Devin Booker

Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell and Suns guard Devin Booker
Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

Report: Devin Booker unhappy after Suns didn’t sign D’Angelo Russell

Leave a comment

As Devin Booker campaigned for them to sign his friend D'Angelo Russell last summer, the Suns reportedly resisted due to concerns about how Russell would influence Booker.

Russell instead joined the Warriors. Booker apparently didn’t indifferently condone Phoenix’s decision.

Ian Begley of SNY:

Booker, per league sources, wasn’t happy with the organization at the time of the report.

Not signing Russell might have been the right call. A Russell-Booker backcourt would’ve been woeful defensively, and there were maturity concerns with Russell. Appeasing Booker this way might have reinforced bad habits. The Suns instead signed Ricky Rubio, and he has helped at point guard.

Yet, even if Phoenix was right, Booker’s perception also matters. Nobody can ever know what would’ve happened if the Suns signed Russell. If Booker believes the team erred, it could contribute to him eventually leaving Phoenix.

The important question: How does Booker feel about the Suns now?

They’re having their best season since drafting him. They’re also 26-39.

His friends, Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, teamed up on the Timberwolves. Those two appear quite happy in Minnesota.

Booker has already shown impatience with the Suns, and their modest upgrades last offseason came at substantial long-term costs. Trade speculation is emerging.

But Booker signed a contract extension that ties him to Phoenix through 2024. He has capitalized on his considerable talent and become a worthy All-Star at just 23. The Suns certainly won’t rush to trade him, even if he’s a little displeased with the organization.

Ultimately, it’s on Phoenix to impress Booker before he gains enough leverage to leave. The best way: Winning. Not signing Russell was one of the many complicated decisions the Suns have made in pursuit of that goal.

With the runway provided by Booker’s long contract, there will almost certainly be many more.

Rumor: Knicks could trade for Suns star Devin Booker

Suns guard Devin Booker vs. Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Knicks’ reported plan of trading for a disgruntled star initially focused on Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. But now joined by D'Angelo Russell, Towns is more likely to stay in Minnesota. The Knicks are also expected to hire Tom Thibodeau, with whom Towns had differences.

So, New York needs a new pipe dream.

How about Devin Booker?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

However, since Leon Rose was hired as president, the player to watch out for most is Suns combo guard Devin Booker, according to league sources.

This vague report sounds like fantasy.

Rose represented Booker before getting hired by the Knicks. But discussion of agents-turned-team executives landing their former clients far outpaces the reality of it actually happening.

With four more seasons left on his contract, Booker also has little leverage to choose his team. He could demand a trade from the Suns and make them feel compelled to move him. But the main way for players to pick their trade destination is refusing to re-sign with undesirable teams. Booker threatening to leave in 2024 wouldn’t scare off many teams any time soon. And plenty of other teams could offer more than the Knicks, whose top assets include their own first-rounders, two Mavericks first-rounders, R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox. The most valuable of those assets – New York’s own first-rounders – would become less valuable with a prime Booker.

Besides, would Booker really try to steer himself to New York? He has shown impatience in Phoenix, which has the NBA’s worst winning percentage (29%) since he entered the league and remains bad. But the team with the second-worst winning percentage in that span (33%)?

The Knicks.

Five winners in NBA’s 22-team restart plan

Leave a comment

Nothing is set until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA seems to have coalesced around this restart plan:

Twenty-two teams come to Orlando in mid-July — 13 from the West, nine from the East, all teams within six games of the playoffs when the league hit pause — and, after a two-and-a-half week quarantined training camp, play eight regular-season games each starting July 31. That will be followed by a two-game play-in matchup between the eight and nine seeds (if the ninth seed is within four games the team it’s chasing) with the lower seed needing to win both. From there, the league jumps to a traditional 16-team playoff (no 1-16 seeding) with seven games per round.

That plan — and the unconventional choice of 22 teams — has backing because it’s a compromise that is a win for a lot of people and groups. Who? Here are seven groups or people that come out as winners with this plan.

1) NBA Players

NBA players win not just because they get to go back to work — even if the working conditions are a bit unusual — but they got the regular season games they wanted. It was the players who arguably made the biggest push for regular-season games before the playoffs, and there were two reasons for it. First, going straight to the playoffs — even with a training camp — was asking for injuries. The only way to get in game shape is to play games, and the players wanted some meaningful games in front of the postseason.

The other reason is money. NBA players get paid by their teams for the regular season (for the playoffs they get bonuses paid by the league with the amount depending upon how far they advanced). The league is already withholding 25% of player paychecks anticipating canceled games, this plan at least replaces some of those games. There were 259 total games remaining when the NBA season was paused, this would see 88 of them played. There are no gate receipts for teams, this is not the same financially for owners, but some regular-season games being shown by local broadcasters ultimately helps players’ paychecks.

2) NBA Broadcasters

This is a win for ESPN/ABC and Turner Broadcasting (TNT) because they get games — and sports-starved fans will watch (expect insane ratings). Also the game’s biggest names — LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, etc. — will be taking part, and the stars are always the draw in the NBA.

Speaking of stars, those networks also get Zion Williamson — a massive draw in the 19 games he played — who will be part of at least the regular season, and maybe more. Plenty of people around the league think the whole idea of a play-in tournament gained favor with the league simply to get Williamson to Orlando. With this 22-team format, the league also picks up Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker to draw eyeballs.

On top of all that, there will be eight regular-season games per team, which can help local broadcasters and get some past the goal of 70 games (a target number in most NBA local broadcast contracts).

3) Pelicans and Trail Blazers

If play had not been suspended, Fivethirtyeight.com estimated a 60% chance the Pelicans would have made the playoffs and a 14% chance the Trail Blazers would have gotten in. Both teams were 3.5 games back of Memphis with 17 games to play, but the Grizzlies had one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league while the Pelicans had the easiest and the Trail Blazers had a soft closing stretch as well. Plus, New Orleans was coming together and playing better ball (5-5 over their last 10 with a +2.5 net rating) than either Memphis or Portland (both 4-6 with essentially flat net ratings).

Now New Orleans and Portland get to make their case, even if the schedule will not tilt to them as it did before. The league wanted Zion Williamson in the Orlando bubble to juice television ratings, so it came up with a way to get him there, but that plan helps a few teams. Portland returns with a healthy Jusuf Nurkic and that makes them a much more dangerous threat to make the playoffs. Sacramento gets the chance to break the longest playoff drought in the NBA.

4) LeBron James (and other stars on contenders)

LeBron only has so many shots at a title left and he didn’t want this one to go to waste — there’s good reason he’s been so vocal in pushing for a return to play (after an initial hesitation about games without fans). LeBron is 35, plus this Laker team had key players with injury histories — Anthony Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo — yet it stayed healthy and it came together as a team and played elite defense. This season came together for the Lakers, and while they will largely get the band back together for the 2020-21 season, there are no guarantees — LeBron needs to take his title shots while he can.

That same philosophy applies to other teams. The Clippers, with Leonard and Paul George, were finally healthy and coming together, who knows if they can stay that healthy for another season. The Bucks need to prove to Giannis Antetokounmpo they are contenders so he doesn’t balk when they offer him a supermax contract this summer (although the financial situation with the league could cause that anyway, even if he doesn’t want to leave Milwaukee). James Harden knows he only has so many chances, and on down the list.

5) Adam Silver

Watch the attempts at a restart in Major League Baseball and other sports, and the acrimony between players and the commissioner/ownership becomes the story. It speaks to what an amazing job Silver did building consensus. This wasn’t something that just started when play was suspended, Silver has involved players in the decision-making process going back to the Donald Sterling removal, and he was more collaborative in getting a new Collective Bargaining Agreement past than any commissioner in recent memory. Silver also has been a consensus builder with the owners, and he has involved GMs and team presidents in calls.

All of it built up a lot of political capital and trust, so when Silver had to make the call not everyone was going to like — the 22-team return plan is far from universally popular — he could still get everyone to buy-in. Everyone trusts him, and that is huge for a commissioner.

Honorable Mention Winners: The Philadelphia 76ers (they get a healthy Ben Simmons back, plus with enough wins in the regular season they can move up a spot and avoid Boston in the first round of the playoffs); Also the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns, both of whom were not making the playoffs (fivethirtyeight.com had the Wizards at 2% and the Suns at less than 1%) but now get the chance to play some more games and maybe find their way into the dance.

Jayson Tatum almost skipped pre-draft workout in Boston because he liked Phoenix

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jayson Tatum is part of one of the most dynamic young combinations in the league, paired with Jaylen Brown in Boston on one of the East’s best teams.

However, before the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum wanted to go to Phoenix and then Suns coach Earl Watson really wanted Tatum to pair with Devin Booker — what would have been a dynamic combo in the West.

Tatum went on the All the Smoke podcast this week and said he wanted to play for the Suns.

“I called my fam, my mom, I’m like, ‘Yo, I think I want to go to Phoenix.’ Earl Watson, he’s like, ‘You come to Phoenix, you and D-Book, two light-skinned killers, I’ mma let y’all rock out.’ I’m sitting in the car, like, ‘This sounds good! I think I want to come here.'”

The feeling was mutual. The Suns were drafting No. 4 that year and Watson wanted Tatum, even if that meant trading up to get him, as Watson told Jay King of The Athletic.

Tatum warmed up with a ballhandling drill, Watson recalled during a phone call Monday afternoon, and then the wing went straight to the corner to shoot 3-pointers. Players normally work their way out to the arc slowly, taking closer shots first. Tatum did not bother. Even without any shots to loosen up, he was already hot.

“He drilled 40 straight off the first shot,” Watson said. “Forty straight. So I immediately turned to the owner and the GM. And I said, ‘What else do we need to see?’”

Two things conspired against Watson’s dream of pairing Tatum and Booker. The biggest one was that Suns owner Robert Sarver — one of the more meddling owners in the league — had fallen in love with Josh Jackson, who the Suns ended up selecting at No. 4. Watson wanted to trade up to make sure Phoenix landed Tatum, but that was not happening. Watson even Tweeted about it Monday.

The other thing in the way in Phoenix was Danny Ainge wanted Tatum in Celtics’ green. Boston had the No. 1 pick that year, but traded down to No. 3, moving Philadelphia up to No. 1 to select Markelle Fultz. Ainge wanted to workout Tatum — Jackson had just canceled his workout with Boston — and while Tatum was reluctant, it was his college coach Mike Krzyzewski who called up and convinced Tatum to workout for the Celtics right before the 2017 NBA Draft.

The rest is history.

Would Tatum be an All-Star and potential All-NBA player three seasons in if he played for the Suns? We’ll never know, Phoenix doesn’t have quite the same reputation for developing players that Boston does. Brad Stevens knows how to bring guys along. Also, Boston is a more stable, consistent organization that gives a player sound footing to take big steps forward, that’s not always the case in Phoenix.

For Tatum, things have worked out as well as he could hope.

 

2020 PBT Awards: All-NBA

LeBron James and James Harden
Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

First team

G: Luka Doncic, Mavericks

G: James Harden, Rockets

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: LeBron James, Lakers

C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G: Chris Paul, Thunder

F: Anthony Davis, Lakers

F: Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Third team

G: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

G: Kemba Walker, Celtics

F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics

F: Jimmy Butler, Heat

C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

All-NBA — particularly third-team — decisions are always the toughest of the award process. In this case, I felt very comfortable with the first two teams (I don’t think Anthony Davis played enough center to slide into that position, so he gets bumped to the second team). However, with third-team guard, leaving off Bradley Beal, Trae Young, and Ben Simmons was difficult (team success and leaning on Mitchell and Walker factored into my choices). Same at the forward spot, where Khris Middleton and Brandon Ingram deserved serious consideration.

Dan Feldman

First team

G: LeBron James, Lakers

G: James Harden, Rockets

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

C: Anthony Davis, Lakers

Second team

G: Luka Doncic, Mavericks

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

F: Khris Middleton, Bucks

F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Third team

G: Chris Paul, Thunder

G: Trae Young, Hawks

F: Pascal Siakam, Raptors

F: Jimmy Butler, Heat

C: Rudy Gobert, Jazz

My biggest questions weren’t rating performance. They were determining position. Can I legitimately place Anthony Davis at center? What about LeBron James at guard? Ultimately, I decided yes on both – allowing me to place my entire MVP ballot on the first team, though causing significant disruption on the second and third teams.

Davis made a big deal about not playing center, and the Lakers built their team accordingly. But Davis still played 38% of his minutes at power forward. In the fourth quarter and overtime, it was 55%. That qualified him as bi-positional to me.

LeBron has always dominated the ball while being considered a forward. But the Lakers considered him their point guard, gave him particularly large passing responsibilities and started four other players who couldn’t credibly run point. Though Avery Bradley or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope often defended the opposing point guards, point guard is primarily defined offensively. Plus, LeBron – a versatile defender – often covered guards.

Centers Nikola Jokic (first team to second team), Rudy Gobert (second team to third team) and Joel Embiid (third team to unlisted) all got bumped with Davis at the position. Embiid was better than Gobert when healthy and motivated. But that didn’t happen nearly often to outpace Gobert, and excellent defender and underrated offensive player.

Guards also got pressed, including Luka Doncic (first team to second team) and Chris Paul (second team to third team). That final spot was an especially difficult squeeze with Trae Young narrowly outpacing Devin Booker, Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons and Bradley Beal. Young just did so much offensively as a scorer and passer.

On the other hand, removing LeBron and Davis from forward meant other-wise marginal forwards – Jayson Tatum, Pascal Siakam and Jimmy Butler – safely made it. Bam Adebayo wasn’t far behind.

Keith Smith

First team

G: James Harden, Rockets

G: Luka Doncic, Mavericks

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

F: LeBron James, Lakers

C: Joel Embiid, 76ers

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

G: Ben Simmons, 76ers

F: Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

F: Anthony Davis, Lakers

C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, Rockets

G: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

F: Pascal Siakam, Raptors

F: Jayson Tatum, Celtics

C: Bam Adebayo, Heat

The forward slots on the first and second teams were easy. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis were 1-4 on my MVP ballot. They all just overlap in position, which pushed Leonard and Davis to the second team. There were still several very good candidates for the third team, but Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum were just enough better than the rest that they get those two slots. Jimmy Butler was closest to making that third- team.

The guard line was pretty easy for the first team. James Harden was fifth on my MVP ballot and Luka Doncic would have been sixth. After them it gets tricky. Damian Lillard was a monster this year and really kept an otherwise pretty bad Portland team in the playoff race. Ben Simmons was very good on both ends of the floor, so he gets the other guard spot on the second team. That left a bunch of great candidates for third. Once he stopped taking so many jumpers, Russell Westbrook really took off this season. He gets one slot. Donovan Mitchell gets the other spot because he was also good and so were the Jazz. Chris Paul was easily the toughest omission here.

The center group was a little harder. I think Joel Embiid had the best overall season. He was first on my All-Defense team and in the mix for Defensive Player of the Year. He also turned in another good offensive season. Nikola Jokic rebounded from a slow start to have another dominant offensive year. For the third-team, Bam Adebayo edged out Rudy Gobert. It was Adebayo’s all-around brilliance that got him the nod. Take a look at his numbers. He’s really stuffing the stat-sheet every night for a good Heat team.