NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs: And now was acknowledged the presence of the Black and Silver Death

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Nash and Suns.pngThe
Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs will meet for the fourth time in
six years, and Steve Nash and friends will try their damnedest to avoid
their fourth elimination in as many tries by the Black and Silver
Death.

You see, some will tell you that the Suns are stylistically doomed to
falter in the playoffs. I disagree. What plagues Phoenix is the very
existence of the San Antonio Spurs, who not only present another foil
for the Suns in these playoffs, but have historically been a bit of a
match-up nightmare.

Phoenix didn’t come up short in the playoffs during the D’Antoni era
because their style wasn’t good enough to win or because their offense
wasn’t superior enough to make up for their defense. Phoenix came up
short because they lost to the Spurs three times in four years, and
their one other opponent? The Avery Johnson-led Mavs, who were
constructed with the Spurs model and who scraped by an Amar’e-less Suns
team thanks to a superhuman performance by Dirk Nowitzki.

That’s all. ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ was deemed a failure by so many
because it failed to capture hardware, but all it really did is fail to
beat the Spurs. Other than that, you’re looking at a wildly successful
team that hit just the wrong opponent.

These Suns may not be those Suns, but Steve Nash is still Steve Nash,
and Amar’e Stoudemire is still Amar’e Stoudemire. I guess he used to be
Amare. Whatever. Those two — along with Leandro Barbosa — who are the
few remnants of the SSoL Suns along with head coach Alvin Gentry (who
was a D’Antoni assistant) will get a shot at revenge. Taking a series
over the Spurs now won’t take back those playoff losses, won’t un-bloody Steve Nash’s nose,
and won’t un-implode the roster that was, but it could go a long way in
restoring some prestige to the careers of Nash and Stoudemire.

Both are considered great players, but ultimately flawed ones; Nash’s
two MVP awards are seen by many as tainted, and Stoudemire as a
phenomenal offensive talent that’s perhaps too preoccupied with himself
(the man once nicknamed himself “Isreal” because his game, well, is
real, and subsequently STAT, for “Standing Tall and Talented,”) to
worry about defense.

There may be a bit of truth to each, but neither flaw compares to the
painfully unfair stigma that goes with being a great player that hasn’t
(note that hasn’t is not the same as can’t) won a
championship. Beating the Spurs won’t bring the Suns a title, but it
could — if only for a moment — cure the franchise of the plague that
marred some of the most terrific teams of this era.

That’s why this series isn’t about the title, and all about titles
past. There are no guarantees the Steve Nash would have led the Suns
all the way to the promised land, but wouldn’t it have been fun to see
him try? The Spurs denied the Suns — and NBA fans everywhere — that
opportunity thanks to their smothering defense, their incredible
talent, and their relentless execution. The hot streak Phoenix rode
with into the playoffs has cooled a bit, but they still enter this
series as the higher seed and rolling defensively.

Whether or not they have the bodies to throw at Tim Duncan or the
perimeter defense to stop Manu Ginobili (paging Grant Hill) remains to
be seen, but perhaps this is the way it was supposed to be. D’Antoni’s
gone, and so are Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Shaquille O’Neal, and the
weight of expectation.

No one expected this level of success from the Suns this year, and
despite their performance, something about Phoenix’s playoff run still
strikes many as improbable. After all, beyond Nash and Amar’e, this
team depends on Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, and Louis Amundson. Goran
Dragic completely turned his career around after a woeful rookie
season. Grant Hill, at 37, is not only a vital offensive cog in the
machine, but their defensive stopper. These Suns carry with them not
only an air of unpredictability, but improbability.

At this point, a series win over the Spurs seems just as improbable.
The match-up problems are still there, and San Antonio looked awfully
good in eliminating Dallas in the first round. However, this series
should be accompanied by one, enduring question: why not? Given
everything Phoenix has been able to accomplish this season, would
toppling the Spurs even qualify as the most surprising? We’re in for a
riveting series, a million storylines, and just as many questions. But
that one question should stand out among many, if only as a reminder of the importance of this season in the Suns-Spurs lore.  

Jazz mitigate loss of Gordon Hayward well, but that’s still a devastating departure

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Jazz traded up to draft a player who is already exceeding expectations.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz made a savvy trade to land a starter before free agency even began.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

The Jazz executed several nice value signings.

But they lost Gordon Hayward.

In what was otherwise a smart offseason, there’s just no way around Utah losing Hayward – a 27-year-old star at the critical wing position. Hayward’s importance to the Jazz is self-evident in the effort to re-sign him – a max offer, a billboard, multiple players flying to San Diego for a final meeting. His departure to the Celtics derails what had been a promising ascension.

Two years ago, the Jazz were the only team with four 25-and-under players – Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood – who posted at least six win shares.

Last year, the Jazz were the only team a pair of 26-and-under players – Hayward and Gobert – who posted at least 10 win shares.

Though Favors’ and Hood’s progress was sidetracked by injury, Utah still made another step forward with Hayward and Gobert becoming All-Star caliber. If Favors and Hood got healthy, they could have joined Hayward and Gobert – and Donovan Mitchel (who was drafted No. 13 this year then impressed in summer league) and Ricky Rubio (who was acquired for just a likely low first-round pick thanks to the Jazz’s excess cap space to close the 2016-17 fiscal year) – in a core that was growing into a legitimate Western Conference power.

Alas, Hayward bolted for Boston, which threatens even more in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz rebounded as well as can be expected. They preemptively got Rubio for just a lottery-protected Thunder pick, allowing them not to re-sign George Hill and deal with the 31-year-olds frequent injury troubles. Mitchell has quickly drawn rave reviews. Thabo Sefolosha ($5.25 million), Jonas Jerebko ($4 million) and Ekpe Udoh ($3.2 million) are all on favorable salaries – and each have unguaranteed seasons tacked on for next year, making their deals even more team-friendly.

Those players could join a deep rotation that already includes Gobert, Favors, Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Dante Exum. And here’s a little secret: Gobert – not Hayward, the team’s lone All-Star – was Utah’s best player last year. The Jazz aren’t falling off the map just yet.

Their defense might be even better. They could win even more than the 51 games they won last year if healthier.

But their offense will suffer without Hayward’s creation (which could hurt their defensive rating, if they’re defending after makes less often), and their ceiling is far lower. Guaranteeing Ingles $50 million during his 30s is probably an overpay that will also limit flexibility, though at least his salary declines annually.

The Jazz did a good job of handling losing a star. But losing a star isn’t good, and I’m grading results.

Offseason grade: D+

Kyrie Irving-LeBron James saga featured in hilarious parody of Eminem’s ‘Stan’ (video)

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What’s going on between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James?

I’ve seen better explanations.

But I haven’t seen more entertaining explanations.

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin expresses interest in buying Rockets

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We’ve seen the flashy names – Beyonce and Hakeem Olajuwon – interested in buying the Rockets.

But what about someone who can actually afford a majority stake?

Mark Berman of Fox 26:

Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin, owner and CEO of Gulf States Toyota and the president and CEO of the Friedkin Group, acknowledged in a statement released to FOX 26 Sports that he is interested in buying the Houston Rockets franchise.

“I’ve expressed interest in exploring the purchase of the Houston Rockets,” Friedkin said in a statement released by his company.

Forbes pegs Friedkin’s net worth worth at $3.1 billion and the Rockets’ value $1.65 billion. So, while he might be able to buy the team outright, it’d likely be a stretch of his assets.

More likely, if Friedkin is serious about purchasing the team, he’ll do so as part of a group. Whether he’d spend enough to be the controlling owner is an open question.

Memphis coach David Fizdale calls confederate monuments in city “unacceptable”

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Confederate President Jefferson Davis has a statue in Memphis. So does Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a man who went on to be one of the early members of — and reportedly the first grand wizard of — the Ku Klux Klan (he would later deny to Congress any involvement with the group). Both men lived in Memphis.

The Memphis City Council voted in 2015 to remove those statues — part of a growing trend nationally to remove Confederate monuments — but it was stopped because the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which denied the request. The city is still fighting that legal battle.

The removal issue has been divisive is Memphis, but in the wake of violence in Charlottesville by white supremacists and Nazis — ostensibly about the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in that city, but really about much more than that — Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out on the issue. He was interviewed as part of the MLK50: Justice through Journalism program, with the translation courtesy The Commercial Appeal‘s Geoff Calkins.

“Fifty years later (Martin Luther King Jr.) is speaking to us from the grave and telling us to stand up to this crap that we’re seeing, that’s festering in our country, that our president has seemed to deem OK and label as equal as people who are fighting for love and fighting hate and bigotry and all of those things. We’ve got to listen to Dr. King. There’s no way, with me being the head coach in the city of Memphis, that I will sit on the sidelines and disgrace his legacy, my grandfather’s legacy, and let somebody destroy something that we built in America that I think can be exemplary.”

“I can’t sit and watch this, not in a city where Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago, where we have, even today in our city a statue of a known Klansman, right here in the beautiful city of Memphis with all these incredibly wonderful people. It’s unacceptable. It will no longer stand. I think you’re seeing it all over America people are not standing for it anymore. It’s a black eye on our history.”

David Fizdale is not known for holding back his feelings — “take that for data!” — and he is spot on here on a far more important issue. Good on him for using his platform and voice to speak out.

These are statues dedicated to men who fought to uphold slavery as an institution, and as a nation that something we fought a war over. The north and the Union Army won the military campaign more than 150 years ago, but we are still fighting the Civil War in this nation in terms of ideals. Fizdale understands that. Removal of those statues is a step in the right direction, away from glorifying an ugly past built on the notion that one man was not equal to another, that one man could own another.

Don’t expect Fizdale to be quiet on this issue. Nor should he be.