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Three Things to Know: Phoenix has a plan and it’s working — it’s time to take them seriously

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Phoenix had a plan and it’s working — it’s time to take them seriously. It’s been hard to figure out precisely what the plan was in Phoenix the past couple of years. Sure, they had Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but what were they putting around those two? Was there a grand design?

Last season the Suns signed Trevor Ariza only to trade him for Kelly Oubre Jr., then also traded Ryan Anderson to Miami for Tyler Johnson. This past summer they flipped the No. 6 pick in the draft — turned out to be Jarrett Culver — to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, then they used that pick on Cameron Johnson (a guy older than Booker and considered a reach). Phoenix sent their 2020 first-round pick to Boston for Aron Baynes to be a backup center. There were two objectively smart moves, picking up point guard Ricky Rubio as a free agent, and signing Monty Williams to be the coach. Then this season started with a punch to the gut — Ayton got suspended 25 games (pending an appeal) for taking a banned substance, a diuretic.

Turns out, the Suns’ plan was to put a team of competent NBA players around Booker, then simplify the offense and defense but execute it all cleanly.

It works.

Quite well, thank you very much.

Phoenix had already beaten the Clippers this season, then on Monday they got another statement win knocking Philadelphia from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 114-109 victory.

Phoenix is 5-2 on the young season with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA (third best if you filter out garbage time as Ben Falk does over at Cleaning the Glass). The Suns are legitimate and — while it’s early, we’re not even 1/10th of the way into the season — Phoenix looks like a playoff team.

Devin Booker looks every bit the All-Star guard, getting revenge on those that thought he was simply an empty calorie guy who could get numbers but not help a team win. He certainly helped the Suns win on Monday with maybe his best game — 40 points on 15-of-19 shooting, while picking apart a good defensive team in the Sixers (granted, one without Joel Embiid due to suspension).

Whether the Suns can sustain this level of play is up for debate — right now they are the only team ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive net rating. But even if they come back to earth some, GM James Jones deserves some credit for having a plan and pulling it off — a plan that has the Suns looking like a quality team.

Phoenix hasn’t been to the postseason since 2010 when Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash were running the remnants of seven seconds or less for Alvin Gentry. That looks like it will change this season, Phoenix is back. Things are looking bright in the Valley of the Sun.

2) Brandon Ingram dropped 40, but Kyrie Irving had 39 and Nets out-duel Pelicans for the win. This is what the Pelicans have done all season long — play hard, but come up just short. The Pelicans are 1-6 on the young season, but with the net rating of a 3-4 team. They just keep losing close games.

Monday night that happened against Brooklyn. Brandon Ingram continued his hot start for New Orleans (not coincidentally, in a contract year) and scored a career-high 40 on 17-of-24 shooting, but it wasn’t enough against Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving dropped 39 on the gray floor.

Caris LeVert added 23 points and all five starters (plus Garrett Temple off the bench) scored in double digits for Brooklyn.

It wasn’t a surprise that the Pelicans didn’t really get serious in contract extension talks with Ingram, he had missed the end of last season with a blood clot issue and that scares teams because it can be career-threatening (Ingram’s was different from, for example, Chris Bosh’s situation, Ingram’s clot was in his arm, but it’s still a concern). Plus, Ingram had been up and down in Los Angeles, and there remain questions about how well he’ll fit next to Zion Williamson.

Ingram, however, has put in the work — his footwork and handles are lightyears ahead of his lanky, awkward rookie season — and it shows. His game is more fluid now. He is averaging 25.9 points a game this season, shooting 48.6 percent on five threes a game, and is grabbing 7.1 boards a night. He is playing like an All-Star. He’s playing like a guy who will get paid next summer, one way or another.

3) Grizzlies and Ja Morant vs. the Knicks RJ Barrett: how much should teams play rookies? There has become an interesting dichotomy this season, a real debate about how to handle a star rookie player:

Should teams be already thinking load management and watching the minutes of a potentially elite young player on a bad team? Or do you throw the guy out there and let him learn by doing as much as he can racking up minutes?

In Memphis, the plan is to bring Ja Morant along slowly. The No. 2 pick out of Murray State — where he played a lot of minutes because they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to win — is averaging 28 minutes a night, and has played more than 30 just once in six games. Morant is starting, being allowed to make mistakes and learn, and in those limited minutes is still averaging 19.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, shooting 50 percent from three (on two attempts per game). He has a PER of 20.3, which is insanely good for a rookie. Morant is everything that was advertised, a freakish young athlete with a great feel for the game. A franchise cornerstone kind of player.

The Grizzlies don’t want to burn Morant out, here is what coach Tyler Jenkins said, via The Athletic.

“We want to, for lack of a better phrase, put some money in the bank moving forward with him,” Jenkins said. “I’ve always been a big believer that when you start playing in the mid-30s, you kinda wear down. Our rookies, including him, have never played 82 games in a season.”

That’s a smart, practical, long-term thinking approach.

Then there’s David Fizdale with the Knicks.

RJ Barrett is averaging 37.1 minutes a game and is putting up counting stats — 18.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, he’s shooting 35.7 percent from three, and he’s also learning in a trial-by-fire kind of way. He’s just in the fire a lot more, which is how things have been done in the past in the NBA — and former players are good with that.

Hopefully so. But this approach also comes with more risk. The Knicks seem to have a wing in Barrett who can be a central part of whatever is ultimately built in New York — whatever other players come in via the draft and free agency — and they should be thinking about Barrett three years from now. Barrett can grow —  he struggled at points in Summer League, but he’s showing he learned from those experiences. That’s a very good sign.

So long as he doesn’t burn out. Or physically wear down (which makes a potential injury more likely).

Different players can handle different workloads, and they learn differently — there is no one-size-fits-all plan. However, David Fizdale seems to be taking an old-school approach in New York, whereas the Grizzlies seem to be more modern in their thinking about the long term.

We’ll see which philosophy pays off in the long run.

Brandon Ingram scores 40, but it’s not enough to beat Nets, Kyrie Irving’s 39 (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 39 points and nine assists, and the Brooklyn Nets withstood Brandon Ingram‘s career-high 40 points to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 135-125 on Monday night.

The Nets had 67 points at halftime and a 20-point lead in the third quarter, but could never get comfortable until the final minute as Ingram kept coming at them.

He shot 17 for 24 from the field in his first 40-point game and the Pelicans scored a franchise-record 48 points in the third quarter. They got within two in the fourth but could never get enough stops to actually catch the Nets.

Caris LeVert added 23 points, Joe Harris had 19 and Jarrett Allen finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Nets, who follow this game with a five-game road trip, their longest of the season, with the first four in the West.

Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball each scored 15 points and Josh Hart had 14 for the Pelicans, who fell to 1-6.

Brooklyn led by only two after Ingram’s three-point play with 4:58 remaining in the half, but the Nets scored 10 straight. Five of them came in one trip when Allen made two free throws after being flagrantly fouled by Ingram – he actually made the shot while being thrown to the ground, but the foul had been called on the floor – and Garrett Temple made a 3-pointer after Brooklyn retained possession.

Brooklyn later got consecutive jumpers by Irving and a dunk from Spencer Dinwiddie to close a 20-3 run and make it 63-44.

Irving scored 18 points in the third but the Pelicans were a sizzling 8 for 11 from 3-point range and scored 48 points, trimming a 20-point deficit to 104-98 heading to the fourth.

 

Nets have it all – stars, youth, picks and a chance at a title… in 2021

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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.

The Nets had nothing.

Now, they have everything.

At least on paper.

Not long ago, Brooklyn was lousy, old, deep into the luxury tax and without its own first-round pick for years to come. Several lost seasons obviously loomed.

But the Nets made the most of those losing years. They drafted well with their limited picks, acquired more where they could and identified players off the scrap heap. Importantly, they instilled a culture of hard work and development.

The rise was slow, but given the circumstances, quicker than expected. Brooklyn made the playoffs last season.

The Nets parlayed that moderate success into a monumental offseason, luring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Those stars vault Brooklyn onto a whole new level. It’ll probably take until 2020-21 when Durant recovers from his torn Achilles, but the Nets are primed to enter the thick of the championship chase.

Most teams must strip their roster to spare parts to open the cap space for two max players. Remarkably, Brooklyn didn’t.

The Nets still have a huge chunk of the young players who helped establish the culture that attracted Durant and Irving. Caris LeVert (No. 35 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years), Jarrett Allen (No. 44 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years), Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa all return.

Yes, Brooklyn had to part with D'Angelo Russell (No. 28 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years). The Nets also had to surrender two first-rounders in their salary dump of Allen Crabbe.

But that trade with the Hawks also netted Taurean Prince, a solid young forward. Brooklyn got a protected first-rounder from the Warriors, too. With a draft-night trade of the No. 27 pick to the Clippers for an less-protected first-rounder, the Nets are +1(ish) in future first-round picks.

Those young players and picks could be helpful in building a championship-level supporting cast around Durant and Irving. That could be through the players and picks developing or via trade.

In the meantime, Brooklyn enters a limbo year with Durant sidelined. Irving is the clear top player with young teammates around him. That didn’t go so well in Boston. There is a chance the Nets fare worst next season than they did last season, and chemistry would become a huge question amid a backslide.

There are so many new faces down the roster:

Jordan (four years, nearly $40 million) is one of the summer’s worst contracts, though it’s completely justifiable as a cost of getting Durant and Irving. Chandler is already suspended.

Durant is also on the wrong side of 30 and seriously injured. There are legitimate reasons for concern.

But the Nets will gladly take these problems over the ones they were facing just a few years ago. Waiting another year for everything to come together is no problem, either. Brooklyn is still way ahead of schedule.

Offseason grade: A

Nets’ Wilson Chandler suspended 25 games for performance-enhancing drug

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The Nets will have maybe the NBA’s best forward – in 2020. But Brooklyn doesn’t want to wait to compete until Kevin Durant returns from a ruptured Achilles.

So, the Nets signed Wilson Chandler to a one-year minimum contract this summer.

But it appears the veteran combo forward will be unavailable for a while.

NBA:

Wilson Chandler of the Brooklyn Nets has been suspended without pay for 25 games for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for Ipamorelin, it was announced today by the NBA.

Chandler’s suspension will begin with the next NBA regular-season game for which he is eligible and physically able to play.

Injury and aging have taken a toll on the 32-year-old Chandler in the last few years. We might never learn why Chandler used performance-enhancing drugs, but it’s easy to imagine him doing whatever it takes just trying to hang on. His NBA career appeared to be slipping away.

That Brooklyn was positioned to rely on Chandler says something about the team’s depth. Expect Rodions Kurucs and Taurean Prince to be the main options at power forward now. The issues trickle up the positional chart. Shooting guard and small forward are mostly interchangeable for wings like Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple. But this limits the Nets’ ability to use a bigger small forward, and it makes them a little thinner at shooting guard.

After five regular-season games, Brooklyn can move Chandler to the suspended list and open a roster spot. There might be consideration to waiving him now and just opening that roster spot before training camp.

This suspension would cost Chandler $582,898 of his $2,564,753 minimum salary if he remains on the team.

Report: Lakers signing Avery Bradley for two years, $9.7 million

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When the Clippers traded Tobias Harris last season, many assumed they’d fall from the playoff race. But they went 18-9 down the stretch and came as close to the No. 1 seed as ninth place.

Why did the Clippers finish so well? One key reason: They traded Avery Bradley.

That wasn’t the only reason. They got a couple useful players for Bradley – JaMychal Green (whom they’re re-signing) and Garrett Temple. L.A. also unloaded Marcin Gortat, another starter who was quietly struggling.

But make no mistake, the Clippers shedding Bradley – whose stature kept him in a major role – helped them win.

Now that the Grizzlies are waiving him, Los Angeles’ other team will take a swing on Bradley.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This looks the room exception, which is worth $9,772,350 ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season). That’s a lot for Bradley.

The 28-year-old appears to be past his prime. Bradley’s rank among shooting guards in real plus-minus the last few years:

  • 2015-16: 13th
  • 2016-17: 47th
  • 2017-18: 65th
  • 2018-19: 90th

Maybe Bradley can reverse that decline in a limited role around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But there are many flaws to fix.

Bradley is an OK 3-point shooter, but he’s woeful inside the arc. Yet, he frequently forces 2-pointers off the dribble, and he rarely draws fouls or sets up teammates. His defense has slipped significantly.

Though he has theoretical skills for the role, Bradley hasn’t looked like a complementary player in a while. That’ll have to change quickly for him to help the Lakers.

Danny Green should start ahead of Bradley. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is also better and better-fitting than Bradley. But the Lakers are thin at small forward, so there will likely be minutes for Bradley as the team uses three-guard lineups.

The big questions: Will Bradley play well enough to deserve the opportunity his stature will surely provide? If not, how will he and the Lakers handle it?