NBA Season Preview: Phoenix Suns

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Last season: 40-42, good for 10th place in the West, and six games out of the playoff picture.

Head Coach: Alvin Gentry

Key Departures: Vince Carter was waived by the team and was picked up by Dallas. Aaron Brooks signed to play in China just before the lockout was resolved, and while the Suns still hold his rights as a restricted free agent, he’s not expected back until late this season, if at all.

Mickael Pietrus is an interesting case, still technically on the roster after a trade to send him to Toronto for a second round pick fell through once it was discovered that Pietrus is still hurting from the knee injury that caused him to miss the last 12 games of last season. Don’t expect him to play in Phoenix this year, however, as the Suns will likely look to move him once he is healthy, or possibly even waive him under the team’s amnesty provision.

Key Additions: Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, Ronnie Price, Markieff Morris

Best case scenario: Things stay quiet on the rumor front, Steve Nash plays out the final year of his contract in peace, stays healthy, and the Suns make it back to the postseason.

It’s been extremely quiet in Phoenix on the Steve Nash front, and with good reason. The organization has made it clear that it won’t look to trade Nash before he enters free agency this summer unless he specifically requests it. Nash has said many times that camaraderie and stability are as important to him as anything these days, and ring-chasing doesn’t seem to be his style. That’s not to say the rumors won’t start heating up as the trade deadline approaches, especially if the team begins to believe that Nash may in fact look to bolt in free agency.

But if the team competes for a spot in the postseason as expected, and can manage to keep its roster intact without making big changes to personnel that in turn set the team back in terms of chemistry and on-the-court production, it’s likely that Nash will be content to, at the very least, play out his contract this season.

And that would mean that the circus which has surrounded Chris Paul and Dwight Howard can skip its scheduled stop in Phoenix.

For that to happen: The Suns must get quality minutes from their bench if they’re to keep Nash and Grant Hill fresh for the shorter but more demanding season. Phoenix is a deep team, and the additions of Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, and Ronnie Price should give Alvin Gentry plenty of reasonable options to play while Nash gets more rest than usual, or even some days off entirely during the tougher stretches of the lockout-induced schedule.

More likely the Suns will: It’s possible that the team’s depth won’t be as beneficial as it appears to on paper, and that Nash, while in supreme physical condition now, may break down in the second half of the season due to a combination of high usage and a grueling schedule. That would mean more losses than planned, which might make the front office a little nervous and therefore overly aggressive to try to fix the team’s problems through hasty player personnel decisions.

Simply put, the Suns need to keep their continuity and be wise about Nash’s minutes as the season progresses. If the team can do that, and find some consistency in some other areas, a return to the playoffs is not at all out of the question.

Prediction: 37-29, seventh or eight seed in the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.