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.

Paul George: I wanted Pacers to trade me to Spurs over Lakers

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When Paul George told the Pacers in 2017 he’d opt out the following year, the widespread assumption – fueled by George himself – was he wanted to join the Lakers.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

George had another team on top of his wish list.

“I wanted to be traded to San Antonio,” George says. “We wanted to go to San Antonio first, and we didn’t make that happen.”

A league source confirmed that the Pacers and Spurs talked, but San Antonio lacked the assets to pair George with Leonard.

Despite Kawhi Leonard trying to persuade the Spurs to deal for George, Indiana traded George to the Thunder. George spent a couple years in Oklahoma City and appeared mostly happy. But he requested and received a trade to join Leonard on the Clippers last summer, finally uniting the star forwards.

At the time of George’s Pacers trade saga, there was a theory he was using a veneer of Lakers interest to help his new team maintain assets. The threat of George leaving in 2018 free agency for Los Angeles reduced the quality of offers to Indiana. The Thunder’s package certainly looked meager (though Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis blossomed with the Pacers). Then, George re-signed with Oklahoma City without even meeting with the Lakers. This revelation only further supports that theory.

Is it true, though? George now plays with Leonard on L.A.’s rival team. He might want to show his affinity for Leonard and distance himself from the Lakers. This story accomplishes both.

I’ll definitely give George this: Whatever his motivations, he said on the record the Spurs were his first choice in 2017. He didn’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity. So, I’m inclined to believe him.

Bulls unveil blue uniforms (photo)

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Michael Jordan famously wore a pair of North Carolina shorts under his Bulls uniform.

Now, Chicago will bring baby blue to the surface.

Bulls:

These are a major-departure from the Bulls’ red-and-black color scheme. Even the logo is altered.

Such deviations are becoming normalized. The Magic will wear orange. Expect other teams to get more radical.

These jerseys will certainly sell. The short-term revenue boost of all these alternate uniforms is the entire idea.

But I wonder whether there’s a cost to teams diluting their identities. These don’t look like Chicago uniforms. It could become increasingly difficult to value the prestige of NBA jerseys if they’re so loosely associated with a team.

Bucks to wear ‘Cream City’ jerseys (photos)

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The Bucks making cream one of their colors? Great! It was distinctive and local, celebrating the cream-colored bricks throughout Milwaukee.

These uniforms?

Bucks:

Not so great. Everything about the uniforms is fine except the words on the front of the jersey.

I’m sure nobody will crack immature jokes about those.

Reporter: Charles Barkley told me, ‘I don’t hit women, but if I did, I would hit you’

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Charles Barkley has a history of sexist comments.

The crudest publicly came in 1990. Los Angeles Times:

Barkley, who said the remarks were meant as a joke, was quoted as saying after a tough Nov. 3 win over the underdog New Jersey Nets that “this is a game that if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids. Did you see my wife jumping up and down at the end of the game? That’s because she knew I wasn’t going to beat her.”

But since becoming beloved for his outspokenness as a commentator, there have been others – calling the Warriors’ style “little-girly basketball,” mocking the weight of female Spurs fans.

Now, Barkley has again run his mouth in this direction.

Alexi McCammond of Axios:

Turner Sports:

This was obviously inappropriate for Barkley to say. I’m not sure how else to characterize it. It doesn’t sound like a threat. It’s not related to domestic violence. It’s just not the way to speak to someone working professionally.

I’m glad he apologized, and I hope he learned from this. But history suggests he’ll continue to make off-color jokes. In fact, he’s rewarded for repeatedly pushing the line.

That might eventually get him into serious trouble. I don’t think these remarks should be the ones to spark mass outrage.