Kendall Marshall, Suns’ brass talk about the rookie’s fit in Phoenix

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The Suns couldn’t be happier with their choice in this year’s NBA Draft, and the feeling was mutual as Kendall Marshall met the media in Phoenix on Friday.

“I’m extremely happy to be here,” he said. “Best case scenario, this is exactly where I wanted to be.”

The team’s management echoed much of the same sentiments they expressed on draft night, gushing over the player and person they feel they’ve gotten as someone who can be a leader for the franchise. Marshall explained why he feels the fit is a good one in Phoenix.

“You look at the way Steve Nash distributes the ball, and how he’s been able to be successful with that, Phoenix has been able to get up and down the court and I feel like I can thrive in that system,” he said. “But as well as off the court, I feel like there were great vibes between me and the management and the coaches. I really feel like we really connected on and off the court. That’s something I was excited about.”

Marshall said it would be tough to compare his game to anyone currently in the league, but did express a desire to borrow some of the skills that have made others successful.

“I feel like I have a very unique game,” he said. “There are players such as Steve Nash, the way he uses pick and rolls and the bounce pass, where I may try to steal things out of his game. Jason Kidd is very versatile, and being a big point guard the way he’s able to rebound, I’d love to take that out of his game. I have so much to learn, and I’m excited about it. I do plan on learning from those players that have been in this league for a while.”

One of the skill sets Marshall needs to improve upon is his defense. But he’s the first to admit it, and believes that the way teams defend in the NBA will help his cause.

“I feel like I can definitely get better (defensively),” he said. “I know it’s something that I have to work on. But I think the defensive schemes are highly underrated. People don’t realize in the NBA, with the spacing, how important that is. I’m looking forward to really learning those concepts and trying to make it as tough as I can on the opposing point guards in this league.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Marshall said his pass-first mentality was instilled in him by his father at a very young age. As for whether or not that will work for him in Phoenix, Marshall pointed out the way other point guards around the league are used, and feels his success will be helped along by the team’s style.

“I think it’s all about the team,” he said. “You look at players like (Russell Westbrook) and (Derrick Rose) who are extremely dynamic, that’s what their team needs. Then you have other guys such as (Rajon Rondo) and (Ricky Rubio) who maybe don’t have to get 10 dunks and run super-fast, but they’re still able to get the job done. So I think it all depends on what the team needs and hopefully what I’m able to bring to the Phoenix Suns will make us successful.”

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry will be responsible for bringing Marshall along in his system, so it’s probably a good thing that he was 100 percent on board with the team’s draft night selection.

“People throw phrases out like ‘he’s a player’s coach,’ Gentry said. “Well, he’s a coach’s player. And by that I think it’s almost as if you will have a coach on the floor. I love what he does as far as pushing the basketball. Obviously we’re an uptempo team. But more than anything the cerebral part of it is really important where I think he’s going to be a guy that can very much control the game.

“At the end of the day, I wanted him, and I think everyone else really wanted him.”

Suns GM Lance Blanks certainly did. And as the team treads into the very uncertain waters of free agency, where its face of the franchise appears more and more likely to be gone, Blanks is confident that with Marshall, the team made the right choice.

“No matter what happens through free agency from our analysis, there’s a risk of tough times in the near future,” Blanks said. “And you need a stabilizing force — not only in the locker room, but on the court and in the community. You need someone basically that can represent what we’re about. And from A-Z, Kendall embodies all of those things.

“He’s not the perfect person, just like none of us are. But he is the perfect person for us at this time in the organization’s history.”

Ryan Saunders reportedly likely to stay on as Minnesota head coach

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When Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said this a few weeks back, it was pretty clear interim coach Ryan Saunders was probably staying on after the season and getting the job full time.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]. It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start. I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”<

Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler sabotaged the team’s season early on in a push to get out of town, a move that came with a high price coach/GM Tom Thibodeau. Remember Thibodeau wanted to speed up the winning and to get Butler traded Zach LaVine and just drafted Lauri Markkanen, but when Butler didn’t work out in Minny Thibs was doomed.

If you want more evidence that Saunders is staying on, there is this reporting from the well-connected Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Saunders, who turns 33 in April, is known to have a strong relationship with the All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played some of the best basketball of his career since the departures of Butler and Thibodeau.

The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from Towns will more than offset ownership’s disappointment about returning to the draft lottery.

Towns is the franchise cornerstone, one of the top centers and top 10-12 players in the league, if Saunders can get the most out of him — and so far he has — then that is a good reason to keep him around.

When Sauders got the coaching job, Scott Layden took over as GM. His job is not as secure. There have been rumors about Taylor wanting to go big game hunting — specifically Chauncey Billups — but it seems the Timberwolves are likely to go another direction.

Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

Whoever gets the GM job, retooling the Timberwolves roster around Towns will now be difficult — Thibodeau showed no patience and now they are paying the price. Towns’ well-deserved max extension kicks in next season and that gives Minnesota two of max deals for young players — Andrew Wiggins is maxed out as well and an anchor on any rebuild (he has four years at the max after this season, good luck trading that). Don’t forget Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million next season. If Jeff Teague opts into his $19 million for next season, the Timberwolves will have very little room to maneuver and shore up the roster.

All of that will make Saunder’s job a real challenge.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

Associated Press
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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.