Rudy Fernandez has been given his chance, but has lost his confidence

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nba_fernandez_250.jpgRemember the Rudy Fernandez from the gold medal game in Beijing? The one with 13 points in nine minutes on the court. The one that made you think “Damn, Portland has another one, another great young player.”

That Rudy Fernandez has gone missing. And Portland could really use him, as he is starting in place of the injured Brandon Roy against the Suns (a series that tied up at one game a piece).

That Fernandez was confident, the kind of guy that women chase. But after rewatching all his plays from the first two games of the Suns series, he looks like a player without any belief in himself.

He is 2 of 9 from the floor for the series, 1 of 7 from three.  He has not driven the lane with any authority — all his shots have been jumpers, the closest he has gotten to the rim is a jumper from the elbow (he made that). He has four assists, but they are not things he created. Look at the two from Tuesday. One was a simple drop off to Marcus Camby as he moved through the offense, but the Suns defender dropped off Camby and dared him to hit the 18 footer (he did, the Suns should know better than to give him that shot near the top of the circle). The other was not really an assist, in early offense off a Suns miss Fernandez made an ordinary pass to Batum at the three point line, who held the ball for a second, took a couple dribbles left and when his defender stepped back to slow penetration he hit the pull up three.

Fernandez is playing passive, he is clearly unsure of himself. His issues with the Blazers system and coach Nate McMillan are well documented. He said he was frustrated that he was not getting enough minutes.He has talked about wanting to go back to Europe to play.

Well he’s getting his minutes in the playoffs, but all of that stuff from the past is clearly still impacting his game.

Credit the Suns for part of Fernadez’s struggles, they took Andre Miller out of the game by putting Grant Hill on him, which forced Fernandez into a more point guard role, one he is not suited to. The Suns Jason Richardson talked
about this
in a radio interview with KTAR in Phoenix yesterday.

“We know Andre is not only their playmaker but they rely
on a lot of scoring from him because Brandon Roy is down.  Make sure to
get the ball out of his hands making tougher to ask for anybody else to
get into their offense and then deny him the ball and make somebody else
beat us.  It will be a great scheme and it actually worked last night.”

Part of Fernandez role is to be the feared spot up guy, or a guy coming off screens and getting the shot if open (or making the post pass inside if not). The ultimate goal for the Blazers is to get the ball inside to Camby or LaMarcus Aldridge. But to get the ball inside means someone has to be an outside threat. There has to be balance.

Fernandez is supposed to be that balance. Right now he is not.

ESPN’s John Hollinger talked with Blazers coaches who had some ideas about how to get Fernandez involved.

To an extent, Blazers insiders will tell you that their offense makes it difficult for Fernandez to put up big numbers, and it hides some of his contributions. He’s usually not a primary ball handler, and often his main responsibility is to run a curl to set up a post-up for Aldridge before retreating to the opposite corner. When he does get touches, most often they’re for an immediate post entry to Aldridge — a tricky type of play that he executes as well as or better than anyone else on the team.

That said, the general sentiment before Game 2 was that Fernandez should attack the basket a bit more and not settle to be a jump shooter. This was particularly true given that the Suns were guarding him with Nash, one of their most vulnerable defenders, as he gives up 3 inches to Fernandez and can’t hope to match him in the air. For Fernandez to finish without a field goal in that matchup borders on embarrassing.

Without Roy, the Blazers are going to need Fernandez to step up, to make an offensive contribution and force the Suns to adjust. He has the game to do it.

But his head and his confidence seem to be back in Spain.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.