NBA season preview: Phoenix Suns

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Last Season: We could talk about the slow start, the impressive run in the season’s second half, or the eventual finish two games outside of the playoff picture. But all anyone in Phoenix will ultimately remember about the 2011-12 campaign is that it was the last time they would witness the on-court brilliance of Steve Nash while he was still a member of the Suns.

Key Departures: The face of the franchise and the team finally parted ways, after an eight-year run that gave fans more than their fair share of memorable moments. Nash’s departure certainly wasn’t unexpected, as the team had gone as far as it could with its former two-time MVP orchestrating the offense on every meaningful possession. But insult may have been added to Phoenix fans’ misery when Nash ended up in Los Angeles playing for the hated Lakers, whether it was the right move for the franchise or not.

Nash wasn’t the only cornerstone to leave. Grant Hill also ended up in L.A., albeit with the city’s far less-inflammatory version of an NBA team: the Clippers. Other departed players include Robin Lopez, a project whom the team decided to give up on, as well as deep bench players in Michael Redd, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, and Ronnie Price.

Channing Frye isn’t gone, but he’s out for at least the season after an enlarged heart condition was discovered during a routine training camp physical.

Key Additions: The Suns didn’t hesitate in replacing Nash, and did so by bringing back a familiar face. Goran Dragic returned to Phoenix in free agency, after being unceremoniously traded out of town by the same Suns franchise just two seasons before. Michael Beasley was acquired from Minnesota, as was Wesley Johnson. Luis Scola was picked up off the amnesty wire after Houston decided it wasn’t interested in competing any longer, the team added veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal, and grabbed point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Three keys to the Suns season:

1) I know the pieces fit, ’cause I watched them fall away*: This must be Alvin Gentry’s mantra heading into a transitional season. The team’s head coach is now entering his fifth year in that role, although his contract is currently set to end once the year is finished. Gentry has seen the good and the bad with this Suns team — he’s made it through the star-studded Shaquille O’Neal years, has taken the team to the Western Conference Finals, and has barely missed the playoffs a couple of times.

Now that Nash is gone, Gentry will have to make the new pieces fit into a cohesive unit — a challenge to be sure, but not impossible given the talent on the roster. The staring five should be able to compete with all but the league’s elite on most nights, and finding the right rotations to keep the game close with the reserves is something that’s more than possible considering the veteran NBA leader’s skill set.

2) It’s all about chemistry: There are a lot of new faces on this Suns roster; it’s truly a team in transition. Jared Dudley is the longest tenured team member at this point, and he has the personality to help congeal his new teammates into a group that can be productive together on the basketball court. But essentially, these guys don’t know each other. Once you get past Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair, it’s a whole new group of guys. You don’t just wake up one day knowing how to play with one another, and how quickly these players are able to come together will go a long way in determining their success this season.

3) Maximizing Marcin Gortat: Gortat can be a beast of a low post player, a strong pick-and-roll finisher, and a serviceable rim protector. But all of that depends on how he’s used. Last season, he flirted with All-Star numbers at the break thanks to a heavy dose of finishes out of the pick-and-roll with Steve Nash. Early on it doesn’t appear that Gortat will be afforded the same high volume of pick-and-roll opportunities that he received a season ago, so the team will need to find new ways to utilize his skill set and keep him engaged offensively.

The good news about Gortat is, if things aren’t going his way, or he feels he’s not getting the opportunities he should, he’ll let us know about it. He’s one of the most open and honest players in the game — not to the detriment of the team or in a complaining capacity, but simply from a standpoint of the facts as he sees them. So, either way — good times.

*It seemed fitting to quote lyrics from a Tool song in a Suns post at some point, since I met the band’s drummer — Danny Carey — in the team’s locker room during the Shaquille O’Neal era back in December of 2008. Better late than never.

What Suns fans should fear: This is completely dependent on your team-building philosophy. If you’re of the belief that a team needs to be blown up to try to rebuild through the draft, then your fear is that this team sneaks into the playoffs. If you simply want to see the team compete at the highest level, then you’re rooting for an eight seed, just to see what happens.

The good news for Suns fans is that there really are no worries with this year’s squad — there are certainly no championship aspirations, so just enjoy the ride, and hope for the best. Oh, and hope that whatever happens, it’s good enough for the franchise to sign Gentry to a new long-term contract.

Prediction: The Suns should compete on most nights, but the lack of depth should be problematic to the point that it will jeopardize the club’s ability to win on a consistent basis. Shooting for the eighth seed will be the priority, but it will be tough to get there given the level of talent on the competing teams in the Western Conference.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.

Rockets wear jersey patch to honor Santa Fe High School vs. Warriors

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The Houston Rockets have been supportive of the Texas community after a gunman killed 10 people and injured 10 others at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

Rockets point guard Chris Paul called NBA basketball “minor” compared to what those in Santa Fe are having to endure, and on Thursday the team took things a step further and donned special jerseys for their playoff matchup against the Golden State Warriors.

As Houston prepared to take on the reigning champs in Game 5 back in Texas, the team tweeted out a photo of the jerseys — complete with a special patch on the left shoulder — to honor the victims of the shooting.

Via Twitter:

The NBA has a lot of advocates for social and political change, not just individually but organizationally. How the Rockets responded is good to see in the face of yet another school shooting.

Andre Iguodala out for Warriors again in Game 5; Klay Thompson available

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The Warriors missed Andre Iguodala in Game 4 against Houston. They don’t have a Death/Hamptons 5 lineup without him. Without his depth, the Warriors had to lean more on players such as Kevon Looney (who started), Nick Young, and others who are can be a liability at the high level of play in this series. Not having Iguodala to keep minutes down, play fierce defense, move the ball on offense, and be a stabilizing force was one of the issues that led to the Warriors fourth-quarter issues in Game 4.

Now they are without him for Game 5, too.

Having Klay Thompson on the court is huge for Golden State, although it will be worth monitoring to see how he moves.

The Warriors have gotten sucked into the switching/isolation game the Rockets want to play, if they are going to take Game 5 on the road they need to get back to “the beautiful game” they want to play. That would have been easier with Iguodala.

Two years after NBA retirement, Amar’e Stoudemire talking comeback

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NBA teams seemed to have moved on from Amar’e Stoudemire. After an impressive NBA career — five-time All-NBA, Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star — he wasn’t physically the explosive player that dazzled with the Suns. Teams were interested in getting younger and more athletic, and Stoudemire was doing neither. He retired from the NBA and played for a season in Israel where he won a league title. This summer he’s signed up to play with the Big3.

After that he’,d like another crack at the NBA. When asked about an NBA comeback, here’s what Stoudemire told CBS Sports’ Bill Reiter on ‘Reiter’s Block’:

“I am. I am. I’m definitely planning on (coming back). I’ve been training like you wouldn’t believe, my body feels great. I had an amazing year last year playing overseas and so I’m gonna definitely continue to work my way back to top shape and see if there’s a team that needs my talents.”

I’m not sure there’s going to be much demand. Maybe a team does an old friend a favor and brings him in for some workouts. However, his knees and body struggled with the physical grind of the NBA the final few seasons of his career, and it’s unlikely with age that got better. No doubt he’s worked on his conditioning and strength, but Father Time always wins the race and it already felt like this chase was over.

That said, good on Stoudemire for not giving up on the dream. His agent should be making calls, maybe he can become the second player to make the Big3 to NBA leap.