Report: Suns trade Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to Pistons in cap-clearing deal

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After signing Tyson Chandler, the Suns seemingly needed a sign-and-trade to be able to afford LaMarcus Aldridge, whom they’re said to still be in the running to sign. That’s not the case anymore: Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that they’ve cleared an additional $8.5 million off the books by sending Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock to Detroit.

Two thoughts. First of all, you can’t break up the Morris twins. That’s bad karma. But that aside, even if the Suns don’t land Aldridge (and I still think he ultimately ends up in San Antonio), they have the space to make another move now. They’ll still need to do a sign-and-trade or shed more salary to land Aldridge, but they have some pieces left on the roster (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, TJ Warren) that could be of interest to the Blazers. This is a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Three things to know from Denver dominating both ends, taking 2-1 series lead

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MIAMI — That looked like the Denver team that rolled through the West. The one that — on paper — Miami would have trouble matching up with.

The Nuggets’ best game of the Finals and maybe their best of the playoffs, was led by Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray becoming the first teammates in any game to have 30+ triple-doubles.

“By far their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

In our takeaways, we will focus on things other than Jokić and Murray’s greatness to start, but make no mistake, their dominance was the foundation on which this Nuggets win was built. Their play sparked Denver to a 109-94 win on the road to take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Friday night in Miami.

Here are three takeaways from the Nuggets’ Game 3 win.

1) Denver’s size advantage was too much

The Heat knew it was coming and couldn’t do anything about it.

“I think that was their objective, to get in the paint, get inside and use their size and physicality,” Kyle Lowry said. “And, yeah, that’s what they did tonight.”

“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Erik Spoelstra added. “They didn’t really have to shoot threes. They had, whatever, 60 [points] in the paint. They probably shot over 65% in the paint at the rim there [69% in the restricted area]. Wasn’t a need to space the floor. We didn’t offer much resistance.”

There’s an old basketball saying that tall and good beats small and good. That was in evidence on both ends of the floor on Wednesday night in Miami.

On offense, the Nuggets’ big adjustment was they changed the screening angles for Murray and that — combined with a determination on his part to get downhill at the rim — changed the game. Behind Murray the Nuggets scored 20 of its first 24 points in the paint. As noted above, the Nuggets went on to get 60 points in the paint.

Size showed on the Nuggets defense in the Heat shooting 38.2% within eight feet of the basket. While some of that had to do with better low-man help rotations from the Nuggets, their size with the guys making those rotations flummoxed the Heat.

“Yes, you do have to credit their size and everything like that, but we have proven that we can finish in the paint when we’re at our best,” Spoelstra said. They didn’t in Game 3 and had better find a way to do it in Game 4.

2) Nuggets’ defense was dialed in

This was The Nuggets’ best defensive game of the series. But don’t take my word for it, just ask their coach, Michael Malone.

“I thought our defense was fantastic tonight,” he said. “You hold that team to 94 points, 37 [percent] from the field, only 11 threes, that really helped us out tonight. The defending and rebounding at a high level.”

As Malone noted, the Nuggets held Denver to 37% shooting, or look at it this way, they held the Heat to a 102.2 offensive rating (12.8 below their playoff average).

Or, check out this stat from The Athletic’s Law Murray: The Heat were 17-of-46 (37%) on shots outside the paint, but they were also 17-of-46 on shots in the paint.

After Malone called out the Nuggets — publicly and privately — for their mental lapses on defense in Game 2, his team came out much sharper in Game 3. That showed in a couple of places, but first and foremost with effort and activity level — Denver was much more aggressive. They were taking swipes at the ball when Miami players would catch it, never letting them get comfortable.

The other area the Nuggets cleaned up was on low-man help rotations when Jokić had to show out on a pick. The Heat have thrived on little pocket passes to Bam Adebayo in this series, but the rotations from the Nuggets took the easy buckets away on those as players got in front of him. The confidence in his back line allowed Jokić to play out a little higher at points.

It’s on Spoelstra to come up with some counters, although what Miami needs to do in Game 4 doesn’t start with the coaching staff.

3) Butler, Adebayo need to be able to hang with Jokić, Murray

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have to be better. It’s that simple.

They don’t have to put up matching 30-point triple-doubles, but they can’t shoot a combined 18-of-45 (40%) with seven assists. They can’t combine to shoot 10-of-30 in the paint. They have to be more efficient and come close to matching Jokić and Murray on the night to have a chance.

“We didn’t play our best tonight,” Butler said of the Heat, sitting next to Adebayo in the press conference. “I feel like we just got to come out with more energy and effort, and that’s correctible. That’s on us as a group. No X’s and O’s can fix that.”

The Heat stars got outplayed on both ends. While their shooting woes are mentioned above, they were also the primary defenders on the Murray/Jokick pick-and-roll and they didn’t stop that either. Even in the second half when the Heat started blitzing the ball handler and consistently bringing a third defender early into the action, it didn’t matter, the Nuggets made the read and the play.

I don’t know. We’re going to get back to the film and figure it out, because we do have to be better guarding both of those guys,” Butler said. “One is the ball-hander and one is the guy that is setting the screen and popping and rolling. It’s not an easy task to do, but if we want to win, we are going to have to figure it out.”

Spoelstra thinks maybe the missed shots on the offensive end got in his team’s heads and impacted Miami’s defense.

“It felt like at times, some of those missed shots at the rim or in the paint, the makeable shots that we’ve made the last several months or weeks, that affected a little bit of our, whatever, going down the other end,” Spoelstra said. “And that hasn’t happened a lot.”

In addition to those two, the Heat roll players have to hit their 3-pointers, something they did in Game 2 and did not in Game 3. Max Strus was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc, Gabe Vincent 1-of-6, and as a team Miami was 11-of-35 (31.4%). The Heat’s 3-point shooting has been their bellwether all playoffs, and if they are going to hang with this Nuggets offense they have to knock those down at a better than 40% rate.

The one bright spot for the Heat was in garbage time, Udonis Haslem, at age 43, became the oldest player to appear in an NBA Finals game ever. He deserves that. Although you know he’d trade it for a win in a heartbeat.

Historic Jokić, Murray too much, Denver handles Miami in Game 3

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MIAMI — Denver can point to a lot of things it did right in Game 3.

This was the Nuggets’ best defensive game of the series, holding the Heat to 37% shooting and a 102.2 offensive rating (12.8 below their playoff average). The Nuggets held their own in the fourth quarter for the first time this series, winning it by one. Then Christian Braun came out of nowhere to have a night with 15 points, and the Nuggets scored 60 points in the paint.

But it all starts with Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray — they became the first teammates ever to have 30-point triple-doubles in the same game. Ever. Let alone in a critical Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“By far their greatest performance as a duo in their seven years together,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

They led Denver to a comfortable 109-94 win on the road to take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Friday night in Miami, and it’s basically must win for the Heat.

Miami will have to come up with better answers for the Nuggets stars, which is what every team has been saying since the playoffs started.

Jokić finished with 32 points (on 21 shots), 21 rebounds and 10 assists — Jokić had the first 30-20-10 game in NBA Finals history. In fact, there have been five such games in NBA playoff history, and he has three of them.

“I don’t care, it’s just a stat,” Jokić said in maybe the most Jokić statement ever.

“What he does, man, he makes it look so easy,” Murray said of Jokic. “You know, you’ve got 21 boards and everybody talking about how he can’t jump, and he’s out there battling everybody, physically strong. They say he doesn’t want to doesn’t want to score, he gives you 32. And 10 assists. He just makes the game look easy throughout the game, and like I said, his free throws his touch, creativity, the no-look passes, his IQ. I could go down the line, he’s a special player.”

Then there was Murray, who led the Nuggets with 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. While he shot 3-of-6 from 3, the big difference was Denver changed their screen angles in this game, it threw the Heat off and Murray got rolling downhill early. He finished with 14 points in the paint plus he got to the line eight times. With Murray attacking and being deadly from the midrange, the Heat were overwhelmed.

“They just pummeled us in the paint,” Erik Spoelstra said. “They didn’t really have to shoot threes. They had, whatever, 60 in the paint. They probably shot over 65% in the paint at the rim there [it was 69% in the restricted area]. Wasn’t a need to space the floor. We didn’t offer much resistance.”

Murray was getting downhill from the opening tip. The result of that and Jokić being Jokić was Denver getting 20 of its 24 points in the paint. The game was tied 24-24 after one quarter despite the Nuggets missing all of its 3-pointers (0-of-5) and Miami shooting 9-of-23. Jimmy Butler was aggressive with 10 in the first quarter (he would finish with 28 points on 11-of-24 shooting).

The second quarter had little flow because of all the whistles — it was a Tony Brothers statement game at points — and the Nuggets’ defense.

Denver was just sharper on defense than they have been all series and that started with their activity level — it was extremely high. They were swiping at the ball, being physical and bothering the Heat. The Nuggets also were much better on their low-man help rotations, getting in front of Bam Adebayo more and taking away some easy buckets.

Miami was not making Denver pay from beyond the arc in this game, as it shot just 11-of-35 (31.4%) from 3 on the night.

The first 24 minutes were played on the Heat’s terms, but that didn’t knock Jamal Murray off his game. Murray shot 8-of-13 in the first half on his way to 20 points, including 3-of-5 from 3. Throw in 14 first-half points from Jokić and the Nuggets took a 53-48 lead into halftime. Jimmy Butler put up stats, 14 points, but on 6-of-16 shooting.

The third quarter was more Butler for the Heat — 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the frame — but he wasn’t getting help. The rest of the Heat in the third shot 3-of-14 and had just eight points. All those misses and a strong rebounding game from Denver had them running and in more of a free flow.

The Nuggets also got a significant contribution from Christian Braun off the bench, who had six points in the third, two on brilliant cuts to the rim and one on a steal and a dunk.

Denver led by as many as 19 and was up 14 entering the fourth… but that is when the Heat have dominated this series.

Not this game. Miami cranked up the defensive pressure and made some plays, but Denver was ready for the zone and the pressure. They were not rushed. They got the ball to Jokić and it settled them.

And with that, the Nuggets settled the game and took the series lead.

Report: Suns tell Chris Paul they intend to waive him, making him free agent

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat
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There was a lot of talk in league circles that the Suns would try to trade Chris Paul around the NBA Draft — he still had $60 million over two years on the books, but only $15.8 million of it is guaranteed (all of that this season) with a June 28 guarantee date. Paul for a couple of rotation players would be a way for Phoenix to add needed depth to the roster.

Instead, the Suns informed Paul they intend to waive him before the deadline, making CP3 a free agent, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and Yahoo.

Soon after Haynes’ Tweet, multiple other reports from Suns sources came out pushing back on the idea he would automatically be waived. Which seemed the logical path the Suns would take.

The second wave of reports says the Suns are exploring options with Paul of which waiving him is just one, with similar reporting from Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic and Shams Charania of the Athletic, among others. The idea is the Suns would explore trade options — for Paul and Deandre Ayton — but waiving before June 28 could happen, according to the reports.

So many burning questions about this.

The first question is, why did this leak now? Why wouldn’t the Suns keep their plans quiet through the NBA Draft on June 22 — when trades will be flying around — in case CP3 fits into a deal that worked for them? Another team looking to save money might have been open to a trade. If not, the Suns tell Paul they plan to waive him closer to his deadline. Or they keep him because they line up a Deandre Ayton trade. Or a few other options, like bringing him back.

This leak changes the dynamic and market for Paul.

Which may have been the plan. Paul’s camp and the Suns met to talk on Wednesday (reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski), it’s easy to draw a line after that where Paul’s camp leaked this angle to put pressure toward a buyout, which would be his preferred option because it makes him a free agent. However it went down, this it’s a strategic blunder by the Suns this got out because it shrinks the team’s options.

Another question: If it comes to it, would the Suns outright waive him (saving $15 million in salary next season, but only freeing up $5 million in spendable cap space) or waive and stretch him, which keeps him on the books for five years but at just $3.16 million a season (freeing up a little more than $12 million next season)? The big difference is the Suns can’t re-sign him if he is stretched, they can if he is waived outright.

After he is waived it leaves the Suns with just five players currently under contract for next season: Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Landry Shamet and Cameron Payne.

The other burning question: Where does Chris Paul play next season?

Assuming he is waived and becomes a free agent (not a sure thing by any means), the obvious landing spot is with the Lakers to play alongside Paul’s good friend LeBron James. CP3 has been wanting to return to his home and family in Southern California, the Lakers are a contender (at least after the All-Star break) in need of a game-manging point guard. Signing Paul to a deal (again for an exception, far less than the $30.8 million CP3 was under contract for) makes LeBron happy, but still leaves the Lakers room to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura without going above the second luxury tax apron. 

Other teams would be picking up the phone and calling Paul, but the Lakers would be the frontrunners.

Paul, who will be 38 next season, averaged 13.9 points and 8.9 assists per game, and is still a quality point guard, but his skills on both ends showed clear slippage from his All-NBA years. Father time is winning the race. Wherever he plays next season, fans and the front office have to have reasonable expectations, but they are still getting a good point guard and one of the highest IQ players in the league. He would help the Lakers, the Suns and many other teams.

Where he lands is now a much more interesting subplot.

Is a rebuild coming to the Washington Wizards? League executives think so.

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards
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The Washington Wizards have been stuck in the NBA’s middle ground for years (at least since 2018), with a push from ownership on down to make the playoffs rather than go through a rebuild. The result was 35 wins last season, 35 the season before that, 25 before that, and you get the idea. A team that has underperformed with Bradley Beal on it.

Is that about to change under new GM Michael Winger? No decision about the short term of the franchise has been made, Winger told Josh Robbins of The Athletic (in a fantastic profile of the man). Big decisions will tip Winger’s hand this summer, with Kyle Kuzma a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis able to opt-out and reportedly looking for an extension.

However, outside the organization, the expectation is that a rebuild is coming in the next couple of years.

Many rival executives The Athletic has polled informally over the last two weeks expect Winger to undertake a full rebuild — if not this offseason, then within the next year.

Asked about his plans for the team, Winger says he’s leaving his options open.

“The raw, unfiltered truth is, I haven’t yet crafted the immediate vision for the franchise,” he says. “There are a lot of talented and high-character players on the team. I want to get to know them a little bit. The construct of a team isn’t just a matter of what is demonstrated on the court. It’s not just a matter of the box score. Team dynamics are personal, and I think that I need to understand those things before hatching an actionable plan. And I know that that’s not necessarily measurable in this moment. But it is the truth.”

If a rebuild is coming, are the Wizards better off re-signing Kuzma and Porzingis to tradable market-value contracts they can move in a year or two? Maybe spend a season running it back, see if this team can stay healthy and what they can do, then start making moves? Or, is it time to hit the reset button now and have a frank conversation with Bradley Beal?

One way or another, the long-postponed rebuild in Washington is coming. It just might not be immediate.