Fixing the Phoenix Suns
By Eric Saar
The 2015-16 Phoenix Suns season was marked by turmoil, injuries and one bright spot – Devin Booker.
The offseason started it all as Phoenix was “very close” to signing marquee free agent LaMarcus Aldridge according to his conversation with Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro. Aldridge went on to say, “It came down, neck and neck, between Phoenix and San Antonio. It wasn’t overplayed. That was accurate.”
Two factors came into play that made it a close decision between the Spurs and Suns, who after a disappointing season have missed the playoffs six seasons in a row. These factors included adding Earl Watson, who had a strong connection with Aldridge, and the surprising signing of Tyson Chandler for four years, $52 million. The signing was huge for Aldridge as he let it be known that he wanted to play with a true center like Chandler.
First Step to Fixing the Knicks: Find a Head Coach
By Tommy Beer
It’s sometimes unwise to read too much into Phil Jackson’s often cryptic comments (as he has been known to say one thing and do another), but his season-ending press conference this week was worrisome.
When asked about who he might bring in to interview for the Knicks head coaching gig, Jackson intimated he would only consider those candidates he’s familiar with and those that are as enthusiastic and dedicated to ‘The Triangle’ as he is.
Gauging Al Horford’s Value
By Moke Hamilton
Earlier this week, the NBA notified its franchises that it was expecting the salary cap for the 2016-17 season to fall somewhere in the realm of $92 million. That would represent a cap increase of $22 million from this season’s $70 million cap. That works out to a 31 percent increase, which is very good news for this summer’s crop of free agents.
By rule, the league’s teams are required to spend 90 percent of the salary cap on their payroll, meaning that each team will have to find a way to spend at least $83 million.
For Al Horford specifically, that may mean a payday in excess of $23 million in year one.
Jameel McKay Hoping for Combine Invite
By Cody Taylor
As some of the nation’s top prospects turn their attention to the NBA draft, many are trying to show off their game as much as they can in order to build their draft stock.
NBA hopefuls are now working hard around the clock in order to be in the best shape that they can be with the draft a little over two months away. For many, this means training on the hardwood and hitting the weight room as many as three times a day.
NBA teams and scouts got their first look at some of the top seniors in the country over the past week at the 2016 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. The annual basketball tournament brings in 64 of the top seniors in the country as prospects participate in 12 games designed to show off their skills in front of representatives from NBA teams and international teams.
Who Goes Third in 2016 NBA Draft?
By Joel Brigham
For months, all we’ve heard about in terms of the forthcoming NBA is draft is that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are going to be the top two players selected in some order, which makes a ton of sense considering both players’ talent and upside, but there are a heck of a lot more than two draft picks in an NBA Draft. Knowing that whichever two teams draft No. 1 and No. 2 are going to end up with those guys, it leaves a very interesting conundrum for the team tasked with selecting third overall. Which of the remaining field is most worthy of that No. 3 overall selection?
It’s a legitimate debate and not an enviable position from which to be selecting prospects this summer. There are a handful of possibilities that exist for that spot, each of which offers its own unique combination of risk of reward.
Here’s a look at the players who, as of now, find themselves in the mix for that third overall selection:
Larkin Needs Opportunity, Stability
By Alex Kennedy
Shane Larkin has played for three teams in his first three seasons in the NBA, and that number could easily become four teams in four seasons depending on what happens this July. That’s because Larkin has a $1.5 million player option for next season, meaning he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Larkin, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, has played for the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. He signed with Brooklyn last offseason because he loved New York and wanted an opportunity to play. With the Nets, he delivered the best season of his NBA career thus far.
The 23-year-old point guard averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 22.4 minutes for Brooklyn, and his per-100-possessions numbers were 16.3 points, 9.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals. In his 17 games as a starter this season, he averaged 9.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 29.4 minutes. Larkin also shot a career-high 44.2 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three-point range in Brooklyn.
The End Of Memphis’ Grit And Grind?
By Lange Greene
In an era of floor spacing, up-tempo and finesse basketball, the Memphis Grizzlies have reached the playoffs in six consecutive seasons by going the exact opposite direction the league is trending.
Memphis basketball is about Grit ‘n’ Grind. A defense-first, bring-your-lunchbox-to-work, hard-nosed mentality. In the team’s six-season playoff streak, the franchise has recorded a Western Conference Finals appearance and two trips to the second round.
At the time of this column, the club is currently down 0-2 to the San Antonio Spurs in their first-round playoff matchup. Memphis has been outscored by 58 points in those two contests and appears to be over-matched in every facet of the game. The team is playing without former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol and co-star Mike Conley, who would undoubtedly close the gap some, but right now the franchise is up against it.
Fixing The New Orleans Pelicans
By Jabari Davis
The 2015-16 NBA season was particularly disappointing for these New Orleans Pelicans (30-52) since, for the first time in years, this was a team that entered the season with heightened expectations. Not just from eager fans of the team, but also from pundits seemingly and understandably in a rush to promote franchise player Anthony Davis as the league’s next great player.
Only two players, Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee, played in 70 or more games this season. Davis, as talented as he truly is, has never missed less than 14 games over his first four seasons in the league (including 21 missed this year), so the idea of adding to his workload and responsibilities was a bit optimistic in itself, but that’s precisely what the Pelicans attempted to do. Davis did appear to finally settle into his adjusted role as the season wore on, but no true progress could be made as a team with so many of the rotation pieces routinely going in and out of the lineup.
Fixing the Utah Jazz
By Ben Dowsett
Set against the backdrop of Kobe Bryant’s final NBA appearance, an event that more closely resembled a circus than a basketball game, the ending to another Utah Jazz season felt extremely surreal. It wasn’t just the hysterics of the moment, though watching a legend cap off a splendid career with a whirlwind come-from-behind performance as players, fans and referees alike temporarily forgot the traditional framework of basketball only heightened the strangeness. There was something more, though, a sense of abruptness most close to this team are unaccustomed to in recent years.
The players were informed just before tip that a Houston Rockets win had sealed their elimination, a fact that made subsequent events possible (sorry, Lakers fans, but that game goes a lot differently if the Jazz are playing for anything). At the same time, it put a sudden stop to a playoff chase that not even a week prior had seemed like nearly a sure thing.
Shaun Livingston Stepping up for Golden State
By Jesse Blancarte
Arguably no player in the NBA has had a career with peaks and valleys as dramatic as Shaun Livingston. Drafted fourth overall in the 2004 draft, Livingston was pegged as the NBA’s next superstar point guard. Standing 6’7 with a huge wingspan, great hands, a versatile skillset and superior court vision, Livingston was supposed to one day change the way we think about point guards.
In the 2005-06 season, Livingston started scratching the surface of his potential. However, we all know what happened on February 26, 2007, when Livingston suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in modern professional sports history. After going up for a transition layup, his knee buckled on the landing. Livingston tore his ACL, PCL, lateral meniscus, severely sprained his MCL and dislocated his patella and tibio-fibular joint.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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