Steve Nash and the Suns appear to be ready to part ways

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Steve Nash and the Suns handled his last season under contract in Phoenix masterfully. There was no media circus, no trade deadline speculation, and almost nothing in the way of rumors. It made for a peaceful if ultimately unsuccessful year for the Suns, one where Nash carried them as far as he could with a roster where he was forced to either score or create scoring for others on virtually every single possession.

When the season came to an end, it felt as though Nash had played his last game for the Suns — both in terms of the send-off the fans gave him, and in the regular season finale’s postgame press conference.

Now, with free agency set to open Saturday at midnight Eastern time, the things being said by both the Suns and Nash himself would lead you to believe that the player and the organization are preparing to part ways.

In an extensive interview with Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Nash began to sound as though for the first time, playing elsewhere next season is more likely than his returning to Phoenix.

“I would have said even in the middle of (last) season or last year that I would have thought I probably would have stayed in Phoenix forever,” Nash said. “But it’s come to a point now where I’m facing the reality that’s not (the case).”

And the reasons?

“I don’t necessarily feel like they’re determined to keep me,” Nash said. “I think there’s a lot of factors. So, one, I’m not sure they’re determined to keep me, (and) two, there’s other opportunities that are exciting. So I think I have to be open-minded … but at the same time be able to forecast where I’ll be most successful and happiest.”

The topic was also explored by Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, who pointed out that other teams — namely Brooklyn, Dallas, or Toronto — are expected to be willing to offer Nash more money, a longer contract featuring a third year instead of the two the Suns will likely offer, or perhaps both.

Looking at what Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby told the Republic, it appears the organization might be coming to terms with the fact that it wouldn’t be in its best long-term interest to make those same kinds of offers to Nash.

“He (Nash) will have many factors to weigh,” he said. “Candidly, we will have decisions to make. If we can get together and reach a common ground, that’s fine. Regardless of the outcome, the one thing I’m confident about will be that it’ll be handled with grace and dignity on both sides. We’ll see if there is a basis for the relationship to continue that’s best for him and also best for us.”

That’s a far cry from Babby’s stance from this past season that Nash is the “sun, moon, and the stars” of the franchise, isn’t it?

The feeling has been lingering since the end of last season that Nash’s time in Phoenix has come to an end. With free agency upon us, it seems like both he and the organization are finally and publicly acknowledging it.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”