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The Phoenix Suns’ Path to Contention

How can the Phoenix Suns take the next step after inking Eric Bledsoe and the Morris twins?

Nate Duncan

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The Phoenix Suns have been the NBA’s most newsworthy franchise over the last week, re-signing Eric Bledsoe to a five-year pact worth $70 million and inking brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris to four-year rookie extensions that kick in for the 2015-16 season. The Morris deals are solid; locking up a starting power forward (as Markieff projects to be) for only $8 million a year in a rising cap climate is solid value, while Marcus could also prove worth his contract even while acknowledging he might have been slightly overpaid to mollify Markieff.

Now that more of Phoenix’s core is locked in, what can we expect going forward? The backcourt of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe projects to be one of the NBA’s best. While Dragic is likely to decline after an age-27 season in which he far exceeded his performance to date, Bledsoe should counteract that with continued improvement. Adding Isaiah Thomas should allow Phoenix to keep its foot on the gas at all times with two scoring ballhandlers always in the game. The Suns appear poised to build on last year’s eighth-ranked offense.

But it is it is quite possible that it doesn’t happen that way due to the loss of Channing Frye. Markieff has flashed three-point range, but he has not shown anywhere near Frye’s shooting prowess in either accuracy or versatility. In fact, Frye was rather unique in that respect among big men. His superior size also gave him the ability to move to center defensively, making his jumper (and more importantly the threat of it) even more deadly. Indeed, Frye ranked as one of the league’s best non-stars by Real Plus-Minus (RPM) in 2013-14 due to his shooting gravity despite pedestrian box score statistics. Among power forwards, he ranked second in Offensive RPM behind Dirk Nowitzki. His 3.92 ORPM was about triple that of the highest rated center, Nikola Pekovic at 1.31. He was even about an average defender for a center by that metric. It is conceivable that Frye’s absence could cause Phoenix to take a major step back offensively and a slight one back defensively.

Nonetheless, the four-year, $32 million offer by the Orlando Magic to take Frye through his 35th birthday was likely an overpay by a team with no better use of its cap space. More importantly, the point here is to figure out how Phoenix can contend if everything goes according to plan with the current roster. If losing Frye kills the offense, Dragic regresses, the Morrises don’t improve or Bledsoe gets hurt again, they are in trouble regardless.

If the current players on the roster can fulfill the Suns’ high but not unreasonable hopes, this roster still tops out as a midpack team in the typically brutal West playoff bracket. In this scenario, the offense should be championship caliber, but it is hard to imagine the defense (13th last year with Frye and some smoke and mirrors by Hornacek) reaching the top 10 without a solid rim-protector and a wing stopper who does not sabotage the offense.

The current roster offers some eventual hope in that regard with center Alex Len, the fifth overall pick in the weak 2013 draft, but he has a long way to go. It might be too far to call it a lost rookie season for Len, but he did not really crack the rotation after a slow start due to surgery on both ankles. I wrote about Len last February,  and we have little information to supplement that evaluation since then as he played little and missed summer league with a finger injury. Unfortunately, there is not much in his overall statistical resume at Maryland and in the pros to indicate he will be a quality starter.

Nevertheless, Len has physical potential defensively with his quick feet for his true center size and a 7’4 wingspan. In limited minutes he allowed a reasonable 48 percent shooting at the rim, so there is at least a slight indication he can evolve into a defensive stopper. But he will need to show a lot this year to convince the Suns that he is the long-term starter at center. The Suns may face criticism if he does not.  Nerlens Noel went a pick later and may break out this year, although he brings his own positional and health issues.

Miles Plumlee will almost certainly start at center this year, but he projects as more of an energy big on a good team. He is not a particularly imposing deterrent at the rim due to being slightly undersized with average instincts, and he is already 26 years old.  It does not seem likely he can develop into the type of stopper the Suns will need to contend.

Meanwhile, the wing stopper role is almost completely devoid of a realistic in-house solution. P.J. Tucker was re-signed over the summer to a three-year, $16.5 million deal, although the last year is only $1.5 million guaranteed. But he is not quite the caliber of player needed on either end, and he is already 29 years old. Tucker has little off-the-dribble game, is only a middling three-point shooter (especially above the break), and as a former power forward lacks the quick feet that define the best wing defenders despite his willingness to compete. Among the remaining options, Gerald Green has always been a bit too spacey despite solid physical tools, and T.J. Warren is a rookie who didn’t have much of a reputation for defense in college.

If Len doesn’t develop into a defensive stopper, what paths are available to the Suns to acquire the two key players needed? The crown jewel in Ryan McDonough’s war chest is the Lakers’ top-five protected 2015 draft pick from the Steve Nash trade, which should fall in the back half of the lottery.  L.A. is unlikely to make the playoffs but should be good enough to avoid the top five. While drafting for need is always risky, shot-blocking centers like Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein or Texas’ Myles Turner could be available in that range, though they will take time to develop. Another option would be trading that pick and perhaps other assets for an immediate starting center solution.

Warren, while he is not the greatest fit with this roster that already features plenty of scoring punch, could flash enough in his rookie year to be part of a trade package. Phoenix also will have its own draft picks at its disposal, plus a first-rounder* from Minnesota from the Wesley Johnson salary dump.

*Unfortunately, this will convert to two second rounders if not conveyed by 2016. That is likely with the pick top-12 protected through 2016 and the Wolves probably a lottery team for the near future.

The Suns’ other option for improving the defense is cap space. With all the recent signings, including Zoran Dragic, they project to have only about $6.7 million in salary cap space (assuming a $70 million cap) in the summer of 2015, including an $11.3 million cap hold for Dragic if he declines his player option. And even that assumes declining a $3 million team option on Anthony Tolliver. That is not enough to acquire a good two-way wing or a solid defensive center unless other cost-cutting moves are made.

Phoenix093014 Dragic Cap Hold

If Dragic decides to move on, or the Suns won’t meet the asking price for the then-29 year-old guard, they could have max cap room in 2015. That is not inconceivable considering the presence of Bledsoe and Thomas as insurance if he leaves.

But let’s assume Dragic re-signs for reasonable money, call it a four-year $48 million pact in 2015.   That may seem a little low, but the Suns–experts in brother sops these days–did bring over Zoran (who based on his European performance is a fringe NBA player). Those numbers are identical to what Kyle Lowry got, and that is a good proxy. The two players are of similar quality, and while the cap will have gone up, Dragic at 29 will also be a year older than Lowry when he signed his deal in the summer of 2014.

The next summer, the salary cap could go up to about $80 million as money from the new TV deal continues to be phased in. The Suns would have about $15 million in cap space even with a big $7.6 million cap hold for restricted free agent Plumlee. If they renounce his rights, that climbs north of $20 million even with Dragic re-signed and the rest of the essential core in place.

Phoenix093014 Dragic Extension

With so many players aiming for the summer of 2016 as free agents, the Suns should be able to fill at least one of their major holes. The problem is, everyone else is going to have a ton of cap room that summer too. And with Dragic on the wrong side of 30 by then, the offense may not have sufficient firepower to contend going forward even if the defense can be improved.

This is not to imply that the Suns are surely destined for the treadmill of mediocrity. With young players like Len, Warren and even the young Archie Goodwin on the roster along with the Lakers pick in the future, the Suns have a number of lottery tickets that could fill out the roster through internal development or facilitate trades. And as a desirable warm-weather market, they could hit really big in 2016 free agency, especially if they can make the playoffs the next two years.

Nevertheless, this offseason was a missed opportunity. The Suns had $23 million in cap space at the start of the summer, and ended up basically exchanging Frye for Thomas and re-signing Bledsoe. With Bledsoe’s small cap hold at the start of the summer, the Suns could have spent up to the cap (minus Bledsoe’s small hold) and then exceeded it by re-signing Bledsoe, as the Houston Rockets hoped to do by signing Chris Bosh and then re-signing Chandler Parsons.*

*The Pistons had a similar opportunity with Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency.

The Suns could certainly have beaten the Miami HEAT’s offer for Luol Deng, perhaps with a two-year, $24 million offer ($4 million more than the HEAT) that would have preserved flexibility in the summer of 2016. Another option would have been getting in on the Trevor Ariza sweepstakes and offering a two-year deal with much more annual value than the four-years, $32 million he got from Houston to preserve space for 2016. They also might have played hardball with Tucker’s contract (he was arrested in May for “super-extreme DUI”) or simply let him go, which could have opened up over $10 million in 2015 cap space even after re-signing Bledsoe and accounting for Dragic’s cap hold. Or Frye could have been re-signed on a large annual value two-year deal that could have come close to what he got from the Magic.*

*It should be noted that the Suns are still paying $7.3 million in 2014-15 for Josh Childress. Spending the maximum possible on free agents and then re-signing Bledsoe would have put the Suns’ out-of-pocket team salary about $13 million higher than it will likely be this season. One would think that did not go unnoticed by owner Robert Sarver.

It must not be forgotten that McDonough took over a team projected to be among the league’s worst and got them to 48 wins last year. Hiring Hornacek and trading Jared Dudley (who was straight up dumped by the Clippers at the cost of a future first-rounder a year later) for Bledsoe were genius moves. But the 2013 draft and 2014 free agency are looking like missed opportunities for Phoenix right now. It remains to be seen whether they can acquire the remaining personnel needed to become a true contender, but they have a chance to do so much more quickly than anyone thought when they were branded tankers in the summer of 2013.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?

The Toronto Raptors made some bold moves this off-season, but will those moves be the beginning of something new or the beginning of the end of Raptors run in the East?

Steve Kyler

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A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?

The Toronto Raptors were clearly at a crossroads after being swept unceremoniously by the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. It was a microcosm of their situation – good enough to win the East in the regular season, but not good enough to win in big playoff games.

The Raptors went on to fire Dwane Casey as head coach, despite him ultimately being named Coach of The Year. The idea behind the firing wasn’t an emotional reaction to the swept; it was the acceptance of the reality that Casey wasn’t going to evolve as a coach, at least not the way management had hoped.

Casey’s ouster wasn’t the only change; the Raptors also traded away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan in a “dare to be great” trade with San Antonio for forward Kawhi Leonard.

From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard is an upgrade in almost every way to DeRozan, a multi-time All-Star in his own right. The problem with Leonard isn’t what he is as a player, its what he’s become as a person. No one saw the divorce in San Antonio coming, nor the lengths his camp would go to force an exit and leave countless millions on the table for a new start.

The problem for Toronto is the new start Leonard was seeking never included them. So, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did a year ago with Paul George, the Raptors are hopeful that a long and successful courtship of Leonard could win him over and into a new long-term deal. If that sounds like a pipe dream, it probably is.

Let’s be real about a few things.

Toronto is a beautiful and passionate basketball city, but is that enough to sway a kid from Southern California to stay? The Raptor faithful will point to DeRozan as an example of yes; he did exactly that when he signed his current deal. But is the situation ideal for Leonard, again the answer might be yes, especially if he is fully recovered from the quad injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

There is no doubting that the Raptors are built to win right now. They won 59 games with arguably the same roster and will enter an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James in Cleveland.

Sure, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are formidable challengers for supremacy in the East and let’s not forget about the Indiana Pacers, who could be in that same pack of teams vying for the top spot. But are any of them far and away better than the Raptors in terms of proven in their prime players?

The script seems to be written for the Raptors to either explode and cement themselves at the top of the East or implode on their own decisions.

New Raptors coach Nick Nurse is as a good as they come from the assistant ranks. He is a bright basketball mind, and he knows his players and has relationships with most of them. The question is will he be as good as advertised? If he not, this dance could be over before it starts.

Leonard has so much to prove after orchestrating his exit from San Antonio. If he gets back to MVP form in Toronto how can the Raptors not be considered the front-runner for the East? Yes, Boston is going to be really good too, but if you were betting on two players – MVP version of Kyrie Irving or MVP version of Leonard, who are you taking?

The problem for the Raptors is what if Leonard isn’t that guy again? What if all the negativity becomes too much? What if not being coddled and sheltered by the Spurs is a problem? No, Leonard isn’t a baby that needs mothering, but if you have followed anything about Leonard, he’s not this rock of a person that can handle anything. It’s a real question only he can answer with his play on the floor.

Equally, what if the quad isn’t fully healed or he goes Isaiah Thomas and tries to come back on to make it worse and needs surgery?

These are not easy questions to answer.

If the Raptors come out on top of most of these decisions – Nurse and Leonard are what people hope them to be — then things could swing in a very interesting direction for the Raptor franchise.

That’s what makes the “dare to be great” move interesting.

Thunder GM Sam Presti made news when he was quoted in Paul George’s ESPN docu-series, saying one of his favorite Lyrics was from Tribe Called Quest – “Scared money don’t make none” — in rationalizing his all-in approach to George.

It seems like Raptor president Masai Ujiri may have stolen a play from the Thunder playbook, because the franchise is now all the way in on the make or break moves of this off-season.

This could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Raptors, or it could end being the moves that cratered something special.

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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking

Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.

Spencer Davies

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Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.

If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.

1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick

The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”

Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.

Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.

They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.

Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.

But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?

It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.

What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.

In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.

In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.

The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?

Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.

Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.

A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.

General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.

Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.

They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.

It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.

Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.

While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.

In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.

We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?

The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.

With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?

Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.

There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.

Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.

At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.

Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.

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NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires

There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.

Matt John

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Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.

Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.

That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.

It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.

Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.

That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.

Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.

Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer

Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.

Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.

It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.

Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).

Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.

Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey

Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.

Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.

Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.

It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.

One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…

Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse

There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.

This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.

Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.

James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets

Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.

Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.

Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.

Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.

Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.

As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.

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