After years in hibernation, the Sunday Buffet is returning (at least momentarily) to the internets: a veritable plethora of basketball thoughts for your Sunday morning consumption.
No one asked my opinion on non-Suns topics, but I'm going to give them anyway.
Some people may remember me from years and years ago on the SportingNews fan blogs. I used to post every Sunday something called the Sunday Buffet (or maybe it was called 'Sunday Brunch'; it's been a long, long time).
Sunday Buffet is a smorgasbord of breakfast options centered around interesting news from all sports. As I am now solely on a Suns blog, I stuck that concept on the shelf for several years but decided to dust it off today in the wake of some interesting developments in the world.
The New York Knicks hired one of the best coaches in the history of the game to... run their basketball operations. And now, Phil jackson is reportedly interested in hiring one of the brightest young front office minds to... coach the team.
Brilliant! What could go wrong?
Well, let's see. Do you think there's any chance Phil might have an opinion on how Steve Kerr coaches the team? Of course, Phil will attend practices and such and their philosophy on coaching the team will be sympatico... until things go sour.
But even during the honeymoon, how many times will we be watching a Knicks game on TNT and there's a camera shot of a Knicks assistant whispering something in Kerr's ear during a timeout while handing him a folded up piece of paper? How many times will the camera shoot up to Jackson's seat to get his unvarnished reaction after a bad play or (gasp) a bad play call?
I really hope for Kerr's sake this marriage doesn't consummate.
All I can do is shake my head. I've been surprised all my life at the racism that still exists in the US when it crops up from time to time. Of course, I know there are different races, but I don't ascribe to the notion that there is any qualitative difference between people of different colors and I don't suffer people who express an opposite opinion.
I can only hope that the NBA has the gumption to make a serious stand against the Clippers owner. Baseball did this years ago with Marge Schott - suspending her twice for racist and anti-semitic comments - and it is necessary to do it again. Eventually, Schott left her ownership position.
I truly hope the Clippers players win the whole championship now. All of it. Every single game from now on. All while their owner is being forcibly removed from his position.
And that's all I will say on this subject.
Man, that was a big-balls shot by Vince Carter yesterday to win the game over the Borg. 1.7 seconds left, pass into the corner, pump fake the bald spot, then BOOM!
Finally, after six frustrating years, the Roger Mason Christmas Day shot got turned around on those suckers. Suns fans will remember. Christmas Day 2008. Suns up by 2 after a glorious Grant Hill back door cut to lay the ball in with mere seconds left.
Spurs get the ball, with Tony Parker at the top of the key. Grant Hill guarding him. But Jason Richardson left Roger Mason to help on the Parker drive, got stuck in the middle, Parker tossed it to Mason and BOOM. Merry g@$$amn Christmas, Suns fans.
Finally, that three-to-win-the-game got turned on the #1 seed Spurs, who find themselves at a 2-1 deficit to the 8th seed. I have to admit, I love seeing the Grizzlies and Mavericks taking it to the vaunted Spurs and Thunder early in the first round of the playoffs.
The Suns fought hard to make the playoffs, but got sent home by the Mavs and Grizz in playoff-atmosphere games in the final weekend of the season. Mike Conley of the Grizzlies recently credited that round-robin for getting the Grizzlies into playoff mode early. Now the rest of the NBA gets to taste their moxie, and I'm loving it. The Western Conference is a BEAST.
There's nothing like playoff basketball in general. Intensity spikes. Players with big cajones step up, while others fade into the background.
Eventually, talent wins out for the most part, but early games in early rounds can be a wonderful testament to how much parity there is in professional sport.
#8 Atlanta is tied with #1 Indiana, 2-2
#6 Brooklyn leads #3 Toronto, 2-1
#5 Washington leads #4 Chicago, 2-1
#8 Dallas leads #1 San Antonio, 2-1
#7 Memphis is tied with #2 Oklahoma City, 2-2
#5 Trail Blazers lead #4 Houston, 2-1
That's six out of eight series either tied or upside down, and nearly every game coming down to the wire. I must say I've never enjoyed a non-Suns playoffs as much as this first round. Quite a scramble!
Got any more breakfast analogies, folks?
Feel free to add to the Buffet!
It has almost been taken for granted how greatly the Phoenix Suns improved from last season, and how much they exceeded expectations, but first year head coach Jeff Hornacek saw good things on the horizon for the team last August. The Suns more than lived up to his bold words.
When Jeff Hornacek spoke with Bright Side's own Jim Coughenour in August of 2013 to discuss the upcoming Suns season, the prognosis for this squad was decidedly modest to the vast majority of NBA analysts. Hornacek's own expectations were quite different, however, and he made a few optimistic statements regarding the prospects for the Suns on the offensive end that, at the time, sounded almost delusional in their bullishness.
There were plenty of skeptics then, myself among them, but the Suns easily achieved the specific performance measures Hornacek mentioned. It's easy to use a person's words in the past against them when they don't live up to those statements, so let's give Hornacek credit here for making confident statements, and then seeing his team deliver on them.
First of all, you really should go back and read all of Jim's piece here because it's a fantastic piece of writing, and a great basketball conversation between two sharp minds.
Are you back? OK, wasn't it brilliant? Now, let's break down a few of those Horny quotes.
In response to Jim's question of how many points the Suns will score this season:
"What did we average last year? (It was 95.2 by the way) Over 102.9, we would hope we can get there. If we can get there, I think that's a good start for us in our first year. So, hopefully, I would say yes.
Horny added the qualifier "hopefully,", but that was still a gutsy statement to say that he thought his team could improve their PPG average by 8. The 2012-13 Suns team was 29th in the NBA in O-Rating, and their new starting lineup for this season featured three players who had never been full-season NBA starters before (Tucker, Plumlee and Bledsoe), and another who was returning from a year off missed due to a potentially life-threatening heart ailment (Frye).
103 PPG? No problem! This season's Suns scored 105.2 PPG, and a faster pace wasn't the cause. The Suns were 9th in pace last season and 8th this season, but they were much more efficient with their possessions this year, taking smarter, higher percentage shots, and rising to 8th in O-Rating as a result.
The subject of greater efficiency and smarter shots leads us to our next quote:
"I think what else will help them is when we really get these guys to buy into the teamwork factor that when you don't have the shot right away, then you can drive it and create and dish it out to someone who is open. When you look at the good teams, that's what they do. They either have the shot or they're creating something for somebody else. Consequently, they'll get more open looks, which will help their percentages. I think that every guy that you saw on this team last year can have a better shooting percentage in the coming year."
And that is exactly what happened.
The only returning players from last season were Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, but I'll extend this view to the Suns entire regular rotation, which consisted of those four plus Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and Ish Smith. Effective FG% consolidates raw FG% and 3-point % into one measure, so it's what I'll use here. The Suns rotation, their eFG%s this year as compared to last:
|2012-13 eFG%||2013-14 eFG%||Plus/Minus|
|*Extremely small sample size|
Tucker was basically flat, but anyone watching the way he added the corner 3 to his game this season could see the way he improved as a shooter. Every other player was a big fat plus, with Dragic transforming from a pretty good player to an All-NBA candidate, Green reviving his career with a huge leap, and the Morris twins growing into solid players before our very eyes.
Hornacek made his bones as an assistant by being a shooting coach. As a player, Horny built himself from being a mutt of a 2nd round draft pick to becoming one of the greatest shooters of his era in the NBA. Shooting mechanics are part of that, but so is smart shot selection and total team basketball.
Green still displayed, as the esteemed Scott Howard noted, an "array of crazy-ass shots," but he also showed discipline in getting to his spot above the break to drill 3s in transition. That was a pretty play, and Green ended up making 204 3-point shots, converting them at a 40% rate. Horny was able to get an amazing performance out of Green, an athletic freak whose career had been left for dead after he flamed out in Indy.
Dragic was honored with the NBA Most Improved Player award, the Suns increased their win total by 23 games, and Hornacek finished 2nd in Coach of the Year voting, narrowly losing to basketball savant Gregg Popovich. Who thought all this was possible? Well, Hornacek, in measured language, saw some of it.
Many coaches speak in vague generalities and cliches, fearful that their statements will later be used against them. Hornacek spoke fairly openly in that August interview, and what he said proved to be well worth the listen. The Hornacek report card will be posted later, and this is not it, but you can probably tell what grade I would give him.
In the 2014 NBA Draft the Phoenix Suns will be drafting No. 14, 18, 27, and 44 at the very least. Let's look at these picks one at a time starting with the "lottery" pick.
Expectations are a line we create in our heads for something with the hope that they are exceeded and the fear that they will not be met. They exist in all walks of life. In the 2013-2014 NBA Season the Phoenix Suns were not supposed to win more than 21 games total. Then they went out and did that on January 15th.
Odds and expectations are very different.
With the 2014 NBA Draft coming up in the distance there like a mirage that was once all the hopes and dreams for a starving fan base in the desert is now just another mile marker on the path to where the team is going. It does not have the pazazz as it did less than six months ago. The prospects are all there. From Andrew Wiggins to Jabari Parker to Dante Exum, they are all waiting there, but the Suns are there to meet them with open arms.
So, full disclosure here, the Phoenix Suns will be drafting 14th, 3rd, 2nd, or 1st in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The odds for each pick are:
0.5% for No. 1
0.6% for No. 2
0.7% for No.3
98.2% for No. 14
In the nine year history of the No. 14 Overall Pick it has never moved into the Top 3 once. It has finished where it started every year. In fact the highest risers in the history of the lottery were the Cleveland Cavaliers (via the Los Angeles Clippers) in 2011 with the 8th best odds, the Chicago Bulls in 2008 with the 9th worst odds, and the Orlando Magic in 1993 with the 11th worst odds.
Moving up to potentially drape Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Parker, or Exum in purple and orange is a desirable outcome, just not a realistic one.
Instead the talent pool looks more like Rashad McCants, Ronnie Brewer, Al Thornton, Anthony Randolph, former Sun Earl Clark, Patrick Patterson, current Sun Marcus Morris, John Henson, and Shabazz Muhammad. That group has an average PER of 13.8 over their individual careers with Henson (18.0) being the leader so far and Clark (10.3) holding up the bottom.
The league average for PER was 13.46 this past season, therefore the 14th pick generally wields a league average player.
Expectations are to win the lottery and or net an above average to great player with any pick. However the odds are that a good player will be available and will spend less than four years with the team that drafts them. In the current construction of the NBA Draft with 14 Lottery Picks the longest any player has lasted with the team that drafted them was 3.5 years, two of them are out of the league, and every one of them have played for more than one team, excluding the last two drafts.
Is this the year the odds play in the favor of the Suns? That will be determined on May 20th, but for now expectations should be tempered to the point of at least getting a league average player for the next 2-4 years.
The last two drafts saw the No. 14 Overall Pick traded either on draft night or the night before. That could be a three-peat this year with the mentality and aggressive nature of Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. With three mid-value picks like the team has a trade is not out of the cards to move.
With the way things are currently constructed the Suns could use a traditional power forward to eventually take over those duties and more options on the perimeter for both shooting and defending.
Some prospects to keep an eye on include Michigan State Power Forward Adreian Payne (No. 12 Overall on NDI Rankings), Syracuse combo forward Jerami Grant (No. 15), and Creighton combo forward Doug McDermott (No. 16). Other than that the forward position is very light after you get past the first 5-7 picks. Payne can play inside and out with more traditional size at 6-10 and very good overall athleticism. He fits the mold as a potential two-way forward that can stretch the floor with his shooting, score in the paint, and defend NBA caliber forwards.
Both Grant and McDermott are combo forwards that will have limitations playing the three or the four at the next level.
On the wing the options are UCLA combo guard Zach LaVine (No. 14), Kentucky G/F James Young (No. 17), and Clemson wing K.J. McDaniels (No. 20). Others are sure to rise while some of these prospects could fall. Young has a hard time defending the fifth best player on the court in a college game so he will be drafted more for his offensive versatility. McDaniels will be an interesting option with his game resembling what would happen if you could merge P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green into one player. He is an elite athlete that defends at a very high level, has the ability to hit the three-point shot well, and maximizes his talent every game.
Last year the 14th and 21st picks were combined to move up to obtain the 9th Overall Pick. Is it worth trading a league average player and another asset to draft five spots higher?
The Suns can do that. They can also hold strong and potentially add one of these six names mentioned above with the No. 14 Overall Pick. There are so many options and the team has put themselves in an enviable position of having the assets and no need to make a drastic move in either direction.
Next up: A review of the No. 18 Overall Pick
The Phoenix Suns want to supplement their team with a top-10 NBA talent this summer, such as Minnesota's Kevin Love. But how far would they go in that pursuit?
Any deal for Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, a three-time All-Star at age 25, will be complicated by his contract status because the interested team is only buying his services for one season.
Kevin Love has a player option to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, at which time he can take his pick of any team with the cap space or ingenuity to via sign-and-trade to get him on their team.
Given that knowledge, how much do you give up for Love this summer?
Two years ago, the Houston Rockets surrendered Kevin Martin (huge expiring deal to help cap situation), rookie #12 pick Jeremy Lamb (potential SG for many years), two future first round picks and a second round pick to Oklahoma City for third-year shooting guard James Harden. One of those future firsts was a guaranteed lottery pick the Rockets had obtained from Toronto for Kyle Lowry. So Houston effectively traded Martin, Lamb, Lowry and two draft picks for Harden. Quite the sacrifice.
Yet the difference there was Houston got a guaranteed four years out of James Harden, who signed a mini-max rookie extension on the night of the trade. It's okay to give up a bevy of talent for 4 years of your best player.
Oklahoma City has suffered in the short term. Neither Martin nor Lamb has lived up to Harden's standard, though Lamb is still only 21. That guaranteed lotto pick turned into Steven Adams at #12 last spring.
The Phoenix Suns could approximate that Rox/OKC deal to acquire Love, except for the functional replacement of Love in Minnesota's lineup. The Suns can take care of the picks and young talent portion, no problem. They have their own three picks this June, plus the Lakers' top-5 protected next year and Minny's own pick still due when they make the playoffs.
But the Suns cannot send the starting PF replacement to Minny to appease fans and keep heading toward the playoffs. OKC got Kevin Martin to put up the same stats as Harden that first year. The best the Suns can do is Markieff Morris, whose 18 and 8 per 36 minutes pale in comparison to what Love delivers.
The last blockbuster trade of a player one year from free agency involved Dwight Howard as the centerpiece going from Orlando in a four-team trade that included 3 All-Stars swapping teams. But that trade, from Orlando's point of view, is different than any Love trade would be.
The Orlando Magic was ready for a rebuild with Dwight Howard's departure as their path to quickening that pace. The Magic had made the playoffs for several consecutive years but were in decline, despite Howard still being at the height of his powers. Seeing no future with Howard, the Magic settled for young pieces and are still in that rebuild mode.
That's not Minnesota's position.
Minnesota, already hitting a full decade since last making the playoffs, is going to want to improve their team (or at least think they are) in the wake of any Love departure. They will have no interest in rebuilding. A strong PF replacement will have to come back to them in any trade. Otherwise, just keep building around a top-5 NBA player for another year and hope for the best.
It appears to me that the closest recent comparison to any Love deal this summer would be the Sixers situation with All-Star small forward Andre Iguodala two offseasons ago.
Iguodala was a great individual player still at the apex of this talents but unable to turn Philly into a contender by himself. Year after year, the team put the wrong pieces around Iggy and year after year ended in disappointment.
When Iggy approached his last year of his contract, the Sixers knew it was time to move on. They knew he likely wouldn't stay and they needed to get something good in return before he left.
The best they could do was to acquire All-Star big man Andrew Bynum in the hopes that filling a long-time at center would more than replace what they lost in Iguodala.
But the Sixers did it wrong, even if Bynum had stayed healthy. To get one year of Bynum, they traded away Iguodala and two promising rookies (Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless) AND a future first-round pick. Even worse, they took on the bloated contract of Jason Richardson too.
So even if Bynum had been healthy, he could have left a year later and all the Sixers would have to show for him was Richardson and a depleted roster.
There's no way Minnesota would pull a Sixers this summer. Don't count on it.
While none of those scenarios are perfect, the blueprint is there - if you're going to replace an All-Star in his prime and you want to stay in playoff hunt, you HAVE to get an All-Star in return, even if said All-Star is declining or an injury risk.
Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns do not have an All-Star big man to send back in return.
Rubio is about to enter his fourth season, just a year behind Eric Bledsoe in that regard. He will likely command a big contract as an RFA despite having shooting woes because he's a great passer and defender.
Would Minnesota want to bring on an Eric Bledsoe and sign him to a mini-max deal? Or a Goran Dragic, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the same time Rubio becomes an RFA?
If you're Minnesota, which would you rather have:
Bringing in Bledsoe for Love this summer could basically become Bledsoe for Love AND Rubio in a year. While the Suns might make a two-point guard system work, there's no guarantee Bledsoe and Rubio could thrive in the same back court for years to come.
Nay, I don't think Minnesota wants Dragic or Bledsoe for Love as long as they have Rubio.
Local radio guy John Gambodoro floated in February that one of the reasons the Suns would target Pau Gasol was to pre-acquire that All-Star (if fading) PF talent that could be sent to Minny to replace Love. Gasol would have effectively been the "Kevin Martin" of a potential summer deal.
The downside is that Gasol would be an unrestricted free agent this summer, making a sign-and-trade the only way to get Gasol to Minny for the Suns' benefit. But that would require Gasol WANTING to go to Minny. Gasol just might want to re-unite with fellow Spaniard Rubio, so there's that.
This all adds up to the Suns likely needing to involve a third team who would trade an All-Star caliber player to Minnesota in exchange for the Suns bevy of picks and young talent.
The Suns will likely have to find some other team that wants to rebuild in the wake of their All-Star leaving (Orlando post-Howard), or wants to rid themselves of an All-Star due to overcrowding (Thunder post-Harden).
One potential third team is Detroit, who will have a new GM in the near future intent on undoing what the prior regime left behind. Detroit is overloaded with All-Star talented big men. Josh Smith is a multi-faceted PF miscast as a SF in their offense. Greg Monroe is a multi-talented C miscast as a PF in their offense. And Andre Drummond is the C of the future for them.
Something has to give. Two months from now, it appears likely that one or both of Monroe and Smith will be in another uniform.
Maybe the Suns could include Detroit in a three-way deal to send Smith or Monroe to Minnesota to replace Love, who heads to Phoenix?
If so, what could the Suns send to Detroit and Minnesota in return that would be BETTER than Detroit just acquiring Love straight up? This is where is gets murky. The Suns have to earn their way into any three-way deal for Love.
Detroit has a long-term point guard in Brandon Jennings, signed for two more years at $8 million+, so if they acquire a PG like Dragic or Bledsoe they will want to rid themselves of Jennings in the process. They have a rookie at shooting guard with a bright future (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) already, so they won't need someone like Archie Goodwin in return. And with Drummond at C in Detroit and Pekovic/Dieng at C in Minny, neither needs Alex Len.
Detroit might insist on either (a) getting Bledsoe or Dragic in exchange for Monroe/Smith or (b) making the Suns eat the Jennings contract or (c) both.
Three-team deals get very complicated, especially when you're the designated buyer.
Would the Suns sacrifice one of Bledsoe/Dragic AND eat Jennings' contract AND giving up young talent/picks, just to get Kevin Love for a year?
If the answer is yes, would Bledsoe sign a contract to go to Detroit (he would have to agree to a sign-and-trade)?
If the answer is no, why wouldn't Detroit and Minny just seal a two-team deal to balance their rosters and cap sheets?
And even if the Suns say yes, all it takes in one season-long injury to Love and a 2015 exodus to look ominously like the Sixers' disaster.
That's why I can't see the Suns saying yes.
This article is confusing. My head is spinning. WTF are you saying, Dave King?
Minny is no Orlando. Minny will want an All-Star talent in return for All-Star Love, or why trade him in the first place?
The Suns' only All-Star talents are PGs, which is one position Minny already has (Rubio). Again, Minny will want to supplement their roster, not sabotage it, so they won't pile PG on top of a PG. They are not rebuilding.
Detroit is a potential third team (Monroe or Smith), but how can the Suns join that party without those two teams just swapping stars and leaving the Suns at home?
And why would the Suns sacrifice give up top-end talent to get Love, when Love fits best alongside Bledsoe AND Dragic?
That's the big question:
How far would the Suns go to acquire Love this summer, if he becomes available? How much bad salary would the Suns take on while sending out talent, just for the services of (potentially) one year of Love?