Suns were the aggressors in three-team deal that brought Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix

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PHOENIX — The Suns surprised everyone who closely follows the landscape of NBA free agency by coming away with one of the more coveted players in the summer sweepstakes that all teams take part in to try to bolster their rosters through talent acquisition.

There were no rumors or leaked reports of conversations progressing between the Suns, Bucks, and Clippers on the three-team trade that ultimately came to pass. But in the end, the Suns ended up with a young and talented player still on his rookie contract in Eric Bledsoe, while the Clippers received Jared Dudley from the Suns and J.J. Redick from the Bucks as part of a sign-and-trade deal that netted Milwaukee two second round picks — one each from L.A. and Phoenix.

Bledsoe is viewed as a dynamic point guard talent by most, and someone who could be one of the top starters in the league at his position if given the right opportunity, as long as he continues his development. That chance wasn’t going to come with the Clippers, where Bledsoe shined at times, but ultimately had to cede his minutes to one of the best point guards in the game in Chris Paul.

Paul entered the summer as an unrestricted free agent, but once he committed to stay in L.A., it was game on as far as teams trying to deal for Bledsoe.

“I kind of knew once Chris signed that I was definitely going to be traded,” Bledsoe said at his introductory press conference with the Suns on Thursday.

“This was a deal, as Eric mentioned, I don’t think they were going to trade him until they knew that Chris Paul was going to re-sign in L.A.,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough said. “And then once Chris re-signed, or verbally committed to come back, we were very aggressive in going after these two guys.”

How aggressive? Enough that the Suns’ brass had no problem publicly stating that it was their team’s braintrust that made this deal happen, and were collectively creative enough to come up with the right scenario to get the Clippers to willingly pull the trigger on trading a young asset like Bledsoe.

“I would say that anybody looking at the trade objectively will realize that the impetus for the trade came from here,” Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said. “Our staff came up with the idea of facilitating a trade that was predicated on a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee, and we were kind of the facilitators of the entire transaction. I don’t know if you’d call that aggressive, but at the very least, we were creative. And the outcome was really good for all three teams.”

While the Clippers are going to be contenders for the title next season, with the pieces they acquired in this deal no doubt helping them in their chase, it’s arguably an even better one for a Phoenix team looking for legitimacy during a rebuilding process with almost entirely new personnel, both in the front office as well as on the sidelines.

New head coach Jeff Hornacek was all smiles when running through the possibilities he hopes to see with Bledsoe and Butler playing in his uptempo system.

“As a coach, I’m just envisioning Eric and [Goran Dragic] pushing the ball up the court, creating those four-on-three, three-on-two opportunities, Caron’s knocking down threes and jump shots, and the bigs rolling to the basket,” Hornacek said. “I think it’s a great addition of these two guys.”

The vibe is a good one in Phoenix, for the first time in a long time. The team has yet to play a game under the new regime of course, but the moves being made by its young GM and the words being spoken by the first-time head coach have everyone believing that the small initial steps being taken to improve are absolutely ones that have things headed in the right direction.

“We’re glad it worked out,” McDonough said. “We’ll miss Jared Dudley and what he brought to the table here, but we feel like this is a terrific trade for us, and these guys are a big part of our future.”

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.