San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash discusses his future after playing what feels like his final game with the Suns

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The Suns played the Spurs in the team’s season finale on Wednesday, but the outcome of the game meant less than nothing to either of the participants. With the game taking place in Phoenix, the focus was entirely on Steve Nash, who is an unrestricted free agent heading into next season, and might very well have played his last game as a member of the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix was eliminated from the playoff picture the night before, losing a hard-fought game in Utah where the team was ultimately overmatched. Their fate was sealed, as was that of the visiting Spurs, who had already clinched the one seed in the West.

(The key members of this San Antonio team had no interest in even seeing this game in person; after a full morning practice, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker all caught a plane home to get some rest before the postseason begins.)

What hasn’t yet been determined, and likely won’t be for quite some time, is the team that Nash will be playing for at the beginning of next season. While he’s been as open and honest about his decision-making process as possible, even Nash himself doesn’t know if he’ll be back in Phoenix next season.

The sense, though, is that he won’t be.

Suns fans showed their appreciation for Nash at the beginning of the evening, giving him a huge, much-louder-than-normal cheer during the introduction of starting lineups. But their spontaneous chants for him late in the game were even more meaningful.

The Phoenix faithful began a loud, passionate “We want Steve!” chant with just over five minutes remaining in the game, after Nash had started and played the first eight minutes of the contest, and then the first nine minutes of the third quarter. He appeared to be done for the evening, but as the fans rose to their feet and the chants got louder, Nash eventually subbed in briefly to take a well-deserved curtain call.

After eight years with the franchise, he deserved it. And he was clearly touched by the fans’ gesture, as he spoke thoughtfully about it afterward.

“It was obviously amazing to get that type of reception and support,” Nash said. “It’s very special. It’s not something I asked for or imagined, and to get that type of spontaneous reaction … It’s authentic, the relationship that I thought we had. It really feels special and the fans have been phenomenal and it really meant a lot to me to play in a city like this for as long as I have to feel important to the fans and the community, I just feel like a very lucky guy.”

Nash wasn’t feeling particularly sentimental heading into Wednesday night’s finale — partly because he didn’t have time to think about it, and partly because that’s just not who he is.

“I must admit, I’m not the most sentimental person in the world,” he said. “It’s something I shy away from more than try to soak it up and get emotional. To be honest I really didn’t get a chance to think about it. If this were to be my last game, it’ll be a night I remember and it’ll be an important night for me, but I didn’t get a lot of moments to put that in perspective because we were playing for our lives last night. And coming back in the middle of the night and getting the kids from school and stuff like that, it’s not like you have a lot of time to try and sit around and put your career in perspective.”

Nash has maintained that the idea of returning to Phoenix next season is more than just being polite; it’s a legitimate option. It’s tough to envision, though, given how much the team relied on him to do it all this season, and yet still fell short of making it to the playoffs.

At 38 years of age, it’s no longer reasonable to rely on Nash to be the sole provider of offense for this or any team; he’s going to need some help. I asked Suns head coach Alvin Gentry if it was too much to ask of Nash at this point in his career to carry such a large burden, and he seemed to think that it was.

“You’re right, I don’t think you can ask him to do that,” Gentry said. “I don’t think you can ask him to make all the plays down the stretch, I don’t think you can ask him to be the guy to facilitate all the plays, or make the shot or anything like that. Obviously, he needs help. You can’t do it alone in this league; no one’s ever been able to do it alone, not even Michael Jordan. You have to have other guys that you can continuously count on.”

The Suns, as currently constructed, don’t have anyone who you can continuously count on. The roster needs some serious upgrades if the team is going to compete in the playoffs; among the glaring needs are a reliable scorer who can create their own shots and average in the neighborhood of 20 points per game from either the wing or the low post, and a legitimate big man who can dominate inside — either offensively or defensively. Because at the moment, the Suns have no one who can do that on either end of the floor.

Personnel will certainly be a factor for Nash in determining whether or not to stay in Phoenix, but coaching definitely won’t be. Gentry is a players’ coach and knows how to deal with veterans, and Nash had nothing but positive things to say about the job he did with the talent he was handed this season.

“I think Alvin was unbelievable this year,” Nash said. “Michael Redd was a late signing, he hadn’t played for two years, if I’m not mistaken. So other than Michael Redd, (Grant Hill) and I are the only guys who have really started, and have been NBA starters before. And there were quite a few new guys this year, too. So for Alvin to put all those pieces together, for all our flaws and faults, to put us together and when we were 12-19 not let us quit — because really, we were 12-19 and we didn’t have a lot of answers at that point, either. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get better at this that and the other,’ it was more like, ‘I’m not sure if we’re going to get better at any of this stuff.’ But he wouldn’t let us relent and he was phenomenal. I love playing for Alvin, I think he’s a great coach.”

That’s one thing the Suns have going for them, but there are too many factors going against them that lead you to believe that Nash has played his last game for the Phoenix franchise.

Nash himself is still non-committal, and truly seems open to returning to Phoenix if the pieces fall into place. But no relevant free agent is going to commit to the Suns without assurances that Nash will be back, and Nash won’t come back unless the talent level is upgraded significantly. So at this point, he can’t begin to predict his chances of re-signing in Phoenix.

“Honestly, I have no clue,” Nash said of his chances of staying with the Suns. “I couldn’t predict, I don’t know what the future holds at this point, and I’m actually OK with that. Now is the time to maybe get some distance from it, and try to find a clear perspective on where I am. Until I do that, I couldn’t put a number on it or take a guess on what the chances are that I’ll be back or not.”

Nash may not yet know what he wants. But the scene in Phoenix on Wednesday suggested that his time playing for the Suns has become a thing of the past.

Wesley Matthews: ‘I’m a whole different person’ further removed from injury

DENVER, CO - MARCH 06:  Wesley Matthews #23 of the Dallas Mavericks controls the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 6, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 116-114 in overtime. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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After Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in March 2015, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle preached caution and suggested Matthews could be out until Christmas.

Matthews said he’d play opening night.

Matthews was right.

He played in Dallas’ first game and 77 others last season. The problem: He didn’t play that well. Matthews meandered through arguably his worst pro season.

Matthews, via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

“I’m a whole different person,” the 29-year-old Matthews said. “I’m a whole different player, and I’m really just excited to get out there and show it, and just to be who I know I can be and just to continue to grow. Obviously, it was different coming off of an Achilles (injury) and not having four or five months to prepare and all that stuff, and jumping right into the season being physically able to play every single game and play heavy minutes. It took until about after the All-Star break for me to get my legs back, because I play both ends of the court. And I feel better than when I got hurt.

I’ll need to see it to believe it.

Considering Matthews age, time might not be enough to return his production to pre-injury levels. He did improve after the All-Star break, but not enough to put concern behind him.

The stakes are high for the Mavericks, who still owe Matthews $53,652,528 over the next three years. Not only could Matthews’ decline hinder their ability to win a reasonable amount in Dirk Nowitzki‘s final years, it could limit their inevitable post-Nowitzki rebuild.

Hopefully, Matthews feels as good as he says, but players tend to be overly optimistic in these situations. On the other hand, Matthews backed up his similarly daunting declaration last year.

Report: Nets paid record $3 million to move up 13 spots in draft for Isaiah Whitehead

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Isaiah Whitehead #15 of the Brooklyn Nets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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In 2010, the Thunder paid the Hawks $3 million for the draft rights to No. 31 pick Tibor Pleiss. That, according to Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily, is the most ever paid for a player’s draft rights.

The Nets matched it this year – and they didn’t even get a fresh pick. They just paid to move up 13 spots in the second round.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Nets sent $3 million and the 55th pick (Marcus Paige) to the Utah Jazz for the 42nd pick (Isiah Whitehead)

That’s a sizable commitment to get Whitehead, who has the size and raw skills to thrive at guard in the NBA. He was just so inefficient at Seton Hall, I have major doubts about his approach to the game. It will be up to Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson to refine Whitehead’s style.

If owner Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to pay for that opportunity, good for the Nets. Brooklyn has bought several extra draft picks over the last few years. The Nets don’t have an exceptionally high hit rate on those selections, but every extra swing increases their odds of finding quality contributors – especially important because they dealt away control of so many of their own first-rounders in doomed trades with the Celtics and Hawks.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

Report: Incentive bonuses in Yi Jianlian’s Lakers contract would septuple his salary if he plays 59 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Jianlian Yi #11 of China controls the ball as Nikola Kalinic #10 of Serbia defends during the preliminary round game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Yi Jianlian’s unconventional contract terms with the Lakers had slowly emerged. He’ll earn somewhere between $250,000 and $8 million next season, $1,139,123 just for remaining on the roster through Jan. 10.

But that left a huge sum to unknown incentive bonuses.

Now, they’re known.

Yi can trigger $2,286,959 bonuses for hitting three benchmarks based on games played, according to Basketball Insiders. Here’s the running total for those incentives:

  • 20-39 games played: $2,286,959
  • 40-58 games played: $4,573,918
  • 59+ games played:$6,860,877

Whether or not he plays or is even active, Yi will earn $6,701 each day he’s on the roster from Oct. 25 until Jan. 10 (with a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 in total income). Then, if he’s still on the roster Jan. 10, Yi will lock in another $623,167. That’s his base compensation.

But the bonuses – for actually playing in games – are far more lucrative.

Here’s how Yi’s salary would increase throughout the season, which begins Oct. 25 and ends April 12, if he plays every Lakers game:

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Of course, Yi might not play every game.* So, those three big jumps can be slid back accordingly. The Lakers did well to build Yi’s contract around incentives they have complete control over.

*If Yi doesn’t trigger his first games-played bonus so quickly, his base salary ($6,701 per day) would pass his guaranteed minimum ($250,000) Dec. 1.

The NBA Constitution calls for the trade deadline to be the 17th Thursday of the regular season, which would be Feb. 16 this year – before Yi can earn his third bonus and maybe before he earns one or two. This makes him an intriguing trade chip. Because his cap number will be $8 million throughout the season, he could help fetch a higher-priced player in a trade. Then, the team that acquires him could waive him and pay only what he had earned to date.

But before it gets to that point, Yi will try to fight his way into the rotation.

There’s a lot on the line.