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.

Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan staying in 2017 NBA draft

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Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan declared for the 2016 NBA draft, struggled at the combine, withdrew, got into great shape, had an All-American sophomore season, declared for the 2017 draft.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Swanigan:

Swanigan is a borderline first-round pick. He has a couple NBA-ready skills the good teams that typically pick late in the first round might covet, but thanks to trades, teams that didn’t win a playoff game this year hold most late first-round picks. They might pick someone with more upside than Swanigan.

Swanigan is a tenacious rebounder, particularly defensively. He has excellent fundamentals, size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) and ability to read the ball, and he crashes through contact to hunt boards.

He’s also a quality post-up player who can finish with either hand and has the passing ability to make that play work.

But Swanigan is slow. NBA teams have become increasingly adept at running plodders like him off the court by dragging them into pick-and-rolls. Even when on the court, he hasn’t protected the rim at satisfactory levels.

Swanigan has overcome his athletic limitations as a rebounder. He hasn’t done so in other facets of defense.

He’s hardly a dinosaur offensively. He made 45% of his 3-pointers last season, and though I’m not confident that will translate to NBA 3-point range (give the small sample and his form), he should be at least a midrange threat.

Swanigan is also just 20, young for a sophomore. He can improve.

But it’s just hard to look past his defensive limitations.

Hawks hire Travis Schlenk as general manager

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The Hawks picked Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk as their next general manager. All that was left was negotiating terms.

That’s done.

Hawks:

The Atlanta Hawks today announced the hiring of Travis Schlenk as General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He will start leading Hawks basketball operations on June 1.

Schlenk worked his way up the latter and helped the Warriors become the envy of every other NBA team. He deserves this opportunity.

But the job won’t be easy.

The Hawks are stuck between two directions. On one side, they have veterans Paul Millsap (a 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whom the owner has basically promised a huge contract) and Dwight Howard (who sounds unhappy). On the other side, they have a youth movement featuring Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Tim Hardaway Jr., who bridges the age groups, is about to enter a potentially tricky restricted free agency.

Keeping the core together offers the upside of a playoff-series victory or two annually, modest outcomes for the cost. But a fragile Atlanta fan base might not tolerate a rebuild.

Schlenk works for owner Tony Ressler, and Ressler sounds committed to maintaining the status quo by keeping Millsap. It’s now Schlenk’s job to execute that vision or convince his boss to approve a different direction.

Potential none-and-done first-rounder Hamidou Diallo returning to Kentucky

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The more I’ve looked into the 2017 NBA draft, the less impressed I’ve become. There are a few bright spots in the first round relative to an average draft – No. 2, 5ish-10ish, 17ish-22ish – but I’m not convinced this is the generationally strong draft it has been touted as.

In the absence of prospects who offer secure promise, why not turn to upside? Hamidou Diallo offered plenty and was increasingly viewed as a first-rounder.

Yet, he’ll return to Kentucky for his freshman season.

Diallo:

A highly ranked recruit, Diallo began last school year at a prep school then enrolled at Kentucky for the spring semester. He practiced with the Wildcats, but never played.

Then, he went to the combine and posted excellent measurables: 6-foot-5, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 44.5-inch vertical and strong agility and sprint scores. Just 18, Diallo might have been the second-youngest player drafted this year (behind only Ike Anigbogu).

It wouldn’t have taken long – likely somewhere in the middle of the first round – for a team to bite on all that potential.

Instead, Diallo returns to Kentucky and must now show his ability to actually produce in basketball games. If he does, there’s no limit on how high he goes in the 2018 NBA draft. If he doesn’t, he’ll regret missing the opportunity to get drafted before his game got picked apart.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.