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Suns training camp notes: High hopes for Telfair, improvement for Lopez, dealing with Pietrus

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The Phoenix Suns are holding training camp in town this week at Grand Canyon University. Here are some notes from Sunday’s morning and evening practice sessions:

– The Suns were without Grant Hill, Sebastian Telfair, and Markieff Morris for their morning practice session, but had them on the floor for the evening session, once Vince Carter cleared waivers on Sunday afternoon. That left the team with only nine players, so Alvin Gentry drafted assistant coach Corey Gaines into duty to fill that 10th spot. So why Gaines, instead of assistant coach and former Suns star Dan Majerle? “We were trying to get a guy that could walk,” Gentry joked.

– Robin Lopez was a disappointment for the Suns last season, his ability to perform dramatically reduced due to injuries that he seemed slow to recover from. It’s a different story early in training camp, however, as Lopez has said he feels great, and has a lot more bounce in his game. Gentry agreed, and likes what he’s seen from him so far. “Without a doubt, you can see that he’s almost completely different than he was last year. I think athletically, even conditioning, I think his overall personality, everything has kind of changed. I do think that he feels like he’s healthy now, that was a major issue last year. He would not ever say that, but I don’t know. It just seems to me that he’s running better, he’s rebounding better, and he’s finishing better. So we’ll just see how that translates into games.”

– Steve Nash is used to having to mentor a new backup point guard in camp, as it’s something he’s done in the majority of his training camps with the Suns. Sebastian Telfair is this season’s new recruit, and Nash spoke briefly about him after Sunday morning’s session: “He’s someone who has a new opportunity, and a chance to, I think, not only have a big contribution for us, but in a way, kind of resurrect his career,” Nash said. “He’ll get a lot of opportunity to grow and learn, and be a big part of our team.”

Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby was optimistic about what Telfair would bring to the team, saying “This is an important spot for him, and I think he sees it that way. This is his chance to really shine and work with Steve. He came into the league with such high expectations, and they’re hard to ever meet those expectations. I think now he’s settled down, he’s mature, and I think we have a chance to catch lightning in a bottle.”

– Zabian Dowdell hasn’t yet participated in camp due to experiencing pain in one of his knees. It’s unfortunate, because Dowdell contributed at times last season, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He’ll still be given that opportunity, to compete for a lead backup guard role. But with Telfair and Shannon Brown now on the roster he’s going to be at least a step or two behind. Steve Nash sympathizes: “I feel bad for Z because he’s just not able to go right now,” Nash said. “And the season’s so short, hopefully he can get up to speed quickly because he did a lot of good things last year.”

– The Suns had a deal in place to send Mickael Pietrus to Toronto for a conditional second round draft pick, but it was cancelled once Pietrus was found to still be ailing from the knee injury which sidelined him for the last 12 regular season games last year. It’s clear the Suns do not want Pietrus on the team this year, yet Babby was diplomatic in discussing the issue on Sunday.

“We had a transaction that we couldn’t consummate, and we’ll keep working at it,” Babby said. “So he’s still part of this team and will be treated with respect as we try to get him healthy.”

Healthy enough to package out of town in another deal, most likely.

– Marcus Landry was invited to Suns camp, and was expected to be there by Sunday at the latest. But Lon Babby said that Landry hasn’t yet received clearance from FIBA to participate, so the Suns are still waiting. Babby expects Landry to be cleared in the next day or so and to have him in camp hopefully early this week.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: Carmelo Anthony probably won’t win NBA championship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim urged Carmelo Anthony to leave the Knicks in 2014. The Syracuse coach suggested the Bulls for his former player.

At the heart of Boeheim’s pitch: He wanted Anthony to win an NBA championship.

Well, Anthony discarded Boeheim’s advice and re-signed with the Knicks. So, Boeheim is predicting the outcome he always predicted if Anthony returned to New York.

Boeheim, via Mike Walters of Syracuse.com:

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title. As a player, all you can do is try to make your team better and every team he’s been on he’s made them a lot better. Denver hadn’t done anything prior to him getting there and he took them into the playoffs. They weren’t going to beat the Lakers or the Spurs. In those years, they won the championship most of the time.

“But he’s always made his team better,” added Boeheim. “It’s obvious. You look back on your total basketball experience and he had a great high school team, he won the NCAA championship and he’s won three gold medals in the Olympics. That’s a pretty good resume.”

This is a classic controversy. Boeheim caused it by being honest.

Anthony probably won’t win a title.

He’s 32, playing for a team with a middling-at-best supporting cast and seems content remaining in New York. His most valuable teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is so young, his prime might not overlap with Anthony’s. The Knicks limited themselves in the next few seasons by guaranteeing 31-year-old Joakim Noah more than $72 million over the next four years.

Most players are unlikely to win another championship. Most of exceptions play for the Warriors. I’m not even sure LeBron James is more likely than not to win another title.

Anthony sure isn’t.

That’s not the end of the world, and as Boeheim – and Anthony – said, Anthony can still have a good résumé. But it has to sting for such a prominent basketball figure in the state of New York and proud Anthony supporter tell the truth so bluntly.

Derrick Rose: Knicks ‘have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare’

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Derrick Rose called the Knicks a super team, which is absurd. When people called the absurd comment absurd, Rose doubled down.

How else can Rose show his absurd confidence in the Knicks?

Rose, via Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports:

I think we have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare.

Let’s give Rose the benefit of the doubt. I think he meant the Knicks are capable of winning each time they take the court, not that they’ll go 82-0.

That’s probably true.

I can’t, today, call any single game on the Knicks’ schedule a guaranteed loss. Sure, some games are harder than others. The Knicks probably won’t win at Golden State in their sixth city in 10 nights. But they could. The Lakers beat the Warriors last season. Anything is possible.

Which is to say the Knicks being capable of winning every game is not rare. Nearly every team – and maybe even every team – can, on August 23, point to each game on its schedule and call it winnable.

But Derrick Rose is gonna Derrick Rose.

Trail Blazers C Festus Ezeli out six weeks after knee injection

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Festus Ezeli #31 of the Golden State Warriors yells to his team during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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At one point, Festus Ezeli was predicted to land $50 million over three years in free agency.

But even in this wild market, injury concerns forced him to settle for just $8.4 million guaranteed from the Trail Blazers.

Their calculated risk isn’t paying off so far.

CSN Northwest:

Portland Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli had his left knee injected with a bone marrow aspirate concentrate and Orthovisc today in Chicago.

The injection, performed by Dr. Brian Cole, is intended to alleviate pain and improve function.

Ezeli will be sidelined for six weeks.

This timeline would have Ezeli out for the beginning of training camp but back well before the regular season begins. Even if this puts Ezeli behind schedule, Portland has center depth in Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis.

The Trail Blazers had to know they couldn’t completely depend on Ezeli to remain healthy.

Still, he’s a rim protector unlike Portland’s other options. The Blazers lose versatility and the ability to play better defense while he’s out.

Lakers contract to pay Yi Jianlian between $250,000 and $8 million next season

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  Draymond Green #14 of the United States defends against Yi Jianlian #11 of China during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition gameat Staples Center on July 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Lakers officially signed former draft bust/Chinese Olympic star Yi Jianlian, but the contract terms were shrouded in mystery.

Some reports said he’d earn the minimum next season. Another said he’d get $8 million.

It’s rare to see such a huge discrepancy, but Yahoo Sports provided some clarity:

  • Cap number: $8 million
  • Guarantee: $250,000
  • Likely incentives:  up to $6,860,877

That means Yi’s base salary on the one-year contract is$1,139,123 – his minimum as someone with five years of NBA experience.

Yi will earn $6,701 per day he’s on the regular-season roster until Jan. 10. Then, his base salary will become fully guaranteed. He can also add to his income by achieving the incentive bonuses in his contract.

With this unconventional deal, the Lakers can waive Yi and potentially be off the hook for significant portions of his salary. But they don’t get cap flexibility unless they waive him before incentives raise his salary. He’ll count $8 million against the cap while he remains under contract.

The big question now: What specifically are Yi’s incentives?