NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 2: Ignore the shiny superstars, this one's about the reserves

91 Comments

dudley.pngTim Duncan had 29 points and 10 boards, the Spurs had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1%, and George Hill and Richard Jefferson combined for 32 points (including a 18-10 double-double). It just wasn’t enough. San Antonio made runs and they pressed Phoenix repeatedly, but every lineup the Suns put on the floor had an answer.

Regardless of which five of the Suns — I’m sorry, Los Suns — were on the floor, they were able to compete. Things were looking bright for the Spurs after they racked up a 10-point lead in the game’s first 12 minutes, but from that point on, the Suns simply outworked and outperformed them. Duncan was brilliant, Parker’s game was lethal at times, and the help from RJ and Hill was much-needed, but the Suns really looked the part of the better team on Wednesday night in beating the Spurs 110-102.

Probably because they were the better team. It was Phoenix that was able to persevere despite poor shooting (the Suns’ eFG% was a full seven percentage points below their regular season average) thanks to effort plays (18 offensive rebounds will do wonders), huge three-pointers (Channing Frye and Jason Richardson were especially prolific), and their frequent trips to the free throw line (37 FTAs to the Spurs’ 22). San Antonio may still be something of a powerhouse, but Phoenix clearly wasn’t ready to play the role of the underdog in this series. They’re playing like the 3-seed that they are, and right now it’s a bit too much for the Spurs.

The Suns remain the most deceptively deep team in the playoffs, and Alvin Gentry’s decision to run with a bench unit at times is not at all misguided. Every player off the Phoenix bench plays with an incredible energy, and the unique combination of shooting, defense, hustle, talent, and rebounding among the Suns’ reserves has a tremendous impact on a frequent basis. Frye and Jared Dudley were the heroes this time around, but on Friday it could just as easily be Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic.

The Suns had two essential 17-8 runs, one to start the second quarter and another to start the fourth. Any guess as to which lineup was on the floor for Phoenix? The reserve unit did serious damage in the second, and reprised their roles as gangbusters to start the fourth quarter with the help of Grant Hill. The first run brought a solid San Antonio lead to a measly two points, and the second run gave Phoenix a seven-point edge that the starters would essentially hold for the rest of the game.

Contrast that success with the limited production from the Spurs bench — Tony Parker aside, San Antonio’s reserves scored four points on 28.5% shooting in almost 29 combined minutes — and it’s no wonder why Duncan, Parker, Jefferson, and Hill weren’t enough. The four productive Suns starters (woe is Jarron Collins) just about went point-for-point with the four highest-scoring Spurs, meaning this game really was won in the trenches.

When both teams were looking for a spark, Jared Dudley came up with offensive rebounds and loose balls while Tim Duncan ran on tired legs. Channing Frye shot the lights out while Matt Bonner clanged away open looks. Having a reliable bench is a luxury that few head coaches have in the NBA, but Alvin Gentry is a lucky man. Or really, a man that has done his job over the course of the season in not only recognizing the talent that he had but also in grooming them for situations just like this one both as individual players and as a unit. This did not happen by accident.

If the Suns end up winning two more games, one could look at two of Phoenix’s offensive sequences in the mid-fourth quarter as the series’ defining moments. With Channing Frye as the lone big man on the floor for Phoenix, Tim Duncan was out of his element. He had no one to guard and no way to help. The Suns moved the ball, set screens to force switches, and isolated Grant Hill against Duncan. That was Phoenix’s game plan: they used two straight possessions with the specific purpose of going at one of the greatest defenders of all time.

And it worked. Hill hit two huge jumpers over Duncan, each helping to preserve the Suns’ then-vulnerable lead. The point is not Tim’s decline from his glory days, but just the fact that whereas he was once the matchup nightmare for the Suns, it now seems that the Suns are the problematic matchup for him. All of a sudden it’s the Spurs trying to find a place to put Duncan on defense rather than the Suns desperately searching for someone who can defend him.

He may still get his 29, but apparently Phoenix can live with that. There’s enough scoring and enough depth that it just doesn’t matter. We could be in for a very different series when things shift to San Antonio, but two games into the series, it’s abundantly clear that the Suns are not messing around. This is a dangerous team playing with a lot of confidence, and unless the Spurs pull off the four-wins-in-five-games mini-miracle, they’ll soon be rolling into the Western Conference Finals.       

Before trade, DeMarcus Cousins’ agent said client unlikely to re-sign with new team

Western Conference forward DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings (15) plays during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. The New Orleans Pelicans agreed to acquire Cousins from the Kings on Sunday, the same night the center was playing in the All-Star Game in their arena. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
AP Photo/Max Becherer
2 Comments

DeMarcus Cousins signing a five-year, $209 million contract extension?

That’s out the window with his trade from the Kings to the Pelicans rendering him ineligible to become a designated veteran player.

Which could explain why Cousins’ agent, Jarrinn Akana, was making noise about not re-signing with another team. Dissuading potential suitors and staying in Sacramento was Cousins’ only path to the biggest payday.

Here’s Akana, before the trade was set, via Marc Stein of ESPN:

A straight contract extension next summer makes no sense. The most that could pay Cousins is $92,559,167 over four years ($23,139,792 annually).

If he simply lets his contract expire and re-signs in 2018, a new deal projects to be worth about $179 million (about $36 million annually).

The Pelicans can try for a renegotiation-and-extension, but they would need cap room to raise his 2017-18 salary from $18,063,850 toward his projected max of about $31 million. With significant money due to Anthony Davis, Solomon Hill, Omer AsikE'Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy PondexterDante CunninghamTim FrazierCheick Diallo and, they hope, a re-signed Jrue Holiday, it’s unlikely the Pelicans clear enough room to renegotiate Cousins’ deal.

Cousins is probably headed toward unrestricted free agency in 2018. Then, New Orleans projects to be able to offer about $179 million (about $36 million annually) to another team’s projected max of about $133 million (about $33 million annually).

It’s an advantage, but not a bulletproof one. I think Cousins will be more amenable to re-signing than his agent indicated now that a trade is actually happening, but he could still walk.

This is the risk the Pelicans took.

 

 

Why did Kings get so little for Cousins? Lakers not willing to part with Ingram sign of soft market

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Vlade Divac of Serbia watches during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Back in 2015 there was already a push from people inside the Sacramento Kings organization to move on from the DeMarcus Cousins era. There were groundwork talks with a number of teams, but a lot of rumors circulated around the Lakers, where Jim Buss was trying to land a star for his franchise that would lead to a quick turnaround. While the deal was never finalized, reports had the Lakers offering both their first round picks that year, which became D'Angelo Russell (No. 2) and Larry Nance Jr. (27th), plus a few other pieces.

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive shot the deal down then — as he did with every deal until Sunday night.

By the tine Ranadive came around to the idea of trading Cousins, the market had changed. And dried up. All the Kings landed was last draft’s No. 6 pick Buddy Hield (who Vlade Divac has been higher on than most), the Pelicans pick this draft in the mid-teens, a high second round pick, and some pieces such as Tyreke Evans that are not part of the Kings’ future.

The deal has been widely panned for the Kings, but what they got may well have been the best offer available right now. A lot of teams have concerns about Cousins’ impact on their locker rooms — teams that liked their rosters didn’t want to add drama. Plenty of teams would not talk trade. Also, there is a glut of bigs on the market right now. If teams wanted to give up multiple first-round picks for a center, they could have already because Nets have Brook Lopez on the block — not as talented, but also not a challenge in the locker room. Jahlil Okafor, Tyson Chandler and other centers also are available.

The Kings went back to the Lakers, but when they asked for the young guy the Lakers are highest on, Brandon Ingram, it fell apart, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report added this interesting tidbit about the Kings and Lakers talks in recent days.

Then Buss, in particular, was sorely tempted to shift course yet again Sunday, break from those plans and trade whatever youth it took in the hopes of landing DeMarcus Cousins, according to a team source.

It wasn’t just the Lakers who would not go in big on Cousins.

Calls to Boston found even worse offers, with Danny Ainge worried about Cousins’ impact in the locker room and if they could/would want to retain him. The Booklyn picks were never close to on the table.

Philly is no longer really interested thanks to Joel Embiid (even with the health concerns there).

There were talks with the Suns, but Sacramento didn’t like Brandon Knight as the best player they would get back.

And so it goes down the list, teams were hesitant to give up much and the Kings were left to take the best of bad options. Part of the reason for the Cousins market being dry is that since he is traded, Cousins is no longer eligible for the “designated player” supermax deal, and the difference between what the team that has his Bird rights in 2018 can offer and what other teams can offer is not that great. Which is to say, a lot of teams think they can take a swing at Cousins as a free agent in two summers if they really want him, and they don’t have to give up assets to get him.

The Pelicans were never going to get a seat at the table in those free agent conversations, so trading for him makes a lot of sense for New Orleans.

But for most teams, they were willing to pass. Which left the Kings without good options for a deadline trade.

Of course, what a more stable organization might have done is decide the offers were terrible and hold off on a trade until around the draft or into summer free agency. The deals are not going to get worse, and they might well get a little better. But for whatever reason — concern that Ranadive would change his mind, again? — the Kings moved now.

And that leaves them in a tough spot.

 

Report: Kings expected to waive Matt Barnes to facilitate DeMarcus Cousins trade

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to change their culture.

So, Sacramento is also unsurprisingly dumping the player who allegedly partnered with Cousins nightclub fight: Matt Barnes.

 

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Beyond fitting the Kings’ new vision, the move is necessary, because they have a full roster and are acquiring more players (Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway) than they’re sending out (Cousins and Omri Casspi) in the Pelicans trade.

Barnes, who turns 37 in a couple weeks, is slipping. But he could still add experienced depth to a contender as a 3-and-D wing. (Hello, Cavaliers?)

A hard-nosed player, he’s a great teammate in many ways. And the veterans who comprise contenders would be less likely to be influenced by the ways he’s not — which wasn’t the case in Sacramento.

John Wall, will Wizards made trade deadline move? “I think so,” will seek bench help

2 Comments

Since Dec. 1, the Washington Wizards have been the best team in the East.

That is if you go by their record, which 28-10 since the calendar flipped to December. However, nobody sane thinks the Wizards could beat a healthy Cavaliers teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s fair to ask if they need more help to get by Boston or Toronto just to get a shot at the Cavaliers.

That need for a little more help has led to trade rumors about Washington heading into the trade deadline Thursday (Feb. 23), and John Wall confirmed the team is looking to J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“I think so,” Wall said when asked if he expected president Ernie Grunfeld to make a move as he has done the last several years, and the most recent being for Markieff Morris. “We’re looking at some options to help our bench out. Other than that I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it.”

There are two scenarios for a Wizards trade that get the most traction around the league.

One is to get Lou Williams from the Lakers. This makes sense as a plug-and-play option, Williams is averaging a career-high 18.6 points this season and is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award with his play. He’s a bit of a volume scorer, but that can work well with a sixth man (see Jamal Crawford for example).

The other rumor is Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who brings more size up front (6’8″) but can still shoot the three (35 percent this season). Bogdanovic is averaging 14.2 points per game.

Of course, the question is what the Wizards would have to give up to make these deals happen? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has said the Wizards might well be willing to give up a protected first-round pick in a deal, and that could well be enough to get a trade done (depending upon the exact protections, and the year). That said, the Lakers, in particular, have been hesitant to make a move.

Don’t be shocked if the Wizards make a move at the deadline. This is their best team in a long time, and they want to capitalize on it.