Timberwolves Telfair Basketball

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.

Draymond Green: Warriors laughed at Jazz coach Quin Snyder for late timeouts

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After trailing the Warriors by 25 last night, the Jazz cut the deficit to five early in the fourth quarter. Golden State re-inserted starters and pushed lead back to double digits.

Still, Utah coach Quin Snyder called three timeouts in final 1:05 with Utah never closer than seven – a strategy that earned scorn from Draymond Green.

Green, via CSN Bay Area:

“We were laughing at Quinn Snyder who kept calling timeouts,” Draymond told reporters after the game. “Like bro, you’re down 10 with six seconds left, it’s kinda over my man.”

“Just let us go to the restaurant and have a good dinner; just chill,” Draymond added. “That’s what we were laughing at.

The Warriors travelled hundreds of miles to Utah, and the teams battled for hours. What was a few more minutes for the Jazz to maximize their miniscule chance of a comeback? Honestly, I’m surprised how often teams throw in the towel in those situations.

Besides, it was actually an eight-point difference with nine seconds left for Snyder’s final timeout. The Jazz were down just two four-point plays. There was plenty of time for that.

Nine-year veteran Eric Gordon finally chose his team, and he’s clicking with Rockets

AUBURN HILLS, MI - NOVEMBER 21: Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets tires to get a shot off against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 21, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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A New Orleans restricted free agent in 2012, Eric Gordon signed a max offer sheet with the Suns and infamously declared his heart to be in Phoenix.

New Orleans matched anyway.

“I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Gordon said. “I knew they were going to bring me back all along.”

So why make those statements? Why alienate New Orleans fans?

“You just never know what a team might do or not,” Gordon said.

Gordon been around long enough now to know you never know, even when you’re certain you do. But this much he clearly believes: In his ninth NBA season and on the first team he picked, he’s happy with the Rockets.

Gordon was drafted onto the Donald Sterling, pre-Blake Griffin Clippers, who had made the playoffs just four times in the previous 32 years and had developed a reputation for cheapness and disarray. They went 19-63, 29-53 and 32-50 in Gordon’s three years in Los Angeles. Yet he says, “I enjoyed my time there.”

He was traded to New Orleans as the centerpiece of the Clippers’ package for Chris Paul, and he doesn’t look back on his time with the Hornets/Pelicans quite so fondly. “Nobody was on the same page over there,” Gordon said. “It was just different. We had the talent there, and things just didn’t work out.”

Gordon admits he sometimes wonders what would’ve happened if he had gone to the Suns. But they haven’t made the playoffs and are on their fourth coach since his offer sheet. “After looking back on it now, they had a lot of chaos and turmoil there, too,” Gordon said.

So, Houston is a welcome reprieve.

Gordon’s first unrestricted free agency yielded a four-year contract worth more than $52 million. He’s averaging 17.0 points per game, his highest mark in five years. He has been healthy after after missing 173 games in five years with New Orleans. And the Rockets are 15-7, on pace for what would easily be Gordon’s most successful season.

Playing with James Harden and for Mike D’Antoni – whose fondness for Gordon dates back to their gold-medal run with Team USA in the 2010 World Championship – has treated Gordon well. Houston is focused on offense, Gordon’s specialty, and its system accentuates his strengths.

Gordon leads the NBA with seven open 3-pointers per game, which he’s converting at 41.3% clip:

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Notice the other Rockets on that list: Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza. Benefitting from playing alongside Harden – an attention-tracker and willing passer – is not unique.

But Gordon does more than just rely on Harden to get him open shots. Since moving to the bench with Patrick Beverley healthy, Gordon has proven particularly valuable when Harden sits.

Houston scores 118.7 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor, per NBAwowy!. That mark obviously plummets without Harden, one of the NBA’s best offensive players.

Gordon has prevented it from falling too far, though.

He scores more points per 36 minutes (15.5 to 28.5) and does so with a higher true shooting percentage (56.0 to 62.5) from with Harden to without. He also handles more playmaking, increasing his assists per 36 minutes (2.4 to 4.1), though also, disproportionally, his turnovers per 36 minutes (1.5 to 3.6).

Still, Gordon’s effect on the Rockets’ offense without Harden is tremendously positive.

  • Houston’s offensive rating without Harden – with Gordon: 107.7
  • Houston’s offensive rating without Harden – without Gordon: 86.7

Propping up the Rockets’ Harden-less offense has made Gordon an early contender for Sixth Man of the Year. Here are the win-share leaders among eligible players:

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Given voting history, ranking eligible players by points per game is probably more predictive. It’s at least even more flattering to Gordon:

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Lakers guard Lou Williams deserves to be the early favorite for the award. I’m also quite high on Spurs guard Patty Mills.

But Gordon belongs solidly in the mix.

It might not be the stardom the Clippers predicted when they drafted him No. 7 or New Orleans envisioned when it twice acquired him, but at least Gordon is happily contributing to a winner. After so much controversy – both invited (his Suns saga) and uninvited (being part of the Chris Paul trade) – he sounds happy in Houston.

“You just try to stride it out with whatever team you’re on. So, you know, it’s been a unique situation,” Gordon said. “But here, it’s been good.”

Kyle Lowry to critical DeMar DeRozan: ‘Every shot you shoot is a bad shot, analytic-wise’ (video)

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Your reminder that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the best together.

DeRozan was asked about Lowry’s long 3-pointers after the Raptors’ win over the Timberwolves last night.

  • DeRozan: “”Them shots be lucky. … To me, it’s a bad shot.”
  • Lowry (off camera): “Every shot you shoot is a bad shot, analytic-wise.”

That’s not quite what the analytics say, but I won’t let the facts get in the way of a superb diss.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.