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Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Report: Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors physical scheduled for today

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The Spurs agreed to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick.

But the deal isn’t official until everyone involved passes their physicals.

All eyes turn to Leonard, who missed 73 games last season with a hip injury. Will he, presumably testing with Green, pass?

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

The pair are scheduled to appear in Toronto on Friday for physicals.

I expect Leonard to pass.

The Raptors have complete discretion, and they knew they were trading for a risk – both in terms of Leonard’s impending free agency and health. After DeMar DeRozan’s reaction would Toronto really undo this trade and bring him back?

Concerns about Leonard’s hip seem to be more about his ability to recover from regular usage and long-term soundness. I’m not sure either would show up in a single-day examination.

Leonard was cleared medically months ago, and he was reportedly considering playing in Team USA’s minicamp next week. He seems ready to go – at least to pass a physical by a team that knew of his health issues when trading for him.

But if Toronto sees a red flag that would cause them to cancel the trade, all hell will break loose. So, the stakes are high.

Yogi Ferrell backs out of deal with Mavericks

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In 2015, DeAndre Jordan agreed to a contract with Mavericks then backed out to re-sign with the Clippers.

This won’t cause the same uproar, but Dallas has been left at the altar once again.

Yogi Ferrell won’t sign his agreed-upon deal.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Ferrell agreed to an unbelievably stupid contract. He could have accepted his fully guaranteed, one-year qualifying offer for $2,919,204. Instead, he took a lower salary for next season AND agreed to attach a cheap fully unguaranteed second season. If Ferrell plays well, the Mavericks will keep him for a relatively low salary in 2019-20. If he doesn’t, they’ll waive him at no cost.

In other words, Ferrell gave Dallas a discount for next season and all the power for the following season. There was no tradeoff. Ferrell lost in every aspect of the deal.

He and Tejada never should have accepted it in the first place. But backing out now also carries a reputation hit, especially for Tejada.

Though this reflects more poorly on Tejada, Ferrell will take more egg on his face, because he’s a public figure and gave some now-unfortunate comments.

Andy McDonnell of WANE-TV:

What now for Ferrell?

The Mavericks still have his Early Bird Rights and a low cap hold on him. They could pay him a little more without interfering with their other moves.

But Ferrell – an undersized scoring guard – is a marginal player. Dallas might not want to reengage with him after this. The Mavericks signed Jordan this year, but it took years and a special need for them to get over everything.

How about the Kings? They’re certainly not above negotiating with players who already struck deals with another team.

Cavaliers reportedly talking trade sending Kyle Korver to Sixers

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Philadelphia struck out going big game hunting this off-season — LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere. The Sixers decided to trade for Wilson Chandler (absorbing him into their cap space) and re-signed J.J. Redick, but they have continued to look for the right trade.

That could involve adding Kyle Korver.

From Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

According to a league source, the team has had discussions about trading Jerryd Bayless to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyle Korver.

That move would enable the Sixers to bring back a fan favorite who’s one of the league’s top three-point shooters.  He would be an upgrade from former Sixer Marco Belinelli, who signed as a free agent  with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

This trade is still in the talking phase.

That this was leaked means an agent of one of the teams involved wants to see the deal done and hopes leaking it puts enough pressure on one or both sides to get it done.

For the Sixers it makes sense on the court, they get out of a contract in Bayless they have tried to trade for a year, and they bring in a sharpshooter who can fit within their system and add bench scoring.

For the Cavaliers, they have to be getting a pick or picks of some kind back in this trade (probably a second round or multiple second-round picks, of which the Sixers have several besides their own in the next couple of drafts).

Something to watch as we head into the weekend, to see if this deal can get done.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t believe in the NBA 2K cover curse

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Milwaukee Bucks superstar at Giannis Antetokounmpo will bless this year’s cover of NBA 2K19. It’s a big deal for the Greek Freak, who has come a long way since be a heralded prospect after being drafted in 2013.

Antetokounmpo is also apparently aware of the noted curse from the 2K franchise. That is, that former players who have been on the cover in years past have notoriously ended up in different jerseys shortly after getting selected for the honor.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Kevin Durant all left their respective teams shortly after being featured on the cover.

Antetokounmpo signed a contract extension in 2016 that runs through the 2020-2021 season. Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no reason to think that he will be gone anytime soon.

But is the cover curse real? People certainly seem to think the Madden one is.