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NBA PM: Phoenix’s Point Guards Living in Harmony

A lot was made about Phoenix adding yet another point guard to the rotation this past summer, but so far the returns have been just fine… Carmelo Anthony reveals just how close he really was to signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason…

Joel Brigham

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Suns Point Guards Don’t Care About Positions

From the moment the Phoenix Suns decided to sign former Sacramento Kings standout Isaiah Thomas, people have unreasonably worried about the number of high-quality point guards on the Suns’ roster.

After all, the team saw a lot of success a year ago running Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together, even though both players are technically point guards, but adding a third one, also accustomed to and deserving of big minutes and usage, was sure to stuff a wrench into the spokes, right?

Well, the Suns are 10-6 and currently the eighth-best team in the Western Conference. As far as the team is concerned, they’re more or less right where they were a year ago, which suggests that, at the very least, they certainly aren’t worse off for the acquisition of Thomas.

All three players’ individual numbers have decreased, but that isn’t due to individual or team struggles. These three guys are just having to share a little more often, and that’s fine, as Thomas himself admits, as long as the Suns put as much talent on the floor as they can, regardless of position.

“You can’t really label a guy, ‘Oh he’s a point guard or a shooting guard,’” Thomas said. “In the NBA you see a lot of teams playing two point guards at one time. You see a lot of teams playing small forwards at the power forward position… Guys are just going out there and playing.”

For Dragic, last year’s Most Improved Player, the adjustment has been a lot tougher as he’s really been the guy playing the fewest “point guard” minutes of the three. Offensively, that’s fine, as Dragic, like Thomas and Bledsoe, is more of a scoring point guard than a distributing one and can certainly handle primary perimeter scoring duties. But on the other end of the floor, playing out of position can be challenging at times.

“It’s a learning experience this year because I’m playing mostly two-guards, so I’m defending bigger guys who are usually posting me up,” Dragic said. “I’m not as involved as much in pick and roll and I’m more of a shooter now, but that’s what it is and I’m embracing what is best for the team.”

In other words, the individual challenges for this trio of guards adjusting to playing together are relatively minimal. The players themselves feel like any combination of the three of them can be successful.

“[Playing with either guy] is the same because they’re both real aggressive guards that like to attack, like to get to the rim, get out in the open floor and make things happen,” Thomas said. “They’re two different guards, but for the most part their strengths are kind of the same.”

“Some nights we play all three together,” Dragic added. “But you know with Eric, he’s more athletic, more of a driver, and with Isaiah, he can drive but he can shoot too. He’s a better shooter than Eric, but Eric is so explosive that he can get to the lane anytime.”

Every point guard in the rotation has strengths and weaknesses, and the addition of Thomas has really only served as a way to keep all three of them fresh and all opposing defenses confounded. They have all played fewer minutes this year, and as a result all three are scoring fewer points than they were last season. So far, though, the new guard rotation for the Suns has resulted in quite a few more wins than losses and has them looking like a borderline playoff team again.

“We tried getting some big names in the free agent market but unfortunately we didn’t get anybody,” Dragic said. “But in the end [the Phoenix front office] told me that me and Eric are going to start again and Isaiah will come off the bench. That’s how we’re going to have a deeper bench, more players that can play.

“In the end you have to sacrifice some minutes and some shots so the team can get better.”

No one is Phoenix is worried about what position anyone plays. All they care about is putting talented players on the floor and hoping they’ve got what it takes to get some more wins and return the Suns to the playoffs. They came close a year ago, and adding someone as talented as Isaiah Thomas, they hope, is enough to push them back into the postseason.

Carmelo Anthony Really Was Almost A Chicago Bull

When Carmelo Anthony ended up choosing the New York Knicks over the Chicago Bulls this past summer, it really wasn’t hard to read between the lines; not only could New York offer a whole lot more money, but Anthony also felt loyal to his hometown and didn’t want to uproot his family.

While Anthony said a lot about those things immediately following the signing with the Knicks, we didn’t really hear much about his feelings on Chicago. A new documentary produced by Anthony’s Melo Enterprises and airing on the Knicks’ MSG Network remedies that, however, giving in-depth insight as to how close Anthony really was to joining Chicago.

“It came down to Chicago and New York,’’ Anthony said in the documentary, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Chicago was the one from Day 1 [and] was something I was very impressed with. They were looking for someone like me to come in and take them to the next level. So it was perfect.

“It was a perfect setup and perfect fit for me in Chicago. But also I had to think about just living in Chicago. Do I want to live in Chicago? Do I want to take everything I created in New York and move all of that? It came down to that. But there was one point in time I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going.’’’

All those back-and-forth Twitter media updates from July really weren’t wrong, then. It seemed as if Anthony’s camp would flip-flop constantly, and apparently the reason for that is because Anthony himself would change his mind often about where he wanted to play this year.

“He goes to bed one night saying he wants to go to Chicago. He wakes up the next day and says New York,” said Bay Frazier, Anthony’s agent, toward the end of the decision process. “He’s loyal to New York and he wants to say and become a champion here, which would blow everything away. … You’ve also got to factor in money—even though it ain’t about money. You want to win and got to understand what New York is trying to do and he gets that. He gets Phil Jackson being a winner. They don’t do a sign and trade with Chicago, that’s $74 million as opposed to close to $129 million. That’s a no-brainer.”

Except that it apparently wasn’t, and while a lot of time has passed since the currently-injured Anthony made his big decision, it is interesting to read through his thought process on free agency and being given the opportunity to see why he ultimately made the decision that he did.

And to settle one more little bit of drama from the summer, Anthony said in the interviews for the documentary that Derrick Rose did, in fact, reach out to him, for whatever that’s worth.

None of this matters now, of course, but as big a story as it was over the summer, a lot of questions were left unanswered. It looks like this documentary is going to answer most of those questions, and everybody can go back to wondering how much longer the Knicks will struggle.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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