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Three questions the Phoenix Suns must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 24-58, missed the playoffs for the seventh straight season

I know what you did last summer: In a quiet offseason, the Suns drafted Josh Jackson No. 4, re-signed Alan Williams, signed Alex Len to a qualifying offer and signed T.J. Warren to a contract extension.

THREE QUESTIONS THE SUNS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Devin Booker and Josh Jackson justify Phoenix’s faith in them? Right off the bat, the Suns assured Booker and Jackson they wouldn’t be traded for Kyrie Irving. Booker and Jackson are valuable players, to be sure, but – especially evidenced by the package the Celtics surrendered – so is Irving.

To a degree it makes sense. Booker is under team control another three years, Jackson another five, and it’d likely take major financial sacrifice by either player to leave soon after that. Irving is locked up just two more seasons until unrestricted free agency. Not close to winning, Phoenix should prioritize the long-term, which means valuing younger, cheaper players like Booker and Jackson.

But Booker and Jackson aren’t even close to the caliber of Irving. Will get they ever get there? It’s far from certain.

Booker is a weak defender whose volume scoring comes at only moderate efficiency. Jackson was the No. 4 pick, and despite plenty of hype he could go higher, that looked about right to me. His jumper is unreliable, and he was old for a freshman.

Again, Booker and Jackson are very valuable. But that’s due in large part to their contract status and age. As they get older, their value will become more directly tied to their performance on the court.

The Suns, at least with Booker, were probably correct to bet on their current players, given the team’s distance from winning even if it had Irving. But for that bet to pay off, Booker must improve and Jackson must hit on the higher end of his projections.

There’s still time – see everything above – but the upcoming season is the opportunity at hand.

2) How patient will owner Robert Sarver be? The Suns have gone a franchise-long seven years without making the playoffs, and they’re unlikely to reach the postseason this year. How desperate is Sarver to return to the playoffs (or, maybe more accurately, return to earning playoff revenue)?

He seemingly signed off on this plan, even extending general manager Ryan McDonough this summer. But Sarver wouldn’t be the first owner with overly ambitious ideas of what his team can accomplish. Even if Sarver is completely realistic about this roster, living daily through losing is another thing.

Phoenix has a nice group of players on rookie-scale contracts: Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Another high lottery pick in 2018 and maybe even 2019 and patience could put this rebuild over the top.

But if Sarver gets antsy, the plan could turn in a hurry.

3) What will T.J. Warren show? Warren is the litmus test for this team in a number of ways.

With a four-year, $47 million extension, Phoenix has more money tied into Warren than any other player. In the simplest terms, the more a team pays a player, the more important he plays well. But with so few moves to evaluate this offseason, McDonough could face greater scrutiny for the Warren deal.

Warren is good at weaving his way close to the basket and making close-range shots. But his shooting reliability ends before the 3-point arc, and he lacks all-around skill. He has also missed 42, 35 and 16 games in his three-year career.

The progression of Warren, a combo forward, will affect how Phoenix evaluates Jackson, Chriss and Bender. Which of those players are long-term pieces (and at which positions)? Warren is already paid like one, though it’s unclear whether he belongs or whom he can play with.

If the Suns have a chance of being surprisingly competitive this year, Warren could be the swing piece. Booker is in a league of his own. Eric Bledsoe, Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler are the known quantities when healthy. Warren – older and more polished than Jackson, Chriss and Bender – is somewhat of a variable.

How Warren fares could say plenty about Phoenix’s season and long-term direction.

Kyrie Irving, any regrets about using profanity toward fan? “Hell no.”

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Fans yelling obscenities at NBA players and trying to goad them into a response — always while camera phones are recording — has become a thing. DeMarcus Cousins will be paying $25,000 for responding to a fan cursing at him in Memphis.

Kyrie Irving is likely going to get fined for an incident Friday night after the Celtics knocked off the Sixers in Philadephia. It made the rounds on social media Friday night, with a fan yelling at Irving as he leaves the court “Kyrie, where’s LeBron?” and Irving responding with a crude phrase. Here is the exchange as Irving leaves the court (NOTE: The language is NSFW, if offended don’t watch the video).

Saturday Irving was asked about the incident, and he admitted he should have bit his tongue, but he has no regrets, as reported by A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Hell no,” Irving said (when asked if he had regrets). “Man enough to record it on video, that’s on him. I’m glad he got his ad name out there, and his five seconds of fame and it’s gone viral. That’s the social media platform we live on.

Irving added, “I take full responsibility for what I said. You move on.”

Irving also addressed the bigger issue, something Cousins discussed when talking about his fine. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN.

“At the end of the day, we’re human. It’s in heat of the moment and frustrations arise, we were at halftime, we were down by 4, in an environment, a season-opener in Philly. Being with a young team like we have here and staying composed, handling that before we go in the locker room and addressing what we have to do in the locker room and going out and handling business and getting the W, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.

“It’s up to the league at this point. But, like I said, I’m going to take full responsibility for what I said. I don’t have any regrets for it.”

Irving is going to get fined. The league has issues with its players cursing at fans. Understandably.

That said, the league may need to step back on consider situations like this. If fans are taunting players, at what point should a player be able to respond to the fan? Should arena security (at the request of the officials, or maybe a player) intervene? Players should not be asked to bite their tongue no matter what is said, and even if a fan paid for a ticket it doesn’t give them the right to cross any line. As more fans seem to go after their 15 minutes of social media fame baiting players, the league may need to reconsider where it draws its lines.

Reports: Pelicans to sign Jameer Nelson with Rondo out

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With Rajon Rondo out 4-6 weeks with a sports hernia, the New Orleans Pelicans were looking for a solid backup point guard.

This week, to make room to sign Richard Jefferson, the Denver Nuggets waived veteran Jameer Nelson.

While other teams such as the Rockets were calling, the Pelicans and Nelson have reached a deal, reports both Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports added this.

Nelson, in his 14th NBA season, became the top free agent on the market and received interest from contenders such as the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder and several other franchises that hoped to add the respected and accomplished veteran. But for Nelson, the Pelicans represent an opportunity to play significant minutes and provide leadership.

The Pelicans had a full roster of 15 players, they could have waited until next Tuesday and gotten a disabled player exception to add a 16th player, but they decided to go with something more permanent.

Jrue Holiday starts at the point for the Pelicans but with Rondo out — he was supposed to start next to Holiday — there is no depth at the position. The Pelicans can have Nelson step in and get minutes from the first time he steps on the court.

Nelson is still a solid pick-and-roll point guard, but what he brings to the table the Pelicans need more is shooting — he shot 38.8 percent from three last season and is a good spot up player. He can penetrate and make plays off handoffs as well, but it’s his shooting on a team that needs it that will be most valued.

The Pelicans have started the season 0-2 with losses to Memphis and Golden State. They take on the Lakers in Los Angeles Sunday night.

DeMarcus Cousins fined $25,000 for cursing at fan

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Near the end of New Orleans’ season-opening loss in Memphis, DeMarcus Cousins started getting into a war of words with a female Grizzlies fan, an exchange where allegedly “F-bombs” were dropped in both directions.

That’s going to cost Cousins.

Saturday the league announced that the Pelicans’ center has been fined $25,000 for “directing inappropriate language towards a fan.”

Cousins got a technical foul during this exchange, and that has been rescinded.

Cousins has averaged 31 points and 10 rebounds a game through two games this season, but it hasn’t been enough as New Orleans has started the season 0-2.

It’s not about the shoes: Kevin Durant loses his, blocks two shots anyway

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Shoes? Kevin Durant don’t need no stinkin’ shoes.

Early in the second quarter of the Warriors win in New Orleans Friday, Durant came out of his shoes on a layup in the lane. He then picked up his shoe, carried it to the other end, flipped it to the bench, and played defense without it, and while he got moved out of the way allowing an offensive rebound for the Pelicans he then proceeded to block Tony Allen twice at the rim.

Durant — after deciding to play the rest of the game in shoes — had seven blocks on the night, to go with 22 points.