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NBA Phoenix Suns Devin Booker

The Spotlight Is On The Suns Devin Booker (Again)

By Lindsay Dunn

Devin Booker. That is a name you are going to hear a lot about, not only in the next few days, but years to come. The spotlight is on the 20-year-old guard for the Phoenix Suns as he made history on Friday night taking his game to the next level.

Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics. At first glance you may think that was a typing error, but it’s a fact. In 44 minutes he scored 70 points. He shot 21 of 40 from the field, 4 of 11 from beyond the arc and a solid 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

“I’ve played with some great shooters,” Suns head coach Earl Watson said. “Ray Allen, Kevin Durant. (Devin Booker) has amazing potential. His stroke is textbook.”

The 2015 13th overall draft pick is the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a loss. “I got in zone, I got hot,” Booker said post-game. “I knew I was going to have to lock-in and my teammates kept finding me. When I hit 50 they just kept feeding me it.”

The last player to score 65 or more was Kobe Bryant who poured in 81 against the Raptors in 2006. That was 11 years ago and Bryant was 28 at the time. On Friday night Booker also broke a few Suns franchise records. He is now in first for having the highest-scoring game in franchise history and his 51 points in the second half is also a Suns record for points in a half.

While Booker went 21 of 40 from the field (52.5 percent), the rest of the Suns went 18 of 46 (39.1). Only two other players scored in double figures: Alex Len (11 points) and Leandro Barbosa (11 points).

The former Kentucky Wildcat became a household name for non NBA fans when he took part in the All-Star Game last season and when rapper Drake posted photos of him on his Instagram and wore his jersey on stage.

“I first met Drake in college at Big Blue Madness,” Booker explained. “I know Drake and Coach Cal (John Calipari) are good friends and that was the year that Drake air-balled the three pointer in the layup line. Whenever I see him I always get on him about that.”

During the 2016 All-Star Weekend the rookie at the time went head-to-head against the ‘Splash Brothers’ in the 3-point competition. Curry and Thompson beat Booker, but it helped make him a household name.

“Coming into the beginning of the season I realized people know who I am now,” Booker told Pro Bball Report when the Suns visited Toronto. “Last year people didn’t know who I was so I was getting a lot of open looks, clean looks but this year has been different. They are putting a lot of good defenders on me so I have to take it to the next level. It’s more mental than anything. It took me a little to get used to it.”

This season he became the youngest player in NBA history to record back-to-back games with at least 39 points. He leads the NBA with game-winning shots leaving no time remaining this season. His big night has moved him up to 26th on the NBA leaderboard for scoring.

‘There are beauty points, but it’s been a long season, my teammates keep pushing me, my coaches keep pushing me. We are working together to get wins. I feel like we are making the turn around and that playoff push that we have been trying to make.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Booker is the only player in the NBA this season with multiple quarters scoring at least 27 points and is the first player to do so multiple times in a season since Stephen Curry had two 28-point quarters in 2015-16.

As of March 24th Booker has the highest-scoring game of the season, passing Klay Thompson who put up 60 against the Indiana Pacers in October.

Already taking his game to the next level before his big night, Booker leads the 14th place Suns with 21.6 points per game in just his second NBA season. The spotlight is on Booker to stay.

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV

 

 
 

NBA Phoenix Suns Tyson Chandler and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Raptors Missing Veteran Voice Could Be On The Suns

The Raptors on-court defensive play calling has gone somewhat silent in Toronto this season with the veteran Luis Scola helping out in Brooklyn and backup center Bismack Biyombo anchoring the Magic’s defense and it shows. There’s a lack of proven depth, but that missing veteran voice could be on an imploding Suns team that should be on everyone’s NBA trade deadline radar.

“P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense,” reports Basketball Insiders Michael Scotto.

Suns coach Earl Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”

The 31-year-old Tucker is making trade rumor headlines today, but the Suns will be rebuilding, again, and there are other players that could help a team like Toronto as well.

Everyone knew the Raptors got real young real fast in the event anyone in the rotation was hurt. At the beginning of the year President Masai Ujiri had hung onto prospect Bruno Caboclo, injured sophomore Delon Wright, the very promising sophomore Norman Powell and added three rookies in Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The only “old guys” in Toronto are Kyle Lowry (30) and DeMarre Carroll (30).

The Raptors started out hot, going 22-8 to start the season, and the current 8-12 collapse coincides perfectly with a knee injury to their best big man defender Patrick Patterson who missed 10 of those games and has been hobbled until very recently in his return. Then as Patterson gets his legs back under him, DeMar DeRozan tweaks an ankle and the slide gets worse.

A team that has counted on mediocre defense and unbelievable offense this season has shown they have no one to replace either of these two players for even brief periods. Not even Kyle Lowry putting up +30 points a night can compensate.

It’s not like Ujiri hasn’t been aware of the situation. Reports of him going hard after Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka have been out there since July and right up to now, but the price has been unpalatable for the risk of acquiring a player that could walk away as a free agent in the summer.

Adding another “star player” might not be necessary either. A team that won 56-games last season and was on track to exceed that before Patterson was hurt is more in need of a tweak than a homerun.

The Suns thought they’d be better than this or they wouldn’t have signed the now 34-year-old Tyson Chandler to a 4-year $52 million deal in July 2015, but while that was a big number then, $13 million a year now is nothing special. Tyson has lived up to expectations too. The Suns might suck, but he doesn’t as one the best rebounders in the NBA (4th) collecting 22.9 percent of the available boards (better than Jonas Valanciunas at 8th).

Tyson is a veteran leader, a guiding voice on defense, and someone who has the respect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. If Ujiri could pry the combination of Tucker and Chandler out of Phoenix, his team’s shoddy defense would have received a major upgrade.

However, the Suns aren’t going to part with these players for nothing.

The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders. 

The Raptors have assets the Suns should be interested in, young players, picks and contracts that haven’t fulfilled their promise to make the trade math work. There is a deal to be made here if Ujiri wants to make it and it will almost undoubtedly be less painful than trying to pry Ibaka out of Orlando (although he’ll probably keep trying on that front).

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

Few Options Left For Cavs Free Agent J.R. Smith – But Not None

The Luxury Tax challenged Cleveland Cavaliers left sharp-shooter J.R. Smith hanging out in the breeze until practically every other option was gone last summer and despite General Manager David Griffin assertion that, “I think the good news is J.R. wants to be here and we want J.R. back,” they are doing it again.

The Cavs cheaped out on Smith last summer when they got him back for just $5 million, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has his ring now and this is his last chance a big NBA contract. It’s no wonder the multi-year deal at $10 million per season as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler hasn’t gotten it done.

League sources said that Smith and his camp were not overly concerned about reaching a deal, with a belief that the Cavs have put a multi-year offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood on the table weeks ago. They added that Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage and trying to get a slightly better deal.

Like last year, the issue in Cleveland is with LeBron James new deal, they are already into Luxury Tax territory and signing Smith to a $10-15 million per season deal is going to cost near double that.

If Smith is going to get something close to market value for a veteran three-point shooter with a career average over 42 percent from beyond the arc, he needs to find someone willing to offer more. The bigger issue is his agent has to convince the handful of teams with sufficient salary cap space to make an offer that they aren’t just being used as leverage. Smith has to at least look like he’s willing to jump off the Championship bandwagon to get the payday that will make his career.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Smith’s career earning are “just” $45.5 million. He should at least double that with his next contract.

Possible Destinations

Brooklyn Nets estimated cap space $18.5 million

The Nets need to win games, if for nothing less than to stop Boston from getting another top five lottery pick from them. Boston can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn next June and Boston outright owns the Nets 2018 pick.

Adding a veteran to this thin team would help them win a few more games. Offer J.R. something close to $18 million for one year and watch the Cavs choke on it.

Denver Nuggets estimated cap space $18.4 million

Denver is a team that should be looking to the future and handing the starting shooting guard spot to the 21-year-old Gary Harris, but if they have playoff aspirations/fantasies for this season, then J.R. would take their veteran talent level up a notch.

Minnesota Timberwolves estimated salary cap space $13.3 million

The Timberwolves should believe they are close to being a playoff team. Maybe they are not quite there yet, but their young talent is poised to take another step and a veteran from an NBA Championship team who could play significant minutes off the bench might just be the stabilizing factor that puts them over the top.

Wait – was that J.R. Smith and stabilizing factor used in the same sentence? The Cavs J.R. has not been the Knicks J.R. and he’s over 30-years-old now. If J.R. wants to help a young up-and-coming team get over the hump and play with some very talented future stars … the Cavs might just buy this move and match what the T-wolves could pay before discussions get too serious.

Philadelphia 76ers estimated cap space $30 million

Sure the 76ers could pay J.R. more money than he could turn down, but he wouldn’t be happy here very long and this doesn’t look remotely like a fit.

Phoenix Suns estimated cap space $15 million

The Suns underperformed – again, and their talent level suggests that despite the vast array of very confusing moves by the head office, this team should win a lot more than 23 games.

There would be an issue about where exactly J.R. would fit in this team’s rotation, not that such issues seem to have been much of a deterrent to acquiring players in the recent past.

Utah Jazz estimated cap space $12.5 million

With the additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, this 40 win team is going to be fighting for a playoff spot. J.R. Smith would almost certainly put them in the postseason picture and make an already dangerous looking group that much more ready to challenge the “big boys” in the West.

The Cavs wouldn’t want to lose J.R. to a 4-year $50 million offer, but if they let things play out to save a few bucks off the Luxury Tax bill, it’s a realistic possibility the Jazz could sell the veteran three-point shooter that he’s wanted in Utah.

As LeBron James said when he announced his new deal, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Ball On My Mind is holding a Hold Your Own Showcase & Create Your Own Mixtape Event August 26 – 28, 2016 for high school age basketball players in the greater Toronto area with Chris Hemphill, scout with NC Preps in association with Rivals.com (One of the largest American Scouting Services in the US).
Spaces are limited. Registrations after August 12th will be accepted based on availability.

 

 

 

 


 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

It’s Just The Calm Before The NBA Trade Deadline Storm

Unlike the NHL trade deadline which is typically a day long snooze-fest of calm, in the NBA, a storm is the norm and this year won’t be any different. Huge names like Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are swirling in the trade winds and it won’t surprise anyone if a truly big name player changes teams by Thursday at 3 pm.

Plus, there are a boatload of very good NBA players who will be waiting on a trade deadline phone call as well. A sample of the names being tossed around includes:

  1. Hawks Jeff Teague, Thabo Sefolsha, and everyone else in Atlanta,
  2. Nets Thad Young and unlikely but possible Brook Lopez,
  3. Hornets Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson,
  4. Bulls Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol,
  5. Cavaliers Timofey Mosgov,
  6. Nuggets Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried,
  7. Rockets Ty Lawson,
  8. Pacers George Hill,
  9. Clippers Lance Stephenson,
  10. Lakers Brandon Bass and just about everyone else,
  11. Grizzlies have already traded Courtney Lee,
  12. Heat Chris Anderson traded, Hassan Whiteside available,  plus someone else to get below the luxury tax line
  13. Bucks Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams,
  14. Timberwolves Kevin Martin, plus someone please take Nikola Pekovic
  15. Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson,
  16. Knicks Jose Calderon,
  17. Magic already dumped Tobias Harris’ contract, Channing Frye is still in play,
  18. Suns Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker,
  19. Kings Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufas, Ben McLemore  and more,
  20. Spurs Danny Green (those rumors have to be some kind of joke?),
  21. Raptors Patrick Patterson,
  22. Jazz Trey Burke

It’s getting hard to keep up and it’s about to get worse. Most of the names being bandied about will never come close to being traded, but as past deadlines prove, more than enough big deals will happen to keep trade deadline day very interesting indeed.

Interesting deals that happened last year,

  1. Nets trade Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young
  2. Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee and got Will Barton
  3. Pistons in a multi-team multi-player deal turned Kyle Singler into Reggie Jackson
  4. Heat in a multi-player deal traded two first-round picks for Goran Dragic
  5. Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee.
  6. Thunder turned Reggie Jackson into Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler

It was a wild and woolly NBA trade deadline last year. It’s is going to be just as exciting this time around.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight HowardNBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

For teams that are underachieving, deals motivated by money become a very real possibility. The luxury tax provisions of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement are enough to give any general manager reason to pause. It has to be worth it to pay the tax.

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Markieff Morris

Phoenix Suns Showcase Markieff Morris In Loss To Raptors

Winners of just two of their past 22 games, to say the Phoenix Suns season has been a major disappointment would be a serious understatement. With about two weeks left before the NBA trade deadline, it was well past the time to be looking towards next season. Step one, fire head lame duck coach Jeff Hornachek. Step two, install interim head coach Earl Watson. Step three, immediately showcase Markieff Morris? It was about time.

ESPN reporting Suns general manager Ryan McDonough knows he needs to do something.

McDonough said he knows the talent on the roster needs to be upgraded,

“And we’ll be aggressive doing that over the next couple of weeks up to the trade deadline”

Injuries to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight had already crushed any real hope of salvaging anything this year, but it’s been the on-going saga of an unhappy Morris that seems to have defined everything that’s wrong in Phoenix.

Morris situation has been well documented. Legal troubles, the mental anguish of seeing his twin brother traded to Detroit, poor play leading to a dearth of production, minutes and eventually to flat out DNPs.

Morris wanted – needed – a change of scenery. He knew it, the team appeared to know it, but the accumulated baggage made even Morris’ favorable contract near impossible to move and get anything approaching fair value back. It wasn’t helping that his head coach had made him inactive or nailed to the bench for nearly half of his team’s games since December.

Fortunately Watson doesn’t have to carry this season’s unfortunate relationship between Hornachek and Morris forward. He has a clean slate to try again and let Morris showcase what he can do and it was on full display versus the Raptors on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Morris put up a 30 point, 11 rebound, 6 assist, 1 steal, 2 block effort in 41 minutes and was unstoppable. Easily the best player on the court for Phoenix – no disrespect to the young guards Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin who played great – Morris was a +9 points in a 104-97 loss.

Now that’s how you showcase your talent to a potential trade partner who just might be looking for an upgrade at power forward. It’s worth noting Marcus Morris plays in Detroit which is less than a four hour drive from Toronto – not that a twin brother would be thinking about that kind of thing?

No one believes Phoenix will dump Morris in a bad deal, but the relationship between Morris and his GM probably isn’t repairable, even if the relationship with his new head coach might be okay. If Phoenix can convince another team that Morris’ baggage is manageable, his talent and favorable contract could still produce a deal that would be palatable.

Counting the game against Toronto, the Suns play five good teams heading into the All-Star break in which Morris can showcase his talent and perhaps more importantly prove he’s got his head back on straight after a very rough few months.

There should be no doubt a Morris re-focused on playing basketball could help a playoff team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Should Raptors Trade For Suns Markieff Morris?

Even with Morris on a steal of a contract, teams won’t be tripping over themselves to add a player who spent the last year building a bad reputation for himself. From calling out the home fans to finishing with the second most technicals in the league to the felony aggravated assault charges.

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek

Phoenix Suns Finally Throw In The Towel After Two Months

By Frank McLean

At one time the Phoenix Suns were proud franchise. A team where free agents wanted to go because it always fielded highly competitive teams which were always considered championship contenders on the court. It didn’t hurt that the weather in the winter makes Phoenix a pretty nice place to live as well.

The Suns just are not that good anymore. At 14-35 is was past time for the Phoenix Suns to throw in the towel. They have lost four straight and 14 straight away from Phoenix. Overall they have only two wins in their last 21 games. This is the worst stretch of games the Suns franchise has ever endured.

Sunday night, when they got home from Dallas after losing 91-78 to the Mavericks, General Manager Ryan McDonough fired head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek joins Lionel Hollins in Brooklyn, Kevin McHale in Houston and David Blatt in Cleveland among the recently unemployed NBA head coaching fraternity.

Here is the reason for Hornacek’s dismissal.

Hornacek is a former Suns player from when the franchise was one of the best in the NBA and two years ago he was second in coach-of-the-year voting as the Suns went from a brutal 25-57 record to a solid 48-34 mark in his first year patrolling the sidelines. Phoenix was 39-43 a year ago.

Unfortunately, professional sports is a “what have you done for me lately” business and not a “what have you done in the past” business.

People who watch the Suns on a daily basis say plain and simple this team can’t defend even with Tyson Chandler on their roster. They just plain stink trying to defend, but to play devil’s advocate, there were some things that were not in Hornacek’s control.

The team that dressed for the Suns in his final game on Sunday night was missing four players including three of the Suns top scorers. Included in the list is one of their best players Eric Bledsoe who went down earlier in the year with a season ending knee injury.

In late December ownership fired some of his assistant coaches including his top assistant Mike Longabardi, but Longabardi landed on his feet as Ty Lue’s top assistant coach in Cleveland.

Hornacek did not have much experience helping him on the coaching staff.

He also had a pouting player on his roster in the name of Markieff Morris who has been sulking since the Suns traded his twin brother Marcus away in the off season.

NBA Phoenix Suns Markieff Morris

When you look at what Hornacek was up against, you can see that this was not a recipe for success.

So who takes over? On Monday the Suns are going to interview Corey Gaines, Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgren and will likely choose an interim head coach from the staff. The lucky winner will make his debut Tuesday night when the Suns host the Toronto Raptors.

Whoever gets the Suns job on a fulltime basis over the off season will be walking into a pretty good situation. First, as I said earlier, Phoenix is a great place to live in the winter, you don’t have to shovel snow.

The real reasons are the average age of the roster right now is 26 which puts them in the top-10 for youth in the NBA. They have young promising players in 19-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker and two first round picks in 22- year-old TJ Warren and 21-year-old Archie Goodwin.

Plus the chance of getting better is real because the Suns crummy won-loss record this year should give them one of the top five picks in the draft. They also have a first round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then there’s the potential for up to 30 million dollars in salary cap space if you want to go the free agent route.

So the Suns may have given up for this year, but they do have an opportunity to get better fast and whoever lands the head coaching job on a permanent basis could be stepping into a pretty good situation.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Sonny Weems

Ex-Raptors Series: Suns Sonny Weems Loved Moscow

It doesn’t really seem all that long ago when a young Sonny Weems was flying around the court with the Raptors looking every bit the better of DeMar DeRozan. A fearless driver without much of a jump shot, Weems missed his chance when a wonky back kept him from stealing a starting role in his second season and he was off to greener pastures in Europe the next year.

More than a few superior athletes from this side of the pond have crashed and burned playing international ball. There is no defensive three-second rule and a no blood no foul guideline seems to apply to those reckless enough to drive the lane. Americans looking to succeed in Europe either adapt quickly or get sent home with their tail between their legs.

Surprisingly Weems adapted, discovered a jump shot and became a valued member on one of the top teams in the Euroleague, CSKA Moscow. In four seasons in the Euroleague, the last three with Moscow, Weems averaged 13.4 points on 49.2 percent shooting from two-point range and 36.8 percent from three-point range. Not bad for guy shooting 27.9 percent from three in his last season with the Raptors.

Sonny Weems

Weems credits going overseas with helping him learn the game and grow up as a man.

“It was a learning experience growing as a man,” Weems told Pro Bball Report. “It helped me learn the game of basketball also. It helped me learn how to play, not just be a full court guy, but learn how to play in the half court. Learn how to read defenses. It was a great experience these four years, it helped me a lot, especially on the basketball court.

“I had too, especially in Europe you have to learn how to shoot the basketball cause no three seconds so you got guys standing – three or four guys – just standing in the lane so you can’t penetrate all the time. You have to learn how to expand your game beyond the mid-range game. You got to shoot the three-ball and that’s what I really exceeded at over there.

“They don’t call fouls over there. They don’t call a lot of fouls and the referees aren’t that good, so that’s the main reason they don’t call a lot of fouls cause they aren’t that good.”

It wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy for anyone coming from North America to adapt to playing overseas. You have to want to adapt, be willing to change to new rules and another style of play. Weems made a point of not fighting it. He was going to fit in.

“You have to be willing to (adapt) when you are over there,” Weems said. “Most guys don’t want to accept that they are over there and that’s the biggest challenge that I had to deal with was accepting that I’m over here, now I have to make the best of it and that’s what separated me from most of the American guys that was over there. I made the best of it. I kind of realized that I was over there, that was my home over there, so that was what really helped me out.”

Weems fit in and was doing well. The pay was good. The team was good. He had a big role. So why come back to be a veteran role player in the NBA?

“Things are changing (in the NBA),” Weems explained. “A new collective bargaining agreement. I can always still go back, Europe is always there for me. I can always go back and play over there, but I wanted to try and finish my career here.

“I feel young. I can still run up and down the floor. I can still move around like I’m 24, 25. I didn’t have a lot of injuries, so my body is feeling great. I kind of see myself as a young guy. Age tells me different (29), but I still feel I play young.

“I think those European days (shorter schedule) they really helped my career out a lot.”

That European option really is open to Weems. He was an impact player in Moscow and he liked it there in the New York of Russia. It wouldn’t take much for him to land another Euroleague job.

“I call it the New York City of Europe and Russia,” Weems explained. “It’s just like New York City, fast-paced, a lot of condo living, traffic, a lot of different cultures, different foods, diversity, it’s just like New York. The city is lite-up. You can find anything you want over there. I actually liked it over there. Sometimes I miss it, but I wouldn’t go back.”

Weems signed a two-year deal as a veteran role player with the Phoenix Suns this past summer, however, the second season isn’t guaranteed until July 11, 2016 which makes him a potential trade asset. With their season unexpectedly imploding, the Suns should be more interested in future oriented assets now.

In limited minutes Weems has been shooting 46.2 percent from three for Phoenix and the 29-year-old just might be the low risk hired gun a playoff bound team might look at to bolster their roster. Maybe even Toronto?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Mirza Teletovic

Suns Mirza Teletovic Has Become A Key Off Season Signing

By Frank McLean

The Phoenix Suns are in a rebuild right now in a very tough Western Conference and stretch-four Mirza Teletovic has become a key part of what this team is trying to do.

Over the summer General Manager Ryan McDonough rebuilt their roster through trades and free agent signings. He acquired forward Jon Leuer from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the rights to Andrew Harrison whom the Suns selected in the 2nd-round of this past June’s draft. In the free agent pool McDonough inked a pair of guards, former Raptor Sonny Weems and Laker Ronnie Price. His other free agent signing was former Brooklyn Nets forward Mirza Teletovic.

Teletovic is as a prolific a three-point shooter as there is in the NBA. And with the Golden State Warriors winning a championship last year based on a type of play that has never met a three-point shot they wouldn’t attempt, you can see teams starting to try to copy them.

Teletovic is an interesting story. Two years ago he was a 39 per cent shooter from behind the arc. Last season he missed the last 39 games of the season with pulmonary embolus (a blood clot) which limited his lungs to just 30 per cent capacity and he took a step back.

Teletovic chose Phoenix over offers from three other teams including the Nets, but what made him choose the Suns was their spread and shoot system which suited his style of play. When Teletovic wanted to sign with the Suns, the Nets did him a favor and removed a $4.3 million qualifying offer to allow him to be an unrestricted free agent. Teletovic signed a 1-year 5.5-million dollar deal with Phoenix.

Sunday night in Toronto, where the Suns started a six-game road trip, Teletovic showed the Suns money they are paying him is well spent. He came off the bench played 18 minutes and was 7-for-9 from the field, 6-for-7 from behind the three-point line for a 20 point night.

After the game, head Suns coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized how important Teletovic is to the team.

NBA Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek

“We feel with our guards, if they can penetrate and find him, it’s a good weapon to have,” Hornacek said. “We need his shooting. He’s a smart player too. He can make passes. We had an out-of-bounds play where we put him in to make the pass. He’s just got a good feel for the game.”

Coming off a serious illness like blood clots Teletovic had a slow start getting his shooting stroke back. But he is red hot now and including Sunday’s game in Toronto he now has 6 double-digit scoring games in the past 9, making 48-percent of his threes over that time. He has hit a three-point basket in 13 straight games after starting the season 1-for-7 on his three-point shots in the first four games.

“When you work hard, the shooting definitely comes back,” Teletovic said after Sunday’s game. “But if there’s one thing about shooting that I’ve learned: Some nights you’re going to miss, some nights you’re going to make, but good shooters work hard and try to have as much of a consistent shot as they can have.”

Tuesday night Teletovic returned to Brooklyn to see his old mates and poured in 4 three-pointers on 9 attempts to score a dozen points, but when you ask him he has no hard feelings towards the Nets.

“I’m in very good relations with everybody there,” Teletovic said of the Nets. “I talk a lot to everybody. Good people. The NBA is business. I understand that is the way it is.”

If Teletovic can stay healthy and with his three-point shot back, the Suns are happy to have him. And with three-point shooters at a premium in the NBA now, Teletovic may be the key to the Suns getting a playoff spot in the spring.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Markieff Morris

Should Raptors Trade For Suns Markieff Morris?

It’s been an open secret for a while now, the Suns would like to trade power forward Markieff Morris and since his brother Marcus was shipped off to Detroit, Markieff has done little to hide that the feeling is mutual. In Toronto there has been a certain amount of anxiety in the local fan base since last year’s starting power forward Amir Johnson signed with Boston and the thought of acquiring the Suns starter seems to ease the fear, but should the Raptors make a trade to fill the imagined hole in their starting lineup?

Valley of the Suns Gerald Bourguet confirms the rift between Morris and the Suns, but he also describes just how difficult it would be to trade Morris at this time.

Even with Morris on a steal of a contract, teams won’t be tripping over themselves to add a player who spent the last year building a bad reputation for himself. From calling out the home fans to finishing with the second most technicals in the league to the felony aggravated assault charges.

Those words alone should give any general manager on a good team or a team full of young players pause, however, that “steal of a contract” is real. Morris is signed for the next four years at just $8 million per season.

Morris’ scoring and rebounding has improved in each of his first four seasons and last year he started all 82 games and averaged 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 31.5 minutes. He takes about 2 three-point shots per game and hits on 32 percent of them. He has grabbed about 12 percent of the available boards over his career and his usage rate is high, over 23 percent in each of the past two seasons. Morris is considered a decent defensive player as well. The biggest caveats on his offensive production are the Suns play at the third fastest pace in the Association and he gets a lot of touches on offense.

As the Raptors recent success has been built as much with team chemistry as raw talent, avoiding the addition of a player who appears to be putting self above team should be the obvious move – full stop. However, for those who have forgotten or don’t know what Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson bring to the table, adding a talent like Morris doesn’t look like much of an improvement and his reputation as a locker room problem should sink any remaining thoughts about trading for him.

which makes (Morris) the last remaining locker room problem on a team that needs to find some sort of stability and chemistry after discord became Phoenix’s undoing last year.

One of the Raptors goals this off season was to add rebounding and Scola led the Pacers by grabbing 17.5 percent of the available boards last year. That’s dramatically better than anything Morris or Patterson has ever come close to and one of the big reasons Scola is in Toronto.

The now 35-year-old Scola has always accepted his role. On his National team, he is a big time scorer as that’s what Argentina needs from him. In the NBA his focus has been on defense and rebounding, but don’t think for a minute that Scola can’t put the ball in the bucket. The Raptors can run offense through Scola successfully when needed.

Patterson is set to compete with Scola for the starting power forward role in Toronto, although Scola looks like the better fit and Patterson has excelled coming off the bench. Head-to-head with Morris, Patterson is a true ‘3-and-D’ stretch-four shooting better than 37 percent from deep where Morris is a four who can put up a couple of threes a game but really isn’t a threat.

Last year Patterson’s stats were a victim of the isolation heavy offense ran to take advantage of Lou Williams ability to beat up on second unit guards, but he still averaged 8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 26.6 minutes with a career low utilization rate of just 13.1 percent. Patterson saw the ball about half as often as Morris last year, so the difference in offensive ability isn’t what it seems.

Part of the rationale for any acquisition has to consider a player’s fit on the team. Neither Scola nor Patterson need to see the ball a lot to contribute, but becoming a low utilization guy would represent a big adjustment for Morris. Throw in all that extra baggage Morris is currently dragging around with him and the risks simply don’t justify the potential benefits for Toronto.

Even with his outstanding issues, Morris is still a player that should generate some trade buzz. He is young, talented and that contract really is a bargain. It might take a while to get a deal done, but once things settle down, his highest value may remain right where he is now. As Bourguet says,

With a starting lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler, the Suns would have a strong starting five with decent depth behind them. Even in the West, that’s a team capable of making the playoffs.

Besides, it will be a lot easier for the Suns to trade Morris if he is helping to put them in or even near the playoff picture and all of that other stuff is fading away.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Luis Scola faces leftWhy Don’t Raptors Fans Know Luis Scola Better?
What really stands out from last season was Scola’s outstanding effort to grab 25.7 percent of the available defensive rebounds. Now that’s something the Toronto Raptors have been missing in the worst way.

 

 

 

Ennis Plumlee Tucker

Could The Suns And Raptors Make An Under-The-Radar Deal?

The Phoenix Suns have watched their hold on eighth place in the Western Conference dwindle to just half a game as they’ve skidded into the All-Star break and the rising Thunder, with a game in hand and two superstar players, have done what most everyone expected and started to lay claim to that playoff spot.

The Suns are going to have trouble convincing anyone – including themselves – that this group of players can continue to challenge for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference unless one of the top eight teams has some season-ending bad luck. It’s time to rethink things, keep what works and grab some assets that could change the future.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports,

the Suns’ first choice is believed to be pursuing other trades that balance out their guard- and wing-heavy roster and re-establish Dragic as more of an offensive focal point.

“We’ll be initiating calls to every team, and taking the temperature of what’s out there and what’s available and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we do something between now and next Thursday,” Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said.

Phoenix Suns Media DayThe guard heavy roster of the Suns is an issue, but it is not an issue that’s easy to deal with via trade. Soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic is the face-of-the-franchise and the team’s best player. Eric Bledsoe just signed an expensive long term deal and Isaiah Thomas’ contract is okay, but he’s 5’9. The Suns can’t expect to get much value for Dragic and they’d be better off re-signing him in the summer. Bledsoe isn’t going anywhere and Thomas, an undersized backup point guard, isn’t very likely to bring back a big (or anyone else) that’s better than what the Suns have in their rotation right now.

It’s time for another under the radar move in Phoenix that no one expects.

As Bright Side of The Sun’s Sean Sullivan says,

The only players who can’t be traded at the moment are Brandan Wright and Reggie Bullock. Almost everyone else is likely fair game to be traded, including talented youngsters such as Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, and Tyler Ennis.

The Suns have said on numerous occasions that what they won’t do, is sacrifice the future for short-term goals. If that means missing the playoffs this year to continue building a team who can legitimately contend for the playoffs in the near future, then so be it.

In Toronto, the 36-17 Raptors hold a 2.5 game lead over the Bulls for second place in the Eastern Conference that the talking heads at NBA TV, TNT and ESPN don’t believe (rather they, in their very biased opinions, seem to hope) won’t stand up. Their wishful thinking has Toronto falling to fourth place by the time the season ends.

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri says his Blackberry is on, but the Raptors are not expected to make a home run trade as they should easily win 50 games this season for the first time in franchise history. However, the East is wide open and the difference between an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and a first or second round playoff exit is razor thin. If there was ever a time for Ujiri to make a tweak to his roster, this is it.

Phoenix Suns Media DayNot getting much mention in Phoenix, but someone that would meet an immediate need in Toronto is small forward P.J. Tucker. Tucker will be 30 in May and signed a 3-year $16.5 million extension in the summer just before pleading guilty to a super extreme DUI charge that resulted in three days in jail, 11 days home detention and probation for up to five years as reported by CBC Sports. He was also suspended three games by the league. Tucker was coming off a breakout season with the Suns, but this year his stats are down across the board and from an outside perspective he is basically in the way of Marcus Morris’ continuing development.

So why would Toronto be interested? Tucker is a ‘3-and-D’ wing. A 6’5 college power forward originally drafted in the second round by the Raptors, Tucker spent five years in Europe learning how to play on the wing and became a ‘find’ for the Suns when they took a chance on him in 2012. This year his minutes and his shots are down, but he still plays tough defense, rebounds well and can stretch the floor. He looks like a Coach Casey type player and does what the Raptors wish Terrence Ross was doing, but without the upside of a young player. Also, the third year of Tucker’s contract is only partially guaranteed, so acquiring Tucker is really only a commitment for this year and next.

What should get the Suns interest is Ross. As a young player with another year left on his rookie deal, Ross has the potential on the wing neither Gerald Green, who will be a free agent in July, nor Tucker bring. His highly successful appearances in the NBA Slam Dunk competition confirm his athleticism plus his solid high volume three-point shooting and defensive potential have made Ross the athlete Ujiri supposedly won’t trade, but maybe he should – in the right deal.

The Suns say they are searching for some depth at the four/five spots, but with Alex Len, Brandan Wright and Markieff Morris destined to use up most of the minutes, they need young players with upside to develop. It is often suggested that the Raptors could use a rebounding defensive center, but the most obvious hole in their roster since before the season started has been a young third string point guard to develop.

A straight-up Tucker for Ross trade doesn’t work on several fronts. First, the salaries aren’t a match and second, Ross should bring more in a trade. If the Suns included the rookie Ennis, Ujiri would likely bend over backwards to make a deal. Ennis was the player Toronto desperately wanted to draft in June and if the Suns didn’t take him two spots ahead of Toronto with what they had planned except with the idea of trading him at some point, the selection makes little sense.

No deal is ever easy to make, however, the Raptors do have a wealth of trade grease to work with if the Suns are willing to part with the additional player or players (Ennis and Miles Plumlee maybe) that would get Ujiri’s attention. The Suns just have to decide if they are really looking for help with an increasingly unlikely playoff drive or if they want the young talent, expiring contracts and prospect big men or draft picks that could help them build for next year.

There is a deal in here somewhere that could help both teams.

 

 
Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

PHX_Plumlee_Miles

Is The Suns Miles Plumlee The Raptors Rebounding Answer?

Lost in the news of their current slump, the Toronto Raptors are still looking for answers to better their mediocre rebounding situation and the Phoenix Suns have just started actively shopping their 7′ backup center Miles Plumlee.  Plumlee isn’t a game-changing player, but the price may be right and he could be the kind of backup center President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri should be looking for.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports,

The Phoenix Suns are actively shopping big man Miles Plumlee in advance of the Feb. 19 trade deadline

The Suns are believed to be seeking at least one future first-round pick for the 26-year-old

Plumlee was drafted 26th overall out of Duke University as a senior by Indiana in 2012 and traded to the Suns in 2013.  He was a slow-developing college player and got off to a slow start in the NBA, however, he measured 6′ 11.75″ at the NBA Draft Combine and had a 40.5″ maximum vertical.  He’s mobile, runs the floor well and this season, he is finally starting to finish plays more than three feet away from the basket at a respectable rate.

The 26-year-old Miles may be the lessor known of the two Plumlee brothers in the NBA as the younger Mason Plumlee is starting with the Nets, but he has been solid rebounder since his rookie season on a per minute basis. He averaged 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 24.6 minutes last year and has grabbed 22.8 percent of the available defensive rebounds in his 2-plus NBA seasons.

The Suns recently acquired Brandan Wright from Boston which bumped Plumlee to third string on their depth chart and they would undoubtedly like to get back a 2015 first round draft pick to replace the one sent to the Celtics.

As Plumlee is only making $1.17 million, the Raptors could send back Greg Stiemsma ($0.98 million) and their own 2015  or 2016 (lottery protected) first round draft pick.

In his 4 games against the Raptors, Plumlee has averaged 7.3 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes.

Toronto has often shown the ill-effects of not having another 7-footer that Casey is comfortable putting into the game and Ujiri is known for liking young, developing, mobile big men.  This looks like a deal the Raptors should be pursuing aggressively.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Chandler Harris YoungPro Bball Report Week in Review 01/18/15

On Pro Bball Report last week: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas DeMar DeRozan and Kobe Bryant All-Star discussions, Lou Williams struggling, James Johnson gets serious, Celtics and Cavaliers set trade market prices, the availability of Tobias Harris, Wilson Chandler and Thaddeus Young, Knicks Quincy Acy shines, Elijah Millsap signs, Larry Sanders walking away, Raptors NBA Player-of-the-Month, the Hawks dominate and more.

 

 

Bledsoe Thomas Lowry Valanciunas

Valanciunas Has A Career Best As Raptors Go 4-0 Vs NBA West

The Phoenix Suns were 5-1 against the Eastern Conference as they brought their high-tempo three-point firing offense to Toronto on Monday night to face the best the East has to offer this season. The Raptors were 11-2, especially tough at home and hadn’t lost to a Western Conference team in this young season, but they were about to be severely tested.

The Suns are one the NBA’s top three-point shooting teams, but they are middle-of-pack when it comes to getting to the free throw line. The Raptors are top three in free throw attempts, but middle-of-pack when shooting from deep. The Suns are a top 4 team for pace, while the Raptors are 11th and this game was played with both teams trying to go to their strengths.

Toronto turned to center Jonas Valanciunas early and often and the 7-footer proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Suns, drawing fouls, hitting free throws and dominating in the paint. Valanciunas scored a career high 27 points to go with his 11 rebounds.

It was a close game that Toronto seemed to control in the first half as they took a 54-48 lead into the break. In the third quarter, the Raptors took over defensively, holding the Suns to just 18 points and building a 17 point advantage, but no lead is safe versus the Suns.

“We made a comeback,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “The guys just made some bad plays. I thought we gambled a little too much towards the end. When you are making a big comeback from 17 down, you can’t have many errors.”

The Suns went 7-10 from three-point range in the fourth quarter and Valanciunas only played 3.5 minutes as Head Coach Dwane Casey struggled to find a lineup that could get out to the three-point line in time to contest the five shooters Hornacek utilized to stage his team’s attack. Where the Raptors had done a superior job of reining in the Suns three-point threat for the first three-quarters, the Suns were able to score 34 points in the fourth once they got the Raptors back on their heels.

The game was decided in the final couple of minutes as the heart and hustle of Kyle Lowry was on full display. Lowry shot 1-5 in the quarter, but he made the layup that put the Raptors up 98-95 with 2:09 left in the game. Then with 23 seconds left, it was Lowry who tackled Isaiah Thomas, tied up the ball and won the jump-ball that put this game out of reach. The final score was 104-100 Toronto.

Lowry finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals and a block. DeRozan scored 23 points and got to the free throw line 13 times. Player-of-the-Week Lou Williams scored 17 points. Valanciunas’ 27 points was the game-high as he shot 10-11 from the field and 7-8 from the charity stripe.

Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 25 points on 8-16 shooting from the field and Markieff Morris had 17 points and 8 rebounds. However, it was the Suns bench that turned this into a close game. Thomas shot 4-6 from three to score 16 points, hitting all 4 of his three-pointers over the final 12 minutes. Gerald Green had 13 points and P.J. Tucker was 3-4 from deep for 11 points.

The Suns finished with 14-33 from three-point range. The Raptors made up for it going 26-32 from the free throw line. Each team playing to their strengths.

With the win the Raptors remained undefeated against the Western Conference with a record of 4-0 (12-2 overall). They will be tested by the West again when Dallas visits on Friday followed by a three-game Western Conference road trip against the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

DeRozan Lowry Randolph GasolNBA Dominance Rankings

Who is the top dog in the NBA these days? Pro Bball Report takes the subjective out of ranking NBA teams to determine who has been the most dominant to-date.

 

 

Williams and CousinsRaptors Williams And Kings Cousins Named NBA Players Of The Week

The NBA has announced that the Toronto Raptors Lou Williams and the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week.

 

 

TOR_Williams_LouRaptors Lou Williams Impresses Coach Casey With Defense

“Most of all I’m impressed with Lou (Williams) defense,” Casey said. “He has a reputation of being a scorer, but now he’s doing a much better job defensively for us which allows him to stay in and guard guys like Waiters and Irving and people like that.”

 

 

Harden and Lillard

Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

The West remains a tough place to be an okay team with flaws heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and a supposedly good team is likely to be on the outside looking in again this year.

The biggest impact will come from teams that missed the playoffs last year getting better and winning more games. Unless some significant upgrades have been made over the summer, most of playoff teams in the West will win fewer games and at least a couple of them are going to be severely disappointed.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
 

Ranking The Middle

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Projected 50-32, last season 54-28
POR Batum and Lillard
Portland exceeded expectations last season and have staked a claim on a playoff spot for the foreseeable future. However, this team is built around their starting five playing huge minutes with little to no room for anything to go wrong.

The additions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should permit the Trail Blazers to maintain last season’s success, but that won’t be enough to win as many games as last year.
 

7. Memphis Grizzlies – Projected 49-33, last season 50-32

MEM Carter and Randolph

It took awhile for the Grizzlies to adjust to new Head Coach Dave Joerger last season, but eventually they became the same tough-minded defensive team that Lionel Hollins ran.

Vince Carter is an upgrade over Mike Miller and will give Memphis an offensive boost off the bench, but no one should be expecting any surprises from this group. The team isn’t build for the long term, but the Grizzlies should be able to hold their own in the West once again and be a tough out in the playoffs.
 

The Fight For Eighth

 

8. Denver Nuggets – Projected 46-36, last season, 36-46
Arron Afflalo Orlando Magic Media Day
After a record setting 57-win season in 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray last year. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer left in free agency. Danilo Gallinari missed the entire season. JaVale McGee only played 5 games and the Nuggets were hit by bad news all year.

This is Head Coach Brian Shaw’s second kick at the can and he should have all of his injured players back. Plus the addition of Arron Afflalo is a big boost to this lineup. Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov is a very solid starting five and if everyone can stay healthy, a bench featuring Danilo Gallinari, McGee, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye – who can all start if necessary – will make the Nuggets a tough team to play.

The battle for the final playoff spot in the West is going to be brutal once again. Any one of Houston, Phoenix or New Orleans has a solid shot of making the postseason. An injury here or there and everything changes.
 
9. Houston Rockets – Projected 46-36, last season 54-28
HOU Howard and Harden
The Rockets bet it all on acquiring a big name free agent to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden and when the smoke cleared, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin were gone and all Head Coach Kevin McHale had to replace them was Trevor Ariza.

The Rockets have a great one-two punch in Harden and Howard, but they are almost punchless after that. Joey Dorsey is a nice guy that can rebound as an undersized third string center, but isn’t much of a replacement for Asik. Lin and Parsons were the Rockets third scoring options and saved numerous games last season. There are no obvious replacements for what they brought on this roster.

Maybe someone steps up to fill the craters left by the Rockets loses, but at this point, it looks like there could be no joy in Houston this season.
 
10. Phoenix Suns – Projected 45-37, last season 48-34
Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day
The Phoenix Suns were a run-you-out-of-the-gym team last season and assuming some kind of a deal to bring back Eric Bledsoe gets done eventually, they’ll be just as dangerous and just as much fun to watch.

Unfortunately, in the tough and improving middle section of the Western Conference, holding steady means losing ground and the loss of free agent Channing Frye didn’t help the Suns prospects.
 

Risks and Obstacles

 
Anyone in the middle of the pack could be a playoff team in the West if the breaks go their way and the Rockets, Suns and Pelicans should all believe that last spot belongs to them. However, the risks in this group of teams are substantial. Players returning from injury, significant roster changes and noses out-of-joint after a rough summer will make claiming one of the final spots an adventure this season.
 

Who do you think takes 6, 7and 8 in the NBA Western Conference and makes the playoffs? Will one of these teams give up and embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams.
Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Warriors and Mavericks

 

Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day

Timberwolves Looking To Offer Eric Bledsoe The Max

In an interesting development, the Phoenix Suns restricted free agent point guard Eric Bledsoe is being courted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bledsoe has been holding out for a max deal that the Suns have justifiably been reluctant to offer, however, Fox 10 News Phoenix Sports Anchor Jude LaCava’s sources say a deal is in the works.

As Minnesota does not have the salary cap space to make a max offer to Bledsoe outright, a sign-and-trade would have to be worked out with Phoenix. Timberwolves reporter Jerry Zgoda for the Star Tribune days he hasn’t heard any indication about how a deal might go down.

As the Timberwolves already have Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea and Mo Williams under contract, a sign and trade involving one of their point guards would make sense if Phoenix is interested.

Bledsoe has been hanging around in free agency all summer looking to get the deal he wants and with 10 days to go before training camps open, there appears to be some serious interest at his price.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Phoenix Suns Media Day

Suns Goran Dragic Leads Slovenia Past Unbeaten Lithuania

The Phoenix Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic led Slovenia past this summer’s unbeaten Lithuania 74-72 in a game that came down to big plays and mistakes at the end. This was the second meeting of these two teams in a week and in Lithuania’s 80-76 win on Monday, Slovenia gave Goran Dragic the day off to rest and this time, the Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play for Lithuania.

On Monday, Slovenia got off to 44-36 halftime lead, but Valanciunas and the FIBA veteran Paulius Jankunas wrested control back in the second half to steal the victory. Dragic wasn’t missed as much as might have been expected as everyone on Slovenia shared the ball and they had 5 more assists than Lithuania. The veteran Miha Zupan led Slovenia with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range. Valanciunas and Jankunas had 14 points each.

On Saturday, Lithuania got off to another slow start, trailing 42-35 at the half, however, this time they didn’t have the firepower to get all the way back. Veteran wing Domen Lorbek led Slovenia with 18 points and Dragic and 10 points and 4 assists. Mantas Kalnietis, Darjušas Lavrinovičius, and the Rockets Donatas Motiejunas had 15 points each for Lithuania.

Playing catch-up all day, Kalnietis scored a layup with 2.5 minutes left to pull Lithuania to within three points and on the next play, he drilled the three-pointer to tie the game at 71. Lithuania had their chances to take the lead, but Dragic picked off a bad pass from Motiejunas and fed Klobucar for the game-winning three-point basket with 55 seconds left.

With 40 seconds to go, Kalnietis went to line for two shots on what would have been an and-one opportunity in the NBA and split a pair and then Motiejunas missed the potential game-tying layup with 6 seconds remaining to end the game.

Slovenia and Lithuania will meet again in Group D at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. If you suspect their respective head coaches have held something back during the past two meetings, you would be on solid ground.
Lithuania v Slovenia 08-23-14

Lithuania plays in their final friendly match on Tuesday against Croatia.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

PHX Dragic and Green

Phoenix Suns Win A Shootout With Raptors In Toronto

The surest formula for success against the Toronto Raptors this season has been to get this young team into a shootout and the Phoenix Suns were more than happy to oblige on Sunday afternoon in Toronto and ran to a 121-113 victory.

One of the NBA’s highest scoring teams, Phoenix has shooters and they love to run.  It’s a fun style to play and when the Raptors get sucked into one of these games, it doesn’t turn out well for Toronto.  The Raptors are 0-11 when giving up 110 or more points this season.

A fast-paced style of play is enticing and the Raptors have the offensive talent to almost keep up, but in the West, there are 10 teams that average over 103 points per game and in the East, there’s just 1.  The Raptors are just not used to playing like this.  10 times they have given up over 110 points to Western Conference games and they have lost every game.  When Toronto holds a team from the West under 110 points, they are 14-3.  The Suns knew what they were doing.

They are one of the fastest teams in the league,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey.  “I don’t think we are going to see that type of speed and quickness – at least I hope not – the rest of the way.”

The Suns pushed the score to 37-35 in the first quarter and the Raptors were happy to follow, it’s fun to play when the buckets are coming easily and the Suns had them.  The Raptors shot 49.4 percent from the field and it was all fool’s gold.

Phoenix was full measure for effort in this game.  They came out flying and dominated a very good rebounding Raptors team on the glass with their speed 45-26.  What was particularly painful for the Raptors players was an unfriendly whistle that rewarded Phoenix for their aggressiveness at one end while sticking the Raptors with a series of rather blatant no calls that cost Toronto points.

In the middle of the third quarter, Amir Johnson was hacked from both sides for a turnover after being feed the ball in the post and a few plays later, DeMar DeRozan gets hacked across both his arms by P.J. Tucker and lost the ball out of bounds as he drove to the basket.  At that point Casey drew the technical foul and DeRozan picked up his own tech a few seconds later.

The Raptors were not experiencing the same benefit of the doubt at the other end of the court.  The Suns enjoyed a 38 to 25 free throw advantage in a game in which they played very physical defense throughout.

Phoenix also shot the ball extremely well.  “They shot the lights out,” Casey said.  “We shot 49 percent, they shot 50 percent, again I thought the difference was the speed.”

Gerald Green led his team with 28 points off the bench including 13 big fourth quarter points to keep the Suns in front.  The Morris twins were uncontrollable with 26 points and 17 rebounds combined.  The Suns starters were led by Goran Dragic with 19 points and Eric Bledsoe with 14 points.

Toronto kept fighting back in this game, but they missed their first 8 shots of the second quarter to allow the Suns to take a 46-37 lead and they were reduced to playing catch up the rest of the game.

The Raptors were led by 28 points and 13 assists from Kyle Lowry who attempted to put Toronto on his back with 26 second half points.  Terrence Ross finished with 22 points, Johnson with 20 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and DeRozan had 17 points as the Raptors starters outscored the Suns starters 102-62, but no one on Toronto’s bench had more than 3 points as they collectively shot just 4-14.

Phoenix finishes their short Eastern Conference road trip in Brooklyn on Monday.

Toronto plays a back-to-back on the road starting Tuesday in Atlanta and finishing Wednesday in New Orleans.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Check out:

Behind The Scenes – Covering The Toronto Raptors
Local celebrity interviewer Vernon Chang reached out to Pro Bball Report’s Stephen Brotherston to be his initial guest on the TorontoPath live video podcast’s inaugural show to talk Raptors basketball.  Chang has interviewed many Raptors players at charity events over the years, but what fascinates this superfan the most is what happens behind the scenes and in the locker rooms before and after the games.

PHX Bledsoe and Dragic

Can The Raptors Handle The Fading Suns?

At the All-Star break, the Phoenix Suns were 30-21 and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was often mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate with good cause.  The Suns were supposed to be a lottery team and they have looked like anything but that this season.  After a bad start, the Raptors were 28-24 at the break and heading into a much easier part of their schedule.  It was Head Coach Dwane Casey’s turn to get noticed as an over performer, but just maybe these two completely different teams with almost identical records are not really all that far apart.

Behind the insane breakout season of Goran Dragic and his team leading 20.6 points per game, the Suns are among the top scoring teams in the NBA.  They give up points at a high rate as well, but they have been surprising the best in the West and only recently slipped to ninth place at 37-28.  Since the All-Star break, the Suns have gone 7-7 beating the Spurs and the Thunder, but losing to the lowly Jazz and Cavaliers.  The Suns are in playoff trouble of their own making.

Eric Bledsoe returned to the lineup and came off the bench in the recent loss to the Cavaliers and he started in Friday’s win over the Celtics.  Bledsoe is the Suns second leading scorer this season and the two point guard lineup is what got these surprising Suns off to such a good start early in the season.

The Raptors continue to drive down their fourth best in the league opponent’s points allowed rating using Casey’s defensive schemes.  Toronto is 9-3 since the All-Star break and has only given up over 100 points twice.  Through much of the season, the best way to beat the Raptors has been to get them into the free-flowing, high-scoring game that the Suns love to play.  Part of the Raptors problems this season is they have scorers and can put up points, but this team is much better playing a disciplined defensive-minded game that takes advantage of their opponents’ mistakes than by trying to outscore anyone.

Casey has his own two point guard lineup that he has used to good effect this season.  The 6’6 Greivis Vasquez can take over the ball handling duties and allow Kyle Lowry to become a deadly offensive threat off the ball.  Lowry has played off the ball going back to college and in two point guard lineups in the NBA before, so he is very comfortable in the role.  Vasquez just wants to play more and it seems, the more he plays, the better he gets.  However, Terrence Ross has become a defensive weapon for the Raptors on annoying point guards that have been giving the Raptors problems.  If Ross is on his game defensively, it can be hard for Casey to take him off the floor.

This will be the classic offense versus defense matchup in Toronto on Sunday.  If the Raptors stick to what they do best and control the tempo and flow of this game, it should result in another home victory.  If the Suns set the pace, it will be hard for the Raptors to score enough points to match them.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

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Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross Is Blossoming On Defense
“I have always been a defensive-minded player and I think the more I got to play the more it showed,” Ross said.  “Once you get confidence, you play at a different level, so I try to maintain my confidence, go out a play with the opportunity (Casey) is providing me.”

NBA Players of the Week: Raptors Lowry and Suns Dragic

NBA Press Release:

The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Jan. 27, through Sunday, Feb. 2.

TOR_Lowry_KyleKyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Jan. 27 @ Brooklyn: 31 points, 7 assists and 5 steals in a 104-103 win.
Jan. 29 vs. Orlando: 33 points, 11 assists in a 98-83 victory.
Jan 31 @ Denver: 13 points, 6 assists and 2 steals in a 100-90 win.
Feb. 1 @ Portland: 23 points, 8 assists and 2 steals in a 106-103 loss.

In leading the Raptors to a 3-1 week, Lowry ranked fourth in the conference in scoring (25.0 ppg), second in assists (8.0 apg) and ninth in steals (2.3 spg).  Lowry topped 30 points points in consecutive games for the first time in his career (Jan. 27-29), including a season-high 33 in a 98-83 win over the Orlando Magic last Wednesday.  He made 16 three-point field goals on the week.

Phoenix Suns Media Day
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

Jan. 27 @Philadelphia: 24 points, 7 assists and 3 steals in a 124-113 win.
Jan. 29 @ Milwaukee: 30 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds in a 126-117 win.
Jan. 30 @ Indiana: 28 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds in a 102-94 victory.
Feb. 1 vs. Charlotte: 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in a 105-95 win.

Ranking seventh in the conference in scoring (26.8 ppg) and tied for eighth in assists (6.0 apg), Dragic led the Suns to a 4-0 record, with three victories coming on the road.  For the week, Dragic had the sixth-highest field goal percentage in the West (.639), including the second-highest percentage from distance (.692).  He scored at least 20 points in all four contests, including a game-high 28 points in a 112-94 win at Indiana on Jan. 30, to give Suns season-sweep of the Pacers.

Other nominees for the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Charlotte’s Al Jefferson, Houston’s Jeremy Lin, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Memphis’ Zach Randolph, Miami’s LeBron James, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Washington’s John Wall.

Phoenix Suns Media Day

Raptors Play At Suns Game And Lose 106-97

The Toronto Raptors went into Phoenix on a 4 game losing streak needing to impose their will and style of play, but it was the hard-driving fast-breaking Suns that set the tone in this game and they rode it to a 106-97 victory.

The Suns started Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.  Toronto started Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Tyler Hansbrough and Jonas Valanciunas.

The Suns started fast and the Raptors looked like they were caught completely off guard – obviously forgetting to read their scouting reports.  It was 10-2 when Head Coach Dwane Casey called a timeout to remind the Raptors that the game had indeed started on time and it would nice if they would show up.

Toronto’s response out of the timeout was dramatic.  A 12-4 run that tied the game, but the Raptors were now playing the Suns style, fast and loose with far too much speed and far too many scoring chances.

PHX_Plumlee_MilesThe Suns were also out working the Raptors on the inside.  Second year center Miles Plumlee took advantage of Jonas Valanciunas for 8 first quarter points, third year power forward Markieff Morris scored 11 points and the Suns out rebounded the Raptors 12-7.

TOR_Fields_LandryThe quarter ended in a 27 all tie, but none of what happened in the opening quarter was good news for Toronto.  The Raptors turn-a-round started after Landry Fields subbed in for Gay, who left early with 2 personal fouls, and Amir Johnson was subbed in for Hansbrough, who left after 3 minutes with a sprained shoulder and didn’t return.  Johnson lead the Raptors with 7 points in the quarter.

TOR_Stone_JulyanTo start the second quarter, Casey subbed in Julyan Stone and kept his new backup point guard on the court for the entire quarter.  He also kept Johnson in the game to start and brought back Gay so he would have a little more experience on the court.  Even though the pace remained higher than Toronto would usually be comfortable with, the Raptors kept up, leading by 7 points after 6.5 minutes, but they couldn’t hold the lead and the Suns ended the quarter up 52-50.

Johnson continued to lead the Raptors with 11 points.  Valanciunas and Gay had 9 points and 5 rebounds each.  Morris increased his point total to 15 and the Suns continued to control the glass, up 24-17 at the half.

Phoenix just kept coming in the third quarter as this game was being played at their pace and the Raptors slowly fell back by as much as 12 points late in the third quarter.  A late Lowry three-pointer and a buzzer-beating put back by Valanciunas closed the gap to 7 points, 81-74 after three quarters.

The Suns built the lead back to 12 points before the Raptors scored in the fourth quarter and then maintained a comfortable double-digit lead until the Raptors finally made an 8-0 run with 4.4 minutes left.  The run ended on a Bledsoe three-pointer that took the lead back to 100-91 with 1:46 left and the Raptors never got any closer than 6 points.

Morris made his first 11 shots on route to a 25 point 11 rebound double-double off the bench.  Former Raptors forward P.J. Tucker had 18 points and a career high 13 rebounds.  The Suns dominated the Raptors on the glass 53-36.

TOR_Johnson_AmirThe Raptors were led by Johnson who had a season high 22 points off the bench.  Gay had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Valanciunas had 11 points and 10 rebounds.  Toronto looked gassed by the end of the first half, especially Valanciunas who struggled with Plumlee early, but struggled even more with the pace.  DeRozan, who had been shooting well coming into this contest, shot 5-15 for 13 points.

The Raptors visit the Lakers on Sunday in Kobe Bryant’s scheduled return and then return home to play the Spurs on Tuesday and the 76ers on Friday.

The Suns visit the Lakers on Tuesday before returning home to play the Kings on Friday.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day

Raptors (6-11) at Suns (10-9): Pregame Report

Now 6-11, the Raptors had a 27 point lead over the Warriors on Tuesday and still managed to find a way to lose.  That’s 4 in a row and Toronto has a dressing room that has been showing signs of second guessing themselves recently.

The wildly inconsistent Suns somehow managed to beat the short-handed Rockets on Wednesday to improve their record to 10-9, but that was after losing to the deliberately tanking Utah Jazz at home in Phoenix on Saturday and losing to the Grizzlies on Tuesday.  What will happen in Friday night’s game with Toronto is anyone’s guess.

The Suns are overachieving.  The Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, are enjoying a strong season playing for the same team.  The 2 point guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic seems to be working out.  Bledsoe leading the team in scoring at 18.8 points and second in assists at 5.9 while Dragic leads in assists at 6.7 and is second in scoring at 17.9.  Channing Frye has returned to the lineup after missing all of last season with an enlarged heart and has been effective as he has ever been as the team’s stretch 4/5.

Phoenix is averaging 100.9 points per game and giving up 99.6.  The Suns have taken the second most three-point attempts in the NBA as almost 1-in-3 of their shots are from deep and they hit a reasonable 36.5 percent of them.  The problems have been on defense.  They have given up more than 105 points in 4 of their past 6 games and they have only won 1 of those games.

After getting to with 1 game of .500, Toronto has played some very good teams very well for stretches, but they have been as wildly inconsistent within games as the Suns have been game-to-game.  Outstanding quarters and halves have been matched by absolutely brutal play in the same contest.

TOR_DeRozan_DeMar“We have to play a whole game.  No matter if we are up by 50 points with 2 minutes left, we have to finish off games strong,” DeMar DeRozan said.

DeRozan leads the Raptors with 21.8 points per game.  Rudy Gay is averaging 19.6 points and filling the stats sheet, but he is having the worse shooting year of his career and has been very frustrated.  The Raptors second year players, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, are improving, but not in a straight line and that adds to some of the team’s inconsistencies.

The Raptors are scoring 97.3 points and giving up 98.2 points on average, but those numbers are a long ways off from earlier in the season.  In their first 7 games, Toronto held opponents to just 93.9 points and held the rebounding edge in every game.  Since then, they have been giving up over 100 points per game on average and only winning the rebounding battle about half the time.  Head Coach Dwane Casey needs to figure out what has happened to his team’s vanishing defense and effort of the glass if he hopes to turn this losing streak around.

This is a game Toronto would have penciled in as a win before the start of the season and it has become an almost must-win under less certain circumstances now.  If the Raptors can play at something close to the high level they achieved in stretches recently, they should come out with the victory.  However, if the Suns put together one of their better efforts, they can make the same claim.  Toss up, who wants it?

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.