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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.