It’s not your average day at the beach for Paul Pierce as he gets into shape for his first season as a Wizard.

Top 7 free agents still on the block


VIDEO: Suns GM Ryan McDonough talks about the roster

It’s been just over a week since LeBron James decided to make his celebrated return to Cleveland and that’s when the rest of the dominoes began to fall.

But as the 2014 free agency period moves toward its third week, there are still some valuable pieces to the puzzle that haven’t yet signed for the upcoming season. Here’s a quick look at seven of the most interesting candidates that are still available:

Eric Bledsoe (restricted) – After saying all along that they would match any offer, there is suspicion in some quarters that the Suns might not be willing to go to the limit to keep the 6-foot-2 guard. ESPN has reported that Bledsoe is seeking a max deal of five years, $80 million. But with Kyle Lowry, the other top-level point guard of the crop, already re-signing in Toronto for four years, $48 million, there really is no reason for the Suns to bid against the top of the market until Bledsoe can bring in a higher offer. The candidates to step in are dwindling.

Greg Monroe (restricted) — New Pistons coach and boss Stan Van Gundy went out of the his way at the Orlando summer league to declare he wants to keep the big man in Detroit. First, there is likely the matter of finding a new home for Josh Smith to reassure Monroe that he won’t have to re-live the bad fit of last season’s experience. Monroe has defensive issues that will require him to improve if he’s going to live up to whatever contract he signs. But at 24, optimism abounds.

Evan Turner (unrestricted) — Things certainly didn’t work out for Turner after the mid-season trade that turned him from a mainstay in Philly to a spectator on the bench at Indiana through the playoffs. It never was a good fit in a Pacers lineup that already had Lance Stephenson. But now that Stephenson has flown to Charlotte and with the offensively anemic lineup even more desperate for points, wouldn’t it actually make more sense for him to play in Indiana now? The former No. 2 overall pick in the draft still has much to prove, but he’s young enough to get another chance.

Ray Allen (unrestricted) — Maybe the sweetest shooter who has ever laced up a pair of sneakers in the NBA, the question is only whether the 39-year-old wants to put them on again for a 20th season. It makes no sense for him to go to any team that isn’t in the running for a championship run, where he’s still that perfect designated shooter off the bench. That’s exactly why buddies LeBron James and Mike Miller are twisting his arm and trying to get him to Cleveland.

Jameer Nelson (unrestricted) — He averaged 12.1 points and 7 assists for an Orlando team that was committed to a youth movement last season. After 10 seasons in the league, Nelson is no longer a player to run a team on a full-time basis. But as a decent shooter and playmaker and someone with good leadership skills, he could be a nice fit on team that needs someone to provide solid backup minutes.

Ramon Sessions (unrestricted) – The scoring point guard is just 28 years old and has played on four different teams in the last three seasons alone, so he’s never been in any one spot long enough to put down roots or make a lasting impression. Career numbers (11.7 points, 4.7 assists) say he’s capable of getting the job done as a reserve.

Andray Blatche (unrestricted) — He’s the classic example of the player who benefits from the old adage: You can’t teach height. If Blatche weren’t 6-11 with what seem to be a bundle of physical gifts, he’d have been banished to an outpost in the D-League or overseas by now. Has had his share of off the court problems and is not a particularly good teammate. But as long as he doesn’t shrink like a cheap jersey in the wash, somebody will bring him in a third big man and see if they can tap into that talent.

Injury costs Len another Summer League


VIDEO: Alex Len made an impression in limited action at the 2014 Summer League

LAS VEGAS – He thought the right pinky was jammed or, at worst, dislocated. No big deal. Alex Len simply grabbed it with his left hand, popped the finger back in place and kept playing.

When they took X-rays on site at UNLV to make sure, though, the Suns found Len had actually fractured the finger. One game, and then no more Summer League. No more Summer League for the second year in a row, actually.

Big deal.

It’s only July, leaving enough time to be ready for the start of camp, and it’s only a pinky, when anything is better than another ankle problem, but the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft losing important teaching moments in back-to-back summers is still a blow to his development.

“It was disappointing,” Len said. “I was excited about summer league, to get some playing time, get back playing. To get injured in the first game, it’s not the best news.”

He was hurt when the finger got tangled in a Warriors’ jersey as Len was reaching for the ball in the third quarter Saturday night at Cox Pavilion. Len had played all of 25 minutes.

“This summer league was big for him,” said Mike Longabardi, the Suns assistant running the team here. “We wanted to get him those reps. The only good thing is this was like a freak injury. He should be fine. He’s worked really hard. I think he’ll be OK.”

A year ago, surgery on both ankles cost Len the chance to work out for teams before the draft, then Summer League, and then kept him to limited activities in training camp and slowed the start of his regular season. Len eventually made 42 appearances at just 8.6 minutes per as starting center Miles Plumlee capitalized on the trade from Indiana to Phoenix and the chance to play a lot, turning in a very encouraging 2013-14 of 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 51.7 percent from the field.

“I look at it as a positive,” Len said of the latest injury setback. “I’ll be able to work on my lower play — on my base, work on my legs — and still I can improve my left hand. I’ve just got to take advantage of that.”

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

Uncertainty reigns for ‘Melo, LeBron


VIDEO: ‘Melo has to choose between the Knicks and Lakers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Smoke, mirrors, rumor, innuendo and uncertainty have ruled the day since free agency began for the biggest names on the market.

With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.

The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.

Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.

Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.

With Omer Asik traded and Dwight Howard in need of an elite power forward to play alongside him, the Rockets have turned their attention to trying to pry Bosh away from the Heat while there is continued uncertainty about what LeBron will do. It makes perfect sense for the Rockets — divide and conquer while strengthening their own ranks with yet another All-Star piece .

The dots connect ultimately back to both Carmelo and LeBron in almost every theoretical scenario.

What if the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade went into the process thinking they’d work in concert and allow Riley and the Heat the time needed to work out the details, only to have things change dramatically when it became clear that their individual salary demands and future plans don’t coincide with what the Heat had in mind?

What if the Knicks’ ace in the hole with ‘Melo — that max offer of $129 million that they could offer that no one else could — isn’t enough to keep the face of that franchise in the fold?

That proposed Big Four pipe dream Riley spoke of the week before free agency began appears to be just that for Heat fans, an absolute pipe dream. If the machinations of the past few days aren’t just the hype that comes along with the process for superstars in free agency, keeping the Big Three together could wind up being the real pipe dream.

The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.

If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.

If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.

This growing notion that Anthony is choosing between the Lakers and Knicks means that the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets, Phoenix Suns and anyone else positioning themselves as a suitor for the biggest name(s) on the free-agent market would be wise to move on to their alternate plans.

Finding elite role players willing to sacrifice their monster paydays for the greater good in Miami proved more difficult than probably even Riley imagined, given the uncertainty surrounding James, whose commitment might have sped up the process for Riley and the Heat in regards to their pursuit of guys like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.

They have both agreed to terms on lucrative deals to remain with their respective teams, the Toronto Raptors for Lowry and Washington Wizards for Gortat.

And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.

You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.

2014 Free Agent Fever!


VIDEO: Courting the King has become the most important cause of the free agent summer for many teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The identification, pursuit and securing of the right free agent at the right time can change the destiny of a franchise, when done right.

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng and many others could be the players that help some franchise change its destiny (James, Bosh and Wade have already done so with the Miami Heat four years ago).

We’ll find out just after midnight, when the NBA’s free agent circus begins, where some of these guys are headed. Will the Heat’s Big 3 stick around? Will Anthony or Lowry join them?

It all comes into focus now (and no, the drama kicked off well before 12:01 a.m.) …

***

Choices for the Butler, 9:05 a.m.

LaLa wants Melo in New York, 8:44 a.m.

Jameer Nelson an option in Miami, 8:30 a.m.

A cap increase is neded, 8:23 a.m.

Chibbs Says … LeBron stays put, 8:10 a.m.

#SpursWay, 7:57 a.m.

Everything in Brooklyn is gonna be fine, 7:31 a.m.

Brett Yormark, the Nets’ CEO, says so!

Noah (and Rose?) to recruit ‘Melo in Chicago, 6:30 a.m.

Parsons, Lowry, Deng get plenty of interest, 4 a.m.

Blazers interested in Monroe, 3:40 a.m.

Pau gets plenty of calls, 3 a.m.

Cavs lock up Kyrie Irving with max extension, 1:49 a.m.

A point guard for LeBron?, 1:46 a.m.

Blazers meet with Spencer Hawes, 1:24 a.m. 

Hill not necessarily leaving LA, 1:17 a.m.

Deng emerging as crowd favorite, 1:16 a.m.

This should surprise no one. Deng is arguably the most underrated free agent on the market this summer. (more…)