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Phoenix Suns 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

After an off-season that featured the top overall pick, a new coaching staff and litany of roster moves the Phoenix Suns look to be one of the rising young teams in the West, Basketball Insiders takes a deep dive into the Phoenix Suns.

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The Phoenix Suns had quite the offseason, to say the least. After winning just 21 games last season, the Suns landed the top overall pick in this year’s draft and selected Deandre Ayton. Phoenix also named Igor Kokoškov as the team’s new head coach, made a draft day trade for Mikal Bridges (Zhaire Smith (16th pick) and a Miami HEAT 2021 first-rounder to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to Bridges (10th pick)), drafted Elie Okobo 31st overall, signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million contract, came to terms with Devin Booker on a five-year, $158 million extension, traded Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Houston Rockets for De’Anthony Melton and Ryan Anderson, traded Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-rounder to the Brooklyn Nets for Darrell Arthur and traded $1 million to the 76ers for Richaun Holmes. Notable players not returning from last season’s roster include Alex Len, Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ulis, as well as the aforementioned Chriss, Knight and Dudley.

The Suns were clearly one of the busier teams this offseason, but it’s not exactly clear that all of their activity fit within a well-reasoned vision of the future. With the Western Conference as talented and deep as ever, Phoenix could have invested all of its resources in young talent with an eye toward the future when some of the Western Conference powerhouse teams are on the downswing. Instead, the front office bolstered its young core while also pursuing veteran talent to compete this upcoming season. Only time will tell whether Phoenix’s offseason strategy will prove successful both in the short and long term.

With all of this in mind, let’s take an early look at what will be in store for Phoenix this upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

Phoenix hasn’t won more than 24 games in a single season since the 2014-15 campaign, so it’s no wonder the team is aching to become competitive again. While I am not sure bringing in Trevor Ariza on a one-year, $15 million contract makes a ton of sense, I do think he can be a good mentor for younger forwards like Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and T.J. Warren. I also like that Phoenix overpaid Ariza on a one-year deal rather than committing to him for several season at a lower annual rate.

Bringing in De’Anthony Melton in the trade for Anderson is a nice addition. As of now, Phoenix projects to enter the season without a clear option at the starting point guard position. Booker could slide into that role but it’s not certain he could handle the lead guard position consistently the way James Harden and other non-traditional point guards have in the past. I would not be surprised to see Phoenix aggressively pursue a more established point guard while looking to Melton and Okobo to develop into starting-quality point guards in the near future.

Big picture: Phoenix did well long-term in adding young talent in Ayton, Bridges, Okobo and Melton but may regret investing so much of its resources into trying to be competitive this season in the stacked Western Conference.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

If the goal was to take a step forward, then mission accomplished for Phoenix, I guess? The Suns certainly kept themselves busy since their season ended, adding plenty of dependable and/or promising wings and bigs. The one snag is that the overabundance of wings and bigs on the roster came at the expense of their guard depth. Phoenix doesn’t have many guards to complement Devin Booker with all they lost. If the roster stands as is, then the Suns may rely on positionless basketball, which could make them more fun to watch. Improvement is on the horizon, but for now, its baby steps for the Suns.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Matt John

Even in a loaded Western Conference, it seems the Suns are looking to become a bit more relevant on the court for the first time in several years. Signing a veteran like Trevor Ariza on a big one-year deal, then making a move for Ryan Anderson from Houston to round out a sneakily strong group of shooters, signaled aspirations of at least something more than what we’ve seen over the last few seasons. Moving Brandon Knight out in that same Anderson deal would seem to be an indication that the Suns are leaning toward putting the ball in Devin Booker’s hands as the lead handler from the get-go, and Phoenix will be banking on some new life injected into their youth by new head coach Igor Kokoskov – Booker first and foremost. If Kokoskov can continue to hone his young star’s already-potent offensive game while perhaps refining his play on the defensive side, the Suns will have the foundational piece they’ve committed gigantic money to for the next several years. Whether they’re able to threaten for a playoff spot this year or not, it’s clear the Suns are looking to turn the culture around moving forward.

4th Place – Pacific Division

-Ben Dowsett

For the first time in three years, it feels like the Suns are going to create an identity. There is a youth movement across the board from the players all the way to the coaching staff. It’s not going to all come together in the first year under Igor Kokoskov, but Devin Booker’s on the rise and Josh Jackson is coming into his own. On top of that, having top overall pick Deandre Ayton and fellow first-rounder Mikal Bridges learning under wily veterans like Tyson Chandler and Trevor Ariza should kickstart things in the desert.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Spencer Davies

If the Phoenix Suns were in any other division, it would be easier to see them climbing out of the basement into the playoff discussion, but in the Pacific, they are still the basement, but with a much better forward-looking future. The draft yielded a ton. The new coaching staff should install a fun brand of basketball and the Suns’ future should be on full display every night. They may not win more than 25-30 games, but they look to be in a much better place than they were this time last season.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Devin Booker

At age-21, Booker already has the complete package on offense. He is a pure shooter who can knock down shots off the dribble, out of catch-and-shoot situations and while flying off of screens. Booker is also a solid playmaker and effective operator out of the pick-and-roll. He doesn’t have elite athleticism but he has a nice feel for the game and uses his change of pace to create space and attack the rim effectively. Coach Kokoškov is sure to build his offense around Booker and put his young star guard in a position to fully utilize his dynamic offensive skill set. Phoenix’s offense will go as Booker goes, especially until the team acquires an established starter at point guard.

Also, in case there is any doubt about Booker’s offensive talent, let’s not forget he scored 70 points against the Celtics in Boston on March 24, 2017.

Last season, Booker averaged 24.9 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range.

Top Defensive Player: Trevor Ariza

Let’s be clear, Ariza is not the defensive player he was earlier in his career. However, at age-33, Ariza is still an effective defender on the wing and against bigger forwards in the post. Additionally, Ariza comes to Phoenix after being part of Houston’s elite defense, which ranked sixth overall last season in defensive rating. Ariza was a key part of Houston’s switch-heavy schemes, which managed to slow down the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and put Houston in striking distance of the NBA Finals.

Ariza isn’t going to lockdown opposing team’s star guards and forwards on a nightly basis, but he will hold his own and work within the team’s defensive schemes. Ariza could also act as a mentor to Phoenix’s young forwards, including Warren, Jackson and Bridges and could help them develop good habits and improve as defenders as well.

Top Playmaker: Devin Booker

Without a starting caliber point guard currently on the roster, Booker takes the nod as the team’s best playmaker. Booker has good vision, is an underrated passer and if often methodical while probing opposing defenses. His offensive abilities often cause defenses to scheme towards stopping him from scoring as a top priority, which can lead to easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. With more talent around him this season, Booker needs to make a more concerted effort to be a consistent playmaker and facilitator for his teammates. If he manages to do so, his offensive impact will hit another level, even if his per game scoring average takes a slight dip from last season.

Top Clutch Player: Devin Booker

In year’s past, players like Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic could have made a claim as being Phoenix’s top clutch player. However, Booker has hit some big time shots in clutch situations over his young NBA career and is the most capable scorer and playmaker Phoenix has at this point. Booker hasn’t always been the most efficient scorer in clutch situations, but there is little doubt that he is the most capable offensive player Phoenix has and the person who should have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

The Unheralded Player: De’Anthony Melton

When the Suns traded Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Houston Rockets for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, most of the attention fell on everyone but Melton. Melton is a talented combo guard who was sidelined all of last season at USC because of a federal investigation into the NCAA. Had Melton not been sidelined, he would have had more of an opportunity to show NBA teams that he was arguably worthy of a first-round pick in this year’s draft. Instead, Melton dropped on draft night and was selected 46th overall by the Houston Rockets.

Melton participated in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Rockets and had some standout performances. At Summer League, Melton averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and four assists and demonstrated a nice feel for the pace and tempo of the game.

Melton will compete with Elie Okobo, Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan for playing time at the point guard position.

Best New Addition: Deandre Ayton

There are some skeptics who don’t believe Ayton has the skill set or drive to be a star player at the NBA level. However, the majority of scouts and other player evaluators had Ayton as the consensus top pick in this year’s draft – a conclusion Phoenix clearly agreed with.

Ayton stands at 7-foot-0 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He has a big, muscular frame but still has plenty of room to continue developing his body. Ayton is also extremely athletic, coordinated and nimble for a player his size. If Ayton can become a more consistent weak side defender, improve his consistency in making the correct defensive rotations and improve on his rebounding fundamentals, he could possibly become a Rudy Gobert level defensive anchor someday. No one should expect Ayton to reach Gobert’s level but it’s a possibility and that alone was reason enough to take him with the first overall pick.

Ayton also has a surprisingly diverse offensive skill set but he isn’t great at any particular thing yet on that end of the court. However, Ayton is a big-time threat as a rim-roller and should get plenty of opportunities to finish lobs from teammates over the course of the season.

Ayton may not be ready to contribute at a high level in his rookie season, but he has star potential and that alone makes him the team’s best new addition.

– Jesse Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Devin Booker

For all of the reasons we have already discussed above.

2. Deandre Ayton

In Ayton, Phoenix finally has a second young prospect with star potential. There is no guarantee that Ayton ever becomes anything more than a starting quality center but between his physical gifts and improving skill set, it’s possible he could become an All-Star caliber player in the near future. Additionally, if Ayton reaches his defensive potential, he could become the defensive anchor that Phoenix needs as Tyson Chandler is no longer the defensive ace he once was and is only under contract for this season.

After seemingly missing the mark by using top picks on big men like Alex Len, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, Phoenix is hoping that Ayton’s game will translate to the modern NBA. If it does, Ayton could become part of a formidable duo with Booker.

3. Mikal Bridges

Phoenix traded a promising player in Zhaire Smith and a valuable Miami 2021 first-round pick for Bridges, which is a somewhat steep price to pay. But it’s not hard to understand why Phoenix was willing to pay this price for Bridges. He is a prototypical 3-and-D prospect with the potential to develop into a capable playmaker. When I think about Bridges, I think of Kris Middleton. I don’t know whether Bridges will ever develop into the kind of player Middleton has become, but he has deep range on his jumper, is a confident shooter and looked comfortable getting his shot off quickly at the Las Vegas Summer League.

Depending on how Bridges and Smith develop over the next few seasons and what becomes of that Miami draft pick, Phoenix may come to regret making this deal. But Bridges is a quality prospect that should make a lasting impact in Phoenix.

4. T.J. Warren

Warren is now entering his fifth NBA season and while he has shown some flashes of his unique offensive skills, he has yet to establish himself as a reliable starter at the forward position. Injuries have limited Warren, who has never played in more than 66 games in a season. However, this could be the year where Warren starts to fully and consistently utilize all of his offensive skills, including his ability to score off the dribble, in the midrange and at the rim. Warren is a poor shooter from three-point range but his brand of offense keeps opponents off balance, making him a tough matchup for many players who are used to running players off the three-point line and trailing them to the rim rather than guarding them in the midrange and in the post.

STRENGTHS

Young talent. The Suns feature one of the better young cores in the NBA and are now guided by a promising head coach in Igor Kokoškov. While the Suns brought in Ariza and Anderson to add veteran experience and depth to the roster, it’s unlikely they alone will be able to help the Suns maintain pace in the Western Conference playoff picture this season. However, if Ariza, Anderson and Chandler can help mentor the younger players and build a strong team culture, this team could conceivably outperform expectations. But even in the best case scenario, the playoffs don’t seem like a realistic goal for Phoenix this season considering how many young players the team is relying on to play heavy minutes and how stacked the Western Conference is.

If the Suns see meaningful development from their young core players, this season should be seen as a success even if Phoenix misses the postseason.

– Jesse Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

Point guard. As previously discussed, the Suns are projected to enter the upcoming season without an established starter at point guard. Booker could slide into the lead guard position but there is no guarantee he is ready to take on that taxing role. Phoenix has promising prospects in Okobo and Melton, but neither player is likely ready to take on the starting position and perform at a league average level consistently. Phoenix is rumored to be seeking out a quality point guard but until such a deal has been agreed to and finalized, point guard play is likely going to be an area of concern for the Suns.

– Jesse Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Will Phoenix regret investing significant resources into veterans like Trevor Ariza?

Phoenix wasn’t a team that was one or two quality veterans away from becoming a contender, which is why some people in and around the league have questioned the wisdom of Phoenix’s signing of Ariza and trade for Anderson. Notably, Ariza’s contract is only for this season and Anderson’s deal will become more movable after this season. Additionally, Phoenix could flip either player for assets midseason if a team feels either player would help them move into contention or separate themselves from the other contenders. However, Phoenix could also end up winning more games than they would without veterans like Ariza, which could hurt them in next year’s Lottery. Is winning a few more games this season worth potentially ending up with a lower draft pick?

– Jesse Blancarte

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NBA Daily: Grading the Offseason – New York Knicks

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the New York Knicks.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA offseason is dramatically different than it was as recently as a decade ago. In the past, the offseason began following the conclusion of the NBA Finals. And save for a few exciting happenings (e.g., the NBA Draft), the sports world moved on to other items of interest.

But presently, the first half of the summer is still very much the NBA’s. Until mid-July, that is. With the NBA finally ready to enter a lull in activity, we can safely begin assessing teams’ offseason moves. And with that, Basketball Insiders continues its “Grading the Offseason” series.

Spencer Davies kicked things off by assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers and David Yapkowitz graded the moves made by the Chicago Bulls. Next up is possibly the most polarizing team in the league – the New York Knicks.

Overview

The Knicks entered 2018-19seaason with low expectations. However, there was hope for the future with 7’3” unicorn-esque center (Kristaps Porzingis), their three rookies (Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier) and a boatload of projected cap space on the books.

Fast forward to the Summer of 2019 and the Knicks are in a surprising spot relative to last year. Their assumed core of the future was dealt a blow when it became clear that Porzingis wanted out of New York, resulting in a trade to Dallas. And while they failed to land a major free agent – despite freeing up the cap space for two max free agents – there is actually reason for optimism for the Knicks.

Offseason

Despite finishing the 2018-19 season with the worst record in the NBA, the new lottery structure led to the Knicks landing the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Fortunately, the third pick in the draft was a no-brainer regardless of who was making the selection. RJ Barrett – guard/forward from Duke – is a talented scorer and playmaker who will instantly become the best Knick at drawing fouls and creating off the dribble. Barrett can struggle with his efficiency and other aspects of his game, but he will show flashes of greatness throughout the upcoming season.

But that’s not all the Knicks did on draft night. As I discussed last week, the Knicks traded up in the second round to select Ignas Brazdeikis, a forward from Michigan. Brazdeikis entered NBA Summer League with a lot of questions around him, most notably his lack of foot speed and athleticism, and he answered them in a big way.

Brazdeikis proved he can contribute to an NBA team immediately. His shot-making, shooting ability, strength and motor all shined through in many of the team’s Summer League games. The Knicks may have hit another home run in the second-round, which makes them two-for-two in as many years (Mitchell Robinson was selected by the Knicks with the 36thoverall pick in 2018).

Speaking of Robinson, he flashed his potential throughout Summer League, too. He demonstrated good progress, posting 13.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 25 minutes per game — and winning first-team All-Summer League honors. Robinson has a lot to prove this season, as expectations have changed dramatically for the 21-year-old, but at least the Knicks have their center of the future.

Free agency didn’t go quite as well for the Knicks. Many experts felt that the team had a good chance at signing Kevin Durant and a second major free agent. But the Knicks struck out on superstar free agent signings.

And what’s more, the Knicks signed a number of players shortly after the start of free agency, which prevented them from absorbing unwanted salary in exchange for future picks (e.g., the Los Angeles Clippers received a future first-round pick for taking back Maurice Harkless from the Portland Trail Blazers). The narrative quickly became that the Knicks failed at free agency.

But perception and reality are not always one and the same. Ultimately, the Knicks were able to attach a second-year team option and/or signed free agents to one-year deals for six of their seven free agent acquisitions (with the seventh free agent being Randle, for whom the Knicks own a third-year option).

This means that very little – if any salary – is guaranteed beyond 2019-20, making all of the aforementioned players attractive additions to contenders come the trade deadline – many were likely attractive as of June 30, but most contenders didn’t have the requisite cap space to sign players like Portis, Payton or Morris after making major investments in superstars.

All of the Knicks free agent additions can contribute at a relatively high level – save for Bullock, whose health is still in question following a recent back surgery — for both the Knicks as well as a contending team down the line. And the Knicks can liquidate most of their roster and free up significant cap space to chase the likes of Anthony Davis and others in 2020 if so desired – and they may even get themselves additional assets in the process. So the Knicks’ 2019 free agency period could be viewed very differently at this time next year (or 2021), depending on if they are able to convince a star player or two to join their young core.

PLAYERS IN: RJ Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Marcus Morris

PLAYERS OUT: Kadeem Allen, Mario Hejonza, Noah Vonleh, Luke Kornet, Emmanuel Mudiay, DeAndre Jordan, Lance Thomas, Henry Ellenson and Billy Garrett

What’s Next?

The Knicks’ offseason is probably over considering they added nine players and will return six – with one exception being potentially working on a reunion with the recently-waived Lance Thomas.

The Knicks signed seven quality free agents who can all hypothetically be traded for assets or waived following the 2019-20 season. They also added two NBA-quality rookies, both of whom should carve out a role on the team. The team’s challenge will be picking a direction. Scott Perry recently scoffed at the notion that Knicks will tank in 2019-20. Thus, they may hang onto most of their signees for the entire season in hopes of getting their young nucleus playoff experience.

While playoff experience is great for any young player, it will be challenging for David Fizdale and the rest of the coaching staff to carve out a rotation that features all of the team’s young players. The Knicks will have to create lineups very deliberately, pairing youth with veterans so they don’t experience too much falloff when shifting from one lineup to another.

Another unresolved item remains: Frank Ntilikina. Rumors circulated in the lead up the 2019 NBA Draft that the Knicks were going to trade their former lottery pick, but Ntilikina remains with the team. Ntilikina’s time in New York might be nearing an end unless he shows significant improvement early this season. It is worth mentioning that Ntilikina showed up earlier in the offseason on social media sporting a smoother and more natural-looking shooting form.

One final improvement the Knicks will look to build on is their leadership. Credibility trickles down from the very top of an organization. While James Dolan has made questionable decisions over the years, the rest of the Knicks’ management is operating more thoughtfully than it has in years.

The team’s leadership and coaching staff remained entirely intact for the first time in what feels like decades – the Knicks have had five coaches (six tenures) and three Presidents (four tenures) in the past eight seasons. And while players win games, they are attracted to situations that appear stable and supportive. The Knicks and Scott Perry, Steve Mills, and David Fizdale began laying the foundation for this type of situation. They now need to demonstrate progress on the court to take the next step and possibly start to build themselves up as a free agent destination (outside of simply being the Knicks). Lastly, they need Dolan and the team to remain out of the news for negative reasons as much as possible, such as being in the news for a lawsuit against the City of Inglewood around contractual issues pertaining a new Clippers arena.

This wasn’t the offseason that Knicks fans were hoping for, but it wasn’t the disaster some portray it as either. The Knicks have the means to take a positive step forward this season and set the stage for bigger things in the future.

Offseason Grade: B-

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NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Wins Big In Vegas

Jordan Hicks had the chance to catch up with Summer League MVP Brandon Clarke, who discussed his transition into becoming a pro, his play during the tournament and skills he’s been working on.

Jordan Hicks

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No player had a better Summer League than Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Not only did his team win the Las Vegas Summer League championship, but Clarke was the Finals MVP and MVP of the tournament. In six games of action, he averaged 14.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.8 blocks. He dropped 15 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the championship game. He was dominant on both sides of the ball throughout the tournament. and there wasn’t really anyone playing that was capable of stopping him.

Accolades aren’t anything new to Clarke. In his lone year at Gonzaga where he transferred to after playing two years at San Jose State, Clarke was First Team All-West Coast Conference, WCC Defensive Player of the Year and WCC Newcomer of the Year. His play during Summer League could have very well earned Clarke significant minutes for the upcoming season.

So why did Brandon Clarke drop so low in the draft? Many had him pegged as a sure-fire lottery selection, but to the surprise of many dropped all the way down to 21 before Memphis traded up to get him.

Most point to the fact that he’s the size of a traditional wing in the NBA, but plays the four or even the five. He stands 6-foot-8 and matches that with a 6-foot-8 wingspan. In college, length doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does in the NBA. Still, after the way he showed out in Las Vegas, many teams are likely scratching their heads wondering why on earth they didn’t pick him up.

Due to the nature of the trade, Clarke wasn’t able to join the Grizzlies until it became official after July 6th.

“It’s getting off all the rust that I kind of had on me,” Clarke said. “Like I’ve said previously, it was tough at the start because I couldn’t practice, I couldn’t really do much with the team, but now I can play again and get used to playing team basketball.”

The rust wasn’t as obvious to the onlooker. There wasn’t really a single game during the 10-day event where Clarke looked fatigued, but his play definitely improved as the tournament went on.

The semi-final game against the New Orleans Pelicans was a tough matchup and eventually went into overtime. Clarke sealed the win with a go-ahead dunk in the closing seconds. When asked about the end of that game compared to a big, close college game, Clarke responded: “It felt pretty similar. The crowd really got kind of loud there in the end. I feel like it was pretty similar to what I’d feel in a big-time college game.”

Shortly after, Clarke was asked about his desire to actually win the tournament.

“It’s just basketball,” he said. “Every time that I play basketball I want to win so I think that we all feel that as a team. Even though it’s not a real NBA tournament, well it is, but it’s not [versus] the big-time NBA dudes. We all still want to win.”

He wasn’t just messing around, either. Clarke went back the following day and led his team to a W.

One thing that really differentiates Clarke from most other rookies drafted in the first round is his age. A lot of players that get drafted early on are younger. Teams draft them as projects based on their playing profile, size, abilities, etc. Clarke – thanks in part to his two years with San Jose State and one redshirt year with Gonzaga – will turn 23 this fall.

When asked if his age gives him an advantage, Clarke agreed.

“Yeah, I would probably say so. If I was playing right now and I was only 18 or 19 I could see why it would be tougher,” he said. “But me being almost 23, I feel like I played in many games that were just like this one tonight.”

There’s no doubt that Clarke’s large volume of collegiate experience will give him an advantage during the long NBA season. He’s played against high-level talent for three seasons in total and had almost four years to develop his various skill sets.

Clarke talked a bit about the process of ending his college career, the draft, and then summer league.

“It’s been a long journey really,” he said. “Lot’s of workouts, lot’s of time put in. But I’m here playing, it’s been super fun and I’m just really happy to get this feel of what NBA games are actually like. Just trying to get that feel back and get better at playing team basketball for the Grizzlies.”

Clarke could truly be considered the ultimate anomaly in today’s NBA. Sure, he’s super athletic, smooth around the rim, and has elite finishing abilities (he led the NCAA in field goal percentage last season). But he’s a big trapped in a wing’s body. There’s one skill that, if developed, could really bring his game to the next level.

“My shooting. That’s been something I’ve been working on a lot. If I can add that to my game I feel like I’ll be a much, much better player,” Clarke said. “There’s just so much I’ve added, but I’d probably say shooting is the biggest part and there’s still lot’s of steps I need to take.”

The fact that Clarke understands that already puts him ahead of the pack. Many players spend too much time developing skills that won’t give them longevity in the league. Clarke really has almost a complete package skills-wise, but becoming a better shooter would take his game so far.

The Memphis Grizzlies are 100 percent in rebuild mode. They have special pieces in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, but don’t sleep on Brandon Clarke. He could very easily emerge as a central piece to any success the Grizzlies have down the road.

Athleticism aside, it is clear that Clarke has all the intangibles of a great leader, and that alone could pay huge dividends to both himself and the Grizzlies organization in the seasons to come.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next For Chris Paul

Left in the lurch, there are few feasible options for Chris Paul headed into the 2019-20 season, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s official, we have hit the dog days of the NBA offseason.

What began at such a frenetic pace has inevitably sputtered and slowed, as deals have been made, unmade and some of the biggest names in the NBA have moved house. Everything that could have happened seems to have and now, with Summer League over, basketball is left with almost nothing to occupy the seemingly infinite amount of time between today and training camp.

And, unfortunately for Chris Paul, it may feel even longer than that.

Despite the Houston Rockets’ declaration to the contrary, Paul has since been traded, stranded on an Oklahoma City roster that has no business competing in a stacked Western Conference next season.

Between his contract – more than $124 million over the next three seasons – and his regression a season ago, Paul’s removal from the Rockets’ roster was a necessity; it’s a business, and the point guard was a hinderance to Houston’s championship aspirations.

But the situation hasn’t changed for Paul – he is still unwanted, a (very) pricy veteran miscast on his current roster.

So, where does that leave him? There are but a few teams that could afford to take on the massive amount of money owed to Paul and even fewer that would want to. There is no doubt that, given a clean bill of health, Paul could recapture some of his prior form next season but, still, would it be worth his price tag?

Probably not. And that should only limit Paul’s options further.

The Thunder reportedly want to get a deal done “as soon as they can” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, but discussions are “parked” for now. They could always opt to retain him; who better to serve as a mentor for the young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than the Point God himself?

But would Paul want to serve in that role? There would be a clear opportunity to rebuild some value and open up potential landing spots. But, Paul, 34, is a soon-to-be 15-year veteran with a single Conference Finals appearance to his name. Surely, if he were to step back into a secondary role, he would rather do so for a contender.

And, of course, the money would be an issue as the Thunder, despite the recent roster reconstruction, are still expected to pay a heavy luxury tax penalty next season. Given their current situation, it should be obvious that keeping Paul on his current deal isn’t the best move.

The Lakers serve as another potential destination — don’t forget, Los Angeles tried to acquire Paul back in 2011, but the deal was subsequently nixed by then-commissioner David Stern.

While there is almost no connection between that iteration of the Lakers and the current one, it is still an interesting option. Los Angeles is an obvious fit because, for lack of a better option, the Lakers are set to start LeBron James at point guard next season. With Paul in the fold, James could serve in his normal role and reduce his workload with time off the ball.

The prior relationship between James and Paul could also serve to benefit the Lakers’ chemistry and may allow for an easier roster transition.

But, again, Paul’s contract looms large. The Lakers opened a max-slot in their salary cap earlier this summer, hoping to land recently-minted champion Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard spurned them for their in-house neighbor, the Clippers, they made use of that space to fill out the rest of the roster with complementary players.

Now, a buyout would be necessary to facilitate any deal before the start of the season. Otherwise, the Lakers would have to wait until December, when those players that signed new contracts would become eligible to be traded.

And then, of course, there are the HEAT. Miami is almost always mentioned when a big-name is available, whether as a free agent or via trade, and the rumors proved true this offseason in the case of Jimmy Butler.

Despite the awkward fit in Philadelphia alongside other stars such as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, Butler proved his worth and, at times, looked like the 76ers’ best player during the postseason.

Now in Miami, Butler should almost certainly bolster their future outlook, but they are far from done with the roster. Without a subsequent move, they aren’t a championship contender — could Paul be the one to take them a step further?

The reported mutual interest, according to Brian Windhorst, should only fuel the flames, but a deal involving Paul could be as much of a necessity for Miami as it was for Houston.

The HEAT were the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference a season ago and Butler is a major upgrade, but the rest of the roster is underwhelming at best. While Butler and Paul could prove an awkward fit basketball-wise, there is no doubt that the two of them together would significantly elevate the HEAT’s ceiling above that level. Miami, unlike many of his other potential suitors, would also have the salary to match Paul’s incoming deal.

But a dispute over draft compensation seems to have tabled discussions until further notice.

Beyond those scenarios, it’s hard to imagine Paul anywhere else next season.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Paul is anywhere other than Oklahoma City to start next season, barring a change of heart (either from Paul regarding a buyout or the HEAT and Thunder regarding potential compensation), anyway.

And so, the long wait for Paul will continue. It would be foolish to doubt him now, after 14 seasons in the NBA, but it’s hard to imagine that Paul will come close to providing adequate value relative to his contract. Ultimately, a potential move may be out of his hands, left up to the teams to determine whether or not Paul is an asset worth acquiring.

So far, it would seem the NBA has deemed him not worth it.

But, it is the NBA and if the offseason thus far is anything to go by, anything could happen.

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