Ryan McDonough

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.”

LeBron, can someone average a triple-double? “Westbrook can do it”

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #27 (L) and Russell Westbrook #31 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team attend a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Through 22 games, Russell Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds a night — the first guy to average a triple-double this deep into a season since Oscar Robertson did it for a full campaign in 1963. Westbrook has had a triple-double in six straight games.

The only question is: Can Westbrook keep this up? Can he average a triple-double for a season?

He’s got a backer in LeBron James. Here is what LeBron said at shootaround on Wednesday, as the Cavaliers were in New York to take on the Knicks, you can see his comments via ESPN.

“Westbrook can do it. He’s capable of doing it. He’s showing it. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, man. He just doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t get tired, and when you have that passion for the game, too, as well, it’s very doable. The game has definitely changed a little bit. It’s more, it’s almost feeling like back in, like, the 80s, you know, when teams were putting up 145 and 135 and more possessions and more shot attempts — obviously, they weren’t shooting as many 3s, but it was a lot of possessions. So with that being said, with his athleticism, him being able to get those rebounds, he handles the ball for the majority of the game for OKC so he’s gonna get the assists and I think he’s averaging nine free throws a game. He’s going to make seven or eight of those a game and obviously he’s going to get one bucket — he’s going to get 10 points. That’s the easy thing for him. So it’s very doable.”

I don’t think the question is can he do it? LeBron is right, he can. I think the question is will his body hold up? He’s a strong, well-conditioned athlete, but that is a lot of toll physically.

The Thunder need him to do this: Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles this season, the Thunder are 9-2 in those games. They are 5-6 when he fails.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas not reporting to Rockets over $6 million

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Donatas Motiejunas — with his agent B.J. Armstrong — has backed himself into a bit of a corner.

The restricted free agent signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets, but it had a lot of favorable terms (the final two years are not fully guaranteed, for example) so as one would expect the Rockets matched it. However, under NBA rules the Rockets only had to match the base of the contract — $31 million worth — not the incentives. Which is what the Rockets did.

On Tuesday, Motiejunas did not report for his physical with Houston, and the $6 million is the reason, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas won’t report to the Houston Rockets because of a difference of nearly $6 million from the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Last week, Motiejunas signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets. The Rockets on Monday opted to match that offer. However, based on the CBA, the Rockets only had to match the principle terms of the offer sheet, which came to $31 million. The $6 million difference was to be paid to Motiejunas via incentive clauses if he played for the Nets.

Motiejunas may not like it, but the Rockets have almost all the power here. As of Thursday, the Rockets can pull the offer (even if they don’t, it will expire eventually on March 1), and at that point Motiejunas is a restricted free agent again. Right where he was before. The Nets can’t re-sign him to an offer now for another year. Other teams with the cap space aren’t interested (for example, Philadelphia has the room, but the last thing they need is another big man in the rotation). The Rockets would like him to play — as a big who can shoot the three he should fit well in the Mike D’Antoni system — but they are not going fail him on the physical and let him go for nothing (they can’t trade him until after the season, even if Motiejunas relents and signs the deal with the Rockets)

Motiejunas’ only play? Sit out. But at age 26, why is he wasting part of his short career window to make money playing basketball?

LeBron James: No statement by not staying at Trump-branded hotel

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the banner raising and ring ceremony before the game against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James said he wasn’t trying to make a statement by not staying at a Donald Trump-branded hotel with the Cleveland Cavaliers, calling it a personal preference.

“It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak,” James said.

James and some other players didn’t stay with the team at the Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan before the Cavs’ game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. James said it was the first time in his career he hasn’t stayed with his team, though he said he rode the bus to the morning shootaround as usual with the squad.

James endorsed Hillary Clinton and campaigned with her in Ohio. Several of his teammates, including Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and others have expressed their disappointment about Trump’s win.

“At the end of the day I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever, for all of our sake,” James said. “For my family, for all us.”

A team spokesman didn’t say how many players opted not to stay in the team hotel and wasn’t sure how James met up with the bus.

Coach Tyronn Lue, who stayed with the team, was asked if it was odd to have the players split up on the road.

“It’s not normal, but considering the circumstances that’s what we have,” Lue said. “But that’s not my main objective. My main thing is to try to get this team to stay on track and play the right way and try to get back on track by playing Cleveland Cavalier basketball.”

James wouldn’t talk about Knicks President Phil Jackson, who angered the All-Star forward last month by referring to his friends and business partners in an ESPN interview as a “posse.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart gets flopping warning from NBA

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of the league’s more notorious floppers.

He was at it again Monday night against the Houston Rockets — and the league called him on it and gave him a warning.

It happened on the game’s final play — you were probably focused elsewhere, wondering how Al Horford could miss the game-winning layup. But watch Smart as he gets in position for the rebound on that shot.

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The referees didn’t buy it then.

This warning is barely a slap on the wrist. If — in his case, when — Smart gets caught a second time this season he will get a $5,000 fine from the league. Smart is making $3.6 million this season.