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Suns’ Devin Booker: ‘This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs’

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PHOENIX (AP) — Maybe, just maybe, the worst is behind the Phoenix Suns.

Their 50th anniversary season was awful, even worse than the two that came before.

For the eighth season in a row, the Suns won’t make the playoffs. The win totals the past three seasons: 23, 24 and – this year 21. That 21-61 mark is the worst since Phoenix went 16-66 in its inaugural 1968-69 season.

The season devolved in the final months, with injuries depleting the already exceedingly young roster, leaving a contingent of G League transfers to fill out the lineup in the final days. The Suns lost a franchise-record 15 straight in one stretch.

Now, everyone involved is insisting, enough is enough.

“I’m done with not making the playoffs,” rising star Devin Booker said as the players cleaned out their lockers and conducted exit interviews Wednesday. “I’m serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that’s putting pressure on myself, I’m going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn’t happen again.”

His goal is “turning the franchise around and getting it back how it used to be.”

“You watch the highlights of Barkley, Nash and them and how alive the arena was,” Booker said. “So one of my goals is to get it back that way.”

Booker, T.J. Warren and rookie Josh Jackson form the core of the young talent the Suns have accumulated. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss could be part of it, too, although their development has been uneven.

But Phoenix needs experienced players, and not just old guys to cheer on from the sidelines.

“The voice in the locker room or the voice when they’re teaching carries a lot more weight when the person is contributing,” interim coach Jay Triano said, “not just there as a teacher. … They need those guys on the court to follow.”

General manager Ryan McDonough agrees the time is come to ratchet up investment. To begin with, Phoenix has the most ping pong balls in the May 15 lottery and a chance at the No. 1 overall pick. At worst, the Suns will draft No. 4. They will have one, and maybe two, more first-round picks.

“We’ll be one of five or six teams with more than $10 million in cap space,” McDonough said, “and I think we have the ability to create significantly more if we want it.”

So the assets are there if they can be translated into needed players, and not teenagers, except that early first-round pick.

Three years of concentrating on acquiring this young talent is long enough, McDonough said.

“If you go beyond that I think the losing starts to set in and the guys start to become accustomed to that and the bar is lower,” he said. “Next year we’re going to try to raise the bar. We’re going to try to raise our standards. We won’t be as young. We won’t have nearly as many young players as we had last year.”

A couple of things to consider after the Suns’ miserable season.

COACH SEARCH: McDonough said the search will begin immediately for a head coach with a list of five to 10 candidates in mind.

Triano would like the job. He took over after Earl Watson was fired just three games into the season.

McDonough said he would like to have a coach in place before the draft combine and lottery in mid-May.

BOOKER’S CONTRACT: The Suns would like to have Booker sign a maximum contract extension in the offseason and he’s open to the idea.

Triano knows that Booker is tired of losing and believes things will get better for his budding star with more experienced talent around him.

“He looks around the locker room and sees what it is and he knows that it’s time,” Triano said. “I think the growth that he’s gone through individually as a leader and the capability he’s been able to show as a scorer has set the tone to make this an attractive place and to have him be the focal part of that. People around the league want to play with Devin Booker.”

KNIGHT IN WAITING: One of the biggest needs for the Suns is at point guard, and they’ve had one watching from the sidelines all season.

Brandon Knight, left over from the old days of three point guards with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Once stuck at the end of the bench with no playing time when he was able to go, he’s being talked about as the starter alongside Booker next year.

“As a competitor, as a winner, I just love to play the game,” Knight said. “I had the game taken away from me by the injuries and due to other things. … I’m just trying to help the Suns in any way I can.”

 

Report: Doc Rivers meeting with 76ers

76ers star Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers
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From the moment the Clippers ousted him, Doc Rivers became the hottest name on the coaching market. The 76ers, Pelicans and Rockets have reportedly expressed interest.

But does the 58-year-old Rivers want to keep coaching after 21 straight years on the sideline with the Magic, Celtics and Clippers and coming off what looked like a trying season?

He’ll apparently at least meet with Philadelphia.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Rivers would be a good fit with the 76ers, who are trying to take the next step in the playoffs.

Of course, the same thing appeared true with the Clippers, and Rivers failed to deliver the desired postseason success in L.A.

But Rivers still holds plenty of credibility. Whatever their differences, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could unite behind a coach who demands such respect. Rivers also holds experience coaching teams with big lineups, which could suit Philadelphia’s roster. There are still adjustments to be made as the game evolves, but Rivers wouldn’t absolutely require a massive overhaul.

It’d also be neat for Glenn Rivers to join the 76ers considering he got his nickname by wearing a Julius Erving shirt to a Marquette basketball camp.

Whether it’s Lakers or Heat, Kentucky is big winner

Anthony Davis
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Lakers primarily wear purple and gold. The main Miami Heat colors are red and black.

And these NBA Finals seem tinged in blue – Kentucky blue, to be precise.

No matter what happens in this title series, Kentucky’s list of NBA champions is sure to grow. Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and coach Frank Vogel have Kentucky ties from the Los Angeles Lakers’ side; Miami Heat players Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro played at Kentucky, as did Heat President Pat Riley.

“When I look at all these guys and how they’re playing, I’m not surprised that guys would be able to stand up to this,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Tuesday. “The environment here, everything about it is preparing them for the NBA. It’s an NBA environment, how we practice, the competitiveness in practice, the games. Every shot matters here. … These kids, it’s kind of like their rookie year is here.”

Calipari coached Davis, Adebayo and Herro at Kentucky. He tried to coach Rondo, saying Tuesday that he nearly lured him onto the Dominican Republic’s national team – coached by Calipari – with hopes of qualifying for the Olympics.

Vogel was a manager and then video coordinator at Kentucky in the mid-1990s. Riley played at Kentucky for Adolph Rupp in the mid-1960s.

Kentucky is the fifth school to have four former players in a single NBA Finals, joining La Salle in 1956, UCLA in 1980, North Carolina in 1991 and Arizona in 2017. The top two scorers in the playoffs are almost certain to be former Kentucky standouts; Denver’s Jamal Murray currently holds the top spot with 504, and Davis is third with 432 — just five points behind Boston’s Jayson Tatum, a Duke product.

“Obviously, he coached in the league, so he knows what it takes to get there,” Davis said of Calipari. “I think that’s an advantage for all players who go to Kentucky. He’s able to get you ready in one, two years.”

It’s not lost on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra that the finals are going to be a Kentucky recruiting tool, and he also said that Riley isn’t shy about enjoying having players from his alma mater on the roster.

“We love Kentucky players because you’re there to get better, to be pushed, to understand what it means to play for a team, play a role and to train to become a pro at this level,” Spoelstra said. “You’re going to face good competition in practice. You’re going to be expected to work. It’s an environment that, as much as it possibly can, prepares you for the pros, even though it’s at the collegiate level.”

Miami’s Herro is likely to be the first player born in the 2000s to play in an NBA Finals game; he’s usually one of the first subs that the Heat use, so some first-quarter minutes for him on Wednesday night seem probable.

The 20-year-old is not the youngest player in the series, however.

Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker doesn’t turn 20 until Nov. 25. He appeared in two games during the Western Conference semifinals but has been inactive for 12 of his team’s 15 postseason contests.

 

Kevin Durant admits he, Kyrie Irving “solidified” they were joining forces at All-Star Game

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Back in February of 2019, there was a video floating around of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving talking at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte. It led to a lot of speculation the two were planning to team up as free agents.

Days after that video was shot, the growing speculation led then Celtic Irving to scold the media and shoot down the idea he and KD were talking about teaming up, saying, “It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free-agency meeting?… That’s what disconnects me from all that s***.”

Turns out, talking about free agency was exactly what they were doing.

Durant admitted it on his new podcast, The ETC’s with Kevin Durant on The Boardroom.  Get to the 36-minute mark and Durant says:

“The All-Star game video where they caught us in the hallway. That’s when it was solidified that we were going somewhere. They didn’t know for a fact where it was, but it was somewhere.” 

That somewhere turned out to be Brooklyn.

The groundwork for Durant and Irving’s partnership started long before All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, Durant said.

“Like we would have these types of [basketball related] conversations all day, every day. And it grew from there. It just grew from there, it was organic, you know what I’m saying? And it wasn’t something that you can kind of pinpoint and say like, this was the moment. It just, it just happened.”

This is just going to fuel future conspiracy theorists — any time two players are talking at an All-Star Game (or in the bubble), someone will jump to a conclusion. Of course, 99.9% of the time the players are just talking about family or cars or where the Cheesecake Factory closest to their hotel Is located. But every once in a while the conspiracies are right.

This is just fuel for that fire.

 

New California law prompted by crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant crash site
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday approved legislation prompted by the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other peopls that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

Reports surfaced after the Jan. 26 crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the others that graphic photos of the victims were being shared.

Eight deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said then, adding that he had ordered the images deleted. He said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.

The measure that will take effect Jan. 1 makes it a misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000 per offense to take such photos for anything other than an official law enforcement purpose.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has sued the department over the photos.