Marquese Chriss

Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

5 Comments

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.

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

14 Comments

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

7 Comments

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.

Cavaliers have three choices with Kyrie Irving. And no rush decide on one.

16 Comments

There were a lot of questions around Kyrie Irving‘s unexpected decision to tell Cleveland he wanted to be traded.

The first was why? He reportedly wants out of LeBron James‘ massive shadow, to “be the man” with another team. It also strikes me as a preemptive move — LeBron could leave next summer and Irving wanted to be in control of his own destiny rather than deal with the “is LeBron leaving roller coaster” for a season.

Next was “why now?” This is harder to find a good explanation for. Back in June, Irving talked about staying with LeBron and finding ways to beat the Warriors, a month later he wants out. It has to be frustrating for the Cavaliers front office, if Irving had told them this back at the start of free agency Cleveland might have been able to land Paul George or Chris Paul.

Finally, the question settled on Cleveland and what will they do?

They have three legitimate options.

1. Do nothing and keep Irving. The Cavaliers do not have to trade him — Irving has two years left on his contract, and the Cavaliers have leverage. Cleveland could take notes from the Lakers after Kobe Bryant’s trade me demand circa 2007 — Los Angeles told him they were looking but not move him, and eventually smoothed things over (and won a couple more rings).

It may be a lot harder for the Cavaliers to do that. How deep is Irving’s dissatisfaction run? Can LeBron and Irving mend fences? Or is the discord in Cleveland too great right now to smooth things over? Usually winning can cure all ills, and the Cavaliers should win plenty again. Then again, star players in the NBA usually get their way so if Irving really wants out…

2. Trade Irving for players to help them chase a title next year. My guess is this is the direction the Cavaliers will go. Why? Because Dan Gilbert looks at his franchise valuation since LeBron’s return and wants to keep him, and if the Cavaliers can get another ring (or at least look like a more serious threat to the Warriors) he’s far more likely to stay.

Because Irving does not possess a no-trade clause, the Cavaliers are not forced to send him where he wants to go (unlike Carmelo Anthony). Irving wants to go to San Antonio, but the Spurs would want to send LaMarcus Aldridge back, a guy who is also older and starting to decline, can be exposed defensively, and it leads to questions about a second ball handler for the Cavaliers. A Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks creates the same questions — ‘Melo wants to be a Cavalier, but would he and a young player (Frank Ntilikina or Willy Hernangomez) going to make the Cavaliers better. Or even keep them in front of Boston.

That said, there may be deals with other teams not on Irving’s list that better fit the Cavaliers’ needs. What if Phoenix offers Eric Bledsoe, a young player (Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, T.J. Warren) plus a pick? Cleveland gets a good point guard (not as good as Irving overall, but a better defender), a young athletic player, and they can stay near at the top of the East. There will be options like this that come on the table.

3. Trade Irving for young players and picks to jump start a rebuild. This is also known as the “we believe LeBron leaves next summer so let’s just be proactive and get all we can” plan. It should include trading LeBron as well before the deadline and just going into full on rebuild mode.

If the Cavaliers managed this path well — a legitimate question after Dan Gilbert decided he didn’t need one of the league’s best GMs right before the start of free agency — they could stockpile players and picks. It might not be the full Boston stockpile post Garnett/Pierce trade, but it puts the Cavaliers on that road (then it would come down to drafting well and developing players). All of this would require shrewd moves now and patience down the line, but it’s a legitimate course of action.

A fourth option discussed by fans — trade LeBron and rebuild around Kyrie — is unlikely I’ve been told. Start here: LeBron’s importance to the bottom line of the Cavaliers’ franchise value makes him far more important to Dan Gilbert and the organization than Irving. Also, even with what the Cavs get back in trading LeBron it would not make them a contender with Irving as the alpha (he doesn’t defend that well, and he’s not the guy on that team that moves the ball). Plus, Irving may want out still and could leave in 2019 anyway.

Regardless of which option the Cavaliers choose, what matters is not to rush into a decision. If they decide to trade Irving, do not trade out of frustration or anger — it needs to be devoid of emotion. It has to be about getting the best possible return. This summer is obviously a huge turning point for the organization, and they need to make a smart decision.

You know, the kind David Griffin would have made.

Suns hire NBA veteran James Jones for front office position

8 Comments

James Jones spent 14 years in the NBA, was a trusted sidekick of LeBron James and with that has been to seven straight NBA Finals had has three rings. It’s been a good career, one where he was back in the Finals with the Cavaliers last season.

Now he’s stepping out of that uniform — and into a suit. Or, at least a pair of khakis and a Phoenix Suns’ polo shirt.

On Wednesday the Suns announced that they have extended the deal of general manager Ryan McDonough, and created a new role in the organization for Jones, the new Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“James has a wealth of experiences that will greatly benefit our organization,” McDonough said in a statement. “He is a three-time NBA Champion and has been one of the top executives with the National Basketball Players Association over the past few years. We welcome ‘Champ’ and his family to our Phoenix Suns family.”

Jones has a good basketball mind and can help the Suns evaluate both players in the league now and college guys coming up. At the press conference announcing the moves the Suns as an organization preached patience and development, things Jones can help with (if they stick to that plan, the Suns don’t always stick to the plan).

Also, make no mistake this is part of the “we’re going to make a run at LeBron next summer” potential in Phoenix. The Suns often swing for the fences, have the ability to have max cap space (moving Brandon Knight or Tyson Chandler for an expiring contract would help), and they can boast a good young core of Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len. I wouldn’t move the Suns to the top of the list of likely LeBron landing spots, but Jones may at least get them a meeting. The Suns are smart to put themselves in position to go after him, and if not him pitch other big time free agents next summer — Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and more.