ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Phoenix Suns

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Last season: Believe it or not, the Suns actually had playoff aspirations when the regular season began. The front office believed that Michael Beasley would be different in Phoenix than he had been anywhere else, and mandated that he be given a chance to be a difference-maker in the lineup. Once it became clear that Beasley was a bust and that the team was headed nowhere but the draft lottery, the Suns parted ways with head coach Alvin Gentry in the middle of the year, and gave the interim tag to Lindsey Hunter.

That was essentially a disaster, as Hunter was directionless during his time in charge, and alienated veteran players while never gaining command of the locker room in the process.

The offseason saw Beasley bought out of his contract, GM Lance Blanks let go, and a new general manager in Ryan McDonough and a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek brought in to lead the rebuild back to respectability.

Signature highlight from last season: There were so many to choose from … OK, not so much. But what struck me when revisiting Suns highlights from last season were the three different times (plays 9, 8, and 2 in the clip below) that Goran Dragic found a teammate with a bounce pass through a defender’s legs for the finish.

Key player changes: The Suns began the rebuilding process by making some moves geared more toward the future than the present, but managed to pick up a nice asset on a rookie contract in Eric Bledsoe while doing so.

  • IN: Bledsoe came over in the deal that sent fan favorite and consummate teammate Jared Dudley to the Clippers. Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green were acquired from the Pacers in the deal that sent Luis Scola to Indiana. Slava Kravstov and Ish Smith were acquired from the Bucks by trading Caron Butler, who came over with Bledsoe in the deal with the Clippers. Malcolm Lee is on the roster as a result of the draft night trade Phoenix made to move up to be able to select Archie Goodwin. Alex Len is the other rookie in place, selected by the team with the fifth overall pick in this summer’s draft. It’s worth noting that the Suns have 16 guaranteed contracts in place at the moment, and will need to get down to 15 players before the season begins. Lee would appear to be the odd man out.
  • OUT: Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal, Wesley Johnson, Hamed Haddadi, Scola, and Dudley.

Keys to the Suns season:

1) Developing Eric Bledsoe: The explosive reserve guard who showed flashes of brilliance for the Clippers playing behind Chris Paul last season was coveted by many teams, but the Suns were the ones creative enough to come up with an enticing package (and involve a third team) in order to secure Bledsoe’s services.

Bledsoe is athletic and speedy, and on the defensive end he lives in the passing lanes. But he’s still raw offensively, and developing him into a consistent player on both ends of the floor should be the primary goal in Phoenix this season. It’s worth noting that Bledsoe is essentially in a contract year — the Suns can extend him a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent following the season, thus having the right to match any offer he may receive. Even a bad year is likely to net Bledsoe some pretty significant offers, so the Suns need to see what they have in him before committing cap space and huge dollars over the next several seasons.

2) Trade bait: The Suns are by no means done dealing considering their rebuilding situation, and the team has players in contract situations that will be appealing to other teams around the league, especially as the trade deadline approaches. Marcin Gortat and his expiring $7.7 million deal is at the top of that list, and even he knows it. Another interesting name, though, is Channing Frye, who is back after sitting out all of last season with a heart condition. If Frye returns to form as a high-percentage shooter from three-point distance, his ability to stretch the floor will be highly-coveted for his relatively low price. Frye is on the books for $6.4 million this season, and has a player option for $6.8 for the following season.

3) Building a foundation: The most important thing for the Suns to do this season is establish an identity and a direction under new head coach Jeff Hornacek. Once the wheels fell off a season ago, there was no leadership from either the front office or from the interim coach on the sidelines. McDonough appears to have a long-term plan in place from a management standpoint, now that needs to trickle down to the players on the floor. The holdovers from last year have responded extremely well to Hornacek thus far — his challenge will be to keep everyone focused and engaged on improvement over the long grind of the season, especially in the face of tallying few wins against so many losses.

Why you should watch: The Suns aim to play uptempo offensive basketball under Hornacek, and that should be a blast with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe pushing the pace in the starting lineup.

Prediction: The oddsmakers have set the over/under for season wins in the 21-22 neighborhood, and that seems a bit on the low side given the guys in place and the effort we’ve seen thus far during the preseason. With that being said, there’s going to be a lot of losing in Phoenix, but if there’s good news surrounding that it’s the franchise having a plan in place and a head coach that seems well-suited to the challenge of rebuilding that lies ahead. As long as Hornacek keeps his players on the path of continual improvement as the season progresses, the year will ultimately be viewed as a success.

Stephen Curry’s Davidson roommate, Bryant Barr, now serves as his caddy in Tahoe

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When Stephen Curry lost a golf bet to his father, Dell, at the American Century Championships over the weekend in Lake Tahoe, Curry jumped in the lake. Literally.

So did his caddy.

That caddy is no run-of-the-mill duffer, that is Bryant Barr — Curry’s roommate and teammate from Davidson. The two (and their wives) are still close friends.

And Curry still owes Barr a dinner from a game of H-O-R-S-E game back in college.

Barr explained it all to the NBC Golf team that covered the event over the weekend. Check out the great video above.

By the way, Ray Allen came in tied for third at the championship.

Warriors assistant Mike Brown: David West just trying to ‘stir the pot’ with joking post-title remarks

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After the Warriors won the championship, David West said they dealt with internal issues so shocking, people would trip if they learned the details.

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and assistant coach Ron Adams didn’t go along with that narrative. Now, another Warriors assistant is explaining more clearly just what the heck West was talking about.

Mike Brown on The Full 48 podcast, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“There’s no deep, dark secret,” the Warriors assistant coach said. “We had our ups and downs throughout the course of the year, just like any other team. We were able to get through them.

“Steve (Kerr) asked David or talked to David about it, and David was like, ‘I was joking (laughter). I just wanted to stir the pot a little bit.’ And he sure enough did. There’s nothing to it.”

That settles it.

Unless that’s what they want us to believe…

Report: Spurs signing Dante Cunningham

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The Spurs were running low on small forwards. Kawhi Leonard remains in limbo, and San Antonio let Kyle Anderson leave for the Grizzlies.

Enter Dante Cunningham.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is probably a minimum contract. The Spurs still have whatever of the mid-level exception they didn’t give Marco Belinelli or the bi-annual exception. But that’s not way more than the minimum ($2,176,260) for Cunningham, who has nine years experience – and probably couldn’t command more, anyway.

Unlike Rudy Gay, Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes, Cunningham is San Antonio’s first free-agent signing this summer who didn’t previously play for the team. He’s a combo forward who will likely be needed more at small forward. He can handle larger small forwards, and Belinelli can play the three against smaller opposing small forwards in a platoon.

Cunningham is a solid defender in the right matchup, and he holds his own as a 3-point shooter. The Spurs should use him well.

Of course, the Spurs must first determine what to do about Leonard before fitting in more pliable pieces like Cunningham.

LaVar Ball denies leaking Lonzo Ball’s knee injury

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The Lakers reportedly believe someone in Lonzo Ball‘s camp leaked his knee injury to depress his trade value and keep him in Los Angeles.

So, of course, speculation turned to his media-savvy father who has a major financial interest in maintaining footing in the Los Angeles market.

LaVar Ball, via TMZ:

“I don’t leak nothing. I always say what’s on my mind, so you don’t never see me saying, ‘I think I should say this now and let it leak.’ I don’t do that.”

It would be more in-character for LaVar just to announce Lonzo’s knee injury or – especially now that the Lakers are publicly acknowledging Lonzo’s need for surgery – brag now about his maneuvering. So, maybe he wasn’t behind this.

But it still could have been someone else in Lonzo’s camp, with or without LaVar’s knowledge.

The Balls don’t need to apologize if they disclosed Lonzo’s injury. It’s his knee. He can say what he wants about it, however it affects the Lakers.

But these accusations and subsequent denials certainly don’t signal a strong relationship between the team and player.