The thing about the Phoenix mythology? The bird does die again.
The Phoenix Suns rose from the ashes this year, returning to the playoffs and not only advancing to the Western Conference Finals, but pushing the Lakers in a competitive series despite their numerous mismatches. So the natural question to ask is “What’s next?”
The answers are not brilliant.
The Suns have one major priority for the summer: re-sign Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s it. The options are pretty simple. They can re-sign Amar’e Stoudemire, keep the most explosive pick and roll duo in the league together, and keep building assets to maintain contention. Or they can let Amar’e go, fill that cap space hole with a stopgap, and start shedding salary to plan for the future, one which most likely won’t feature Grant Hill or Steve Nash.
Re-signing Amar’e won’t be a piece of cake. He was significantly put off by the amount of trade rumors he was forced to endure and knows that his value on the open market has never been higher. he’ll be courted by major market teams with major market salaries, all hoping to add that component in Amar’e that will put them into championship contender.
And while the Suns can pay him the most, are convenient, are “home’ and are emotionally difficult to leave, Stoudemire has to ask himself if it’s the best place to compete for a championship. This season for the Suns was amazing. Terrific. Inspiring. But it was also about the best this core of players can get. Meanwhile the Suns don’t have a first round pick and don’t have the cap room to sign a major player or the assets to trade for one. The only way the Suns become a major force in the playoffs again is if they were to add an All-Star to an already loaded roster. And that just may not be possible.
The Suns proved that you can make the Western Conference Finals with talent, heart, and guts playing a fun, fast paced style of offense and lead it with a bench mob. The Finals proved that team may not be able to win a championship.
The Suns went down swinging. But that still means they went down.
Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.
Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.
Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.
With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.
That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.
Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.
“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”
Lue put it this way.
“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”
While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.
Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.
The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.
Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.
Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.
As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.
If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.
When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.
He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.
What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.
“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”
“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.
Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.
Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.