Hakim Warrick eyes a bounce-back year for himself and the Suns

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Every NBA team has lofty aspirations by the time training camp rolls around, and it seems that even the league’s holding pattern couldn’t quell the preseason optimism of a particular spokesman for a landlocked team.

The Phoenix Suns aren’t in the best of shape. They haven’t had a chance to make any significant additions to their roster, and are left with the same crew that ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season. There’s a reason, after all, why trading Steve Nash and blowing up the roster is a topic worthy of discussion; without considerable young talent, free agent additions, or even some token change within the roster, there’s no need to even ponder the Suns as a potential contender. They’re firmly entrenched in the middle glut of the Western Conference if they hold on to Nash, and potentially a cellar-dweller if they deal him.

Things aren’t exactly looking up in Phoenix. Yet Hakim Warrick still has his eye on a playoff spot for the Suns, which would be a reasonable, incremental gain for a team that’s lacking in more considerable upward mobility. From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

“We definitely think we can be better. The game of basketball comes down to two or three possessions here or there and we could be a playoff team. As the season went on, we got more comfortable.”

In the first season of a four-year, $17 million contract (the fourth year is a team option), Warrick had his lowest scoring average since his 2005-06 rookie season with Memphis. Warrick, 29, averaged 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds despite averaging 12.1 points over the season’s first 25 games. His playing time of 17.7 minutes per game was also his lowest since he was a rookie.

“I really want to get out there,” Warrick said. “I’m excited to play better because I know I can play better. I didn’t have the season I expected and that I know I can have. I want to go out and prove that I can do better.”

Can Warrick be better this coming season? Perhaps, but not because his production had somehow regressed. Warrick’s per game stats did, as Coro notes, drop a bit, but only because his minutes played per game were the lowest since his rookie year. Warrick was who he always has been: an athlete good for about 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, a flighty defender, and a decent finisher. We saw precisely what we’ve seen from him throughout his career, which is exactly why it would be within reason to expect more. They typical athletic forward may not be expected to make a jump at 28, but for a dunker playing a prominent role alongside Nash? The uptick in field goal percentage was nice (Warrick posted a career-high .511), but Warrick was poised for a more comprehensive improvement by playing with the game’s premier playmaker.

Maybe he’s still due for that bump, or maybe Warrick will return to the NBA court as-is. Regardless, any projected improvement can only take the Suns so far. The team’s problems are more complex than Warrick playing poorly or playing well; until the Suns seriously rethink their roster construction, they’ll have little chance of doing more than sneaking into the playoffs, if the hyper-competitive Western Conference even allows that possibility.

Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

Danny Green tugs down Dennis Schroder’s shorts (video)

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We collectively made a federal case out of J.R. Smith untying shoelaces.

We probably ought to at least question what the heck Danny Green was doing to Dennis Schroder here.

At least Schroder got the last laugh with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Hawks’ win over the Spurs.

Chris Paul says Clippers should play through Lou Williams, which sounds like a slight of Blake Griffin

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After the Clippers’ win over the Rockets last night, Chris Paul didn’t go after Blake Griffin just through a back entrance into the Clippers’ locker room.

He also seemingly went after Griffin in his post-game interview.

Asked to assess playing against his former team, Paul:

They’ve got Lou Will. Lou Will is the guy. You know what I mean? That’s the go-to guy, the guy that they should play through and stuff like that. He having a great year, and he tough. He tough, man.

Williams is having a great year, especially by the standards of career as a solid sub-star. But Griffin is a bona fide star – a tremendously skilled scorer, ball-handler and passer for a power forward. He’s clearly the Clippers’ go-to player when healthy. It’s great Williams stepped up when Griffin was injured, and Williams can run second units while Griffin is healthy. But Griffin is the go-to player.

I can’t read Paul’s intent. Maybe he genuinely disagrees and believes the Clippers should play through Williams. But – given Paul’s nd Griffin’s history and how heated last night’s game was – it sounds as if Paul is just trying to create friction within his former team and take a dig at Griffin. That’d be petty, but… yeah. Nobody would put that past Paul.

NBA Twitter had fun with Rockets, Clippers, secret tunnels

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This Clippers/Rockets story is so perfectly today’s NBA.

It’s not about the game itself (game-related stories draw far fewer eyeballs/traffic than off the court stuff). It involves drama and confrontation between star players with grudges and a guy who forced a trade. And while the players postured, there was never going to be an actual fight and everybody knew it, still the LAPD was called in.

It’s all perfect fodder for Twitter.

Just a quick recap of events. The Clippers win Monday over the Rockets at Staples Center got chippy — Blake Griffin got into it with Mike D’Antoni after running into him, Griffin and Trevor Ariza were ejected after some words where Austin Rivers was involved. After the game, Paul led a group of Warriors — James Harden, Ariza, Gerald Green — down a secret tunnel behind the locker rooms, went to the back door of the Clippers’ locker room and started to confront the Clippers. Except, nothing really happened but a verbal exchange, security broke it up and the LAPD was called in. That last part just about made Shaq fall out of his chair on Inside the NBA.

All this while Clint Capela knocked on the front door of the Clippers locker room and had it shut in his face.

This story was perfect for NBA Twitter, and it had a field day. Including the big names.

Everyone got in on the act.