Dragan Bender

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Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.

1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.

Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.

Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?

Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it with Matthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.

Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.

2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.

This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.

Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).

• While we’re on the injury front, Boston’s Gordon Hayward underwent surgery on his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia on Wednesday, and according to his agent he is “unlikely” to return this season. Hayward did send a video message to Celtics fans thanking them. Boston will try to move on, but it’s been a difficult and emotional start to the season for the Celtics.

3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.

No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.

I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.

Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson doesn’t think he’s being traded to Cleveland

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Josh Jackson hasn’t even played in an NBA game and his name has become the focus of trade talks.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ top priority in the kings’ ransom they are asking is a top young prospect. Call it “what if Lebron leaves” insurance. Which is why when the Cavaliers talked to the Suns, the name of Jackson — the No. 4 pick who showed athleticism and promise at Summer League — came up. The Suns have since told Jackson he would not be traded.

Jackson was asked about it recently in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio (hat tip Clutch Points).

“I think if that was going to happen, it would’ve happened by now. A little talking to my agent, not really checking social media, because that’s not the way to go. People just say whatever. I handled it the same way I tried to handle Draft Night. Coming in, I didn’t know what was going to happen, I still don’t know what is going to happen. I’m going to make the most of whatever situation I’m presented with. If I’m traded to China, whatever, I’m gonna come out, I’m gonna be happy, just try to make the best of it.

“I was kind of in the dark a little bit. But I got a feeling that the trade wasn’t going to happen.”

In theory, the trade could still happen, but so long as the Cavaliers demand Jackson it is off the table. The Suns might be willing to throw in Dragan Bender instead of Jackson, but that will not get it done for the Cavaliers.

It’s the same around the league, which is why the Irving trade talks continue to bubble but with no real action.

Report: Suns willing to trade Eric Bledsoe, Dragan Bender, first-round pick for Kyrie Irving

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We keep hearing whom the Suns won’t trade for Kyrie Irving.

Not Josh Jackson. Not Devin Booker.

What would Phoenix trade for the Cavaliers point guard?

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

The Phoenix Suns are the team to watch on Kyrie Irving. Now, they won’t offer Josh Jackson plus that Miami 2018 first and Eric Bledsoe. I’m told they’ll do Bledsoe. They’ll do the pick. Plus, Dragan Bender.

That’s not a bad offer value-wise.

Bledsoe, though a downgrade from Irving, is a good starting point guard when healthy. Bender, the No. 4 pick last year, is still just a teenager who was expected to be somewhat of a project. And that Heat first-round pick – top-seven protected in 2018 then unprotected in 2019 – could prove quite valuable.

But there are reasons Cleveland hasn’t pulled the trigger.

Bender looked out of place in the NBA last season. The Cavs’ title window is open right now, and they don’t have a clear way to develop him. Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Jeff Green should leave very little playing time available at center and power forward. Even if Bender comes along more quickly than anticipated, his strengths – passing and shooting – matter less on a team that would never need to put the ball in his hands in key moments.

Jackson, on the other hand, could help the Cavaliers on the wing, where they need more depth. Though just a rookie, Jackson is actually older – and projects to be more ready – than Bender. Jackson’s defense would help a team with major deficiencies on that end.

But there are also reasons the Suns are offering Bender instead of Jackson.

Irving is locked up for just two more years, didn’t include Phoenix among his preferred destinations and won’t commit to anything beyond his current contract. The Suns might not win enough in the next two seasons with Irving to justify trading Jackson (under team control for five more seasons, though likely far longer if he pans out).

These teams sound close enough that a deal sounds plausible.

Maybe Phoenix relents and includes Jackson. After all, acquiring Irving is a special opportunity.

Perhaps, the Cavs loop in a third team and flip Bender for someone who fits better in Cleveland. But three-team trades are always difficult to pull off.

Still, it sounds as if the Cavaliers and Suns are at least in the ballpark of each other – something that can’t be said of other teams in the Irving sweepstakes.

Report: Cavaliers would pull trigger if Suns put Eric Bledsoe, Josh Jackson in Kyrie Irving trade

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As they should, the Cleveland Cavaliers are starting negotiations on Kyrie Irving trades asking a lot: An elite young player on a rookie contract, veteran starter who can help them now, and a first-round pick.

So far, no team has offered that kind of package up.

One team that easily could: The Phoenix Suns. They have picks, and they have quality veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe. However, they have told both of their young stars — Josh Jackson and Devin Booker — they will not be traded. If Jackson were in the deal, it would be done by now, according to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Cleveland also wants Josh Jackson, a 6-8 rookie drafted fourth overall by the Suns in June. Phoenix reportedly doesn’t want to trade Jackson, and a source said the Suns told Devin Booker he would not be traded — which would seem to put a serious hamper in this potential trade.

“If that deal (Bledsoe, Miami first rounder and Jackson) for Irving was there, it’d be done by now,” a league source with knowledge of the Cavs’ thinking told cleveland.com.

Phoenix is rebuilding, and they like what they have in Booker — a 20-year-old who averaged 22.1 points per game last season but is not efficient, and needs to improve his playmaking and defense — and the just-drafted Jackson (who is very athletic, shows defensive promise, but has work to do on his jump shot).

While you can argue the Suns should pull the trigger on this deal — NBC’s own Dan Feldman broke it down and is less opposed than I am — I would be cautious. Irving and Booker plus the rest of the Suns’ roster — Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren, and the aged Tyson Chandler — are improved not making the playoffs in a deep West. Then the Suns need to load up the rest of the roster to try to keep Irving happy and wanting to stay a Sun when he is a free agent in two years.

The Suns can get better now, but will slow and steady win the race? It’s a discussion for GM Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver to sit down and have. What direction do the Suns want to go, because they often seem to head down one path and then jump tracks to another, grinding their momentum to a halt. If they want to build slow, then do it right. So far they have quality young pieces, ones they may eventually want to trade, but is it that time now?

Report: Suns inform Josh Jackson he will not be part of any Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cleveland Cavaliers want an elite young player back in any trade of Kyrie Irving.

The Phoenix Suns have come up as a trade partner, because of Eric Bledsoe‘s salary, fit with Cleveland if Irving is gone, and the fact he and LeBron James share an agent.

And those suns have an elite young player — Josh Jackson. Taken fourth in the last draft, Jackson showed fantastic athleticism at Summer League, disruptive defense, the ability to make plays around the rim, and while his jumper needs some work there is genuine promise.

Which is why the Suns are not going to include Jackson in any Irving trade.

If the Suns are involved in an Irving trade, it’s likely as part of a three-team deal. Bledsoe would still go out, and Phoenix might be willing to throw in young players such as Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender, depending on what they got back.

That is the key — the return. Phoenix is rebuilding, Bledsoe is their best trade chip, and if he is going out the door, they are going to want real quality back in return. They are not in this to be a salary dump location, the Suns are going to want young players who can make a difference and picks. Most of the trade scenarios floating around in public forums use Phoenix as the dumping ground in the three- or four-team deals, just know that is not going to happen. The Suns want value for their best trade asset.