It’s generally not national news when a point guard blows by Steve Nash on the way to the hoop. But when that point guard is teen pop sensation Justin Bieber, that story gets more than its fair...

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It's always a good time when the Warriors and Suns meet.

After our internal roundtable last month discussing all issues Suns, a few people suggested we bring in bloggers from other teams' SBN blogs to get their take on our team. Since we're here to serve at BSotS (and because that was a great idea), I reached out to a few of our fellow bloggers within the Pacific Division and Evanz of Golden State of Mind was kind enough to take the time to answer questions I posed to him regarding the Suns, the Warriors and the future of the Western Conference playoff race.

You're probably thinking that, since I live in the Bay Area and Evan is a Warriors fan, we each jumped in our Priuses and met at the vegan restaurant to have this conversation over a tofu dish and wheat grass juice. If Evan lived close to me, it might have gone something like that but he actually lives in Atlanta, where he's a professor at Georgia Tech (check out the big brain on Evan!).

So, we have a Suns fan in the Bay Area and a Warriors fan in Atlanta. Got it? OK then, give a warm Bright Side welcome to Evan and please let us know what you think in the comments.

Ray: What is the general mood of Warriors fans regarding the changes to the team over the past year: new ownership, addition of Jerry West, this year's draft and new coach Mark Jackson? Are the Warriors ready to challenge for a playoff spot next season?

Evan: I think Warriors fans are generally grateful and hopeful about the ownership and front office changes that have taken place over the past year. I mean, Jerry West, can't argue with that, right? With Mark Jackson, it's a bit less clear. My personal opinion is that Dwane Casey, with his emphasis/expertise on defense and actual coaching experience with both good (Dallas) and bad (Minnesota) teams, would have been a better choice. I guess we'll see what he does with Toronto. I think it's telling that the Warriors' hiring of defensive assistant Michael Malone away from New Orleans was greeted with universal praise, and maybe even a sense of relief. Mark Jackson certainly has a lot to prove, but he'd probably say he had a lot to prove as a player, too. Jackson is known for being an athletically-limited point guard who was able to get the most out of his game. I think all Warriors fans are hoping his mentorship of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis can squeeze the most juice out of our backcourt. And if nothing else, some of Mark Jackson's sorely needed toughness as a player is bound to rub off on those two guys.

Are we ready to challenge for a playoff spot? Never say never (the "We Believe" team did incredible and unexpected things just a few years ago), but I have to admit I'm not a believer right now. I don't think the talent is there. We won 36 games last season and were 10 games outside of the 8th spot. I think with the same core group, and perhaps, even assuming a couple games of improvement due to the new coaching staff/defensive emphasis (hope, hope), this team will max out at around 40-42 wins. That might be enough to compete for the 8th spot, but not much higher than that. This team isn't ready to contend, and as a lifelong fan, that's really what the goal post should be as far as I'm concerned.

Ray: I was high on the prospect of the Suns drafting Klay Thompson even though I had a pretty good idea the Warriors would take him ahead of us. What do you think of Thompson's future on the Warriors?   

Evan: The recent history of #11 picks is fairly dismal. JJ Redick is arguably the best #11 pick in the last decade. The truth is expectations for a late-lottery pick should be fairly low. Thompson looks to be a great spot-up shooter, but perhaps, will only be the third best spot-up shooter on the Warriors behind Stephen Curry (15th in spot-up shooting last season according to Synegy) and Reggie Williams (#7 according to Synergy). Not only was Klay not known for his defense, it was generally seen as a glaring weakness. He also is not very athletic, and will likely have trouble getting to the rim. He has length, but not much strength, quickness, or leaping ability. Sort of like Kyle Korver, maybe? I can see Korver as Klay's floor and maybe Kevin Martin as Klay's ceiling. The one aspect of Klay's game that I keep hearing about that gives me some room for hope is his basketball IQ. Like Stephen Curry, Klay comes with a pedigree, and has been around the game forever. If he proves me wrong by performing beyond my expectations, I suspect it will be due to those intangibles. Oh, and Jerry West loves the kid, so there's that.

The guy I really wanted, and am surprised Phoenix passed on, too, was Kawhi Leonard. I can't believe he fell as far as he did. You guys drafted Markieff Morris, who I see as a poor man's Carlos Boozer. Take that for what it's worth, I guess.

Ray: The general consensus among NBA experts is that the Suns are in decline and in a damn near impossible situation right now. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, should the Suns should trade Steve Nash?

Evan: I think I'm going to surprise you with my answer to this one, but in some ways, I think you guys are in a better long-term position than Golden State. Our path to acquiring a super-star (a necessary ingredient for a contender) is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Joe Lacob has given no hints of making major changes to the core group, which most likely means more years of mediocrity. You may already know that our first round pick next season is top-7 protected, but otherwise will be traded (to Utah?) as part of the Marcus Williams trade debacle a few years back. The problem is we're probably not bad enough to keep that pick, which means we'd lose any chance of getting someone in a really deep 2012 class. We also don't have the cap room or free agent "lure" to go out and get a guy like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, or even Nene Hilario, in all likelihood.

On the other hand, you guys have the ageless wonder in Steve Nash, and a bunch of dudes. But you can't build a team around Nash at this point in his career. So what do you do? I say trade him for a first round pick and employ a serious tanking strategy. Have you looked at the talent in next year's draft? Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond have superstar written all over them. Then you have Sullinger and Barnes who would arguably be #1 picks in any other year. That's not to mention Beal and Rivers, and the list goes on (Perry Jones, Michael Gilchrist..). If there were ever a year to tank, this is it! Take the medicine now.

That's actually what I want the Warriors to do, but it's harder, because it would involve trading or dumping Monta Ellis, and only a minority of Warriors fans (and apparently front office folks) are willing to do that. Instead, they want to "make it work" with this group, but without a superstar, it seems to me like a futile effort. We'll never be bad enough to get a top draft pick. Mark Cuban called this the "treadmill of mediocrity". I think the Warriors have been on that treadmill for years, and Phoenix would be wise to stay off of it. Look at Cleveland, for example. A year after losing LeBron, they got two lottery picks, and my guess is they will be in the running for Davis or Drummond in the draft. With one of those guys, Irving, and Tristan Thompson (who I also loved), Cleveland may be back in the playoffs in a couple of seasons. That's the blueprint to follow. When you know your run is up, re-build as fast as possible. My opinion is that *not* doing that is what leads to franchise hopelessness.


Ray: Are there any Suns players that particularly impress or intrigue you beyond the obvious choice of Steve Nash? Which Sun would you be happy to see the Warriors trade for?

Evan: I would trade Ellis for Gortat and Pietrus. (It works in Trade Machine!) I'd be interested to hear how Phoenix fans feel about that one in the comments.

{Editor's note: we are working diligently to re-assemble Ray's skull after this trade proposal made his head explode.}

Ray: A lot of Suns fans love and miss Lou Amundson to levels that I think are a bit excessive. What do you think of him after his first season as a Warrior?

Evan: I had high hopes for Lou, but after a season of watching him, I realized that he probably looked a lot better playing with Nash (as everyone does). Lou is a hard worker with stone hands. He doesn't really fit in with the personnel that we have. He doesn't bring enough on the defensive end to play with Lee, and doesn't bring enough offense to play with Udoh or Biedrins. I was actually hoping he would opt out of his contract, but he took the option, and will likely be the second big off the bench as he was last season. Nice guy, though.

Ray: Other teams at the lower rungs of the Western Conference playoff ladder or who narrowly missed the playoffs include New Orleans, Memphis, Houston and Utah. Which of those teams do you see on the rise, and which on the decline? If the Warriors are to make a push for a playoff spot, who do you see as the biggest challengers to be overcome?

Evan: Memphis is clearly on the rise. You didn't mention them, but OKC is obviously ready to make a serious challenge for the title. New Orleans is a mess. Houston is arguably in a similar position to Golden State, a bunch of average or good players, but no superstar. Morey is one of the smartest GM's, though, so I always give them the benefit of the doubt. But they won't turn it around in one season. Utah is going to get worse before it gets better, but they have really good young talent now, and will be one of those teams that have a shot at getting one of those superstars in the draft next season. The Warriors need to hope that New Orleans trades Chris Paul.

Ray: One thing that I'm pretty sure Warriors and Suns fans agree on is a dislike of the Lakers. After their implosion in the playoffs last year and Phil Jackson's retirement, where do you think they stand among the Western Conference power structure now?

Evan: Good question. I think it's safe to say their best days are behind them, but they can be dangerous for a few more seasons, if they keep that group together. They have talent that plenty of other teams would love to have right now, so it might make more sense to parlay those assets into future picks or, perhaps, they can swing a big trade like Bynum for Chris Paul. Can you imagine Paul, Kobe, and Pau? Even I couldn't help but want to see that team play.

Ray: Right before the draft, a Phoenix radio DJ tweeted a rumored trade that would have sent Ekpe Udoh and a 1st round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Robin Lopez. Do you think this deal would have been close to fair? What if it had been Udoh for Lopez straight up? Where does Udoh stand with the Warriors? Are fans disappointed that he hasn't produced more as a former lottery pick?

Evan: Here's the thing. Udoh can play defense! He's the one guy on our team who doesn't just bring effort, he can actually be a game-changer on the defensive end of the floor, and he showed that over and over again during the course of the season. The stats back that up, whether it's RAPM (an uber form of +/-) or Synergy. Besides Curry, Udoh is the one guy on the team that I wouldn't give up easily. For Robin Lopez? Heck no, not playing next to David Lee. The general consensus in Warriors nation seemed to be that Greg Monroe would have been the better pick, and that's probably still true. But by the end of the season, even the biggest of Udoh detractors started to acknowledge his value on the defensive end.


I encourage you to check out Evan's work over at Golden State of Mind, where he does some great advanced statistical analysis (warning: there will be math), and please feel free to post additional questions in the comments.

With the lockout still casting a dark shadow over the NBA and its fans, players are taking matters into their own hands in order to stay sharp and keep the fans engaged. Phoenix Suns forward Hakim...

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This past Wednesday, the Player's Association renewed lockout negotiations with the NBA at a Manhattan-area hotel. Though little progress was expected to be made on the lockout negotiations which so far have resulted only in verbal sniping from both sides, the meeting Wednesday showed dramatic improvement in negotiations. 

"We decided on Papa John's", said NBPA President Derek Fisher. "In the beginning we were skeptical that any compromise at all could be reached, but we just put our heads down and went to work." According to the New York Times, the NBA initially refused to budge, with NBA Commissioner David Stern citing the "awesomeness of Little Caesars' Hot-and-Ready pizzas for carry-out", but eventually the two sides were able to come to a deal when nobody wanted to get their car and drive to pick up the pizza. 

In an official statement, the NBA said that "this day of compromise gives us hope for the future of the league and hope for NBA fans everywhere. We are extremely pleased by not only our ability to reach an agreement but also by the quality of the Meat-Lover's pizza, down to the very last slice." 

"You should have seen [Deputy Commissioner Adam] Silver just dig into that slice of Papa-J's Hawaiian", said Fisher. "It gave me goosebumps. It's a hopeful image for the future of our league, our players, our player's children, and the future of humanity and the world itself."

Though no future talks were scheduled, the negotiators who attended the meeting were in unanimous, emphatic agreement that Papa John's would be the exclusive caterer for all meetings in the future. 

Do commissioner David Stern and his deputy Adam Silver have reason to smile after today's session?

NBA owner and union representatives had their second negotiating session in New York City today, as they attempt to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement following the expiration of the previous CBA on July 1, and subsequent owner-imposed lockout of the players.

While no specific progress was reported, and Derek Fisher had this to say about today's talks, "I wouldn't say there is a change in either side in our approach or ideologically. We're in the same place. We're where we have always been in terms of certain components," the two sides did agree on a couple of foundational points about the nature of future negotiations.

The last session seemed only to inflame both sides. After today's session, each side is speaking some of the right words and fewer of the counterproductive ones, which can at least give us a sliver of hope.

More after the jump.

First, each side claims they will pick up the pace of negotiations. Today's session was only the second sit-down between the sides in the past two months, and owners and players promised to press on with more urgency from here on out. Said Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver:

"We're not going to get a deal done unless we spend time together and that's progress unto itself given how infrequently we have met since the lockout began. It's difficult to characterize the meeting other than there is no question both sides want to avoid missing games, or missing training camp for that matter."

The second point, which I consider to be at least as important, is that each side promises to cease and desist the verbal sniping that has gone on in the media since their last negotiating session. They say they'll do their work behind closed doors, but won't follow each session by going to the media to complain about the other side, or even to inform the media on the details of any progress or lack thereof.

Said Fisher:

"As a group, we agreed to continue to focus on getting the deal done and try and stay away from the verbal jabs and the back-and-forth and really try to remain focused on the deal points. It's not in anyone's best interest to get into what happens in the meetings from here on out. There is too much to go through to try and come out of meetings saying what did and didn't happen. Things seem to get spun out of control either by us or by them."

Amen to that. I get the negotiating ploy of trying to win the public relations battle, but ultimately both sides lose the PR battle here no matter what. I think I speak for most fans when I say, "just shut up and get to work."

I wouldn't go so far as to call these items cause for enthusiasm, but I would say that they are at least not cause for further pessimism. That's a modest achievement, for sure, but it is a modicum of progress when we've had less than zero for the past two months.

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