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NBA PM: Dragic, Suns Somehow Emerge as Elite

Goran Dragic has emerged as one of the NBA’s most productive players and put the Phoenix Suns in the playoff picture. How did this happen? … Tyson Chandler unsure of future with New York Knicks

Alex Kennedy

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Dragic, Suns Somehow Emerge as Elite

Goran Dragic may look like someone you’d play against at your local YMCA, shrugging his shoulders after making jaw-dropping shots and smiling up and down the court, but don’t let his boyish looks fool you. This season, Dragic has shown that he’s one of the most fearless players in the NBA. He attacks every opponent and refuses to back down from any defense. He may wear a goofy grin on his face, but he’s capable of destroying your favorite team.

The 27-year-old, who just became a full-time starter last year, has quietly emerged as one of the league’s most productive players this season. He’s turning heads with the Phoenix Suns and filling the stat sheet every night. Dragic is currently averaging 20.6 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He’s shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three-point range.

Dragic ranks 13th in the NBA in efficiency rating, ahead of bigger names such as James Harden, Paul George, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker (all of whom were selected as All-Stars over Dragic). The only point guards with a higher PER than Dragic are Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. He’s ranked fourth in the NBA in offensive wins shares with 6.7, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. He’s 10th in the NBA in estimated wins added with 11.6, and sixth in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (.614).

The numbers are incredible, but even more impressive than the statistics is how the six-year veteran has turned the Suns into the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season. Entering this year, Phoenix was expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. They were accused of blatant tanking before playing their first game since the team stockpiled young players and draft picks, and traded away veterans such as Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Caron Butler.

However, Phoenix’s young roster has exceeded all expectations and Dragic’s play is a big reason for that. The Suns are 35-24, which puts them in the seventh seed in the insanely competitive Western Conference. Dragic has been the key piece in first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system and he has made all of his teammates better. The team even continued to win after losing Eric Bledsoe to knee surgery. The fact that Dragic has started alongside P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye, and turned this team into a legitimate playoff squad is simply remarkable.

Hornacek certainly deserves credit as well and he’s the frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award, but Dragic’s season has been nothing short of amazing and there’s no question that he’s in the running for the Most Improved Player award. Dragic, who was the 45th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, believes that he has been able to elevate his game because his experiences over the last several years have prepared for anything on the court.

“I’m more relaxed,” Dragic said. “I know all of the situations I’m put in and I know how the opposing teams are going to guard me. I’m just more relaxed. It feels like I’m playing basketball with my friends back home, with no pressure. I just go out there and do my job. I’ve gotten some great support from my teammates and I’m just having fun. It’s not like I’m thinking too much or anything. I’m just having fun.”

Hornacek credits Dragic for being “able to fly up and down the court,” but adds that the point guard’s success is also due to the fact that his teammates are producing at a high level as well.

“For him to be able to get some of the things that he does with his drives, it means that everybody else is playing well too,” Hornacek said of Dragic. “If they leave somebody, then they’re going to be wide open. It’s really kind of the togetherness of our team, and everybody is playing really well. Teams can’t just focus on one player because then we’ll do something else and get open shots that guys will knock down.”

Dragic was perhaps the most surprising All-Star snub this season, but he has put it behind him.

“I don’t think about that, I just want to play,” Dragic said when asked about his All-Star snub. “That’s already behind me. What happened, happened. I just try to play my best every single night.”

Opposing players have described Dragic has unstoppable in transition and he has definitely become someone that other teams have to game plan around. He has come a long way from when he was traded by the Suns back in 2011 (to the Houston Rockets), and is proof that every player develops at a different pace.

Soon, the Suns will get Bledsoe back in their lineup and return to full strength. Bledsoe recently returned to practice for Phoenix, playing in five-on-five scrimmages for the first time since his surgery. Dragic has kept the Suns afloat without Bledsoe, but it’s clear that Phoenix is at its best when they have both guards flying down the court and wreaking havoc together.

This season, Dragic and the Suns have stunned everyone, and the point guard is proud of the attitude that the team has taken on.

“We are a really hard-nosed team,” Dragic said. “It doesn’t matter if we are up or down 20 points, we are still going to battle until the end.”

Leading the way is Dragic, who seems poised to take Phoenix to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Chandler Unsure of Future With Knicks

The New York Knicks are currently 21-40 and this season could not have gone any worse for the team. The Knicks entered the campaign expecting to be a contender after last year’s 54-win season, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t a playoff squad but rather a punching bag for opposing teams.

This season has been nightmare for New York, and key members of the team aren’t sure if they want to return to the franchise after this year.

Carmelo Anthony’s future has been a hot topic since he’ll become an unrestricted free agent once he exercises his early termination option this summer, but he isn’t the only one who may want to leave for greener pastures. Tyson Chandler, at 31 years old, doesn’t have time for wasted seasons like this one and may want to join a team closer to contention.

When asked about his future with the Knicks recently, Chandler told the New York Post’s Marc Berman that he isn’t sure what’s going to happen.

“That’s something I have to visit during the offseason,’’ Chandler said. “We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make.’’

Chandler will make $14,596,887 next season and then his contract will expire. The Knicks are reportedly hoping that the summer of 2015 is when they can make a big splash in free agency and put other stars alongside Anthony (if he re-signs). It’s possible that between now and then that Chandler could be traded – or demand a trade – as he is one of the more attractive assets on the Knicks’ roster.

Regardless of what the future holds, Chandler insists that he’s going to play his hardest and finish this season strong.

“For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong],’’ Chandler said. “I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it.’’

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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