Phoenix Suns

Pacific Notes: Griffin, Tucker, Simmons

Clippers power forward Blake Griffin underwent a second surgical procedure this week on his broken right hand, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com relays. The latest procedure was related to his initial one and isn’t considered a setback, Shelburne notes. The original expectation that Griffin will miss approximately four to six weeks is still currently in place, according to the ESPN scribe. The Sixers and Nuggets have reportedly checked on Griffin’s availability, though the Clippers have no active interest in trading him in spite of offers that several teams have made. A report from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports noted that L.A. plans a concerted effort to look for Griffin trades in the offseason if they disappoint in the playoffs this spring. While Griffin waits to learn if he’ll be facing discipline from the NBA, here’s more of what’s happening in the Pacific Division…

  • P.J. Tucker, who is the subject of recent trade rumors involving the Raptors, says he wants to remain with the Suns, Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic relays. “I love being in Phoenix,” Tucker said. “It’s been my longest stop of my career and hopefully it continues.” This desire to remain in Phoenix is dampened by the team’s struggles this season, Coro adds. “It would suck,” Tucker said about a potential trade. “I’m not going to lie. I was here when it was down. We came up and now we’re having a tough year this year. Seeing it full circle and not obtaining the goal of making the playoffs since I’ve been here, that wouldn’t be the top of my list of things that I like.
  • The Lakers currently hold a 19.9% chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick this June and there are questions if Ben Simmons, the projected top pick in this year’s NBA draft, and power forward Julius Randle would fit well together, writes Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News. “Julius Randle is that 4 guy who handles the basketball,” NBA TV analyst Steve Smith opined. “It would be interesting if they would play them together or not together.” If the Lakers did select Simmons in the draft it would raise questions regarding Randle’s future with the franchise considering the number of similarities between the players’ games, Medina notes. “He has to be the secondary ball-handler,” an NBA executive said of Simmons. “If you’re not going to use him as a point forward, you’re wasting your time.

Suns Sign Orlando Johnson To 10-Day Contract

12:28pm: The signing is official, the team announced. It’ll cover three games, against the Jazz, Thunder and Warriors, the only ones Phoenix has left until the All-Star break, and expire before the February 18th trade deadline.

7:57am: The Suns will sign former Pacers and Kings shooting guard Orlando Johnson to a 10-day contract, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). The two-year NBA veteran has been playing for much of this season with the Spurs affiliate in the D-League. He’s poised to go into the open spot on Phoenix’s roster and add depth on the wing to compensate for the loss of T.J. Warren, who suffered a season-ending broken foot.

Johnson, 26, averaged 4.0 points in 12.1 minutes per game with 38.3% shooting from behind the arc as a rookie in 2012/13 for the Pacers, who had acquired him via trade shortly after the Kings drafted him 36th overall in 2012. His minutes fell the next season and the Pacers waived him at the trade deadline in 2014 to accommodate their deal for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. He resurfaced on a pair of 10-day contracts with the Kings later that season but has been out of the NBA ever since, though it appeared the Pelicans were considering him last month.

The former UC Santa Barbara player spent the last year and a half playing in Spain, the Philippines and the D-League. He’s averaging 15.2 points in 31.4 minutes per game and hitting 3-pointers at a scintillating 48.6% clip for the D-League Austin Spurs this season. He was slated to take part in the D-League All-Star Game and 3-point shooting contest, but he’ll be ineligible to participate in either if he indeed joins the Suns.

Phoenix already has Jordan McRae on a 10-day contract, as only 13 Suns have deals that run through at least the end of the season. The Suns are reportedly a strong bet to make at least one trade before the February 18th trade deadline, so they have plenty of flexibility to do so. Johnson’s contract would lapse and leave an open roster spot for the trade deadline as long as Phoenix signs him by the end of Monday.

Pacific Notes: Griffin, McDonough, Cauley-Stein

Clippers team owner Steve Ballmer said that Blake Griffin needs to be disciplined for his role in the altercation with equipment manager Mathias Testi that left the power forward with a broken shooting hand, Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times relays. “There needs to be consequences,” Ballmer said. “It’s the right thing to do.” The owner was also quick to note that Griffin is a significant part of the organization’s plans, Hernandez adds. Ballmer said Griffin would be welcomed back once he is medically cleared to play and has served any potential suspension the league may hand out, according to Hernandez.

You know, everyone’s going to heal, and we’re going to have an opportunity to move forward,” Ballmer said.”We’re going to finish our investigation, decide what needs to happen and move forward. Blake’s a key part of our team. There’s no question about that. He certainly has been remorseful, which is great, and we’ll find a way to move past it. That’s part of life. An important part of life is learning how to have consequences.

Here’s the latest from out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns GM Ryan McDonough accepts his share of the blame for the franchise’s current woes and vows to hold himself, along with everyone else in the organization, more accountable moving forward, Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic relays. “I take a lot of responsibility, most of the responsibility for what has gone on and what has gone wrong with this organization over the past few months,” McDonough said. “I know I need to do a better job. My staff needs to do a better job. What’s happened recently has been a collective failure. All of us have not done well enough and that starts with ownership, goes to the front office, the coaching staff and the players. We need to do better.
  • Kings rookie Willie Cauley-Stein is driven to become a star in the NBA, and despite the negative predraft rumors regarding his love for the game, he has been one of the team’s hardest workers this season, James Ham of CSNBayArea.com writes. “For me to take the step that I want to take and the step that I think I need to take, I have to become an all-around basketball player or it’s not going to be fun for me,” Cauley-Stein said. “Playing this game won’t be fun for me if I don’t become the player that I know I can become and the player they know I can become. If I settled and was just a rim protector and an under-the-basket guy, then I cheated myself in life, that’s how I look at it.

And-Ones: Morris, Dunleavy, Korkmaz, Labor

Markieff Morris said he “never had a problem” with former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, observes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. The incident in which he threw a towel that connected with Hornacek after the pair exchanged words during a game in December, prompting a two-game suspension for the power forward, was “misperceived,” Morris said. With trade rumors continuing to surround the Suns, see more from around the NBA:

Atlantic Notes: Bargnani, Afflalo, Williams

All four Nets who have player options for next season are planning to opt out, as NetsDaily hears (Twitter links). None of them have particularly lucrative options, with Wayne Ellington‘s nearly $1.568MM topping the list, followed by Shane Larkin at $1.5MM, with Andrea Bargnani and Thomas Robinson at minimum salaries of close to $1.552MM and almost $1.051MM, respectively. Their agents believe the inflated salary cap will yield a market too fertile to pass up, NetsDaily adds. Brooklyn has about $45MM in guaranteed salary on the books for next season against a projected $89MM salary cap, so the opt-outs would allow the team to retain flexibility. Here’s more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • The Knicks consider Arron Afflalo and Derrick Williams core players, while Robin Lopez and Lance Thomas are also part of the team’s “inner circle,” writes Marc Berman of the New York Post. Afflalo and Williams have player options for next season, worth $8MM and $4.598MM, respectively, that the team is hoping they’ll pick up, while Thomas is on a one-year contract. Lopez is in the first season of a four-year deal.
  • The Sixers have given executive Brandon Williams more latitude on player development, agent relations, recruiting and other areas as part of a promotion to a new chief of staff position, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports. Williams, who had been GM of the team’s D-League affiliate while serving as an assistant GM of sorts to GM Sam Hinkie, will retain his D-League duties and continue to report to Hinkie, as Wojnarowski details. The team has yet to make an official announcement.
  • P.J. Tucker might help the Raptors as a stopgap option at small forward, but Markieff Morris isn’t the long-term solution the club’s needs at power forward, opines Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported Wednesday that the Raptors are interested in both Suns players.

Western Notes: Howard, Morris, Brown, Kilpatrick

Conflicting reports abound on whether the Rockets have explored trading Dwight Howard lately and whether they have a desire to move him. The Rockets have engaged teams about Howard but set a high asking price, league sources told Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link), a notion that runs counter to the idea that Houston hasn’t had any Howard trade talk since December, as a source told Calvin Watkins and Marc Stein of ESPN.com and as we passed along Wednesday night. The trade market for Howard is relatively limited anyway, as Sean Deveney of The Sporting News hears, and that apparently extends to free agency, at least as far as the Mavericks are concerned. Dallas doesn’t have interest in giving the center a maximum-salary deal, according to USA Today’s Sam Amick, though Howard’s former teammate and recruiter extraordinaire Chandler Parsons spoke to Amick about his desire to play again with Howard, as Amick relays. See more from the Western Conference:

Pacific Notes: Russell, Hornacek, Kerr, Morris

In an interview with David Aldridge of NBA.com, Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell admitted that he still has much to learn about the game but lamented that the lines of communication between him and coach Byron Scott aren’t more open to help facilitate his growth. When asked by Aldridge if he and Scott communicate freely, Russell responded, “At this day and age, you kind of have a feel for what you did wrong. It might sound weird, but you don’t know what to ask. So like, I turned the ball over. I know I turned the ball over and I’m coming out of the game. I’m not sure if that’s why you’re pulling me out, but I’m not sure what to ask. ‘Cause I know I turned it over. There’s nothing that you can possibly say that’s going to bring that turnover back, or anything that I can possibly do. But it’s like, I don’t know what to ask. It’s like, he wouldn’t, I don’t know, tell me if I don’t ask. So that’s where it’s kind of a blur. ” Russell has previously expressed his frustration at not being on the court late in games and Scott has come under scrutiny for not playing the team’s younger players more this season.

Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns GM Ryan McDonough noted that one reason former coach Jeff Hornacek was fired is because the players no longer responded to his leadership, Bob Baum of The Associated Press writes. “I realize Jeff was in a tough spot [because of the injuries],” McDonough said, “but at the same time the team wasn’t competing how we hoped it would or how we think it is capable of competing.
  • McDonough recommended firing Hornacek to Suns owner Robert Sarver, but admits it was difficult to do so because of his close relationship with the former coach, Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic relays (via Twitter).
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr has not allowed his prolonged absence, nor the team’s stellar record, to curb his fire, and the coach is demonstrating just how valuable he is to the franchise by challenging the team to continue to improve, writes Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post.
  • Suns interim coach Earl Watson intends to make Markieff Morris the focal point of the team’s offense and show him that the organization cares about him as a person, Coro relays. “He is the main focus of our offense moving forward,” Watson said regarding Morris. “I had a feeling that if we gave him positive encouragement and let him know that no matter what we love him, no matter what happens beyond basketball, and gave him an opportunity to play and let him know he is going to play. … Some things are bigger than basketball so when you reach out beyond basketball, players tend to respond well.

Western Notes: Howard, Durant, Morris

Despite the reports that the Rockets are entertaining trade offers for Dwight Howard, GM Daryl Morey insists the team hasn’t given up on the season and the center is needed if Houston wants to make a playoff push, Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle relays. “We’re just focused on this season,” Morey told reporters. “So is Dwight. If we as a team and he as a player plays like we know he’s capable and has been this year and was last year, all that stuff takes care of itself. There’s no way we make the conference finals last year without Dwight and there’s no way [we] are making the solid playoff push this year without Dwight.

The Rockets haven’t had any meaningful dialogue about a Howard trade since December and aren’t looking to trade him, one source told Calvin Watkins and Marc Stein of ESPN.com, a dispatch that conflicts with earlier reports. Here’s more from out West:

  • Houston plans to make a big push this offseason to sign unrestricted free agent Kevin Durant, and the front office believes it has a legitimate shot to sign the Thunder star, Watkins and Stein note in the same piece. Rockets officials believe privately that they will have as good a chance as any team to lure Durant away from Oklahoma City because of his strong relationship with former teammate James Harden and the room Houston has to pay Durant max-contract money while also re-signing Howard, the ESPN duo note.
  • The Suns have indicated they plan to make Markieff Morris the focal point of their offense, a move that is geared to showcase him to teams potentially interested in trading for the power forward, Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders opines.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone raves about the potential of big man Nikola Jokic and believes the sky is the limit for the 20-year-old, Harrison Wind of BSNDenver.com relays (via Twitter). “You can talk about some of these very young bigs who are very talented. I know Nikola Jokic and wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world,” Malone said.  “He’s a special young man, he’s a special young talent and he’s only going to get better as he continues to get stronger. But he’s a heck of a young talent. I give a lot of credit to [GM] Tim Connelly and the front office for finding him and making him part of this organization.”
  • Former Hornets point guard Jannero Pargo, who signed with the D-League earlier this week, was claimed off waivers by the Thunder‘s D-League affiliate, Chris Reichert of Upside & Motor tweets.

Raptors Among Suitors For Markieff Morris

The Raptors are among the teams interested in trading for Markieff Morris, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com hears, adding Morris to P.J. Tucker among the Suns whom Toronto is reportedly eyeing (Twitter link). Suns GM Ryan McDonough has said he’d like to make at least one trade before the February 18th deadline, and according to Stein, people around the league view the Suns as a lock to do just that. Morris has been the most prominent trade candidate all season long for Phoenix, but though it’s a matter of when, not if, the Suns will trade him, as rival executives told Stein recently, the Suns are holding out for a strong return amid a slow market for the power forward, Stein wrote.

The Suns made Morris “very available” in December, and that apparently hasn’t changed despite a strong performance from him on Tuesday, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (Twitter link). Suns interim coach Earl Watson said Tuesday that Morris will be the focal point of the Suns offense going forward, notes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, a stark contrast to earlier this season, when former coach Jeff Hornacek benched the former lottery pick and at times removed him from the rotation altogether. That situation reached a head when Morris threw a towel in Hornacek’s direction during a game, resulting in a two-game suspension. Feelings have been prickly surrounding Morris since his offseason trade demand, though he backed away from the demand at the start of training camp.

The Raptors have been starting 35-year-old Luis Scola at power forward, seemingly a signal that the team is in need of an upgrade at the position. Morris is in the first season of a four-year, $32MM extension he signed with Phoenix in 2014, so adding him without sending long-term salary commitments to Phoenix, or to another team in a more complex deal, would add to an already daunting burden for the years ahead. Toronto has nearly $70MM in guaranteed salary on next year’s books, not counting any money for soon-to-be free agent DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are friends of Morris, but a couple of other Raptors don’t speak as highly of him, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Morris engendered public antipathy with his trade demand, his high volume of technical fouls last season, and his legal troubles, which entail felony aggravated assault charges stemming from a January 2015 incident.

Phoenix has reportedly been targeting young players and draft picks lately in exchange for Morris, and the Raptors have recent first-round picks Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo, as well as an extra first-round pick for both this season and next. The Suns reportedly spoke with the Pelicans and Rockets about Morris trades earlier this season, and the Pistons are also reportedly interested.

What do you think a workable Morris trade between the Raptors and Suns would look like? Leave a comment to share your ideas.

Raptors Interested In P.J. Tucker

The Raptors are among the teams interested in trading for P.J. Tucker, sources tell Marc Stein of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The small forward is making $5.5MM this season but only $1.5MM of his $5.3MM salary for next season is guaranteed. The Suns were reportedly putting off talks about Tucker as of last month while they waited to gauge their postseason chances, but Phoenix is a long shot for the playoffs at this point, 10 games behind eighth-place Portland.

Stein expects Phoenix will hold out for a “nice pick” in return for Tucker. The Raptors are slated for an extra first-round pick both this year and next. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has indicated that the team plans to unload the surplus of first-rounders at some point, but Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reported that the Raptors have no intention of giving them up cheaply and aren’t interested in a stopgap player. However, that was before James Johnson underwent an MRI on Tuesday after suffering an ankle injury. Johnson was filling in at small forward for DeMarre Carroll, who remains at least a few weeks away from returning after right knee surgery.

The Suns are dealing with injury concerns of their own, as combo forward T.J. Warren went down with a season-ending injury this week, placing him on the shelf alongside Eric Bledsoe, who was already done for the year. Still, Tucker, who turns 31 in May, doesn’t quite epitomize a youthful building block, and the Suns have incentive to focus on young players and build for the future amid a season in which little has gone right for them.

Toronto’s interest in Tucker dates to at least the summer of 2014, when he was a free agent and re-signed with Phoenix, leading the Raptors to ink Johnson instead, notes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). Tucker was originally a draft pick of the Raptors in 2006, but that was long before Ujiri took charge of the front office.

What do you think the Suns should demand in return for Tucker? Share your thoughts.

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