Gentry says Suns “have to find a way to play with Nash off the floor”

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The Suns are off to a 6-12 start, which isn’t exactly where the team hoped or expected to be a little more than a quarter of the way through this lockout-shortened season. The problems certainly can’t be traced back to Steve Nash, who leads the league in assists despite Phoenix playing at a much slower pace than they have in seasons past.

It’s when Nash has headed to the bench to get some rest that things have fallen apart.

Friday’s blowout loss to the Blazers was perhaps the most glaring example of this to date. Phoenix played a solid first quarter on the road, and held a three-point lead when the period came to an end. Then, Nash went out, the reserves managed to score just 9 points in the second, the Blazers were up 14 by halftime, and the rout was on.

“We’ve got to be able to do things with Steve off the floor,” head coach Alvin Gentry said, before his team took the floor against the Grizzlies on Saturday. “We’re up three, then we’re down 14 at the half. We decide to take him out a little early to see if maybe we can get him back in the game earlier, and all of a sudden we’re down 30. We’ve got to be able to do things and compete with him off the floor.”

Gentry changed up the team’s starting lineup and reserve rotations five games ago, but after three straight losses, he is going back to the starting lineup of Nash, Grant Hill, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and Jared Dudley that he used at the beginning of the season. As he searches for the right combinations of players, he lamented the lack of practice time that the compressed 66-game schedule simply doesn’t allow.

“The only thing that I will say is, it’s frustrating to have these things that you need to work on and not have practice time to do it,” Gentry said. “We need the practice time. We have guys that benefit greatly from the practice time, and we just don’t have it.”

Now of course, every team is affected by this. The Suns, though, have an admitted lack of overall top talent, along with some new players who could use the time to learn the team’s offensive strategies in full-speed, teaching situations. But Gentry, at this point,  thinks it would be too taxing on his players to try to trade days off for practices.

“We could have practices, and then we could have a situation where now we’re going to have a two-hour practice or an hour and a half practice or whatever after playing three games in four nights,” Gentry said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense. We try to practice and work as much as we can, but I think you’ve got to be smart about it also. If we’re going to practice and not have everybody there, it doesn’t serve a purpose anyway.”

Nash and Hill likely would be the ones who wouldn’t have their aging frames put through those paces.

We’ll see what changes Gentry has in store for his rotations; if he’s looking to add offense, he’ll need to find more minutes for Hakim Warrick, who’s been consistent when he’s gotten the chance, and Michael Redd, who might be able to provide something, but hasn’t gotten the chance.

Whatever improvements do come will have to come from the second unit. And Gentry knows that.

“Some kind of way, we’ve got to get it to the point where we’re playing with Steve off the floor,” he said. “Because Steve can’t play 48 minutes.”

LeBron James posts photo with Tristan Thompson, sends message to Cavs

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.

Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.

But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.

LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.

However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.

For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.

Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.


Hezonja throws down one-handed dunk in preseason debut

Orlando Magic Introduce 2015 NBA Draft Picks
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Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:

Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.