dragic hornacek

The Extra Pass: Suns struggling to stay in postseason picture after recent, disappointing slide

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NEW YORK — No matter how the Phoenix Suns finish the 2013-14 season, the year will be considered an overachievement by every metric possible.

But after spending so much of the season as one of the league’s feel-good stories, firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture for most of it, falling out of postseason contention and finishing in the lottery as many predicted would be supremely disappointing.

The Suns find themselves a game and a half behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West after getting rolled by the Nets on Monday, in a contest where Phoenix brought nowhere near the required effort — something that was evident from the game’s early moments.

“It sure looked like [a difficult night was ahead] right from the start,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said afterward. “The energy level wasn’t where it was in the [previous game, a win in Toronto] — missing easy shots right off the bat, timeouts. They came out of timeouts and didn’t run the play we had on the board, didn’t know where to go. I just didn’t think their heads were in it.”

The final numbers weren’t as bad as they were at the game’s lowest point, when the Nets had built a lead of as many as 23 points in the second half and were threatening to finish the game shooting better than 60 percent from the field — a mark they would have hit easily if not for too many third quarter heat-checks, and some rough shooting from Alan Anderson and Marcus Thornton that dragged the average down.

Phoenix looked out of sync offensively all night long, but the defense was even worse as Brooklyn had amassed 44 points in the paint by halftime while shooting better than 67 percent over the game’s first 24 minutes. The missing cohesion defensively, along with 11 first half turnovers were an indication to Hornacek that his team wasn’t all there in this one.

“That’s all lack of focus,” he said. “If you don’t mentally prepare for the game, thinking about it all day long you’ll have the slip-ups — the lazy passes, not holding a guy off to get open. It’s all the little things in a game that help you win, and we did none of ‘em.”

The Suns haven’t been doing those things consistently in quite some time. Back on Feb. 22, Phoenix was sixth in the Conference standings with a record of 33-21, but eight losses in their last 13 games now have them on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Hornacek has talked to the team about games that could impact their playoff positioning before, but he’s wary of continuing to do so because it hasn’t yielded the desired results.

“We try not to talk about it, because last time we talked about playoff positioning — just, ‘hey, we’ve got to win this game for playoffs’ — we played kind of like this again,” Hornacek said. “So I don’t know if that was pressure that got to ‘em tonight, but we just didn’t have the effort, for whatever reason.”

Goran Dragic, who’s played at an All-Star level even though he just missed the cut for an appearance in the midesason exhibition, was limited against the Nets by foul trouble and couldn’t get into a rhythm. But he didn’t think the pressure of the playoffs was getting to him or his teammates to the point where it’s impacting their performance.

“We talk about that we want to be a playoff team, of course,” Dragic said. “But I don’t think that because of that we’re losing those games.”

Dragic instead pointed to the teams the Suns have been losing to — playoff teams, to be exact, in five of the eight that have come during this recent slide.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and our defense has been a problem, but we’ve had a tough stretch,” Dragic said. “We played against teams that are playoff teams. We tried to battle; some games we lost really close, by three or four points. It’s just a tough stretch for us, but we’re not going to complain. We still can make the playoffs. We’ve still got 15 games left to play and hopefully we’re going to regroup and try to get a lot of wins.”

The schedule is difficult to end the season, however, with six of the final eight against teams currently in playoff position in the West.

Phoenix entered the year in rebuilding mode, and the fact that they’ve experienced so much success in spite of that isn’t lost on them. But with a chance at the playoffs having gone from a faint dream to a reality that’s become somewhat expected, missing out on that is going to hurt — especially if it happens because of lackluster efforts like the one we saw against the Nets.

“Some nights you just have a bad night, you flush it down the toilet and go on to the next one,” Hornacek said. “There’s nothing you can do about this one. We’ve got a couple of games at home against teams where we should win if we come out and play, but if we come out and play like we did tonight, we could lose those games, too.”

Yao Ming elected Chinese Basketball Association president

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Yao Ming reacts during the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 9, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese Basketball Association has voted unanimously to appoint NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming as its president.

The CBA’s social media account quoted Yao as saying at a ceremony on Thursday that he hoped to reform the domestic league’s draft system and push more Chinese players into the international arena.

Yao’s appointment is considered as a reform step for an association which until now has typically been led by government sports officials.

Yao, 36, was one of the first Chinese athletes to become an international household name when the Houston Rockets drafted him with the first pick in 2002. The 2.29-meter (7-foot-6) center played for eight seasons before retiring in 2011, citing chronic injuries.

The Shanghai-born Yao was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2016.

As trade rumors swirl, Paul George gets back to work with Pacers

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 14:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 14, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George showed up to work Wednesday wearing the same Indiana Pacers uniform he has all season.

He has no changes planned for Thursday either.

With rumors swirling about George’s future and the NBA’s trade deadline set for 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, the four-time All-Star tried to tamp down speculation by staying focused on his current job.

“I’ve got a team to turn around in the second half, and that’s what I’m committed to,” he said Wednesday after an evening practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

George could have avoided a bit of conflict if he had used those same words in an interview Friday on ESPN radio.

Instead, he talked about his desire to “play on a winning team” after being asked about a possible extension with the Pacers, leading some to wonder if George is uneasy about a longterm deal in Indiana. An unwillingness to sign could land him on the trading block.

George knows it’s all part of the basketball business, even if it’s tricky for big-name players.

If he is actually available, the 26-year-old star would be one of the hottest commodities on the market.

George is again one of the league’s best scorers, has appeared on the league’s all-defensive team three times and was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2013. He’s led his team to two conference finals and won an Olympic gold medal. And he has a propensity for delivering on promises, like when he swore to come back better than ever after breaking his lower right leg in a horrifying scene 2+ years ago.

Now Pacers fans want to know whether George will make good on another promise: Bringing the franchise its first NBA title.

The decision may rest more with Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations, than George.

Bird is trying to do what’s best for the short and long term. Indiana has lost six straight and is currently seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference.

George wants to be a part of the solution.

“I think we can make moves to get better,” he said. “I’m confident in where we’re at and what we can do.”

George’s contract has added a twist to the traditional discussions.

While Bird has already offered a max contract extension, George can opt out of his current deal after next season. He seemed to indicate he might do just that during last week’s All-Star activities.

“As I told Larry, I always want to play on a winning team. I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it (all). That’s important,” George said Friday. “Say what you want; I want to compete for something. It’s frustrating just playing the game for stats or for numbers or to showcase yourself. Man, I want a chance to play for a chance to win a championship.

“I wanted to be the first and want to be the first to be able to bring a championship to Indiana,” George added. “So that’s still on my mind … and something I definitely want to achieve in Indiana.”

The Indianapolis Star reported Wednesday that George and team owner Herb Simon met in New Orleans, a subject George declined to discuss Wednesday.

George did say that he and Bird are “on the same page.”

What exactly that means for Thursday remains unclear.

Bird must decide what works best – strengthening George’s supporting cast, or collecting players and draft picks so they can go in a different direction.

George’s teammates are hopeful the star is still around for Friday night’s game against Memphis.

“I would hope so,” point guard Jeff Teague said. “I enjoy playing with him. He’s the reason I wanted to be here.”

Reports: Kings front office rushed to trade DeMarcus Cousins, fearing owner would change mind

Vlade Divac, Vivek Ranadive
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Why did the Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins late Sunday night? Might they have gotten a better off than the Pelicans’ piddly package by waiting until closer to Thursday’s trade deadline?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac felt pressure on multiple fronts.

First, as he said, he had a better offer two days prior and feared the return would only get worse. Cognizant of losing out on the designated-veteran-player extension, Cousins’ agent was threatening not to re-sign with teams that traded for Cousins, and that apparently spooked one at least one potential suitor.

And then there’s Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive, who reportedly has been intent on keeping Cousins.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix:

They wanted to do this deal before Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. This talk about this new list of transgressions by Cousins over the last few weeks — the incident with the Golden State fan, the technical fouls now that it turned into suspensions — these were very consistent with what’s gone on. These weren’t new. Now, they used that to say, “Well, we just decided we couldn’t go forward with him.” Management, the front office, they’ve wanted to trade him for a very long time. And they could not get Vivek on board. Once they had Vivek on board, they didn’t want him to change his mind again. A, that was part of the reason they rushed on Sunday to get the deal done.

Marc Stein of ESPN on The Lowe Post podcast:

Vivek has been resistant to a DeMarcus Cousins trade for so long. He was into the Buddy Hield-New Orleans package idea, and the Kings’ front-office people wanted to push this thing through as fast they could before the owner changed his mind. I think that’s where the urgency came.

Cousins contributed to a toxic environment in Sacramento. For all the good he brought, there were plenty of negatives. I understand trading him to improve the culture.

But if you have to rush through a trade before other teams (like the Lakers) have a chance to improve their offers just so your Buddy-Hield loving owner won’t harmfully meddle, maybe jettisoning Cousins won’t eliminate all the dysfunction.

Report: Lakers seeking second round pick for Nick Young

Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in New York. The Lakers won 121-107. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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The buzz among Lakers fans on trade deadline day are the rumors about the Lakers going after Paul George. Those rumors place brand new team president Magic Johnson in an interesting spot because one of the first things he said upon being hired was that the team’s young core of players – Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — were “untouchable.” Yet, to get George out of Indiana would take two or three of them plus picks and other players (and that may not be enough considering how reluctant Larry Bird is to move George at all).

A more realistic trade: Moving Nick Young for a second-round pick. Which the Lakers are trying to do, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Young has been solid for the Lakers this season averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 41.3 percent from three, and having a PER of 15.1 — plus he has at least tried on defense at times. This may be the most efficient season of his career. He also has an affordable $5.7 million player option for next season.

A second round pick for him is fair. The question is, does anyone want to pay it?