Frank Kaminsky

Watch Devin Booker drop 44, help Suns hang to beat Pelicans in overtime

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NEW ORLEANS — Devin Booker broke out of a perimeter-shooting slump, scoring 21 of his season-high 44 points in the third quarter, and Ricky Rubio powered the Phoenix Suns with four points and a critical assist in overtime in a 139-132 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.

Playing the back end of a back-to-back, Phoenix led by 18 points entering the fourth quarter, but the Pelicans fought back with five 3-pointers, two by the normally scatter-shooting Lonzo Ball, to tie it at 125.

The Pelicans had a chance to win in regulation, but Brandon Ingram missed a 15-foot jumper from the right baseline as time expired.

In overtime, Ingram’s conventional three-point play tied it at 129, but Rubio hit a 12-footer and a scoop in the lane and then added a no-look assist to put the Suns up 135-129. Rubio finished with 15 assists.

New Orleans got to 135-132 on JJ Redick‘s 3-pointer with 56.5 left, but Frank Kaminsky, who had six points in the overtime, iced it with two free throws. Kaminsky finished with 20 points, and Kelly Oubre had 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Booker was just 9 of 31 from long range in his previous five games, but he made 5 of 11 3-pointers, including all three of his attempts in 33-21 third quarter when the Suns built a 105-85 lead.

The Suns led 74-70 at halftime and then took control by opening the third quarter on a 16-3 run. The Pelicans gunned their way back into contention in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 118-113 on JJ Redick’s fourth 3-pointer of the game, but they could not get closer.

New Orleans, which lost its seventh consecutive game, had four players with at least 20 points: Redick with 26, Jrue Holiday with 23, Ingram with 21 and Ball with 20 and 11 assists.

 

Watch Aaron Gordon’s spinning whirlwind dunk

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We have known Aaron Gordon can dunk.

He can put on a show with his dunks in-game, too, as he did here on a throwdown against the Suns.

What’s impressive about this dunk — aside just the fact Gordon can pull that off in a game — is that the spin had a purpose: He was keeping the ball away from Frank Kaminsky, who rotated over to try to protect the rim.

Also good cut by Gordon early in the clock and good find and pass by Wesley Iwundu.

Orlando led by seven at the half and stretched that lead out in the third quarter.

Suns improve, but to what end?

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NBC Sports’ 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.

While coaching Marist, Jeff Bower hosted a middling recruit named Cameron Johnson. Bower was ahead of the curve. Bringing Johnson to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference would’ve been a coup. Bigger programs eventually realized Johnson’s ability, and he bypassed Marist for the ACC (Pittsburgh then North Carolina).

Bower and Johnson reunited this summer. The Bower-employing Suns drafted Johnson No. 11 overall.

Delightful coincidence or distressing signal?

Since leaving Marist, Bower got hired by the Pistons, ran day-to-day operations in Detroit’s front office the entire San Van Gundy era, got fired by the Pistons, sat out a full season and got hired by Phoenix. It has been a long time since his initial meeting with Johnson.

Put another way: Johnson is old.

At 23, he’s one of the oldest lottery picks in the last 20 years. His 23-and-over company aside from Buddy Hield (No. 6 in 2016) is uninspiring. The others: Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 in 2010), Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13 in 2009), Al Thornton (No. 14 in 2007), Rafael Araújo (No. 8 in 2004), Melvin Ely (No. 12 in 2002), Fred Jones (No. 14 in 2002), Courtney Alexander (No. 13 in 2000).

Johnson is a polished shooter. There’s a chance he could fill a rotation role for Phoenix next season. But it’ll be a limited role. His upside appears low. His injury history is troubling.

Off all the ways the Suns misplaced their priorities and operated like novices this summer, drafting Johnson stands out.

Phoenix entered the draft with the No. 6 pick then traded down for No. 11 and Dario Saric. Saric is a fine player, but not someone – one year from free agency – who justifies watching prospects like Jarrett Culver and Coby White go off the board. Then, the Suns made the shocking reach for Johnson.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, that multi-blunder process doesn’t even cover everything that went wrong this summer. In James Jones’ first year as general manager, the Suns were determined to get their desired players and improve quickly. Missions accomplished. But Phoenix’s short-term upgrades came with too little consideration for value and where the team is in its ascent.

The big addition was Ricky Rubio – a solid starting point guard on a team that had no point guard. He’ll solidify so many disparate parts around him. But h didn’t come cheap at three years, $51 million.

A pair of draft-day trade agreements with the Pacers and Celtics helped clear cap room for Rubio. But Phoenix’s return was disappointing. The Suns traded up from No. 32 to No. 24, relinquished the Bucks’ 2020 first-rounder, unloaded T.J. Warren (three years, $35.25 million remaining) and took Aron Baynes (one year, $5,453,280 remaining). I at least like using the No. 24 pick on Ty Jerome.

That didn’t open enough cap space for Rubio, though. So, the Suns had to trade Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and a second-rounder or two to the Grizzlies for Jevon Carter. None of those prospects – including 2017 No. 4 pick Jackson – are great. But Phoenix had to forfeit some upside in order to clear cap room.

The Suns used the full room exception on Frank Kaminsky (two years with a team option). Again, not great value.

Neither was re-signing Kelly Oubre for two years, $30 million. But at least that was justifiable, because Phoenix held him at a lower number and had his Bird Rights. Oubre is an interesting young player who fits the long-term vision the Suns should be prioritizing.

Phoenix didn’t completely ignore youth this summer. Cheick Diallo and undrafted Jalen Lecque have upside and signed deals that grant substantial team control. Still, they were low-priority moves.

It’s easy to see what happened in Phoenix. The Suns have missed the playoffs a franchise-worst nine straight years and got impatient. They want to win now.

Rubio will help. The other new role players will help. New coach Monty Williams will help.

But even with all its immediate improvements, Phoenix is highly unlikely to make the playoffs next season. Would going from 19 to 34 wins really feel that much better, especially considering the downgrade in lottery odds? I don’t think so.

The bigger picture hasn’t changed much. The Suns are building around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Phoenix can still grow into a winner around those two.

I doubt it happens next season. And because of this summer’s moves, the Suns will have fewer resources to use when Booker and Ayton are actually ready to win.

Offseason grade: D+

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Suns signing Frank Kaminsky for room exception

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Frank Kaminsky wanted a buyout from the Hornets last season. That Kaminsky thought a buyout was even feasible speaks volumes about his career. He was a former No. 9 pick in just his fourth season. Players with that pedigree don’t get bought out so early unless things have really gone south.

Charlotte didn’t acquiesce and finally put Kaminsky into the rotation late last season. Kaminsky played relatively well down the stretch.

Well enough to earn this surprisingly lucrative contract.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This looks like the room exception, which would pay Kaminsky $9,772,350 ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season).

The Suns certainly have their own way of valuing players.

General manager James Jones seems to care about shooting. First-round picks Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome and Kaminsky are good shooters. (Don’t ask how free agent Ricky Rubio fits. Phoenix just needed a point guard.) Shooting is certainly an important skill. But Phoenix might have gone overboard at the expense of other areas – like defense and rebounding.