Both LA teams were taken to the brink, but found a way to win their respective Game 7s and move on to the second round to face much tougher opponents.
On the other side of the coin, overachieving Utah and injury-affected Memphis lost their magic in the end and now the offseason planning starts. Each team must answer some organizational questions, and their moves may impact the Suns and therefore the Suns fans.
Utah has talented youngsters Enes Kanter (C) and Derrick Favors (PF) waiting in the wings behind long-time starters Al Jefferson (C) and Paul Millsap (PF). Utah's problem is long-term upside of the current roster, and contract extensions. With Jefferson and Millsap playing at the top of their game, the Jazz barely squeaked into the playoffs and were summarily swept out of them as quickly as possible.
Utah attempted to play Jefferson, Favors and Millsap together by moving Millsap to SF and shifting Gordon Hayward to SG down the stretch and in the playoffs, but that only worked to limited success. They rebounded great, but the defense and scoring were underwhelming. Millsap is too slow to defend SFs and Hayward too slow to defend SGs.
Jefferson and Millsap combine to make $23.6 million next season, but both become unrestricted free agents when the 2012-13 season ends. Both Millsap and Jefferson will want extensions, and both will certainly ask the Jazz to comply this summer.
Millsap's career numbers, per basketball-reference.com
But those extensions will just prolong the waiting game for Favors and Kanter - who were both picked highly in the draft and deserve a chance to play for a fringe playoff team. Favors seems to have the highest immediate upside, and given that Millsap is less effective at SF, it looks like it's time to trade Millsap for some talent on the wing (or for cap space that they can then spend on shooting-guard talent).
Utah's other problem is that starting PG Devin Harris also has only one year left on his contract. In fact, only Favors, Kanter, Hayward and Burks are under contract beyond the 2012-13 season. Utah very nearly had 2 more lottery picks this spring, but now have none. Their own was lost when they made the playoffs, and Golden State was just bad enough to keep theirs from going to the Jazz.
Despite losing those picks though, the Jazz are clearly in a youth movement. They are very talented with young players at 4 positions. Do they prolong the inevitable and fight for the playoffs again with Jefferson, Millsap and Harris? Or do they cut bait and go young? The Suns themselves pushed for the playoffs and came up just short. Would the Jazz try the same thing for the second year in a row?
The Suns don't have the young point guard to trade Utah in exchange for Millsap, though. But the Jazz somehow don't have a first-round pick this year either. They could trade Millsap to the Suns for cap relief in a one-sided trade, and then sign a point guard or a wing on the open market. Would you trade this spring's #13 pick for Millsap and the Jazz's lower lottery pick in 2013?
Of course, Millsap would need to be extended. Is he worth $8-9 million a year for 3-4 years? Because that's what he would expect.
As for the Grizzlies, their issue is money. They already extended Randolph, Gay, Conley and Gasol to big money. They can't possibly even match a reasonable midlevel offer to OJ Mayo this summer. Mayo is still only 24 and is just scratching the surface of his talent.
Mayo's career numbers, per basketball-reference.com
But is he worth a long-term contract to the Suns? And to beat out other bidders, the Suns would have to offer more than midlevel.
Is he worth, say, 4 years for $32-36 million ($8-9 million per season)? He's young and certainly a better scorer and passer than any wing player the Suns currently have, and could easily score 20 per game next to Nash and/or as a primary offensive option.
The Suns could sign him with their cap space. Or, is he worth a sign-and-trade involving fellow restricted free agent Robin Lopez? Here, we would be trading a good backup center for a good scoring guard. I know you can't have enough size, but the Jazz just proved this season that size is not good enough without scoring.
So, Suns fans, what say you on Millsap and/or O.J. Mayo?
The first game 7 of the NBA Playoffs is upon us as the Denver Nuggets have fought their way back from a 3-1 series deficit to push the Lakers to the brink, with the deciding game in Los Angeles tonight. In the past, the Nuggets have been easy to dislike, but many of their more objectionable characters (Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith) are gone. Since seeing the Lakers lose fills our hearts with joy, I have no problem fully supporting the Nuggets tonight.
In the other remaining Western Conference series, LA's Clippers have also blown a 3-1 series lead after dropping game 6 to the Grizzlies last night, 90-88. Game 7 will be back in Memphis Sunday, and a Grizzlies win would lead to a rematch of last season's first round Grizz upset of the Spurs.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the second round tips off tonight as the eighth seed Philadelphia 76ers, fresh off their surprising series win over the injury-riddled top seeded Bulls, meet the Boston Celtics in a matchup that was once one of the league's premier rivalries. No Larry Bird or Dr. J in this one, but the Celtics
Old Three Big Three continues to deliver, and Celtics defense held the Hawks to 82 PPG in their first round series win.
Game times and more after the jump.Tonight's games:
Here at Bright Side of the Sun we take the words TOTAL COVERAGE pretty dang seriously.
While our beloved Suns are off taking nice vacations, we are still slaving away, attempting to provide you all with first class Suns coverage.
So friends, without further adieu, we present you with the Phoenix Suns Season in Review, 2011-12.
Up for discussion today is Shannon Brown.
Last offseason, the Phoenix Suns looked for a shooting guard who would accept a one-year deal to compete for a starting job. The "one-year-deal" part limited the Suns' chances at real star power. The 2011-12 season was a "bridge" year - a year to tide the team and fans over until enough contracts expired to allow the Suns to start over. One-year deals were the only deals being offered.
The Suns set their sights lower, and positioned the opportunity as a perfect one for a player who wanted to step out of someone else's shadow and prove himself worthy of a bigger role in future seasons, and a bigger contract to go with it.
Enter Shannon Brown.
As Brown said to Paul Coro, beat writer for the Arizona Republic and azcentral.com: "I know one of the things about me they were saying this (past) summer, 'Aw, he can't play out of the (Lakers') triangle. The triangle made him. He can't play out of the triangle.'"
Brown wanted to prove he could do more than dunk in transition and carry Kobe Bryant's water bottle. He is young and freakishly athletic, but hadn't proven to the league's evaluators that he could do more than exhibit a little flash and dash for 10 minutes a game when Kobe rested.
Brown's first season as a Phoenix Sun had its peaks and valleys, but overall had to be categorized as a success for both Brown and the Suns. Shannon Brown is not a savior or a future all-star, but in 19 starts he did average nearly 16 points a game on 43% 3-point shooting. And in stark contrast to the rest of the Suns' roster, Brown created 41% of his points all on his own, without the benefit of an assist from Steve Nash.
We all remember Shannon Brown took a while to get comfortable in the Suns' system. Without the benefit of an offseason program or voluntary workouts with the guys or even a full training camp, Brown was plopped into a 20+ minutes/night shot-creating role next to a struggling point guard.
In the season's first half, his favorite play was the dribble-dance-fallaway-jumpshot in which he somehow managed to close the gap between him and the defender rather than expand it. He was simply trying too hard, and in his moments of confusion he fell back onto the game of his "big brother" Kobe Bryant.
Late in the first half of the season he lost his job to Michael Redd before getting it back by default thanks to Redd's inability to seize it.
But as the season progressed, so did Shannon Brown. After the all-star break, he dribble-danced less and drove to the basket more. He realized the value of catch-and-shoot. He became a smarter player, and stepped up his game even more when Grant Hill got injured.
Brown started the Suns' last 17 games during the toughest stretch of the season. He managed to score 16 points a game, and sunk 43% of his 3-point shot attempts while playing between Steve Nash and Jared Dudley. He did not contribute much in other areas though, with a 1:1 ratio of turnovers to assists, few rebounds and average defensive ability despite his athleticism.
"I came out and showed people that I can play the game of basketball," Brown said. "I'm just tying to continue to get better as a basketball player and I think I'm going to do that each summer."
Brown says he wants to return to Phoenix next season, but this time he wants a better contract. To give him that longer, richer contract though will require the Suns to project Brown even further than he showed last season.
Without projecting any more improvement, you're looking at a guy who can be a spot-starter that will contribute 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He is a streaky shooter with average basketball IQ and average defense. He won't lose a game for you, but likely won't win one for you either. That's not a rich, multi-year contract player if you ask me.
For his part, Brown wants to be back in Phoenix even while hedging his bets because the Suns have likely not given him any kind of promises.
"I like it here," Brown said of Phoenix. "I like everything about it. I like the team. I like the facilities. I like the city. The fans. I like everything about it. I don't mind being here again. At the same time, I've got to keep that balance in my mind. It's a business. My plans might not fit other people's plans so I have to prepare for anything."
He is basically Plan C. Or D. Not a real starter or savior, but definitely a backup plan among second-tier guard options. He knows the Suns system, and has proven his ability to produce no matter who surrounds him.
But the Suns are no longer in the business of handing out long contracts like candy. They are going to be smart and conservative going forward.
Is Brown a better option than Eric Gordon? Heck no.
Is Brown better than OJ Mayo? No.
Is Brown better than, say, Alonzo Gee? Probably, maybe. Gee is taller, plays better defense and his teammates love him, but he can't score or shoot the 3-ball.
Is Brown better than Jamal Crawford? Yes, a thousand times yes. While Crawford tends to lose the faith of his teammates, coaches and front office personnel (I mean seriously, saying you "need" to be in Phoenix while standing among your current Portland teammates?!?!), Shannon Brown has been a model citizen.
I happen to know someone who knows someone who works with Suns players, and that person swears Brown is one of the nicest guys on the team.
It's all about expectations. It's not a bad thing to bring Shannon Brown back. It's only bad if you give him a lot of money and/or expect him to earn a regular starting role on a contender. But his two championship rings prove he can earn a regular backup role on a contender.