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Is It Time To Tear It Down Or Stay The Course?

With the season winding down, teams like Phoenix, Orlando and Chicago must decide which direction to take their franchise.

Steve Kyler

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Stay The Course Or Tear It Down?

With the NBA regular season coming to a close in just two weeks, several teams will start their offseason and some of them have big decisions to make about the direction of their franchise, especially with so much economic flexibility coming into the NBA this summer by way of a ballooning salary cap. Here are a couple of teams to watch:

Phoenix Suns

Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns seemed like the surprise team on the rise. Today, they seem like a team lost between ideas. The biggest problem for the Suns is they are heavily invested in some win-now players like big man Tyson Chandler, who has three years and more than $39 million remaining on his deal. Guard Eric Bledsoe, who is recovering from meniscus surgery (his second major knee procedure), is still owed three years and more than $43.5 million. The Suns also have a long-term deal with point guard Brandon Knight that was inked this past offseason, tying up another four years and more than $56.4 million.

In total, the Suns have $138 million owed to those three players. The good news is those players could be the right core to build a winner around, which was the plan.

However, things have fallen apart in Phoenix in a major way.

The Suns have stumbled upon some bright spots in what can only be described as a terrible season. Rookie Devin Booker has been spectacular. T.J. Warren was looking great until he broke his foot. Big man Alex Len has been posting double-doubles more nights than not.

The Suns now face a tough choice – should they stay the course with the more veteran players and try to add more to the team with their projected $37 million in potential cap space, or should they tear down some of the experience and build around the promising youth that has emerged this year?

The Suns were supposed to do a ground-up rebuild, but after finding some early success two seasons ago they went all in on veteran players thinking they had captured the magic only to find is was a desert mirage.

League sources say that majority owner Robert Sarver is planning for a top down review of the team and that changes will likely be made. Current team president Lon Babby is expected to step back into an advisory role and while the future of general manager Ryan McDonough seems secure, there is a sense that nothing is off the table at this point.

The Suns are expected to conduct a pretty thorough coaching search and that could prompt additional organizational changes.

Phoenix is viewed by other executives as a team willing to deal, so look for the Suns to be linked to a lot of scenarios leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft and as the team heads into free agency, especially with so much money committed to aging players.

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have a message and they are sticking to it. That message is that they are not that far away from the playoffs, pointing to the number of games lost by fewer than five points this season and the progress some of their younger guys have made this season.

The Magic were very competitive in the early months of the season, but have cratered over the last two months. The Magic dumped off some of their longer term money at the trade deadline, setting up what could be more than $45 million in usable cap space while retaining the restricted free agent rights to guard Evan Fournier.

There are several looming questions around the Magic. Are they truly a win-now team? That has been the public-facing message for several months, but is that the case? If so, is Scott Skiles the right head coach? And what is the future of Rob Hennigan as the general manager?

Magic sources say both are more than likely back next season, although there has been some speculation that both the coach and the GM may not see the world the same way, which could simply be the result of a disappointing season.

The Magic are expected to be aggressive this offseason in pursuing some impact veterans and someone that can be the focal point of the team. There have been plenty of reports linking the Magic to former Florida Gator Al Horford and Central Florida native Chandler Parsons.

Magic sources cautioned that they are nowhere close to knowing who they have a realistic shot at in free agency and will not settle for who they feel they can get; rather, they plan to be aggressive in pursuing guys they want.

The Magic were one of the more aggressive teams at the trade deadline trying to swing a major trade, and it’s expected they will pick up where they left off once the season ends.

Unfortunately for Orlando, they are one of more than 20 NBA teams with ample cap space and among the seven NBA teams with the ability to get to a two maximum salary slots. So unlike normal offseasons, the Magic may not be able to win-out by their checkbook alone and not being in the postseason could make the sales pitch a little harder for the Magic.

There is no sense that Orlando wants to blow up their young core. Several teams tried to pry away parts of Orlando’s roster at the deadline only to be turned away. That is not to say the Magic would not be open to moving a core guy if it returned the right impact veteran, but their plan is to add to this group, not subtract from it unless it moves the team forward radically.

The Magic will have to decide whether to extend guard Victor Oladipo this summer, as they’ll have an exclusive window to do a deal. However, the sense from both sides is unless the deal is a max offer, Oladipo won’t be signing and the Magic do not seem ready to put a maximum offer on the table at this point.

This is expected to be a big offseason for the Magic and their stance today seems to be to stay the course.

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls are a mess. There is no nice way to say it. The Bulls have gone from an all-grit and effort squad to a lackadaisical and lackluster team. There is real talent on the Bulls’ roster, but the new system installed by first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has left a lot of gaps. Most of those gaps surface defensively.

The Bulls have had their usual run of nagging injuries and that derailed a lot of the season, but there is also a very clear gap in how some players want to play and how Hoiberg needs them to play.

The Bulls opted to fire former head coach Tom Thibodeau because he was tough to work with, especially with the front office. The problem is the front office might be the bigger problem.

League sources say it seems unlikely that Bulls majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf would look at making a change at the top, which means this leadership team will oversee the re-tool of the roster this summer.

There has been a long-running belief that the Bulls would entertain offers on All-Star Jimmy Butler, but Chicago has been pretty adamant that Butler is the guy they want to build around going forward. That said, teams see the gaps between what Butler likes to do as a player and what Hoiberg wants him to do in the system. Add in the fact that Butler has been so vocal about the coaching situation and many around the league believe they might be able to tempt the Bulls into a deal with the right offer.

At the trade deadline, the Bulls refused to seriously engage in Butler trade talks, but that does not mean they will keep that stance as teams get aggressive with offers.

One prevailing thought is the Bulls may be open to moving Derrick Rose. There is a growing sense that both the Bulls and Rose would be better off parting ways and given that Rose will be a free agent in 2017, the Bulls have to decide if moving Rose now could return more value than hanging on to him and playing the unrestricted free agent game with him in 2017.

With so little available at the point guard position in the 2016 free agent class, would a one-year rental/try-out on Rose be more meaningful for a team desperate for a point guard than overpaying the likes of Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson?

The Bulls have some free agent issues of their own to work through, namely the future of two of their bigs in Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. Both players have been saying the right things – that they would like to be back in Chicago on new deals. The question is, are both players good long-term fits for how the Bulls want to play and at what price?

Noah is eligible for a maximum salary of more than $29 million. It’s highly doubtful he lands that kind of deal. But even at $20 million, is that a good investment for the Bulls considering his fit this year?

Gasol has had a solid season, but is parking $10 to $15 million into Gasol a smart move for the Bulls, who have young guys like rookie Bobby Portis, second-year forward Doug McDermott, veteran forward Taj Gibson and second-year forward Nikola Mirotić all looking for more minutes?

The Bulls have some tough choices to make this offseason, and the sense is that major changes could be headed Chicago’s way if they are indeed going to go all the way in with Hoiberg’s style.

This Bulls front office has a long history of questionable decisions, especially in free agency. It would not be out of the question that the front office opts to keep both Gasol and Noah, because that’s how they have done things before. But if that is indeed the result, it’s hard to see the Bulls making all of this work, given how dysfunctional things have been this year.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @eric_saar and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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