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Suns’ Devin Booker: ‘This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs’

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PHOENIX (AP) — Maybe, just maybe, the worst is behind the Phoenix Suns.

Their 50th anniversary season was awful, even worse than the two that came before.

For the eighth season in a row, the Suns won’t make the playoffs. The win totals the past three seasons: 23, 24 and – this year 21. That 21-61 mark is the worst since Phoenix went 16-66 in its inaugural 1968-69 season.

The season devolved in the final months, with injuries depleting the already exceedingly young roster, leaving a contingent of G League transfers to fill out the lineup in the final days. The Suns lost a franchise-record 15 straight in one stretch.

Now, everyone involved is insisting, enough is enough.

“I’m done with not making the playoffs,” rising star Devin Booker said as the players cleaned out their lockers and conducted exit interviews Wednesday. “I’m serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that’s putting pressure on myself, I’m going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn’t happen again.”

His goal is “turning the franchise around and getting it back how it used to be.”

“You watch the highlights of Barkley, Nash and them and how alive the arena was,” Booker said. “So one of my goals is to get it back that way.”

Booker, T.J. Warren and rookie Josh Jackson form the core of the young talent the Suns have accumulated. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss could be part of it, too, although their development has been uneven.

But Phoenix needs experienced players, and not just old guys to cheer on from the sidelines.

“The voice in the locker room or the voice when they’re teaching carries a lot more weight when the person is contributing,” interim coach Jay Triano said, “not just there as a teacher. … They need those guys on the court to follow.”

General manager Ryan McDonough agrees the time is come to ratchet up investment. To begin with, Phoenix has the most ping pong balls in the May 15 lottery and a chance at the No. 1 overall pick. At worst, the Suns will draft No. 4. They will have one, and maybe two, more first-round picks.

“We’ll be one of five or six teams with more than $10 million in cap space,” McDonough said, “and I think we have the ability to create significantly more if we want it.”

So the assets are there if they can be translated into needed players, and not teenagers, except that early first-round pick.

Three years of concentrating on acquiring this young talent is long enough, McDonough said.

“If you go beyond that I think the losing starts to set in and the guys start to become accustomed to that and the bar is lower,” he said. “Next year we’re going to try to raise the bar. We’re going to try to raise our standards. We won’t be as young. We won’t have nearly as many young players as we had last year.”

A couple of things to consider after the Suns’ miserable season.

COACH SEARCH: McDonough said the search will begin immediately for a head coach with a list of five to 10 candidates in mind.

Triano would like the job. He took over after Earl Watson was fired just three games into the season.

McDonough said he would like to have a coach in place before the draft combine and lottery in mid-May.

BOOKER’S CONTRACT: The Suns would like to have Booker sign a maximum contract extension in the offseason and he’s open to the idea.

Triano knows that Booker is tired of losing and believes things will get better for his budding star with more experienced talent around him.

“He looks around the locker room and sees what it is and he knows that it’s time,” Triano said. “I think the growth that he’s gone through individually as a leader and the capability he’s been able to show as a scorer has set the tone to make this an attractive place and to have him be the focal part of that. People around the league want to play with Devin Booker.”

KNIGHT IN WAITING: One of the biggest needs for the Suns is at point guard, and they’ve had one watching from the sidelines all season.

Brandon Knight, left over from the old days of three point guards with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Once stuck at the end of the bench with no playing time when he was able to go, he’s being talked about as the starter alongside Booker next year.

“As a competitor, as a winner, I just love to play the game,” Knight said. “I had the game taken away from me by the injuries and due to other things. … I’m just trying to help the Suns in any way I can.”

 

Now, Dwyane Wade must decide if this was the end

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade‘s first NBA game was in Philadelphia.

His last NBA game may have been there as well.

Retirement is a very real option for Wade, who has been not-so-quietly saying for weeks that he isn’t sure if he’ll be back next season. The offseason is here now, after the Miami Heat were ousted by the 76ers on Tuesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, and the face of the franchise may have taken his jersey off for the final time.

He has not decided.

But some of his closest friends believe this could really be the end.

“I appreciate y’all concern,” Wade said in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. “But we’ll worry about that later.”

Of course, his fans want him to come back. One prominent fan — his wife — cast her vote before he even left the floor after Game 5.

No one, not even Wade, knows how long this process will take. He’s going to talk to his wife. He’s going to talk to his kids. He’s going to talk to the Heat, and he’s going to talk to the people within his inner circle that are trusted most.

Wade isn’t a starter, but it could be argued the three-time NBA champion is still Miami’s best player. Wade carried the Heat to victory in Game 2 and got them on the brink of a win in Game 4. He doesn’t run as fast or jump as high as the version of himself known as Flash did, but he’s still capable of delivering big moments.

If Wade is done, the last visions fans will have of his career will be with him in a Heat uniform, still doing his thing. That matters to him. He isn’t Michael Jordan going out in a Washington jersey, or Patrick Ewing playing his last game with Orlando, or Shaquille O’Neal limping away from his NBA finale in Boston colors.

He wouldn’t be going out on top, but he’d be going out in the right uniform and still playing at a high level.

One way or another, his career always was going to end in Heat colors anyway. He wasn’t going out in a Chicago jersey, nor a Cleveland jersey. He had to wear “Heat” across his chest again, and when the Cavaliers traded him to Miami in February, it immediately became obvious that Wade was changing franchises for the final time.

Resume-wise, he’s more than good. He’s got three NBA championships. He’s got an Olympic gold medal. He’s going to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s going to go down as one of the best two or three shooting guards in the history of the game. The only guys with as many points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in their regular season and playoff careers as Wade? Jordan is one, LeBron James is the other.

Here’s something else to consider: Wade has never wanted a farewell tour. He watched Kobe Bryant go through it, noted how much of a grind it was for the Lakers star, and doesn’t want to hear the same questions in every road stop next season.

What’s the motivation to return?

That’s the unknown.

Wade is set financially. So this decision won’t primarily be about money. Even after a brutal divorce and custody battle a few years ago, Wade will never worry about cash. He’s well-invested, has deals that will continue working for him well after his playing days end, and will make millions next year whether he’s wearing sneakers or suits.

The Heat have serious cap challenges and won’t have a bank-breaking deal to offer Wade this summer. He won’t play for the minimum. He won’t get anywhere near the maximum. For him to return, it’ll have to be worth his while. He spends a ton of money to keep his body right. And if Wade can make more off the court than on it next year, it might make sense for him to retire.

Plus, put simply, Wade wants more time with his family.

His oldest son, 16-year-old Zaire, is finishing his sophomore year of high school. Zaire can play. He gets attention because of his father’s name, but his game is real. The next couple years will be critical to his development as a ballplayer, and his dad wants to have the time to share as much wisdom as he can.

So clearly, there are good reasons for Wade to retire.

But he can still play. And that might be the reason to come back, one more time.

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.