Suns introduce GM Ryan McDonough, who says his first order of business is to hire a new head coach

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PHOENIX — The Suns held their introductory press conference to introduce new general manager Ryan McDonough on Thursday, who made it clear that cementing a strong candidate in the team’s head coaching position was the highest of priorities.

Lindsey Hunter was placed into the interim role after Phoenix parted ways with Alvin Gentry 41 games into the season, and was underwhelming in finishing the year with a 12-29 record.

No decision has yet been made on Hunter’s status. But the way McDonough was speaking about the search planned to fill the head coaching chair for next season would lead you to believe that the team will look high and low elsewhere for a more solid long-term solution.

“I’m going to spearhead that process, and the process has already begun,” McDonough said. “That was part of my interview with [team owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby]. We discussed potential coaching candidates, and who we thought would be good fits, and we were in alignment on a lot of the names — most of the names.

“So we have an initial list to go off of. We’ve received a good amount of interest from people all over the basketball world who want to be the coach of this storied franchise, and they see a great opportunity here. That’s my first order of business as the general manager, to find the best guy for that job.”

When talking about lists of names of potential candidates, that wouldn’t appear to bode well for the chances of an interim head coach retaining the spot for next season.

But when asked if it was fair to say that Hunter’s name might be further down on his list, McDonough wasn’t ready to publicly declare Hunter as out of the running just yet.

“No, I don’t think that’s fair to say,” McDonough said. “We will meet with Lindsey. I don’t know him that well personally, but I’ve heard good things about Lindsey’s character, and his toughness, and his work ethic. So Lindsey is a candidate. I know he’s interviewing for jobs elsewhere, but he’s a candidate for us as well, and we’re going to go into it with an open mind and consider all the top guys. And Lindsey is one of the top guys.”

McDonough then went on to describe the qualities he and the organization will look for in its next head coach.

“I think the most important thing to find in our head coach, the next head coach of the Suns is someone who’s a leader,” he said. “We need someone who commands the respect of the players, commands the respect of the entire organization. We also need someone who’s a teacher, who can help our young players to develop and get better and maximize their individual talent. So the list that Lon and Robert and I have compiled, all the guys on that list have those characteristics, and I’m confident we’re going to get somebody really good.”

Again, that simply doesn’t sound like Hunter. And that’s to be expected.

Hunter was a favorite of the team’s previous general manager, Lance Blanks, and was awarded the role without having any prior coaching experience at any level. It’s not uncommon for a new GM to want to hand pick the head coach he’ll work with during his tenure, and that’s especially true in a situation like the one in Phoenix that will require multiple years to rebuild the franchise to a respectable level of success.

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A few other notable quotes:

– McDonough said he expects his philosophy to be very similar to the one of Danny Ainge, who he learned the job from in Boston.

“Danny Ainge is probably my professional mentor,” he said. “I think my philosophy will be the same. In Boston, one of the things Danny did so well, he was very aggressive in acquiring draft picks and trying to get the best players through whatever means necessary. One of the things that I learned from Danny Ainge is to be unafraid, and that not very move is going to be perfect. I’ll probably make some mistakes. But if you’re willing to work at it, and correct some of those mistakes — and again, if you’re unafraid — then that can lead to some great results.”

– McDonough stressed the importance of the draft — an area which hasn’t exactly been a strength of the Suns franchise at any time in the recent past.

“I would say that generally, you have to draft well — that’s the life blood of your franchise. That’s how you’ll have sustainable success over the years. Now that being said, if a great player wants to come play for the Phoenix Suns next year, and we have the space to get him, we have the ability to get him, then we’re going to go get him.”

– McDonough is a big proponent of using analytics, and will make sure everyone he brings on board will similarly understand the value of them — including the team’s next head coach.

“I think understanding the value of analytics is important for everyone in a basketball operation,” he said. “The college scouts need to understand it, and we need to develop a great model where we can study guys in the past and see which stats have translated into NBA success, and maybe which ones have not.

“We need to embrace all the newest trends that the good teams in the league are embracing. That’s adjusted plus-minus, emphasizing corner threes, the value of two-for-ones — and those are just a few examples of the things that we’re going to ask our head coaching candidates about during the coaching search. I’m positive that the next coach of the Suns will understand the value of all those things.”

Report: Spurs paying Pau Gasol about $16 million each of next two years

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The Spurs got Pau Gasol to decline his $16,197,500 player option, allowing them to chase major free agents. They didn’t take advantage of that flexibility, so they’re re-signing Gasol to make him whole – and then some.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Sources: Free agent Pau Gasol’s deal to return to Spurs: three years, $48M with a partial guarantee on final year

If Gasol’s 2018-19 salary is guaranteed – strongly implied by this report – this is a bad contract.

The 37-year-old Gasol, still a nice player, isn’t worth $16 million this season in a tight center market. It’s fine to pay him that much given the circumstances of his opt out. But to guarantee him a similar amount – salary-cap rules dictate his 2018-19 salary be within 5% of his 2017-18 salary – at age 38 is an awful choice.

Especially for San Antonio, which was shaping up to have massive flexibility next summer.

The Spurs can still have significant cap room if LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and/or Rudy Gay opt out. But then they wouldn’t have Aldridge, Green or Gay. So, the more space to upgrade, the better. San Antonio just cut about $16 million from that maneuverability.

Kawhi Leonard is a 26-year-old superstar who has proven his ability to thrive deep into the playoffs. Instead of aggressively working to add talent to chase another championship, the Spurs are surrounding him with the status-quo declining-veteran supporting cast.

That was acceptable this year, once Chris Paul chose the Rockets. But to commit about $16 million toward a similar team in 2018 is a major mistake.

Giannis Antetokounmpo gives views on loyalty while explaining Kevin Durant’s move

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As questions swirled about his future with the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo tweeted that loyalty was in his DNA.

But Kevin Durant also said he was loyal to the Thunder before leaving for the Warriors.

Durant explained the appearance of a contradiction by saying he showed his loyalty by signing a contract extension without options and playing hard every night. Durant was fully loyal to Oklahoma City while he was there. To him, it didn’t mean he pledged to stay forever.

What does loyalty mean to Antetokounmpo, who once said he wanted to play in Milwaukee forever? He provided insight when asked to compare his tweet to Durant’s sentiments.

Antetokounmpo:

A lot of people say they’re go to stay on a team, and they decide to move to a different team. But you guys always got to remember that a guy might want to stay on the team, but the team doesn’t do the right things and the right moves for the player to become great. Because K.D., the reason he wanted to stay in OKC was to be the champs, right? So, did they win a championship? That’s why he decided to leave. He did win a championship down in Golden State.

This is a very rational response, one that indicates his outlook is similar to Durant’s. Nobody would question Antetokounmpo’s devotion to Milwaukee right now. But that doesn’t mean he’ll feel this way indefinitely.

The Bucks have to reciprocate by doing well for Antetokounmpo.

So far, the results have been mixed. They’ve built a solid young nucleus that includes by Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker and Tony Snell. Jabari Parker would’ve counted if not for multiple ACL tears, which can derail a career. Luck can factor. So, it’s on Milwaukee to nail what it can control – like running the franchise without the disarray shown during its general-manager search.

Unlike the Thunder with Durant, the Bucks might be able to buy loyalty with a designated-veteran-player extension before Antetokounmpo’s contract expires in 2021. Those super-max deals didn’t exist under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, when Durant left for Golden State.

The salary cap is also stagnating, leaving it far less likely a team can duplicate the situation the Warriors’ presented Durant – a ready-made championship contender with max cap space. Relatively, the Bucks probably won’t have to look quite as appealing to be Antetokounmpo’s best option.

But they’ll still have to create some allure.

It sounds as if Antetokounmpo’s loyalty to the Bucks is, quite reasonably, conditional.

Gordon Hayward: My relationship with Brad Stevens ‘completely overstated and overhyped’

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Gordon Hayward is still trying to seize control of the narrative surrounding his free agency.

The Celtics – coached by Brad Stevens, Hayward’s coach at Butler – expressed interest in Hayward in 2014. Then, with Stevens still in Boston, they completed their highly anticipated pursuit of Hayward by signing him this year.

Just don’t pin that all on Stevens.

Hayward on The Woj Pod:

The relationship between Brad and I has been completely overstated and overhyped from everybody.

And you mentioned it. There was always rumors about going to Boston, and those, to me, were always just rumors. I didn’t really ever think about it, because I wasn’t a free agent, wasn’t really concerned with the Boston thing. But everybody else was saying, “Oh, he’s going to go to Boston because of Brad.” And we had a great relationship, but it wasn’t like we were constantly texting each other or calling each other. He’s the head coach of the Boston Celtics. He’s got things to worry about.

I played for Brad for two years. And so it wasn’t like everybody kind of made it seem, like we were besties or something.

That was something I kind of was – “what’s this going to be like? It’s been seven years since he coached me.” And immediately though, he called me July 1. And after that phone call, I thought like, “Oh, no. This isn’t going be any different.” It was one of those things where he made me feel like, even if I don’t go to Boston, it’ll be fine, and we’ll still have that great relationship, and he’ll still be in my corner, and he’ll still be rooting for me and supporting me.

Hayward was in control, and he chose Boston. Stevens didn’t do it for him. Hayward did it – and he did it the evening of July 4, not before.

Got it?

That darned fake news, always talking up the Hayward-Stevens relationship. Take this article in The Players Tribune, in which the author contends Hayward viewed Stevens as “the person I knew I could count on the most.”

Look, NBA players generally like the trappings of being recruited. They generally dislike the perception that they were recruited and weren’t in complete control. That’s why Kevin Durant keeps denying Draymond Green‘s stories of recruiting the superstar to the Warriors.

Elements of Hayward’s relationship with Stevens were probably perceived incorrectly by some. I doubt the Celtics’ coach was in frequent contact with a Jazz player. But the underlying idea – that Stevens made Boston more likely to pursue and get Hayward – was also probably correct.

Report: Cavaliers prioritizing youth in Kyrie Irving trade

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In the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request, the Cavaliers have three fundamental options:

  • Trade Irving for immediate help to continue a championship chase around LeBron James
  • Trade Irving for younger players and/or draft picks to kick start a rebuild in case LeBron leaves next summer
  • Don’t trade Irving

It seems Cleveland is taking the second route.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Cavaliers are projecting confidence they can snare a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving, and more than that, they are acting — for now — as if a trade is almost inevitable, and that there is little chance of salvaging their relationship with him, according to several sources familiar with the situation.

Cleveland is seeking a bundle of assets, but the highest priority right now is snagging a blue-chip young player, according to sources across the league. That is not necessarily a signal they think James is leaving. They would like to get everything: one or two veterans who can help LeBron dethrone Golden State, that blue-chipper, and picks. They want to prepare for a worst-case scenario of LeBron leaving without shoving him out the door by acquiring players he deems unready. Even so, the blue-chipper appears to be their guidepost, sources say.

Barring a misevaluation by another team, Cleveland can’t trade Irving for better players now and significant long-term assets. The Cavaliers could try to straddle both paths, but the more they prioritize the future, the less they’ll get for the present (and vice versa).

I’m a little surprised the Cavs aren’t posturing about not trading Irving to drive up his value – especially after the leak – and I’m surprised they’re not pushing in for next year. A championship lasts forever, and they’re still contending.

But it seems they’ve chosen their course. The big danger: It reduces their ability to win this year and pushes LeBron further out the door.

Reading that description of Cleveland’s target, does anyone fit better than Andrew Wiggins – whom, in a strange twist, the Cavaliers drafted then traded for Kevin Love? The 22-year-old is seen by many as a rising star, and his value is in Irving’s general range. Plus, not only did Irving list the Timberwolves among his preferred teams, Jimmy Butler (a friend) and Karl-Anthony Towns are urging Minnesota management to deal for Irving.

The Wiggins we’ve seen so far – an underwhelming defender and 3-point shooter – would fit poorly with LeBron. Wiggins is young enough to develop and adjust, but LeBron’s free agency is only a year away. It’s a dangerous time to take a step back.

But if the Cavs are going to trade Irving for a young player, that’s almost certainly what they must do.