After an offseason of brilliance and blundering we've trudged through another summer desert and arrived at a training camp oasis. The media days for teams playing international games started yesterday (Friday, September 27th), which means that Derrick Rose has already gone through a bombardment of questions as he makes his return. Here are dates and locations for the overseas schedule as well as a full schedule of all games and tv times and networks carrying the games (as well as some stateside preseason contests).
The Suns version of the media day tradition occurs Monday, September 30th. The Brightside will be bringing all the best and "bright"est from that event and will be following the team up the hill to Flagstaff for coverage of practices and the team's intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, October 5th. But... before all the pandemonium ensues I figured I could help refresh your memory as to some of the summer activity around the league.
There was plenty of it. 13 coaches went by way of the carousel. Six of them led teams to the playoffs last season. Lionel Hollins was given a pink slip after coaching the Grizzlies to their best season in franchise history. Dwight Howard left the Lakers (ha!) for redder pastures. Cleveland
unfathomably selected Anthony Bennett first in the NBA draft, possibly beginning a run on Canadians as #1 overall picks. Still a surprising pick to me, although I guess getting the #1 pick last year was kind of like winning a shopping spree in a dollar store... The Celtics ended an era. The Pelicans began one. The Spurs did very little (but will almost surely manage to improve nonetheless). And, of course, the Miami Heat signed Michael Beasley.
Think about that Suns fans... Michael Beasley may very well get a championship ring. After you stop feeling dizzy please read on. After all, it's training camp time. You've had all summer to rest (particularly the last few weeks in September).
Just remember everyone...
Winter Basketball is coming. And it's going to be a long season.
I'll go ahead and get the Suns out of the way first, because
that's what the ransom note says to do they might be a sucky team, but they're OUR sucky team.
Out - Michael Beasley PF, Jared Dudley SF, Diante Garrett PG, Hamed Haddadi C, Wesley Johnson SF, Jermaine O'Neal C, Luis Scola PF
In - Eric Bledsoe SG, Dionte Christmas SG, Channing Frye PF, Gerald Green SF, Viacheslav Kravstov C, Malcolm Lee SG, Miles Plumlee PF, Ish Smith PG, Alex Len C (#5 Maryland), Archie Goodwin SG (#29 Kentucky)
**UPDATE: In - James Nunnally - 6'7", 205 pound shooter who made 41% on threes in D-League last year and 63% on threes in SL. Also, he scored 21 second half points to help Miami come close beating the juggernaut Summer Suns. Remember that?
Out - Lindsey Hunter
In - Jeff Hornacek
The Suns were one of the most active teams in the league this summer. I didn't (have enough time to) go through the front office situations specific to each franchise, but the Suns also turned the GM reigns over to Ryan McDonough after the ouster of the oft derided, and deservedly so, Lance Blanks. Phoenix was finally able/willing to scrap the final remnants of a bad team full of veteran players and construct a bad team full of young players. The potentates running this show also made the (very sagacious) decision to scrap a socially awkward (sorry, that was the nicest thing I could think to write) coach, Lindsey Hunter, and bring back a fan favorite to help incite the rebuild.
Why this team will be fun to watch - Well, they are the Suns... but besides the attention from fans of the purple paladins there isn't going to be
any much interest. For those of us who are devout followers, though, there has been so much tumult that this is really going to be like getting to know a brand new team. Players may have to wear name tags. Alex Len and Channing Frye have both been medically cleared. There is going to be a lot of running. There will be a ferocious competition for the final roster spots (between players who are very unlikely to contribute in any capacity). To be perfectly candid, though, this is actually going to be the start of something very refreshing for many who have stuck with the team over the last few seasons.
Out - Eric Bledsoe SG, Caron Butler SF, Lamar Odom PF
Out - Vinny Del Negro
In - Doc Rivers
Even without the tragically comedic soap opera that is Lamar Odom the Clips should have no problem keeping
both of their fans engrossed. They actually have added a complete five man lineup this offseason that could probably hang with, or beat, the Suns best five man lineup. The Clippers might be the deepest team in the league this season as they should have between 9-11 quality contributors depending on how things play out.
Things should play out well with new head coach Doc Rivers as the architect and Chris Paul as the engineer. (Punching bag) Vinny Del Negro may have taken more grief than deserved, but there's no rational argument that this isn't an upgrade. Seeing these guys mesh together and take on their roles should be interesting. Are the Clippers, and Chris Paul for that matter, poised to go past the Conference Semifinals for the first time ever?
Out - C.J. Watson PG, Gerald Wallace SF, Kris Humphries PF, Keith Bogans SG
Out - P.J. Carlesimo
In - Jason Kidd
The Nets are officially in win now mode with eight players (over half their roster) over 30 years of age. The plan is to add the old guard, and I do mean old, from the Celtics last successful era to a nucleus of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez in an attempt to topple the Heat. That's the hope as Garnett and Pierce have a history of playing them tough. They will face stiff competition from the Bulls and Pacers as well...
The dynamic in their practices should be unique in that new head coach Jason Kidd is basically the same age as the new veterans. Will Kidd actually possess plenipotentiary power over the team, or will the presence of other legends detract from that? Will there be a harmony in that interaction? Will there be enough left in the tank for the Brooklyn Celtics to make a run this year?
Out - Shaun Livingston
In - Jarrett Jack SG, Earl Clark PF, Andrew Bynum C, Anthony Bennett PF (#1 UNLV), Sergey Karasev SF (#19 Triumph Lyubertsy, Russia)
Out - Byron Scott
In - Mike Brown
Cleveland has one of the most electric young stars in the league in Kyrie Irving and will trot out the #1 overall pick from the 2013 draft in Anthony Bennett. This should be a fun growing team to watch and it will start with the improvement over the summer from the precocious returning players. The Cavs added Jack to combine with Anderson Varejao as the veteran presence on a team whose core four players are all 22 and under. In fact, Jack and Varejao are the only players on the roster over the age of 26.
Bring in Mike Brown. Err... I mean, bring back Mike Brown. That's why you never burn your bridges folks. Brown has actually had the daunting task/privilege of coaching LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and (now) Kyrie Irving over a four year period. So far he's working on his zeroth consecutive championship. Will he be able to return and bring Cleveland the trophy that eluded him in his previous stint? He gets nearly a blank slate, as only Varejao remains from the last season he coached.
Golden St. Warriors
Out - Jarrett Jack SG, Carl Landry PF
In - Toney Douglas PG, Andre Iguodala SG, Nemanja Nedovic PG (#30 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, Lithuania)
I might have been a little slow to catch on, because I didn't get enveloped by bay fever until their captivating first round series against the Denver Nuggets during last year's playoffs. This team was just flat out fun to watch and has the chance to be even more entertaining this season with the addition of Iggy, which promises to help the Warriors enter whirling dervish mode. Whenever I think of this team I correlate them with the scrappy underdog. They're like Little Mac from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! except everyone reading this has actually heard of them.
Then consider that Golden St.'s core of sharpshooters Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson are all young and improving. This team can catch fire like NBA Jam characters and will have stretches where they are absolutely unstoppable. The chance to see Jackson's tutelage firsthand away from the cameras and maybe catch a couple of behind the scenes games of horse would also be great theater.
I've also constructed some cliff's notes for the other 25 teams. Note that I haven't included all transactions and movement. I mostly limited the shifting of veterans to players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season with a few exceptions. I also included all 30 first round draft picks.
Out - Kevin Martin SG
In -Steven Adams C (#12 Pittsburgh), Andre Roberson PF (#26 Colorado)
Out - Corey Brewer SF, Andre Iguodala SG, Kosta Koufos C
In - Darrell Arthur PF, Randy Foye SG, J.J. Hickson PF, Nate Robinson PG
Out - George Karl
In - Brian Shaw
Out - DeMarre Carroll SF, Randy Foye SG, Al Jefferson C, Paul Millsap PF, Jamaal Tinsley PG, Mo Williams PG
In - Richard Jefferson SF, Brandon Rush SF, Trey Burke PG (#9 Michigan), Rudy Gobert C (#27 Cholet Basket, France)
Out -J.J. Hickson PF, Eric Maynor PG
Out - Andrei Kirilenko PF, Luke Ridnour SG, Greg Steimsma C
In - Corey Brewer SF, Kevin Martin SG, Shabazz Muhammad SF (#14 UCLA), Gorgui Dieng C (#21 Louisville)
Out - Earl Clark PF, Dwight Howard C, Antawn Jamison PF, Metta World Peace SF
In - Chris Kaman C, Nick Young SG, Wesley Johnson SF
Out - Tyreke Evans SG, Thomas Robinson PF
In - Carl Landry PF, Luc Mbah a Moute SF, Greivis Vasquez PG, Ben McLemore SG (#7 Kansas)
Out - Keith Smart
In - Michael Malone
Out - Stephen Jackson SF, Gary Neal SG
In - Marco Belinelli SG, Livio Jean-Charles SF (#28 ASVEL Basket, France)
Out - Darrell Arthur PF
In - Kosta Koufos
Out - Lionel Hollins
In - David Joerger
Out - Carlos Delfino SF, Toney Douglas PG
In - Dwight Howard C
Out - O.J. Mayo SG, Darren Collison PG, Chris Kaman C, Elton Brand PF
In - Monta Eliis SG, Jose Calderon PG, Devin Harris PG, Shane Larkin PG (#18 Miami)
Out - Greivis Vasquez PG, Robin Lopez C
In - Tyreke Evans SG, Jrue Holiday PG, Greg Stiemsma C
Out - Steve Novak SF, Chris Copeland SF, Jason Kidd PG
In - Andrea Bargnani PF, Beno Udrih PG, Metta World Peace SF, Tim Hardaway Jr. (#24 Michigan)
Out - Paul Pierce SF, Kevin Garnett PF, Jason Terry SG
In - Gerald Wallace SF, Kris Humphries PF, Keith Bogans SG, Kelly Olynyk C (#13 Gonzaga)
Out - Doc Rivers
In - Brad Stevens
Out - Jrue Holiday PG, Dorell Wright SF, Nick Young SG
Out - Doug Collins
In - Brett Brown
Out - Alan Anderson SF, Andrea Bargnani PF, Ed Davis PF
In - D.J. Augustin PG, Tyler Hansbrough PF, Steve Novak SF
Out - Tyler Hansbrough PF, Gerald Green SF, D.J. Augustin PG
In - Chris Copeland SF, Luis Scola PF, C.J. Watson PG, Solomon Hill SF (#23 Arizona)
Out - Nate Robinson PG, Marco Belinelli SG
In - Mike Dunleavy SF, Tony Snell SF (#20 New Mexico)
Out - Brandon Jennings PG, Monta Ellis SG, Mike Dunleavy SF, Luc Mbah a Moute SF, Marquis Daniels SF
In - Caron Butler SF, Carlos Delfino SF, Brandon Knight PG, O.J. Mayo SG, Gary Neal SG, Zaza Pachulia C, Giannia Antetokounmpo SF (#15 Filathlitikos, Greece)
Out - Jim Boylan
In - Larry Drew
Out - Brandon Knight PG, Tayshaun Prince SF, Jason Maxiell Pf
In - Brandon Jennings PG, Josh Smith PF, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope SG (#8 Georgia)
Out - Lawrence Frank
In - Maurice Cheeks
Out - None
In - Michael Beasley PF, Greg Oden C
Out - Josh Smith PF, Devin Harris PG, Ivan Johnson PF, Zaza Pachulia C, DeShawn Stevenson SG
In - Elton Brand PF, DeMarre Carroll SF, Paul Millsap PF, Dennis Schroder PG (#17 Phantoms Braunschweig, Germany)
Out - Larry Drew
In - Mike Budenholzer
Out - Jordan Crawford SG, A.J. Price PG
In - Eric Maynor PG, Otto Porter SF (#3 Indiana)
Out - Byron Mullens C
In - Al Jefferson C, Cody Zeller C (#4 Indiana)
Out - Mike Dunlap
In - Steve Clifford
Out - J.J. Redick SG
In - Jason Maxiell PF, Victor Oladipo SG (#2 Indiana)
S : Best in the game (LeBron)
A+ : Right on heels of best player (Durant)
A : Top 5 player
A- : Top players at their position/Potential All-NBA players
B+ : All-Stars
B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars
B- : Good starter
C+ : decent starter
C : fringe starter/bench player
C- : good bench player
D+ : average bench player
D : Fringe rotation player
D- : bad player
F : not NBA caliber
Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)
*Note: There is no specific order within each tier
I took a break from these rankings to break down Eric Bledsoe's game, but now I'm back to take a look at and grade the final position: centers.
As a reminder, for the purpose of these grades/rankings, I am not looking at last season in a vacuum. I am trying to give an idea of where each of these players stands in regards to each other after last season. One poor season doesn't sink a player's stock if the rest of his career paints a different story, the exact opposite is true as well. However, I am not factoring potential into my rankings, meaning rookies are graded as NBA players and do not garner special consideration because of their youth.
I'm probably making this more complicated and subjective than it needs to be, but I suppose that only makes for more discussion. With that being said, on to the rankings.
Even with a bad back playing in a system that he didn't really fit in, Dwight Howard still put up a big double-double season and led the league in rebounding. Full strength Dwight is an A on this scale as one of the most dominant players in the league.
This is a really solid group of excellent centers. Brook Lopez is the best scorer in this group, but the other five make up for being a lesser scorer by being great defensive players. They all get it done in their own way but they most certainly do get the job done.
In his old age and based on his last couple years with Boston, I've classified Kevin Garnett a center. He'll be moving back to power forward this year in Brooklyn so we'll see how that goes. KG isn't quite what he once was but he's still a solid player that can impact the game on offense, defense and on the glass. DeMarcus Cousins is a tremendous talent but his attitude issues and inefficiency mean I can't put him any higher on this list.
Defensive dynamos, relentless rebounders and prolific post scorers make up this tier of players. None of them are complete centers, but all of them are very talented and are definite starters.
Okafor and Nene are both best at the five, but even playing together they're playing pretty well in Washington. Kanter and Valanciunas are both young players who have flashed their talent in limited roles but are primed for a break-out campaign in 2013-14. Splitter is a player who has been very effective in his limited role in the San Antonio system. JaVale McGee is weird and hard to rank. The physical tools and at times the numbers are unbelievable, but the basketball IQ is unbelievable in a completely different way.
This is where Marcin Gortat belongs at this point. Some continues to say that Gortat is atop 1- center, but I have 17 players ahead of him and another six on the same level. Gortat is a good player and would start for many teams, but overall he's just not that special.
These are solid role players that can start for a team with strong players elsewhere in the line-up, but are likely better coming off the bench.
Back-ups that can step on the floor and hold their own in the paint are valuable for teams, and all of these guys bring one or two skills to the table that makes them effective.
I searched for a picture of former Sun Jermaine O'Neal in our photo editor, but for some reason no pictures of him in a Suns jersey popped up. So instead you get Kaman beard.
Most of these are young players still trying to find their role in the NBA. Oh, and Kendrick Perkins.
All of these guys are marginal NBA players at this point.
These guys aren't really all that good at basketball, but at they do have one thing going for them: they're very tall. Byron Mullens was one made basket away from pulling a Beasley last season (more shot attempts than points). New Sun Miles Plumlee made just five of his 21 shot attempts in only 55 minutes of action.
The 2013-14 NBA season is quickly coming upon us, and the Phoenix Suns' first preseason game is less than two weeks away. However, if you consider yourself a die-hard fan and yet can't still name all of the players on the Suns right now, don't feel too bad...you're far from alone. In fact, I also had to cheat by looking at an official roster while writing this piece.
After a whirlwind of activity over the past few months by Ryan McDonough and company, and rightly so, it's difficult to remember all of the additions and subtractions.
Although the Suns' roster is certain to change again before the start of the regular season begins, let's take a look at the current Phoenix Suns roster as they get set to begin training camp...as it stands for the time being, at least:
Outgoing: Jared Dudley, Diante Garrett
Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG
Shannon Brown, SG
Dionte Christmas, PG/SG
Goran Dragic, PG
Archie Goodwin, SG
Malcolm Lee, SG
Kendall Marshall, PG
Ish Smith, PG
You read that right. That's eight...count them...eight guards currently on the roster. This group isn't just likely to change again before the season officially begins, it's guaranteed to.
Channing Frye, PF/C
Gerald Green, SF
Marcus Morris, SF
Markieff Morris, PF
Alex Oriakhi, PF
Miles Plumlee, PF
P.J. Tucker, SF
Like the guards, you should expect to see some more change to this group before the actual season begins.
Incoming: Viacheslav Kravtsov, Alex Len
Outgoing: Hamid Haddadi, Jermaine O'Neal
While this is the Suns' position of least depth, the return of Channing Frye still gives the Suns additional flexibility at this position. They could choose to hold onto Kravtsov as a cheap third option and trade Gortat before the trade deadline, or it's possible that Kravtsov doesn't make it past training camp...time will tell.
The sum total of all the moves the Suns' organization made over the off-season has left us with this group of mostly fresh faces. If you were keeping a tally, that's only seven (eight if you count Frye) players of the 18 total who are currently listed on the Suns roster who played for Phoenix last season.
While this roster is certain to see more movement before the start of the regular season (if nothing else, cutting at least three players to get to the maximum allowable of 15), this should hopefully give you a good idea of who you need to be rooting for, starting on Oct. 7th.
Alex Len is a bit of a mystery man to many fans. In a summer replete with lots of action from the Suns, the #5 overall pick FROM THREE MONTHS AGO has almost been lost in the shuffle of all the moves the team has been making. Good thing Bright Side of the Sun is here to remind you all about him.
Alex Len is a 7'1" 20 year old with a lot of raw talent and tremendous potential. He possesses a rare blend of size, mobility, offensive polish and defensive presence and has the capacity to be the franchise center that the Suns are very much hoping he will become. Injuries, lack of consistency and an ill-fitting offensive system limited his production in college, but he he was still a highly regarded prospect entering the draft because of his skill-set and potential. In fact, he was even considered to be a strong candidate for the #1 pick up until the draft began because of performances such as this:
Ultimately, the Suns picked Alex Len 5th overall, with Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek pointing to his potential to be a complete, two-way center. Alex has been recovering from stress fracture surgeries on both of his ankles this summer and two weeks ago, he shared some good news on Twitter:
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Alex and discuss many things about his health, goals, interests and more. In this segment of my two-part exclusive interview feature, Alex shares how he's doing before he heads off to Flagstaff for the Suns' training camp:
Q: How are you feeling physically?
A: I'm feeling good. I've started playing. I've been playing for two days already, playing pick-up games. My ankles are feeling good and I'm ready for training camp so I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Are you back to 100% and totally cleared to play?
A: Not 100% yet. When I play pick-up games, I start every game but they pull me off to the side after a couple minutes because they don't want me to overdo it before the season, you know? I haven't played for about 5 months so I'm out of shape. Training camp is going to be a lot of running just to get in shape, get my wind back.
Q: A lot of people don't know exactly what to expect from you this year. You're a big man with a great skillset and I think you have a very high ceiling. Even your draft stock was tough to get a hold on - a lot of people thought you were going to go #1 overall. The Suns obviously ended up picking you with their #5 overall pick. So what can you tell fans to expect to see from you in your rookie campaign?
A: Rookie year will be a bit different for me because I'm coming off two surgeries on my ankles. It's going to be really tough for me but I'm just going to play as hard as I can and bring a positive energy to do whatever I can for the team. Whatever coach asks me to do, I'll be ready. When my name gets called, I'll be ready.
Q: Fans are really excited about having two talented rookies in Phoenix this year. Both you and Archie Goodwin were first round picks and will be solid, young building blocks for the team. Any thoughts on what you both have to do in your rookie season?
A: All we can do is just get better, just try to learn everything we can. There are a lot of really good, smart and experienced people around us like Coach Hornacek so we just have to try to learn something new every day.
Q: You mentioned Coach Hornacek. You obviously have limited experience with him at this point but what are your thoughts on him so far?
A: Coach Hornacek has been watching the scrimmages. I talked to him and he definitely wants us to play a really fast, high-tempo game because like I said, we got a lot of really athletic guys. So far, he just wants us to go up and down when we scrimmage and play high tempo.
Q: How do you think you fit into such a fast-paced offense?
A: I think it fits my game well. I can run, definitely, and I can block shots and make good outlet passes which lead to fast-breaks.
Q: You mentioned you just started scrimmaging with teammates. How has that been?
A: It's been good. Almost everybody's back, I think, except the overseas guys. Dragic is not back yet but I think he gets in on Saturday. Guys are just trying to find a feel for each other. With a new team and a new coach, it's a big learning experience. So far, I really like the team. We're really young. From how I understand it, fans don't really expect us to be really good this year but I think we can make some noise. We're pretty athletic, too. We got a lot of athletic guys and I think it's going to be fun.
Q: Let's step off the court for a moment here. A story that a lot of people seem to like about you is your relationship with your girlfriend, Essence. As someone also currently in a long-distance interracial relationship, I'm also very supportive. Can you talk about how she has helped your transition into the NBA?
A: She's helped me a lot. She helped me more when I just got to college because I didn't speak English that well and she helped me a lot with that. In the tough times in college, too, like when I didn't play well or something, we always went to the gym to just get shots up and things like that. She actually gets into town today.
Q: I'm glad to hear that. Now let's go from love to hate. At Maryland, you were obviously part of a good, old-fashioned rivalry with Duke. As a Phoenix Sun now, how do you feel about LA teams?
A: Oh yeah, I know the Phoenix Suns and LA have been rivals. They don't like each other since, I don't know, a very long time. Now I'm on the Phoenix Suns so I gotta hate them too!
Q: You just won a lot of points with Suns fans. They're going to love hearing that. You're already a hit, Alex.
A: [laughs] Thanks man.
In Part 2 of the interview (to be published early next week), Alex Len elaborates on the skills he's focusing on developing and discusses his favorite movies and hobbies.