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.

LaVar Ball confronts wrestler at WWE event (video)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring.

The outspoken father of NBA draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday’s “WWE Raw” at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

During the segment, LaMelo Ball twice used the n-word, which was broadcast over the air. WWE says in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that the language “was not scripted nor reflects WWE’s values.”

For LaVar Ball’s appearance, the ring was decorated with mannequins displaying his Big Baller Brand clothing line. He got in a heated confrontation with WWE wrestler The Miz, and took his shirt off to cheers from the crowd.

Bulls, with Michael Carter-Williams, first team to decline extending qualifying offer to Rookie of the Year

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Just four years ago, Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year.

Now, the Bulls don’t even see a $4,187,599 qualifying offer as worth extending.

David Kaplan of CSN Chicago:

Credit Sam Hinkie for trading Carter-Williams (to the Bucks) at just the right moment, netting the 76ers a valuable Lakers first-round pick that Philadelphia used to trade up for Markelle Fultz. Carter-Williams hasn’t nearly lived up to the typical production of a former Rookie of the Year.

The Bulls got Carter-Williams far cheaper from Milwaukee, for Tony Snell (who had a breakout year with the Bucks). But Carter-Williams continued to regress in Chicago. It’s just hard for a point guard with such a shaky outside shot, and Carter-Williams’ injuries haven’t helped.

With a smorgasbord of point guards that now includes Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne, the Bulls can move on.

Carter-Williams can probably latch on as a backup point guard somewhere. As an unrestricted free agent, teams will have greater comfort pursuing him. But this is a blow for someone with such a big accolade on his résumé.

Celtics’ reported plan: Sign Gordon Hayward, trade for Paul George

AP Photo/George Frey
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The Celtics are trying to sign Gordon Hayward.

They want to trade for Paul George.

It seems those goals are not mutually exclusive.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Boston Celtics are pursuing an aggressive summer plan of sequencing the signing of free agent Gordon Hayward and relinquishing the assets needed to complete a trade for Paul George, league sources told The Vertical.

For salary-cap purposes, Boston wants a Hayward commitment before it can finalize a trade for George and secure the most dynamic free-agent coup in franchise history, league sources said.

For Boston, here’s the hitch: While Indiana believes Boston can offer the best possible package, the Pacers may be unwilling to wait until the start of July free agency on Boston’s timetable and could turn toward making a deal elsewhere for George, league sources told The Vertical.

The Celtics can clear cap space to sign Hayward. They have the ammo to trade for George. They could do both.

But, as covered before, there’s probably not a path to signing Hayward and extending George’s contract.

So, how much would Boston surrender for George on an expiring contract? The risk he walks in a year, particularly for the Lakers, should lower the Celtics’ offer.

Still, Boston could trade for the Pacers star and roll the dice on re-signing him. Playing with Hayward – and Isaiah Thomas and whichever other players the Celtics keep in this arrangement – would be pretty appealing.

Rumor: LeBron James would ‘never’ join Clippers

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The Clippers hired Jerry West, in part, to help lure LeBron James.

But even with LeBron-to-Los Angeles (Clippers or Lakers) rumors swirling, that plan might not even get off the ground.

Mike Wise of The Undefeated on Freddie and Fritz:

I’m going to give you something on this show, and this is breaking news. Nobody else is going to have it.

I got from a very good authority – a very good authority – that LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I can’t tell you who, but I’m going to tell you it’s somebody that knows, and LeBron James will never be a Clipper. I don’t know if that’s because he remembers what the Clippers used to be, or he just doesn’t want to put his lot in there, or he thinks Steve Ballmer is just too animated on the sideline.

He’s never going to be a Clipper. I’m just telling people right now, for your edification. I’m breaking this on the Freddie Coleman and Fitz show.

I don’t believe in “never” in situations like this. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, teams are just laundry. The Clippers can change owners, general managers, coaches, players. LeBron would remain absolutely opposed to joining?

Maybe, but I won’t go that far without knowing his reason for resisting the Clippers. A lot can change between now and 2018, when LeBron can opt out.

One of the Clippers’ biggest selling points was always going to be Chris Paul, LeBron’s close friend. Reading the tea leaves, maybe this is a sign Paul will leave this summer – for the Spurs, Rockets or somewhere else.