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Suns GM Lance Blanks talks NBA Draft needs, says team will target perimeter players

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It’s not an understatement to say that the Phoenix Suns face one of the most critical summers in their franchise history. The numerous, difficult decisions that lie ahead may shape not only the way next season turns out, but the next several. And they will largely be made by second-year general manager Lance Blanks.

The organization as a whole seems to be revamping many of its internal operations — from increasing personnel relating to scouting and player development, to looking at its front-office evaluation process. The upcoming NBA Draft will be its first, if not most important test — the latter will come in free agency, of course, where Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and four others on the team’s roster are all unrestricted.

The Draft comes before the free agency period begins, however, so that’s what Blanks wanted to focus on during an informal lunch session with media members on Monday. Blanks was personable and open about the team’s needs during the Q and A portion of the afternoon that lasted a little more than 30 minutes, and began by acknowledging that the Suns need to get younger and better defensively, particularly at the wing positions.

“You look at our roster, we feel that this year, our perimeter is an area that we’d like to add a little youth,” Blanks said. “Whether it be the one (point guard), two (shooting guard) or the three (small forward). We want to inject some youth in that, and when you look at our roster and compare it to the draft, we feel like we’ll be able to do that in a big and impactful way.”

Two of those spots currently feature aging veterans Nash and Hill, and while both are capable of playing at an extremely high level when healthy, they would certainly benefit from having a reduced workload on a nightly basis.

If the talent level available at the wing positions isn’t where the team feels it needs to be by the time the Suns’ 13th pick in the first round comes, Blanks isn’t afraid to look at other options.

“It’s a little bit of both, and somewhat of a sliding scale,” Blanks said, when asked if he philosophically prefers to draft for need, or simply grab the best available player regardless of position. “If you’re at a point in the draft, and it’s not necessarily the player or the position you’re looking for, but the player is so good that it doesn’t matter, then you’d have to go that way. All things being equal, you go with what the need is for the team. You owe that to the fans, the organization, ownership, to your coach to fill that need. It is difficult to find players or have an opportunity to get players that can impact your roster, regardless of how you do it. So whenever there’s an opportunity to fill a need, you want to take advantage of it.”

The plan for the immediate future is for Blanks to attend the upcoming pre-draft camp in Chicago to see and talk to players, before hosting private workouts in Phoenix in the days leading up to the Draft. He expects the team to keep the pick at this point, but acknowledged that given the way last season ended, he’ll have to be open to all opportunities.

“I can tell you that it’s likely we’ll have our pick and keep it,” Blanks said. “Unless there is something unforeseen that I can’t see. With that being said … we didn’t make the playoffs. So we’re not in a position to say there’s nothing that we wouldn’t do. The goal, again, is getting back to being successful, and playing well into the spring. And in order to do that we’ve got to be willing to make change, which we are.”

The needs are many for this Suns team, and wholesale change to the roster before next season seems inevitable. And though free agency talk was set aside for the time being, it’s impossible for the team to assess where it goes from here without taking it into consideration.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.