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.

Phil Jackson to miss Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement Monday

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For one last night, Staples Center will belong to Kobe Bryant on Monday.

Sure, the Warriors are in town to take on the Lakers, but Monday night the Lakers are retiring Kobe Bryant’s numbers — both 8 and 24 — in a halftime ceremony. It’s been the hottest ticket in Los Angeles, with celebrities, luminaries, and regular Lakers fans shelling out a lot of cash to see the Laker legend be honored.

Except, Phil Jackson will not be there, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Jackson has been in touch with Bryant in advance of the ceremony to congratulate him, sources said. But he was unable to travel from his Montana home for the ceremony in Los Angeles.

No reason was given (nor does one need to be made public, that’s between Kobe and Jackson).

Jackson coached Kobe to all five of his NBA titles, and while their relationship had its ups and downs — remember Jackson called out Kobe as almost uncoachable in one of his books — they remain close.

 

Three Things to Know: LeBron James racks up third straight triple-double

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed on Sunday while practicing your ax throwing in Paris

1) LeBron James has third straight triple-double… and sends equality message. Back in the 2008-09 season, LeBron James strung together three consecutive games of triple-doubles, the season he went on to win his first MVP award. Despite 61 career triple-doubles, he hasn’t had a string like that since.

Until now. LeBron put together three again this week, the most recent coming at the expense of the Washington Wizards on Sunday, a team that had no answer for his playmaking skills. James finished the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists. It wasn’t the most efficient LeBron scoring performance of his career (8-of-23 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three, his legs looked a little tired on the back-to-back) and he was playing too much in isolation (nearly twice as many possessions as in pick-and-roll). However, down the stretch he was a fantastic playmaker, finding teammates — such as finding the cutting Jeff Green and Kyle Korver — and doing what it took to lift his team to the 106-99 win (Cleveland’s has won five straight and 18-of-19).

LeBron was also sending a message while playing in our nation’s capital: He wore one black and one white of the LeBron 15s, with the word “Equality” on the back of both of them. Good on LeBron, I love that he has found a voice and is comfortable using it.

2) Cavaliers sticking to plan even if he seems ready: Isaiah Thomas should join Cavaliers after the first of the year. Patience. It’s a virtue. Cleveland’s end game is to have another elite playmaker and scorer on the floor in late May and (hopefully) June, not for Christmas Day (no matter who is on the schedule).

Meaning that despite the face Isaiah Thomas is working out and says he and his injured hip feel ready to return, it will be 2018 before he officially pulls on a Cavaliers jersey and takes the court.

This is the smart play by the Cavaliers, who have racked up enough wins not to need to push him. That said, LeBron is carrying a heavy load — he’s played more minutes than anyone in the league so far, and this is his 15th NBA season — and the Cavaliers need to get him some help and rest so he is fresh for the postseason.

3) Detroit ties a franchise record with 17 made threes in win over Orlando. The Pistons are not exactly a great three-point shooting team: They average a middle-of-the-pack 29.3 attempts per game (31.6 percent of their attempts), but at least hit them at a healthy 38.3 percent clip. Detroit does a good job at least of getting corner threes up and knocking them down.

Sunday they were knocking everything down, hitting 17-of-34 threes to tie a franchise record for the most made threes in a game. Anthony Tolliver led the way (5-of-7 from deep) with Reggie Bullock pitching in 4-of-5.

The Pistons have snapped out of their seven-game losing streak to win three in a row now, including a quality win over the Pacers on the second night of a back-to-back.

Heat forward James Johnson expected to miss 7 to 10 days

AP
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MIAMI (AP) The Miami Heat will be without starting forward James Johnson for at least two games and probably more after bursitis was found in his right ankle.

Johnson left Miami’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday with ankle pain, and an MRI performed Sunday led to the bursitis diagnosis. Johnson is not traveling with the team for its trip for games at Atlanta on Monday and Boston on Wednesday.

The team says Johnson could miss seven to 10 days, which would also mean his status for home games against Dallas on Dec. 22, New Orleans on Dec. 23 and Orlando on Dec. 26 is in some doubt.

Johnson is averaging 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat this season.

LeBron James wears one black, one white LeBron 15 shoes with “Equality” on back (VIDEO)

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LeBron James notched his third-straight triple-double on Sunday, this one coming against the Washington Wizards. But before the game, the story was all about how James was voicing a silent protest — in Washington D.C., no less — by wearing a special version of his shoes.

LeBron took to the floor wearing his LeBron 15s, but this player edition had the word “Equality” on the back of them. James wore one black shoe and one white shoe.

James wore the black versions of this shoe in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opener to start the season.

Via Twitter:

LeBron finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists, and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99.