Suns GM Lance Blanks talks NBA Draft needs, says team will target perimeter players

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It’s not an understatement to say that the Phoenix Suns face one of the most critical summers in their franchise history. The numerous, difficult decisions that lie ahead may shape not only the way next season turns out, but the next several. And they will largely be made by second-year general manager Lance Blanks.

The organization as a whole seems to be revamping many of its internal operations — from increasing personnel relating to scouting and player development, to looking at its front-office evaluation process. The upcoming NBA Draft will be its first, if not most important test — the latter will come in free agency, of course, where Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and four others on the team’s roster are all unrestricted.

The Draft comes before the free agency period begins, however, so that’s what Blanks wanted to focus on during an informal lunch session with media members on Monday. Blanks was personable and open about the team’s needs during the Q and A portion of the afternoon that lasted a little more than 30 minutes, and began by acknowledging that the Suns need to get younger and better defensively, particularly at the wing positions.

“You look at our roster, we feel that this year, our perimeter is an area that we’d like to add a little youth,” Blanks said. “Whether it be the one (point guard), two (shooting guard) or the three (small forward). We want to inject some youth in that, and when you look at our roster and compare it to the draft, we feel like we’ll be able to do that in a big and impactful way.”

Two of those spots currently feature aging veterans Nash and Hill, and while both are capable of playing at an extremely high level when healthy, they would certainly benefit from having a reduced workload on a nightly basis.

If the talent level available at the wing positions isn’t where the team feels it needs to be by the time the Suns’ 13th pick in the first round comes, Blanks isn’t afraid to look at other options.

“It’s a little bit of both, and somewhat of a sliding scale,” Blanks said, when asked if he philosophically prefers to draft for need, or simply grab the best available player regardless of position. “If you’re at a point in the draft, and it’s not necessarily the player or the position you’re looking for, but the player is so good that it doesn’t matter, then you’d have to go that way. All things being equal, you go with what the need is for the team. You owe that to the fans, the organization, ownership, to your coach to fill that need. It is difficult to find players or have an opportunity to get players that can impact your roster, regardless of how you do it. So whenever there’s an opportunity to fill a need, you want to take advantage of it.”

The plan for the immediate future is for Blanks to attend the upcoming pre-draft camp in Chicago to see and talk to players, before hosting private workouts in Phoenix in the days leading up to the Draft. He expects the team to keep the pick at this point, but acknowledged that given the way last season ended, he’ll have to be open to all opportunities.

“I can tell you that it’s likely we’ll have our pick and keep it,” Blanks said. “Unless there is something unforeseen that I can’t see. With that being said … we didn’t make the playoffs. So we’re not in a position to say there’s nothing that we wouldn’t do. The goal, again, is getting back to being successful, and playing well into the spring. And in order to do that we’ve got to be willing to make change, which we are.”

The needs are many for this Suns team, and wholesale change to the roster before next season seems inevitable. And though free agency talk was set aside for the time being, it’s impossible for the team to assess where it goes from here without taking it into consideration.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.