July 7th, 2018: Arizona Sports are Saved

Alright, so a lot happened on Saturday, and I’m here to tell you about it.

 

  1. Devin Booker Extension

Five years. $158 million. All five years guaranteed, no options. This is the nature of the extension of the Phoenix Suns’ franchise player. Devin Booker, after holding out due to Tyler Ulis miscommunication, signed his extension on July 7th, 2018. For the next five years, he is a Sun, and he won’t even be in the prime of his prime when that extension ends. He’ll be 26! And when that contract expires, THEN he’ll be in his prime and the Suns can sign him to something even better! That’s amazing news, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 

  1. Deandre Ayton did some cool stuff

21 points and 12 rebounds was the name of the game for Deandre Ayton in game 2 of his Las Vegas Summer League tenure. His first half looked very lackluster, as he was getting beat in the post by Harry Giles, a man who has undergone two ACL surgeries. He was trying to post up by standing straight up and down instead of trying to dig into his defender, and he wasn’t slashing strongly after setting screens. He ended the half with 4 points, and Marvin Bagley looked to be his superior. But, in the second half, something changed. He was setting tough on-ball screens, he was passing out of doubles effectively, he was catching the ball over the top of his defender, and he really started to dig in. By the end of it all, he was efficient, strong, and using his size extremely well. Deandre Ayton looks good.

 

2b. Mikal Bridges did things too

In the last two games of Summer League, Mikal Bridges is 5 for 8 from three and 6 for 10 in general. That’s impressive. He looked great defensively on Saturday, and he had a nice steal and slam to cement himself as a decent defensive talent with athleticism. He’s proving he’s worth the trade-up on draft day, and that’s good.

 

  1. Masked Josh Jackson happened

Need I say more? That block is plastered all over every highlight page online. He stood over him and taunted him! He taunted the 2nd overall pick! Don’t elbow Josh Jackson in the face. He will kill you.

 

  1. The Diamondbacks scored 20 runs in a single game

That’s a franchise record. Wow. Alex Avila had 3 RBIs. That’s really all you need to know about that. He’s hitting .148 and he had THREE RBIs. The Padres are very bad.

 

Well, there you have it, folks. Arizona sports are saved and everyone can rejoice as Phoenix becomes a great sports city once again. (But, seriously, it was a good day. There’s a lot for the Suns to build on, and the Diamondbacks might finally get back into the groove they were in to start the season. I’m very happy about these results. Thank you for your time.)

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Elie Okobo will be your new favorite Sun

Drafted 31st in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Elie Okobo is one of the newest members of the Phoenix Suns. First thing he did? Call himself Swaggy E on Twitter.

Okobo is a currently a point guard for Élan Béarnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez in France. He’s a little undersized at 6’2’’, but he gets the job done on the offensive end. He’s also got a 6’8’’ wingspan, which helps him have active hands on defense. Here’s highlights of a recent game against AS Monaco, where he scored 44 points. That’s awesome. He’s awesome. As shown by the highlights, he’s got a nice handle, and a pretty silky-smooth 3-point shot. An offensive-minded, undersized point guard may not be the solution to the Suns’ defensive woes, but he’s a much needed spark off the bench on offense.

Swaggy E is also known for notable performances for the French U20 national team, and was the third highest scorer in the 2016 FIBA U20 tournament with a line of 18.9 points/3.9 rebounds/1.6 assists/1.9 steals. Obviously he didn’t move the ball a lot, but he scored when he needed to be the primary scorer, had active hands on defense, and rebounded surprisingly well for a guy his size.

When Elie was drafted at 31, a large portion of analysts and writers called it a steal. This is a good sign already. Ryan McDonough, while not good at many things, is good at the NBA Draft. He finds the right guys (Alex Len notwithstanding) to get the job done. Booker at 13, Warren at 14, and (even though we didn’t keep him) Bogdan Bogdanovic at 27. Consensus on Okobo was that he’d be a good pick in the mid-teens in the first round, so getting him at 31 was one of the better under the radar picks in this year’s draft.

Lest we forget another French point guard that was drafted 28th overall in 2001. He ended up having a pretty good career.

As of yesterday, Okobo signed a 4-year, $6 million rookie deal, with the 3rd and 4th years being team options. Okobo has two years to develop into something fantastic. Okobo will also play on the Suns’ Summer League team in Las Vegas starting next week, so we get to see just how NBA-ready he is, and how his talent translates from overseas.

There’s a certain aura to Elie Okobo that’s kind of indescribable. He seems fun, but hungry at the same time. I might just be being optimistic here, but there’s something there that will set him apart from the Suns point guards of the last few years. He’s got something that Bledsoe, Knight, and Ulis just don’t have. I don’t know what it is yet, but there’s something there.

Elie Okobo will definitely leave an imprint before his third year in the league, as long as the Suns give him time to see the floor and learn the game. He’ll be an integral part of the Suns bench sooner than later. If Tyler Ulis’s contract isn’t picked up, he’ll be coming off the bench with Daniels, Bridges, Chriss, and Chandler. If that happens, Okobo stands to make an impact right away.

I have a good feeling about this one. Elie Okobo will be my (and your) new favorite Sun.

Lakers in position for an exciting offseason

Dominating an offseason is not uncharted territory for the Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise.

In July of 1968, the Lakers traded for 76ers superstar Wilt Chamberlain who, in 1972, led Los Angeles to their first NBA championship. He was named the Finals MVP. In June of 1975, Los Angeles acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar via a trade with Milwaukee. As a member of the “Showtime Lakers,” Abdul-Jabbar helped win five titles. In the summer of 1996, the Lakers made their most successful free agent signing in history when they brought in Shaquille O’Neal. He went on to win an NBA MVP award and three Finals MVPs.

This summer, the Lakers have an opportunity to add multiple franchise-changing players, in hopes of receiving results similar to past successes. Free agency begins on July 1, with unrestricted free agents being able to officially sign on July 6.

However, before they can make a run at stars like LeBron James and Paul George, they have a chance to trade for a former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who is unhappy in his current situation.

Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs had a fallout last season regarding how the organization handled his quad injury. According to ESPN, Leonard would prefer to play in Los Angeles, where he is from.

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Despite Leonard being gone for most of last season, the Spurs still managed to earn a spot in the playoffs. Veteran bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are locked in for next season, but San Antonio could use guard and wing help. The Spurs will certainly not give Leonard up without substantial compensation, but the Lakers have young pieces that San Antonio may find desirable. Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has always been against helping Western Conference rivals, but perhaps if Los Angeles provides the best offer for Leonard, it could force his and General Manager R.C. Buford’s hand.

The Lakers could package youngsters Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to send to San Antonio, along with Luol Deng’s $18 million-dollar contract over the next two seasons and a draft pick for Leonard and perhaps a veteran guard like Patty Mills. The Lakers could also add restricted free agent forward Julius Randle to the mix to sweeten the deal, as long as he agrees to a sign-and-trade and the Spurs want to bring him in.

This way, the Lakers add an elite player (as long as he stays healthy) who came in third-place in the MVP voting in 2017, along with a guard who shoots well from the perimeter with a lot of playoff experience. They could also get rid of the noise that surrounds the Ball family which was a distraction last season, not to mention Deng’s lucrative salary.

Meanwhile, the Spurs get a couple of former second overall picks who could potentially blossom and lead San Antonio for years to come. Plus, it would be an improved roster from last season when Leonard was inactive for all but nine games, so they could theoretically contend for a playoff spot again.

Salary-wise, as long as the Spurs willing to take Deng’s contract, Los Angeles should come out of the trade in a very beneficial financial situation. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka would be left with enough cap room to add two max contracts without going far into the luxury tax.

 

If this hypothetical exchange goes through, then the Lakers would head into free agency with Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Kuzma coming off of a very productive rookie season, Josh Hart who also looked good as a rookie last year, and Patty Mills to lure in available talent.

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Photo via @kylekuzma

That cast could certainly be a compelling one, especially for someone who came from a team with lackluster support as LeBron James did.

James is referred to by some to be the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, and should be the Lakers’ number one priority come free agency.

James is seemingly comfortable in LA, he even has two houses in Brentwood. Leonard is a great teammate to have help deal with the Warriors since he can defend many different positions at an elite level. Plus, the Lakers can give him his desired salary.

There is the possibility of a sign-and-trade between the Lakers and Cleveland, but that would be a better option if Leonard ends up elsewhere and the Lakers still had Ball, Ingram and Deng to give up. It still could happen even with the Spurs deal, but it isn’t likely that James would want weapons on his future team traded away when he is looking to win a title.

But, Johnson and Pelinka cannot be solely transfixed on getting James. Paul George is also available, and George-to-the-Lakers rumors have gone on for years. The timing is perfect it seems. A player who grew up rooting for the Lakers, and who has admitted that it would be fun to play for them, is a free agent in the same summer that the Lakers are looking to load up.

Cap wise, the Lakers have the space to take on James, George and Leonard, a hellacious amount of talent to add in one summer. But, they do all play the small forward primarily. Many NBA teams in recent years, though, have strayed away from traditional positions. The Golden State Warriors’ “death lineup” includes two guards, two small forwards and an undersized power forward.

With the facilitating skills of James and shooting ability of both George and Leonard, the three could mesh quite effectively. Defensively, all three have shown to be elite, with Leonard winning the Defensive Player of the Year twice and James and George earning multiple All-NBA Defensive honors each. The three can all defend different sized players as well.

Nevertheless, if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka feel as if that is too many wing players, there are several centers on the market too. Perhaps instead of George, the Lakers could go after DeMarcus Cousins, an elite scorer with a six-foot-eleven frame. The problem with Cousins is his past of attitude issues, also the fact that he will be coming off of Achilles Tendon surgery and has been a defensive liability in the past.

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Clint Capela and DeAndre Jordan are slightly cheaper alternatives at center. They both finish very well around the rim. Capela led the league in field-goal percentage last season and Jordan led the NBA in the category for several seasons before that. They both defend the rim well too, with good size and awareness to block shots. Jordan is a better rebounder, but Capela is five years younger and could be more valuable down the road.

If Johnson and Pelinka do go with the three wings, then they could sign a cheaper big to plug in at center. Perhaps Leonard’s former teammate Aron Baynes, who just had an effective year in Boston and has playoff experience with the Celtics and Spurs, or by bringing back former Laker Ed Davis after three years in Portland. Both can defend the rim well, and should be able to benefit from the passing ability of LeBron James. Baynes can also shoot threes, adding another dimension to the offense. Additionally, in small lineups, Kuzma could plug in as a five for an athletic and strong scoring rotation.

From there, the Lakers would just have to worry about developing their bench beyond Hart, Kuzma and other players still under contract in LA, like Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant. They can fill the bench with veterans who would be willing to sign for the minimum, since some players do so near the end of their careers when looking for a chance at a ring, or by drafting a couple of players since they have picks 25 and 47 (assuming they aren’t traded to San Antonio but likely one would be).

 

Clippers Offseason Outlook

The Clippers have a tricky summer ahead of them. They traded away their 2019 first-round pick, so they’ll need a roster ready compete for the postseason next year because having a poor record serves no purpose. So, what can they do?

The salary cap in the NBA for 2017-2018 was $99 million with the luxury tax sitting at $119 million. The cap has increased by $24 million since 2015-2016, resulting in teams being able to give more max contracts to top players.

The Clippers were $7 million under the luxury tax limit last season, when they finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Despite missing the postseason, the Clippers had the tenth highest payroll in the league.

A lot of what the Clippers can do this offseason will result from player options. Center DeAndre Jordan and guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic all have to decide whether to opt into their deals or to become unrestricted free agents.

Other players who could sign elsewhere are guards Avery Bradley and Tyrone Wallace who are unrestricted free agents. Also, energy big Montrezl Harrell is a restricted free agent with a $1.8 million qualifying offer. Harrell could draw some interest since he is 24-years-old and has improved in each of his three seasons.

So, who is still on the books?

For starters, Sixth Man of the Year finalist Lou Williams signed a three-year contract worth $8 million per year just after the season ended. Forward C.J. Williams agreed on for two more years and will be paid $1.4 million in 2018-2019. Also, Wesley Johnson already opted into his deal worth $6 million for next season.

$56.4 million more is going towards seven players who were already locked in for 2018-2019, $21.6 million of which is going to Danilo Gallinari who played just 21 games last year (he made more than a million dollars per game).

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Photo via @gallinari8888

With all of those deals, and the money Los Angeles owes to past players, the Clippers are in line to spend about $74.7 million for next season at the beginning of June.

Theoretically, if all three players with options opt in, then the Clippers will be spending $112 million for next season before free agency starts.

They all could opt out and renegotiate for more lucrative deals. The most likely to do so being DeAndre Jordan, as he signed his last deal in 2015, before the salary cap rose, and stayed healthy and productive last season.

Rivers’ case for opting out is that he has steadily improved his scoring and three-point shooting in each season that he has been in Los Angeles. But, former GM Doc Rivers was highly criticized for giving his son $12 million dollars to be Chris Paul’s backup in the first place, so Austin Rivers may feel like he won’t get paid as much by another team for next season.

Teodosic should likely opt in. A nagging foot injury held him to 37 games in his debut season last year, but the Clippers were 24-13 in those games. He is a bit of an anomaly, entering the league at age 30 from Europe. Due to his health concerns and age, perhaps opting for the $6 million he’d earn with the Clippers is the smartest move.

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Photo via @MilosTeodosic4

So, the team’s financial situation gives General Manager Lawrence Frank and Consultant Jerry West a couple of options for how to handle the offseason.

One thing they can do is work to retain most of last year’s team and their new draft picks, they have the twelfth.

That means negotiating with Jordan, Rivers and Teodosic if they opt out, as well as matching any offer that Harrell receives.

Bradley was paid just under $9 million per year for the past four years, so he will most likely look to get a pay raise, one that the Clippers will not be able to afford.

Wallace was on a two-way deal last year, like C.J. Williams, meaning he bounced back-and-forth from the G-League. Wallace will most likely play Summer League ball before possibly getting re-signed for a friendly deal, similar to C.J. Williams’ contract. He could be a valuable cheaper player as he played well in his 30 games (19 starts) last year.

Injuries played a big role last season for the Clippers, so perhaps with better luck health-wise and a couple of new young talents, Head Coach Doc Rivers’ club could jump back into the postseason.

However, another way of going about the offseason for Frank and West could start with creating cap room. This requires letting Jordan walk, after a decade of being a Clipper, if he opts out. It also means letting Austin Rivers leave if he opts out, as well as not re-signing Harrell or Wallace.

If those contracts are gone, and perhaps a trade is made to take more money off of the books, then the Clippers could add another max deal by entering the sweepstakes for free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins.

But, the Clippers refrained from trading Jordan at the deadline, which could mean that they just didn’t find the right deal for him or that re-signing their center is part of their plan. Plus, most of the Clippers’ workouts for players who have entered the draft have been with wings and guards.

Maybe there is a trade brewing to send a few players away while keeping the core with Jordan and Lou Williams intact and pairing them with their youngsters.

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West and Frank could also possibly package their two picks and try to move up in the draft. There are rumors that the Clippers are interested in European prospect Luka Doncic, who is a highly regarded combo guard. He won the MVP of his league in 2017-2018.

A lot can happen this summer for the Clippers’ franchise, especially with Jerry West calling a lot of the shots. He worked wonders as a consultant with Golden State, perhaps he has the right eye to see how to help the Clippers become contenders again.

 

The Cavaliers have a lot to do in order to keep LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers could end up being the NBA’s biggest losers of the offseason. Losing LeBron James in free agency would turn this perennial title contender into a mediocre team that could struggle to make the eighth seed in the East.

James is coming off of one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history. He averaged 34 points per-game with nine assists and nine rebounds per-contest. He led an otherwise struggling Cleveland team into the Finals for the fourth consecutive year. He also scored 51 points in a losing effort in Game 1 of the Finals.

James will have a lot of options to choose from this summer, and the Cavs don’t appear to be the most appealing. The most prominent reason why is because they will have a difficult time improving their roster that got swept by Golden State.

The Cavaliers paid well over the salary cap this season and are scheduled to still be over the cap in 2018-2019, regardless of whether James re-signs or not.

This is because the Cavs owe Kevin Love over $24 million next year, they owe George Hill $19 million, Tristan Thompson will get $17.5 million, J.R. Smith will get over $14 million and Jordan Clarkson will earn $12.5 million.

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The Salary cap sits at $99 million, and those five players will make $87.8 million combined. Another $14 million is owed to four others. There is no money to work with for General Manager Koby Altman, which is a problem since the talent surrounding James this past season proved lackluster in the playoffs.

The most exciting thing they can do this offseason with the roster they have, besides possibly bringing back James, is drafting the eighth overall pick that they received from the Kyrie Irving trade.

Adding one young player most likely won’t be substantial enough to bring back James. The best chance Cleveland has is to try their best to trade some of their big contracts and create cap room.

This could prove tough. Hill is now 32-years-old and had his worst statistical season since 2012.

Thompson also experienced the worst year scoring wise of his career, and his rebounds-per-game were the lowest since his rookie campaign.

Also, there are cheaper options for teams to sign at shooting guard than J.R. Smith, so many teams will likely pass on him unless given draft compensation. Marco Belinelli, same age and position as Smith, scored more points and shot more efficiently for Atlanta this past season. He made half as much money as Smith last season, and he is a current free agent.

Lou Williams was just re-signed by the Clippers for $8 million per year. He scored 22 points-per-game while leading the Clippers in assists this season, and he will be paid just over half as much as Smith next year.

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Now, if James leaves, then the Cavs will need their eighth overall pick. Historically, players like four-time All-Star Tom Chambers, three-time All-Star Detlef Schrempf and three-time Sixth-Man of the Year Jamal Crawford have been selected there, so a high quality young player could fall to them.

Trading future picks could also prove dangerous because if James leaves, then those picks get higher and more valuable.

But, in order to keep “The King,” they will need to deal some of their picks away with some of their big contracts. A rebuilding team could possibly be willing to eat up Thompson or Smith’s deal if that means they get a future pick.

They could use their picks to trade for a star talent to pair with James possibly. Perhaps the Charlotte Hornets would give up 2018 All-Star point guard Kemba Walker for the eighth overall selection, perhaps a second rounder and then a contract like Thompson’s.

Walker is no Kyrie Irving, but he a talented guard on a team who could be willing to sell. He averaged 22.1 points-per-game this past season and shoots well from three.

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Or, perhaps the Cavs could try to trade their picks and contracts for cheap role players and create cap to go after free agents that James may like to play with. But, that would require a lot of maneuvering, and maybe force Cleveland to deal more picks than they are comfortable with.

Altman and the Cleveland front office have a critical summer ahead of them, and they’ll need to be active from the start in order to have a chance to keep LeBron James.

Do the Suns have a Power Forward?

This is a question I ask myself quite often. They obviously have a few on the roster. Dragan Bender (who was the recent punchline in a very funny John Oliver joke), Marquese Chriss, Alec Peters, Jared Dudley (I love you, Jared), Alan Williams, and even Josh Jackson on occasion are all guys that can play that 4 spot. But, when it comes to power forward talent around the league, these guys aren’t necessarily top notch. Chriss struggled all year with his shot, and seemed to just be lost for a majority of his time on the floor. Bender started to come into his own, but he still has a long way to go on the offensive end (note: I really like it when Bender hits threes early in games, because that opens up a pump fake and slash game that he doesn’t have if he’s offline early on). Alec Peters had the best game from the power forward position all year, but obviously isn’t a consistent choice to start (not for a sane coach, anyway). Alan Williams usually gets his time at the center position, and Josh Jackson usually gets his at the small forward. So, I’m not really sure if the Suns have a power forward for the future. Let’s look at some options.

 

  1. Kenneth Faried

This one is a long shot. Faried is far removed from starting, as Paul Millsap basically absorbed all his minutes in Denver. Obviously, the Nuggets want to move Faried, his $13 million contract (yikes), and open up his spot on the roster. It feels like year after year, up until the Suns drafted Chriss and Bender, there was always a rumor that the Nuggets were going to trade the Manimal to the Suns. Obviously, Faried has only gotten older and lost some of his famed athleticism, so this really isn’t the best solution unless the Suns are really desperate to move a guy like Marquese Chriss, who may be bad for chemistry. Faried can rebound and operate closer to the basket, but he has no outside shot. He struggles anywhere outside the painted area, which isn’t something many teams are looking for anymore. The only incentive to pick up Faried is that he’s a veteran, something the Suns need, and rumblings around the league say that Denver is willing to part with the 14th overall pick if someone wants to take Faried off their hands.

 

  1. Aaron Gordon

This one makes more sense. He’s likely to be a restricted free agent, but he’s looking for a max deal, something the Suns might not want to offer to someone as injury-prone as Gordon. But, when he’s healthy, he’s incredibly athletic. He’s an electrifying dunker, he’s developed a decent outside shot, and if (that’s a BIG if) the Suns choose to keep Elfrid Payton, there’s already existing chemistry between the two. Gordon has the makings to be the Suns’ power forward of the future if they can hash out the details. Most of Gordon’s stats have taken an unprecedented jump this year, and he has the makings to be a superstar. He’s scored 5 more points per game, upped his 3PM by one whole make per game, and pulls in 2 more rebounds per game. His improvement on the defensive end is notable as well. But (that’s a BIG but), he only played 58 games this year. The Suns medical staff is known for being able to help out injury-prone guys, but it’s certainly a gamble to give him a max contract. If I’m Phoenix, I would try and negotiate a nice two or three year deal and go from there, see if Gordon really is a good fit with Booker, Jackson and (hopefully) Ayton, and see where he is as he reaches his prime at 24 or 25.

 

  1. Nikola Mirotic

He’s got one year left on a $12.5 million contract. He can shoot the longball. He can grow an excellent beard. He’s Nik Mirotic. I’ve always been a fan of Mirotic’s game, and he was an integral part of the weird stint of Bulls success in December upon his return from being decked in the face by Bobby Portis, as well as being a reliable guy for New Orleans down the stretch of the season. From 2015-2017, Mirotic was a guy you could depend on for a few points, maybe some decent defense, but I think 2018 was the year he became a really complete player. Not a superstar worth a max contract, mind you, but a guy you can comfortably start and say he’s one of the better starting PFs in the league. He’s a guy that can stretch the floor and stay in front of guys well enough, and he’d be an improvement for the Suns at the power forward position. The Pelicans would probably be looking for a guard or small forward in that trade, though, something the Suns may not be able to give up. Put it in the “maybe” column. Just think about it a little.

 

  1. DeMarre Carroll

Okay, hear me out on this one. I know it doesn’t make much sense. He’s an older player, a little undersized for the power forward position, and his health is definitely a question. But, he scored 13.5 PPG last year, he put up the best numbers of his career for passing and rebounding (though they’re still not super impressive), and he’s only got a year left on a bad contract. He could be the temporary fit while the Suns develop, draft, or trade for a better player. He could plug the leak. I wouldn’t mind it, at least not for a while.

 

  1. Ryan Anderson

Ryan. Anderson. He’s the perfect solution, in my opinion! Mike D’Antoni didn’t give him playoff minutes, and I really don’t know why. He’s tall, but quick enough to stay in front of smaller guys, he sets a good pick and can make shots close to the basket or from beyond the arc, and he’s definitely better than the guys the Suns have right now. And, lest we forget that he ENDED ALEX LEN’S CAREER this year in Talking Stick Resort Arena! This is the perfect opportunity to get Anderson the minutes he deserves. His contract is a little steep with 2yrs/$20 million coming his way, but he has a chance to be very, very worth it. If the Rockets won’t use him, the Suns certainly have a spot for him.

 

If anything, the Suns could even work with what they have. Who knows how coach Igor is gonna work with Dragan Bender? I think Bender’s ceiling is pretty high, and if anyone is going to get something out of him it’s someone who knows the European game and the European players like Igor does. Marquese Chriss has a long offseason ahead of him, but if he puts in the work from behind the line, gets more muscle to work inside, and works on his basketball IQ and instincts, he could be good too. Who knows? The Suns have a lot of options, and there’s a very good chance that they’ll look at all of them in the quest to grant Devin Booker passage to the playoffs this year. But first, they’ll need a power forward.

What does the bizarre ending to Game 1 mean to Game 2?

Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was unlike anything people expected.

The spread in Las Vegas before the game favored Golden State over Cleveland by 13 points, the largest odds against LeBron James in a single game in over a decade.

Despite the odds though, Cleveland, backed by James’ NBA Finals career high 51 points, outplayed the Warriors in the majority of the game. The Cavs even led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.

This was largely due to LeBron’s brilliance as well as the fact that Cleveland was the more physical team. They dominated the boards, especially on the offensive end.

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Photo via @KingJames

But, Golden State did not turn the ball over and shot better from three, which kept them in the game.

Still, in the last minute, the game was Cleveland’s to lose. And three things went horribly wrong for them.

The first was with just 36 seconds left. The officials overturned a very close block/charge call thanks to a fairly new rule that those plays are reviewable. Instead of Cleveland retaining possession up by two, Kevin Durant got to knock down two free throws to tie the game.

The next was with 4.7 seconds left. Cleveland was down by one and James rifled a pass underneath the basket to George Hill, who would have an open layup if he weren’t grabbed by Klay Thompson.

Hill was 81 percent from the line this year. After tying the game with the first free throw, he missed the second, missing the opportunity to go up one and force the Warriors to hit the final shot.

And the final was the blunder heard around the world, where JR Smith grabbed the offensive rebound after Hill’s miss and dribbled the clock out.

According to Cleveland Head Coach Tyrone Lue, he though the Cavs were ahead and was running the clock out.

If one of those three things does not happen, Cleveland probably steals Game 1. Instead, they lost in overtime. Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr said that his team got “Lucky.”

With the wacky ending to the first one, how will both teams come out on Sunday? Did the bizarre fashion that Cleveland lost game one sink them for Game 2? Or could it motivate them?

With that, let’s look at history.

LeBron James teams have won the first game of the Finals once… in 2011. In all of his Champion seasons, he trailed in the Finals from the beginning.

In this year’s playoffs, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 twice, to Indiana and Boston. In 2016, Cleveland’s championship year, the Cavs dropped the first two games. He won all of those series in seven games.

Obviously, this year is different, with James having perhaps his worst Finals supporting cast yet and going against Golden State with Kevin Durant who wasn’t there in 2016. There is more of an uphill climb this year.

Nonetheless, after seeing his opponents in Game 1s, James has scored 43, 46 and 42 in his three Game 2s this year. Especially after Thursday’s loss, a similar performance to those seems very likely.

Andre Iguodala usually guards Cleveland’s superstar when these two met in the past, but he has missed the past few games and has been ruled doubtful for Game 2.

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Without Iguodala’s help, James can continue to take advantage of his matchups, especially when Golden State switches.

What will James get from “the other Cavs” though.

Kevin Love was solid coming back from his concussion, another double-double will be needed from him. Sometimes defensively against the Warriors, Love has gotten exposed on switches. But, offensively and on the boards, he should be able to duplicate his Game 1 efforts.

JR Smith is going to need to make up for his error. The criticisms of him should lead to him being aggressive in Game 2.

If he catches fire, it can give Cleveland a huge tool. But he has shot very poorly this postseason, especially on the road. With that, we could see a lot of bricked threes coming his way.

For Golden State, Kevin Durant was not productive on Thursday. He took a lot of contested mid-range shots and shot a poor 8-22.

Durant was great throughout the playoffs mostly, but he is in a funk right now. He has shot under 40 percent in three of the past four games. If Cleveland defends him well again from the get-go, his rhythm could continue to be thrown off.

Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their part in opening game, they shot 10-21 from deep.

Heading into the next game however, Thompson has a sprained ankle and bruising. According to Bleacher Report, he plans to play, but the discomfort can limit him defensively and perhaps hurt his shooting rhythm.

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Anything can happen in Game 2 from a gritty Cavs win to a Warrior blowout.

In order for Cleveland to win they will need “The King” to dominate once again. They will need to control the boards and limit their turnovers to create more shots. They will need another productive game from Kevin Love. The will need another role player to step up, whether that is Smith redeeming himself, Korver playing more than 16 minutes and hitting his threes or Jeff Green playing like he did in Game Seven at Boston where he scored 19. They will need Durant or Curry to struggle. And they will need a little luck.

In order for Golden State to win, they just need to play their usual game, with good production from their stars and solid defense on everyone except James since that is close to impossible. If he is the only one hurting the Warriors, then they are in good shape.

The odds are stacked against James’ Cavaliers, but as we saw in Game 1, they can beat Golden State. Just a lot has to go right. And they have to come out with an intensity we have yet to see.

16th Overall Pick: Who Runs the Point in Phoenix?

The Suns secured the #1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and that’s cool. But, if they pick Ayton, they’ve still got a glaring hole at the point guard position that Elfrid Payton (probably) won’t be able to fill. The Suns have the 16th overall pick, which is a great position to draft a solid guard. I ran a Twitter poll with a few options (feel free to follow me), so I’m gonna break down these options. Keep in mind these aren’t the only guys available, but these are the options I see in front of Phoenix.

 

  1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Jalen Brunson led the National Champion Wildcats with an impressive 18.9 PPG on 52% shooting and 40% from 3-point range. He chalked up 4.6 assists as well over the course of 32 minutes per game. Brunson is a left-handed guard with a little bit of grit, something the Suns need in the backcourt. He’s 6’2’’, a nice height for a guard, but a below average wingspan. This year was his junior year, which means he’s a little bit more developed than some of the younger guards. He can shoot, and he can help run an offense pretty well. Though, his offense was helped along by elite NCAA coach Jay Wright, and his lack of athleticism and first step will definitely hurt him in the draft. Though he’s leaving college basketball with an impressive championship run on his résumé, Brunson is definitely not the best option on the board at 16.

 

  1. Aaron Holiday, UCLA

Aaron Holiday is a good defensive guard. He’s got a quick step to stay in front of guys, and that also helps him score. Playing a staggering 37.7 minutes per game, Holiday scored to the tune of 20 PPG on 46% shooting and 43% from 3-point territory. There’s a lot of efficiency there. Holiday can really shoot from beyond the arc, and his shot on the move is fantastic as well. He averaged a little under 6 assists, as well as 3.7 rebounds. Holiday is definitely someone the Suns could use, and he’s the younger brother of NBA brothers Jrue and Justin Holiday. He received PAC-12 first-time and defensive first-team honors this year, and there’s no better time to draft a player like him. He should still be on the board at 16, and the Suns would make a great decision to pick him.

 

  1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

Kentucky Freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had an impressive first year in the SEC. All-Conference Second Team, All-Rookie Team, and SEC All-Tournament Team are all on Gilgeous-Alexander’s résumé. He averaged 33.7 minutes per game with 14.4 PPG on 48.5% shooting and 40.4% from the arc, along with 5.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds. SGA is 6’6’’, which gives him a natural advantage on defense. He averaged 1.6 steals on defense, and showed an ability to stay in front of point guards around the NCAA. Watching tape can show a slower release than anyone else on this list, as well as a tendency to over dribble, but if the Suns can work with Josh Jackson, they can work with Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s not the best offensive option on this list, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could lead the charge on an oversized backcourt in Phoenix. He may not be available at 16, as the Los Angeles Clippers have the two picks at the end of the lottery, and may look to bring in a guard to play behind Patrick Beverley or Milos Teodosic.

 

  1. Trading for a vet

There are plenty of point guards around the NBA that are already established as NBA-caliber talent. This is an edge that all of them have on the guys coming out of the draft. Looking at the guards around the NBA and keeping realism in mind, here are some guys the Suns could try and make moves for:

  • Darren Collison, IND

Collison showed his scoring and passing ability in the first round of the playoffs, and a veteran presence leading the offense is never a bad thing.

  • D’Angelo Russell

Another subpar season in Brooklyn may lead to even more roster turnover. Russell’s contract isn’t bad for the player he is, and he seems to have a decent friendship with Devin Booker, something that might lead him to Phoenix.

  • Kemba Walker

Let’s be real. There’s a low chance of this happening. But, with a new GM in Charlotte, he might want to blow it up and start over again. If that happens, the Suns should be the first one on the phone trying to land Walker without giving up too much of the young core.

Trading for a vet might get established talent, but it may not be the best solution for the timeline the Suns are trying to work with. GM Ryan McDonough said he was open to trading that 16th pick, and if the Suns do draft Ayton, a point guard will definitely be a requirement on the other end.

 

The Suns have plenty of options at 16, and that’s great. There’s not a problem with having a lot of options. It’s weighing the options and choosing the right one that’s the problem. Ryan McDonough has had a good track record when it comes to drafting recently (congrats on All-Rookie Second Team, Josh), and Suns fans shouldn’t mind him picking who he feels is best at 16.

There are also obviously unexplored options, like making a package to trade into the lottery and drafting a guy like Collin Sexton or Trae Young (I HATE Trae Young but that’s just my humble opinion).

Opinion of the people on my Twitter feed shows that trading for a vet or drafting Aaron Holiday are the best options, and I tend to agree. Let’s just hope that Phoenix makes the decisions to right the ship this season.

Why injuries are the worst thing ever (The worst NBA injuries this season)

 

NBA players get injured a lot, and that sucks. Those injuries take a lot of things away from the players, teams, and fans all around the NBA. Basketball fans have been deprived of a lot of things, so I’m going to complain about some of the things we’ve been deprived of.

  1. Kyrie vs. LeBron (duh)

“A playoff series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road.” What? Neither team can win on the road? Can we make the series 11 games? Ugh. Terry Rozier is REALLY cool, don’t get me wrong. I love me some good old fashioned 90’s Patriot Quarterback-related beef. But Kyrie being “the guy” on the Celtics was so fun and then his knee had to ruin it! What even is “minimally invasive surgery” anyway!

This Cavs-Celtics series would be SO FUN if Kyrie was trading daggers with LeBron and the 8 other players on the floor just kind of watched in awe. But, instead, we have a really interesting series where talented young guys defy all odds. Booooooo. Boring.

 

  1. Butler College Reunion Tour

Speaking of the Celtics, there’s another guy that got hurt. He has really nice hair, he’s good at League of Legends, and his feet were turned two different directions for a brief few minutes at the beginning of this year. Injuries suck. I want Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens. Bring him back. (Sarcastic article tone aside, please PLEASE let Gordon Hayward have his deadly scoring instincts and quick first step and please let him get back into basketball shape quickly.)

 

  1. Boogie vs. Draymond and Javale

This one is one people don’t think of a lot. The Pelicans played the Warriors in round 2 of the 2018 playoffs, in case you’ve already forgotten amidst one of the best Western Conference Finals series of all time. The Pelicans have a center named DeMarcus Cousins on their roster, but he ruptured his left achilles tendon during the regular season, keeping him out for the playoffs. Bad! He has a little bit of an attitude, something he shares with Golden State forward Draymond Green. He keeps things very heavy and serious, something he does not share with rat-tail champion and Golden State center Javale McGee.

Either one of those fine Golden State gentlemen defending the personality and complaint-filled DeMarcus Cousins would have been must-see TV. High tensions against a tough defender like Draymond. Frustration against an aloof and smiling Javale. Gold. Thanks injuries.

 

  1. WCFull of Missed Opportunities

Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala being injured is bad for basketball. There’s not much else to it. Both of those guys make their teams so much more fun, and I wanna see Chris Paul shimmy in front of Steph again as much as I wanna see Iggy turn back the clock and dunk on a lackluster Rockets defense. Those guys make basketball fun and they will be missed dearly as long as they’re out. Also, Chris Paul and/or one of his teammates has been injured in the playoffs an unfair amount of years in a row.

 

  1. Kawhi Komplications

This one kind of hurts my heart a lot. Kawhi Leonard is now searching for a new home away from the coach and team that made him who he is, mostly because of injuries and mismanagement leading to issues behind the scenes. Leonard’s injury was one of the more influential ones this year, and it’s leading to a potential move to Los Angeles in the offseason. The Spurs are probably gonna miss the playoffs for the first time in a millenium because Kawhi’s shoulder (leg? something?) doesn’t work right. Cool.

 

  1. Tall European Big Man Falls Down

Kristaps nooooooo. Despite this leaving room for Michael Beasley to prosper, this one hurts a lot. Kristaps was putting together a good bid for an All-NBA team and maybe even an All-NBA Defensive team nod. His spectacular season was cut short, and it sucks that any of us has to be worried about his recovery process for the coming season. If he doesn’t play with new Knicks head coach Dave Fizdale I’m going to be very upset. The fact that THIS is even a THING is pretty awful.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Dion Waiters: I love Dion Waiters! Why didn’t I get to see him play more!

Donovan Mitchell at the end of Game 5: It probably wouldn’t have helped them win but I hate to see that guy go down. I like him a lot! Injuries are bad!

Brandon Knight: I’m not super upset about this one but it would have helped to have a point guard instead of having absolutely none in Phoenix.

Jimmy Butler: The Wolves almost didn’t make the playoffs because Tom Thibodeau runs the muscles off the bones of his players!

Derrick Rose: This isn’t necessarily this year, this one is just a bummer across the last few years in general. At least his dreadlocks look nice.

Anyways, injuries are really bad, and we as fans definitely saw the effects of the injury bug this year. Maybe next year something will change, and really good players will get to play more. Bring back Dion Waiters! That’s what everyone should get out of this article.

(Seriously, though. NBA players are human, and they’ll be back sooner than you know it. Next year is going to be really fun.)