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.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.