NBA season preview: Phoenix Suns

2 Comments

Last Season: We could talk about the slow start, the impressive run in the season’s second half, or the eventual finish two games outside of the playoff picture. But all anyone in Phoenix will ultimately remember about the 2011-12 campaign is that it was the last time they would witness the on-court brilliance of Steve Nash while he was still a member of the Suns.

Key Departures: The face of the franchise and the team finally parted ways, after an eight-year run that gave fans more than their fair share of memorable moments. Nash’s departure certainly wasn’t unexpected, as the team had gone as far as it could with its former two-time MVP orchestrating the offense on every meaningful possession. But insult may have been added to Phoenix fans’ misery when Nash ended up in Los Angeles playing for the hated Lakers, whether it was the right move for the franchise or not.

Nash wasn’t the only cornerstone to leave. Grant Hill also ended up in L.A., albeit with the city’s far less-inflammatory version of an NBA team: the Clippers. Other departed players include Robin Lopez, a project whom the team decided to give up on, as well as deep bench players in Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, and Ronnie Price.

Channing Frye isn’t gone, but he’s out for at least the season after an enlarged heart condition was discovered during a routine training camp physical.

Key Additions: The Suns didn’t hesitate in replacing Nash, and did so by bringing back a familiar face. Goran Dragic returned to Phoenix in free agency, after being unceremoniously traded out of town by the same Suns franchise just two seasons before. Michael Beasley was acquired from Minnesota, as was Wesley Johnson. Luis Scola was picked up off the amnesty wire after Houston decided it wasn’t interested in competing any longer, the team added veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal, and grabbed point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Three keys to the Suns season:

1) I know the pieces fit, ’cause I watched them fall away*: This must be Alvin Gentry’s mantra heading into a transitional season. The team’s head coach is now entering his fifth year in that role, although his contract is currently set to end once the year is finished. Gentry has seen the good and the bad with this Suns team — he’s made it through the star-studded Shaquille O’Neal years, has taken the team to the Western Conference Finals, and has barely missed the playoffs a couple of times.

Now that Nash is gone, Gentry will have to make the new pieces fit into a cohesive unit — a challenge to be sure, but not impossible given the talent on the roster. The staring five should be able to compete with all but the league’s elite on most nights, and finding the right rotations to keep the game close with the reserves is something that’s more than possible considering the veteran NBA leader’s skill set.

2) It’s all about chemistry: There are a lot of new faces on this Suns roster; it’s truly a team in transition. Jared Dudley is the longest tenured team member at this point, and he has the personality to help congeal his new teammates into a group that can be productive together on the basketball court. But essentially, these guys don’t know each other. Once you get past Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair, it’s a whole new group of guys. You don’t just wake up one day knowing how to play with one another, and how quickly these players are able to come together will go a long way in determining their success this season.

3) Maximizing Marcin Gortat: Gortat can be a beast of a low post player, a strong pick-and-roll finisher, and a serviceable rim protector. But all of that depends on how he’s used. Last season, he flirted with All-Star numbers at the break thanks to a heavy dose of finishes out of the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash. Early on it doesn’t appear that Gortat will be afforded the same high volume of pick-and-roll opportunities that he received a season ago, so the team will need to find new ways to utilize his skill set and keep him engaged offensively.

The good news about Gortat is, if things aren’t going his way, or he feels he’s not getting the opportunities he should, he’ll let us know about it. He’s one of the most open and honest players in the game — not to the detriment of the team or in a complaining capacity, but simply from a standpoint of the facts as he sees them. So, either way — good times.

*It seemed fitting to quote lyrics from a Tool song in a Suns post at some point, since I met the band’s drummer — Danny Carey — in the team’s locker room during the Shaquille O’Neal era back in December of 2008. Better late than never.

What Suns fans should fear: This is completely dependent on your team-building philosophy. If you’re of the belief that a team needs to be blown up to try to rebuild through the draft, then your fear is that this team sneaks into the playoffs. If you simply want to see the team compete at the highest level, then you’re rooting for an eight seed, just to see what happens.

The good news for Suns fans is that there really are no worries with this year’s squad — there are certainly no championship aspirations, so just enjoy the ride, and hope for the best. Oh, and hope that whatever happens, it’s good enough for the franchise to sign Gentry to a new long-term contract.

Prediction: The Suns should compete on most nights, but the lack of depth should be problematic to the point that it will jeopardize the club’s ability to win on a consistent basis. Shooting for the eighth seed will be the priority, but it will be tough to get there given the level of talent on the competing teams in the Western Conference.

Status woe: Cavaliers not planning changes lineup amid slump

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue isn’t changing his starting lineup or rotations despite Cleveland’s current troubling state.

A day after the Cavs gave up 148 points – tying a franchise record that stood since 1972 – in an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma City, Lue said he’s not making any major moves to snap his team from its mid-season doldrums (and as they head into a tough stretch of the schedule).

The Cavs have lost 10 of 14 and have been blown out three times in the past week.

Lue decided not to show his players video on Sunday as the team practiced in advance of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio. Lue explained his reasoning for not making any changes as the Cavs are the same team that won 13 straight and 18 of 19 earlier this season.

Cavs forward Kyle Korver said the only way to fix things is “to look yourself in the mirror and say how can I help the team? It’s really simple but it really is true.”

 

Three Things to Know: Tony Parker out as starter, Dejounte Murray in for Spurs

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Tony Parker loses starting job to Dejounte Murray, Spurs lose anyway to Pacers. Since getting back into the lineup after off-season quad surgery, future Hall of Famer Tony Parker has started all 21 games he has played in. He has started all but 13 games in a 17-year NBA career and hasn’t come off the bench for a game since 2010.

Until Sunday. Dejounte Murray got the call and that is how it’s going to be for a while in San Antonio. Parker told Tom Osborn of the Express-News he’s good with it because Popovich wants it.

“Pop told me,” Parker said. “He told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘No problem.’ Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best…I will support Pop’s decision, and I will try to help DJ as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills).”

Especially with Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay both out injured, the second unit could use some more shot creation, which Parker can provide. More importantly, Parker has said he isn’t right yet this season after surgery, and he had lost a step the last couple of seasons when he was healthy. Still, we will see how long this change sticks, every time the Spurs go away from Parker, they return. Before this game, the four regular Spurs starters this season — Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Paul Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus Parker were outscoring teams by 29 points per 100 possessions. With Murray those four are -3.1 per 100 (Stats via Cleaning the Glass, which removes garbage time). (I need to add here that due to injuries, none of these lineups has played even 200 minutes together yet this season).

There is a statistical reason for the move, however — the Spurs have won this season despite having no Kawhi Leonard to speak of because of their second best defense in the NBA, and with Murray on the court this season San Antonio has been 11 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

Sunday, Popovich and the Spurs got the up-and-down, roller coaster game we have come to expect from Murray — he does a lot of good things, and he makes some plays like a young player. The defense was stingy, as expected, but the offense generated just 88.4 points per 100 possessions, and the Spurs lost to the Pacers 94-86. The starting five were -4 in their 15+ minutes.

Victor Oladipo had 19 points and led a balanced Pacers attack in the win.

2) Kyrie Irving returns, drops 40, but Celtics lose to lowly Magic anyway, their third straight defeat. If the Celtics were going to have a stinker of a game, Sunday was the time to do it because everyone in New England was focused on the Patriots and nobody was going to notice what they did.

After missing one game, Kyrie Irving returned with a vengeance Sunday scoring 40 points on 23 shots and hitting 5-of-7 from three. None of that mattered after the game, where the Celtics struggled at home and lost to the Orlando Magic, the formerly last-place team in the East, 103-95 (Orlando moved ahead of Atlanta with the win).

The struggle in those three games has been on the offensive end (the defense, best in the NBA for the season, has still been good). The Celtics are approaching the trade deadline looking for more shooting if they can find the right deal (what team isn’t?), and for a few games it has looked like they needed it because Jaylen Brown can’t make this between-the-legs move on every possession.

@fchwpo goes through his legs to get to the bucket!

A post shared by NBA (@nba) on

Boston is still two-games up in the East on Toronto, but they head now out of a four-game road trip in the West. We’ll see if the offense finds itself against the Lakers (who have played better the past couple of weeks and are no easy win).

3) Lakers’ fan drains $100K halfcourt shot. This was the shot of the day — and was worth $100,000 to a bounty hunter and Lakers’ fan.

Mayhem in LA as he uses the window for $100K!

A post shared by NBA (@nba) on

Lakers fan hits halfcourt shot to win $100,000 (VIDEO)

Twitter
2 Comments

The Los Angeles Lakers are having a pretty good January.

The team has a losing record overall but is 6-5 in 2018, despite the noise from the Ball family and the need for public confidence for Luke Walton as coach.

Still, I’m not sure they’re having as good a time as the guy who won $100,000 by banking in a halfcourt shot on Sunday.

Via Twitter:

The fan’s name is apparently Suni Strong, and he’s from Palmdale. He played high school basketball, works at Space-X, and was on a canceled A&E show about bounty hunting.

Seriously.

Via OC Register:

“When I first walked in I said have my check ready,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it. I had to.”

Asked if he called “bank,” Strong replied, “Why would I do that? I called money.”

That’s some serious scratch.

Spencer Dinwiddie hits game-winner for Nets over former team (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Spencer Dinwiddie was once a member of the Detroit Pistons. They traded him to the Chicago Bulls back in 2016 for Cameron Bairstow, and the Bulls promptly waived him less than a month later. That same day, Bairstow was waived by the Pistons.

On Sunday, Dinwiddie got his revenge on Detroit by ending their matinee matchup with a step-through jumper that two Pistons failed to defend.

The play came with 4.7 seconds left and the Brooklyn Nets trailing, 100-99. Dinwiddie ran across the far side of the floor to receive the ball from the sideline, then to the near elbow before putting on a series of moves to get his shot off.

The play gave Detroit just 0.09 seconds left, and they couldn’t get an attempt off.

Brooklyn beat the Pistons, 101-100.

Meanwhile, Dinwiddie continues to have the best season of his career. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per-game, all career-highs. He’s also boosted his VORP to 1.1, another personal best.