Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

Suns ‘hope and expect’ that Eric Bledsoe will remain in Phoenix

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Eric Bledsoe is one of the top remaining free agents still on the market, and his restricted status is likely the reason why.

The Suns have the right to match any offer Bledsoe may receive from another team, and have said on multiple occasions that they intend to do exactly that. But Bledsoe hasn’t agreed to sign an offer sheet anywhere else.

There were teams rumored to be interested (like the Lakers), but no one has pulled the trigger — likely due to Bledsoe looking for too much money at this stage of the proceedings.

The Suns and Bledsoe remain far apart in their negotiations, but team president Lon Babby, speaking Monday at a press conference introducing Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver, continues to believe that Bledsoe will be back.

From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

“We’ll continue to work as hard as we can within that restricted free agency system established by the collective bargaining agreement,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said Monday. “We continue to hope and expect that he will remain in a Suns uniform.” …

It might require a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe to go elsewhere but the Suns’ intent is to bring him back. Bledsoe has a $3.7 million qualifying offer that he could choose to play for next season and then become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

The process has been complicated by rumored sign-and-trade talks that the Suns say are untrue. Some of it may be one-way interest from other teams. Some of the rumors are not even allowed under CBA rules.

The Suns don’t want to go a full five years on a new deal with Bledsoe, and their offer of four and $48 million seems fair for a player with his skill set who has had two of his four NBA seasons limited due to injury.

And unfortunately for Bledsoe, he doesn’t have a lot of options here.

Teams have spent their cap space for the most part, and would need to engage the Suns in a sign-and-trade to acquire Bledsoe for the kind of money he’s seeking — something that Phoenix has been unwilling to do thus far. If Bledsoe really isn’t going to accept the four-year offer on the table, his only choice would be to play out next year for the small qualifying offer, and pursue max money as an unrestricted free agent the following season.

But most players coming off of rookie scale deals like to lock in a large chunk of guaranteed dollars as soon as possible, and the Suns have all the leverage. So unless things get really contentious during the negotiation process, expect Bledsoe back in Phoenix next season.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.