Nash to the Lakers the right move for Phoenix, but a bitter one for Suns fans to swallow

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The Lakers appeared to be a longshot at best to acquire Steve Nash, but unexpectedly pulled off the deal that will send multiple draft picks back to Phoenix in exchange for the two-time MVP’s services.

The sign-and-trade deal will net Nash a contract of three years and more than $25 million to play for the Lakers, while the Suns will receive two first-round and two second-round draft picks that they’ll use to rebuild, all without having to take on any additional salary or unwanted bad contracts in return.

Essentially, this was the very best the Suns could do under the circumstances — which, to be fair, were created by the team when it allowed Nash to play out the final year of his contract in Phoenix without attempting to trade him sooner for some assets that would help the team in the more immediate future.

As soon as the Nash deal went final, the Suns wasted no time in locking up some free agent talent to begin that rebuilding process. Goran Dragic was signed to replace Nash at the point guard spot, and Michael Beasley was brought in to provide scoring from the wing position. There’s still the matter of Eric Gordon, whom the Suns signed to a large offer sheet but that New Orleans is almost certain to match.

The Phoenix front office did what was best for the team in its long-term plans to reconstruct a contender while moving forward with life after Nash. But despite the fact that stockpiling draft picks is the way to enter a rebuilding scenario in the NBA, and that going about it that way doesn’t unnecessarily saddle the team with bad contracts, Suns fans are going to be absolutely livid with the fact that the team helped facilitate the face of the franchise ending up on one of the two teams they absolutely cannot stand.

The Spurs are probably at the top of the list for Suns fans’ hatred, considering they were the ones that kept Phoenix from getting out of the West and into the Finals on more than one occasion. But the Lakers are a close second, and while the rivalry has been more than a bit one-sided, it exists in the minds and hearts of fans of the Suns. Phoenix residents have an angry little brother complex when it comes to their counterparts in Los Angeles, and Suns fans hate the Lakers with the same passion and fervor that you’d expect from that type of dysfunctional, familial relationship.

Simply put, seeing Nash in a Lakers jersey happily playing alongside Kobe Bryant will make Suns fans physically ill. They will have a visceral reaction to the unholy teaming, and will struggle mightily with the fact that this move couldn’t have been completed without the complicity of the Suns organization.

For the Lakers, the outlook is a bright one. The respective ages of Bryant and Nash shouldn’t be a concern, especially when you consider that both played the majority of their team’s games in a compressed, lockout-shortened season a year ago. With the coaching staff having almost four full months to gameplan and scheme for their revamped roster, and with a long, 82-game schedule being more than enough time for the players to learn to play together and work out any kinks, L.A. should be primed and ready for a run deep into the postseason come April.

On the Suns side, things are obviously much murkier at this point. The team brought some immediate free agent talent into the fold, but if nothing else is done beyond Dragic and Beasley, Phoenix will be still be a team near the bottom of the draft lottery stuck trying to develop rookie Kendall Marshall, while waiting for future drafts to come along so they can build a competitive roster over time with young, rookie talent.

The rebuilding in Phoenix was inevitable, and was something the front office had resisted to this point while Nash was still on the roster. The Suns made the right decision in terms of what they were able to get in return for him once it became clear he was no longer in the team’s long-term plans.

But that doesn’t change the fact that seeing Nash play for the Lakers will be extremely difficult for long-time fans of the franchise to stomach.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B

Report: Wizards signing Donald Sloan

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The Wizards look like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Tim Frazier.

But they also looked like they solved their backup-point-guard problems with Trey Burke and then Brandon Jennings last year – and look how that turned out.

So, even after trading for Frazier, Washington is still trying to increase stability behind John Wall.
CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The Wizards added some depth to their backcourt on Thursday by signing veteran guard Donald Sloan to a one-year deal, CSN’s Chris Miller confirmed on Thursday night.

The 29-year-old Sloan has played for the Hawks, New Orleans Hornets, Cavaliers, Pacers and Nets in a five-year NBA career. He spent last season in China.

Sloan isn’t much of a scorer, and he’s only a decent distributor. But he makes up for it with all-around adequacy, highlighted by his rebounding for his position.

The veteran will compete with second-year Sheldon Mac, whose salary is just $50,000 guaranteed, to be Washington’s third point guard.

Report: Knicks sign Nigel Hayes to partially guaranteed deal

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Nigel Hayes became a cult hero at Wisconsin for bringing a “BROKE COLLEGE ATHLETE ANYTHING HELPS” sign to GameDay and soliciting Venmo donations, challenging the stenographer in a press conference and “accidentally” calling a stenographer beautiful in front of a hot mic.

After going undrafted, Hayes and his colorful personality are headed to New York, where Knicks fans are starving for fun.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Could Hayes stick into the regular season? The Knicks have just 14 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving one more spot for a player on an standard contract. Chasson Randle has an unguaranteed salary that becomes partially guaranteed around the time training camp opens. The Knicks could also sign other players, though they’re down to just minimum exceptions.

Hayes – a 6-foot-8 forward – has a chance, but he’s most likely ticketed to New York’s minor-league affiliate after being waived by the parent club.

Who is betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year? Lonzo Ball? Ben Simmons? Depends.

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The Rookie of the Year race is wide open heading into next season.

It’s that way every year — if you had predicted Malcolm Brogdon was going to win a year ago, you would have been laughed out of the room — but this coming season has a deep pool of elite talent who will be in position to put up numbers, the usual formula for winning the award. Lonzo Ball, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum all have a real shot — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Who is the betting favorite? Depends on where you do your betting.

The William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook (which works with a number of Las Vegas casinos, such as the SLS), has these odds (hat tip ESPN):

Lonzo Ball 9-5
Ben Simmons 5-2
Dennis Smith Jr. 4-1
Markelle Fultz 13-2
De'Aaron Fox 8-1
Jayson Tatum 8-1

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas has Simmons as the betting line favorite at 9-4

The online betting site Bovda.lv has this line

Lonzo Ball 9-4
Dennis Smith 3-1
Ben Simmons 5-1
Jayson Tatum 5-1
Markelle Fultz 8-1

Traditionally, Rookie of the Year goes to a guy who has the ball in his hands, is aggressive, and puts up raw numbers. It celebrates scorers. All of the guys on that list can do that, although Ball will be judged more on his passing and how he helps turn the Lakers into an up-tempo team. In addition to the guys on that list, Josh Jackon in Phoenix will get numbers, as might John Collins in a rebuilding Atlanta. There are sleepers down the board with a chance.

This year a whole lot of guys fit the traditional mold of a guy who can win the award, more than are mentioned here. It’s going to be a wild ride.