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Suns secure franchise player or two or none, but no starting-caliber point guard

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Eight NBA players are guaranteed more than $150 million in salary. Seven – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, John Wall, Stephen Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns and LeBron James – were All-Stars last year, and another – Chris Paulabsolutely should have been.

The outlier: Devin Booker, whom the Suns gave a max contract extension projected to be worth $158 million over five years.

Booker has never been an All-Star nor deserved to be one. Phoenix has peaked at 24 wins with him. He ranked 502nd last season with a real plus-minus of -2.44, a personal best.

On the other hand, the Suns are paying for what Booker will do, not what he has done. He’s an extremely talented scorer with playmaking skills and the frame to impact games far more than he has. Importantly, he’s just 21.

Is Booker worthy of being a franchise player?

Maybe.

But Phoenix rushed to pay him like one this summer despite the uncertainty. The Suns could have waited, assessed Booker over the season and re-signed him as a restricted free agent summer. That might have hurt Booker’s feelings, or it might have driven him to compete harder next year. I think it would have been worth the downside of delaying. Booker’s value just isn’t clear enough to justify lavishing him with a full max contract now. To extend him this summer, Phoenix should have demanded some salary concessions.

The Suns had to take their other high-stakes gamble of the offseason, drafting Deandre Ayton No. 1. Ayton looked like a good choice, but top picks are so pivotal. It was extremely important to get this right.

Especially because Phoenix seems intent on escaping the bottom of the standings.

The Suns signed veteran Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million contract and traded the No. 16 pick and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 pick for No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges, one of the draft’s most NBA-ready players. Ariza and Bridges join Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren as versatile forwards on the roster.

Phoenix also traded for its new starting power forward, Ryan Anderson. I liked that deal, considering Anderson reduced his 2019-20 salary guarantee to match outgoing Brandon Knight‘s. The Suns also upgraded prospects in the swap, going from Marquese Chriss to No. 46 pick De’Anthony Melton. Anderson has taken a lot of grief for his playoff shortcomings, but he was still a productive regular-season player last year.

The upcoming regular season is apparently a priority in Phoenix, where an eight-year playoff drought – longest in franchise history – runs. Owner Robert Sarver isn’t known for his patience.

But if the Suns are trying to make the playoffs, they were absolutely negligent at point guard. Their options: No. 31 pick Elie Okobo, Melton, Isaiah Canaan (signed to an unguaranteed minimum contract), Shaquille Harrison (who received a $50,000 guarantee this summer) and Booker playing out of position once he gets healthy. That’s not going to cut it in a loaded Western Conference.

Phoenix even seemed more concerned with getting another backup center than a starting point guard, executing two trades – dealing a second-rounder to the Nets to downgrade from Jared Dudley‘s salary to Darrell Arthur‘s then sending $1 million to the 76ers – to land Richaun Holmes.

With the $15 million and two first-round picks they used to get Ariza and Bridges, the Suns could have signed or traded for a solid point guard. Instead, that money and those picks went toward adding even more combo forwards.

How innovative will first-time head coach Igor Kokoskov be? I’m not sure Brad Stevens or Gregg Popovich could scheme their way through this point-guard void.

For so long, I wanted to give the Suns’ offseason an incomplete. But they’re starting training camp with this roster with apparently no trade imminent. It’s time to assess.

I don’t see how this roster works in the short term, and it’s a little less flexible and asset-rich in the long-term.

Offseason grade: D+

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

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? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.