ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Phoenix Suns

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Last season: The Suns were one of the league’s pleasant surprises, racking up 48 wins and just barely missing the playoffs during a season where expectations were essentially the exact opposite. No one expected a starting lineup that featured Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee to be capable of that much, but the team played cohesively under first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, and with Goran Dragic playing at a level that earned him third-team All-NBA honors, along with a resurgent Gerald Green, the competent Morris twins, and half a season of Eric Bledsoe (did I get everybody?), Phoenix became a League Pass favorite early in the season.

Signature highlight from last season: The primary reason for the unexpected success the Suns experienced was their ability to play as a unit, while getting important contributions from multiple players on a nightly basis. This particular clip showcases that — Plumlee gets things started with a rejection at the rim, Frye saves the ball from going out of bounds to Bledsoe, who goes the length of the floor and absorbs the contact for the impressive and-1 finish.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Suns season:

The health of Eric Bledsoe: The Suns were very good with Bledsoe in the lineup last season, posting a record of 28-15 in the games he played against a 20-19 record when he was sidelined due to injury. Phoenix invested heavily in Bledsoe’s potential, inking him to a five-year deal worth $70 million this summer. The problem is that Bledsoe has had two seasons — last year in Phoenix, and 2012 with the Clippers — where he was only available for half of his team’s games. There’s no question he shined statistically when finally getting his chance to play as part of the starting lineup, posting career-best averages of 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 32.9 minutes per contest. But for the Suns to improve upon last season’s success, they’ll need Bledsoe to be around for the bulk of his team’s games.

Replacing the production of Channing Frye: Frye was allowed to walk in free agency, which is fine if the Suns feel that they can replace what he does with the guys in place on the roster. It may not be as easy as it seems — Frye averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 37 percent from three-point distance, and starting in all 82 regular season contests. He played the stretch-four role to perfection, which helped the spacing and opened things up for Dragic and Bledsoe to get to the basket. It’s unclear where Hornacek will turn for a long-term solution here; he’s started Markieff Morris and Anthony Tolliver at times during the preseason. Morris was Sixth Man of the Year material last season, however, so the Suns might want to keep him in that role. If Tolliver can fill Frye’s shoes, it would be a huge relief for the team on the offensive end of the floor.

Living up to expectations: The Suns surprised last season, for all of the reasons mentioned above. Teams weren’t prepared for the level of execution that Phoenix brought on a game-by-game basis, and the fact that the Suns were able to get off to fast starts while their opponents got their bearings undoubtedly helped the team’s winning cause, especially during the first half of the season. Phoenix won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, however, so playing as a good team may change things a bit if the team isn’t properly focused.

Why you should watch: Dragic and Bledsoe are one of the most exciting backcourts in the game, and the addition of another speedy guard in Isaiah Thomas may make for some dazzling lineups. Phoenix’s style is intoxicating, and when things are really clicking, this team is a joy to watch.

Prediction: The Suns are well-positioned to surpass last year’s win total and make a run at one of the final two postseason spots in the Western Conference. The addition of Thomas gives the team even more firepower off the bench, and if Plumlee and Markieff Morris continue to improve, there’s no reason Phoenix can’t continue to surprise, and make a return to the playoffs in the upcoming season.

Report: Lakers reportedly never asked Anthony Davis about waiving trade kicker

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The Lakers reportedly didn’t address the trade date with the Pelicans before agreeing to deal for Anthony Davis. That oversight cost the Lakers leverage in negotiating parameters that’d open max cap space.

So, the Lakers are scrambling now.

Different proposals for revising the deal include Davis waiving his $4,063,953 trade bonus. At last check, he intended to receive the full the amount, though maybe he’s willing to leave money on the table to help his new team.

But the Lakers apparently haven’t even asked him yet.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The Lakers could have asked Davis to waive the kicker as part of the deal. Per league sources, they never broached it.

To give the Lakers (far too much) benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re waiting to see which free agents they can attract before asking Davis about the trade bonus. The Lakers might think they have a better chance of getting Davis to waive the bonus if they can present a compelling plan of how the extra money would be used.

More likely, it seems Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka just isn’t covering all the bases he should.

There are still ways for the Lakers open max cap space and get Davis more, if not all, of his bonus. Essentially, the Lakers must send out more money in the trade so they can take in more money, including Davis’ trade bonus. They could guarantee more of Jemerrio Jones‘ salary and/or sign-and-trade Alex Caruso in a revised version of the deal.

But Jones and Caruso would have negative value in those scenarios. So, the Lakers would have to attach sweeteners to whichever team took them.

That might be a justifiable cost of forming a team with LeBron James, Davis and a third star. It’s also a cost that should have been more thoughtfully considered before agreeing to terms with New Orleans.

To get under luxury tax, Thunder reportedly would trade Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, No. 21 pick

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As you read this, without their roster completely filled up yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder are more than $6 million over next season’s luxury tax line of $132 million. That’s just the guaranteed money. By the time you factor in non-guarantees and the cost of the No. 21 pick, the team will be more than $19 million into the luxury tax.

That price may be a little steep for Thunder ownership, according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.

It would be impossible for the Thunder to avoid the luxury tax without doing serious damage to their chances to chase a ring next season — and in a Western Conference that doesn’t have a dominant Golden State team on top, the Thunder believe they have a shot. This is likely more about reducing the tax hit than avoiding it.

The Thunder will pay $38.5 million next season to Russell Westbrook and $33 million to Paul George, and obviously those two are untouchable.

Adams will make $25.8 million next season and $27.5 million the one after that, however, trading him would do serious damage to OKC’s fourth-ranked defense last season. Adams is an integral part of the Thunder identity on and off the court, and trading him is highly unlikely. Dennis Schroeder will make $15.5 million each of the next two seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Thunder off the bench.

Andre Roberson seems a more likely candidate. He missed all of last season due to a ruptured left patellar tendon (although they did miss him(. He’s set to make $10.7 million and if a team can be convinced the defensive specialist is back and healthy there would be teams interested. The challenge for the Thunder is constructing a trade that does not bring back salary.

Nothing may happen around the draft, but keep an eye on Thunder this summer as they try to save a little cash without damaging their playoff dreams.

Report: Rockets tried to give away Chris Paul, but teams – including Knicks – said no

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey not only denied a report that Chris Paul demanded a trade, Morey said Paul would remain in Houston next season.

We might never know how tense the situation has gotten between Paul and James Harden. We might never know whether Paul requested a trade.

But we will know whether Paul begins next season in Houston.

Morey’s credibility is on the line with that. Will he really refuse to trade Paul? That’s not Morey’s style.

More likely, Morey made that declaration only after exhausting the market for Paul and the three years, $124,076,442 remaining on his contract.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, via CBS:

There’s not a team in the league right now that is like, “I’m going to go trade for Chris Paul.” Even some teams that they’ve called, I’m told, as just a dump, like, “We’ll give you Chris Paul for free,” those teams are like “We’re good.” So, the value just is not there right now.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources.

Good for the Knicks resisting. With Kyrie Irving apparently (maybe?) headed to the Nets and Kevin Durant‘s future up in the air, that’s the type of desperate move New York is known to make.

Paul, 34, is overpaid and declining. No team should absorb his contract into cap space.

But he’s still pretty good. Not nearly as good as he once was, but good enough to help the Rockets. Their championship window hasn’t necessarily snapped completely shut yet. There’s value in keeping Paul and trying to repair his and Harden’s relationship.

There also might be better opportunities later in the summer to trade Paul. Teams want to preserve their cap space now for free agents. But some teams will strike out and might view Paul as a good fallback option.

Of course, if Morey thought a deal later in the offseason were a possibility, he probably wouldn’t have so explicitly insisted Paul will remain in Houston.

Report: Minnesota “aggressive” in trying to trade up in draft, talked to Pelicans about fourth pick

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are slotted to pick 11th in the NBA Draft Thursday night. There they could land players along the lines of Brandon Clarke or Rui Hachimura, both of Gonzaga.

The Timberwolves have their sights set higher and they are looking to move up in the draft — maybe all the way to No. 4, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic fleshed out some details.

Among the options being considered, as first reported by ESPN, is moving all the way up to No. 4, presumably for a shot at Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. He missed most of his lone season in college due to a knee injury, but prior to that was widely scouted as the top point guard in the draft class. Interest in such a move is indicative of Rosas’s mindset of star-chasing, an approach honed in Houston.

That sounds great in theory, but what is the deal to be made for the fourth pick? David Griffin of the Pelicans has made it clear the No. 4 pick is available, but they want a veteran — and one not too old — in return. The Timberwolves don’t have that guy on their roster. (Technically they do in Andrew Wiggins, but that’s not a contract — four years, $122.3 million remaining — that the Pelicans would take on.)

Minnesota’s head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas told The Athletic how hard this kind of trade can be.

“The reality is, and history will tell you, it’s hard to trade up into the top three of the draft, even top five in the lottery,” Rosas said. “It’s very difficult. We know, because we’re tried, and will continue to try. But that price, the premium that teams charge for that is at a high level in any draft in any year.”

Minnesota seems a long shot, but don’t be surprised if the Pelicans trade the No. 4 pick. New Orleans has worked hard to find someone to take that pick off their hands, so long as they get a fair price back.