Chris Paul

Pacific Notes: CP3, Lakers Centers, Vogel, Davis

With the 42-17 Suns now firmly ensconced in the West’s No. 2 seed, All-Star point guard Chris Paul has emerged as a possible 2021 MVP candidate, writes Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.

The offseason additions of Paul and Jae Crowder, plus the marked improvement of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, have all contributed to Phoenix’s (very probable) return to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. But the 35-year-old All-Star has been a driving engine for the Suns, averaging 16.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, and 4.7 RPG with a shooting line of .487/.377/.927.

“I think at the end of the day, I know who I am and I know what I bring to a team, but I also understand with our team, it’s about us,” Paul said of his season with the Suns so far. “It’s not something I worry about or wake up and think about or anything like that. It’s just about the process, like getting ready for tomorrow’s game. I think everything else will take care of itself.”

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • As Anthony Davis has returned (albeit on a minutes limit), the Lakers have continued to balance their center rotation, writes Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. Marc Gasol missed three games with a dislocated pinky, but immediately supplanted Montrezl Harrell as L.A.’s backup center when he did return, behind new starter Andre Drummond. Head coach Frank Vogel indicated that Harrell had been briefed about the situation. “He understands the big picture and what we’re trying to get accomplished,” Vogel said.
  • The Lakers plan to engage head coach Frank Vogel in contract extension conversations during the 2021 offseason, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski indicated on an NBA Countdown broadcast Saturday, as relayed by Paul Kasabian of Bleacher Report. Vogel is in the second year of a three-season contract he signed with L.A. in 2019. During his first season, the Lakers won their first title in 10 years.
  • With All-Star big man Anthony Davis now back in the fold, the Lakers are still figuring out their lineups during the home stretch of the 2020/21 NBA season, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN“It’s like you’re starting over with the guys and just trying to find a connection with these guys again,” Davis said. “They’re trying to find a connection with me. So, it’s like we’re starting from zero, which is tough so late in the season.”

Chris Paul Talks Thunder, Rockets, Suns, Olympics

During a wide-ranging conversation with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Suns point guard Chris Paul spoke about the presentation the Thunder made to him back in 2019 when they first acquired him from Houston.

As Paul explains, and as Amick has heard from sources, Oklahoma City presented CP3 with a comprehensive plan for how the team aimed to reduce his minutes and keep him healthy after he had dealt with multiple injuries as a Rocket. Although Paul listened to and appreciated the pitch, he wasn’t on board with the Thunder’s proposed approach, having made his own changes to his body, his routine, and his diet that he hoped would allow him to stay healthy without requiring a “load management” plan.

“At the end of the PowerPoint presentation, I said, ‘You know, I appreciate y’all coming out here, but one thing I just realized is y’all don’t know me. I don’t do premeditated rest and all this,'” Paul told Amick. “… They were looking out for me (because) they probably felt I was injury prone coming from Houston, you know? They were like, ‘You’ve played 56 games the past couple years,’ you know? I had already told them about the changes and all the stuff I made. But I get it. They hadn’t seen it.”

Paul ended up missing just two games during his year with the Thunder and raved about the organization on his way out. According to Amick, when Oklahoma City shopped the All-Star point guard last fall, the club was willing to send him somewhere he wanted to go, even if it meant taking a little less in return. Sources tell The Athletic that the Sixers believed they gained some traction on a possible deal, but Paul didn’t reciprocate Philadelphia’s interest and the Suns ultimately won out.

Here are a few more highlights from Amick’s conversation with Paul, which is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber:

On how his time with the Rockets ended:

“(Then-Rockets general manager) Daryl Morey had just told me a couple weeks before that that he wouldn’t trade me, that he wouldn’t trade me (to Oklahoma City). I think a lot of guys in this league, you play for a while and you feel like the team at least owes you a conversation, you know what I mean? Like, of course they can do whatever they want to. You’re under contract, but just to have a conversation with you is respectful enough, I feel. So when that didn’t happen in Houston, it was what it was.”

On potential offseason free agency and whether he might finish his career with the Suns:

“I mean first and foremost, I love it here. I don’t know how many years I’ve got left. I don’t really think about that either. I feel too good.

“Seriously, this summer, I have no clue. As much as I’m involved in the union and stuff like that, I don’t know what anybody’s teams are, (what their) caps are, I don’t know none of that stuff. I just play.”

On possibly playing for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics:

“Yeah, I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about it. I don’t know yet. I told (Team USA director) Jerry (Colangelo) I would get with him soon. I’d seen him the other day out here in Phoenix.”

Pacific Notes: CP3, Suns, Oubre, Kings, Metu

The Suns, who last made the NBA postseason 11 years ago, remain very much in the hunt for the top seed in the Western Conference, as their 41-16 mark puts them just a game-and-a-half behind the 43-15 Jazz. While the ongoing development of several young Phoenix players has been a major factor in the team’s improvement, the offseason arrival of Chris Paul was arguably the key turning point in making the Suns a legitimate contender.

“I don’t have enough time to talk about everything he’s done,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of Paul, per Royce Young of ESPN. “He’s brought such a — he’s improved the winning mentality. All of our guys want to win. But when you see a guy that has done it from afar and then you look at how he does it, from his diet to the exercise routine he has every day, and then in game when he’s able to be in those situations and really lift the level of our team, it’s pretty cool to watch.”

In addition to impressing Williams, who said he has “story after story” about the impact Paul has had in Phoenix, the veteran point guard has made a lasting impression on his young teammates, including fellow All-Star guard Devin Booker.

“I’m inspired every day. I tell Chris that every day. It’s not something I’m going to take for granted,” Booker said of his Suns’ backcourt mate. “I pick his brain. I listen to him — closely. I watch how he moves, and even when he’s not talking or leading us, I just watch how he goes about his business. There’s so much respect for him and not just from me, but leaguewide and worldwide.”

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Warriors forward Kelly Oubre made some comments in March suggesting he wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of coming off the bench, but he accepted a reserve role in stride upon his return to action on Monday, head coach Steve Kerr told reporters (video link via Anthony Slater of The Athletic). Oubre’s role as a sixth man gives the second unit a boost this season and could be a preview of next season’s rotation if the 25-year-old re-signs with Golden State, writes Kendra Andrews of NBC Sports Bay Area.
  • The Kings have been in a brutal slump this month, but their deadline additions continue to look good, as Delon Wright and Terence Davis played key role in a Sunday win that snapped a nine-game losing streak, writes Jason Jones of The Athletic.
  • Kings big man Chimezie Metu, who missed nearly a month-and-a-half earlier this season due to broken wrist he suffered when he was thrown to the court by Jonas Valanciunas, said he’s not holding a grudge toward the Grizzlies center, as Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee relays. “It is frustrating looking back on it at times because who knows what could have happened in those six weeks for myself and what that could have meant for my career or for the team, for the team’s success,” Metu said. “… It’s tough looking back at it. It was tough in the moment, but I hold no hate in my heart for Valanciunas.”

Free Agency Notes: Cap Room, Kawhi, DeRozan, Paul

In an early look at the NBA’s 2021 free agent period, Sam Amick and John Hollinger of The Athletic write that three NBA teams – the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs – project to have more than enough cap room for a maximum-salary contract this offseason, even if they were to win the draft lottery.

Besides those clubs, the Mavericks and Hornets should be among the clubs with the most space, according to Amick and Hollinger. The Athletic’s duo projects Dallas to be about $35MM below the cap if Josh Richardson opts out, while Charlotte will have about $26MM of room.

Other teams could create cap room, but that will hinge on one or two major roster decisions. For instance, the Raptors could get up to about $25MM in space, but not if they intend to re-sign Kyle Lowry. The Suns (Chris Paul) are in a similar position, with the Heat, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Hawks, Cavaliers, Bulls, and Pistons among the other teams whose cap space – or lack thereof – will depend on what happens with certain free agents.

Here’s more from Amick and Hollinger on 2021 free agency:

  • Although Kawhi Leonard projects to be the top free agent on the market this summer, team sources and rival executives widely expect him to re-sign with the Clippers, per The Athletic. It’s possible that could change if Los Angeles exits the postseason early, but there’s no indication at this point that Leonard’s free agency will be as dramatic as it was in 2019.
  • A source with knowledge of DeMar DeRozan‘s outlook tells The Athletic he’ll take a “wide open” approach to free agency. That doesn’t necessarily rule out a new deal with the Spurs, though a March report suggested DeRozan has interest in playing elsewhere next season and perhaps returning to the Eastern Conference.
  • Amick and Hollinger believe both DeRozan and Paul will keep Jrue Holiday‘s new four-year deal ($135MM guaranteed, $25MM in incentives) very much in mind when they negotiate their next contracts. However, it’s not a perfect comparable for either player, since Paul is five years older than Holiday and DeRozan isn’t the defender that Holiday is.

Pacific Notes: CP3, Lakers Cap, Hield, THT

Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul has a $44MM player option for the 2021/22 season, but John Hollinger of The Athletic wonders if the 35-year-old may consider an extension before the year ends or possibly a Gordon Hayward-esque move during the offseason.

Hollinger suggests that, just as the Hornets forward did during the 2020 offseason, Paul could opt out of the final year of his extant deal this summer for longer-term money, at a slightly lower yearly number.

Hollinger expects ambitious clubs like the Mavericks, Heat, Knicks and even Pelicans to be interested in Paul, who is still seeking a title in his 16th NBA season out of Wake Forest.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Should the Lakers want to retain new center Andre Drummond, reserve big man Montrezl Harrell (likely to opt out of the $9.7MM second year of his current deal in the offseason), point guard Dennis Schröder, and guards Talen Horton-Tucker and Alex Caruso, they could face significant cap challenges, as Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report outlines. Pincus notes that the best route to retaining all three would be if the Lakers could get Drummond, currently grappling with a toe injury, to agree to a team-friendly deal worth the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth a projected $5.9MM).
  • The NBA announced on Monday (Twitter link) that it has fined Kings swingman Buddy Hield $20K after an exchange of words with referees during a 129-128 defeat to the Bucks on April 3.
  • Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is looking for more court awareness out of shooting guard Talen Horton-Tucker, writes Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. “He’s been blessed with a gift to be able to get into the paint anytime he wants,” Kuzma raved. “With that being said, getting into the paint means reaching opportunities to find other guys shots.”

USA Basketball Expands Finalist List for Olympic Roster

Fifteen players have been added to the list of finalists for the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team, USA Basketball announced today in a press release. The group will eventually be pared down to 12 players who will participate in the Olympic Games, which are set for July 23 to August 8 in Tokyo.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will serve as coach for the U.S. team, with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Villanova coach Jay Wright and former Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce as his assistants.

No tryouts will be held this year. Instead, USA Basketball will choose the final roster by early summer. Training camp is scheduled to being in early July before the conclusion of the NBA playoffs.

“With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021, it’s important that we continue to remain flexible and consider all players who can contribute to our efforts to field the best USA team possible,” USA Basketball men’s national team managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “These additions we are announcing today will help ensure that we are doing that. Having a larger player pool than what we normally have is critical because of all of the uncertainties we face about availability. But for USA Basketball to receive the commitment of so many outstanding players remains an indicator of the great honor of representing your country means to these men.”

The new names under consideration are:

  1. Jarrett Allen (Cavaliers)
  2. Eric Gordon (Rockets)
  3. Jerami Grant (Pistons)
  4. Blake Griffin (Nets)
  5. Jrue Holiday (Bucks)
  6. DeAndre Jordan (Nets)
  7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)
  8. Julius Randle (Knicks)
  9. Duncan Robinson (Heat)
  10. Mitchell Robinson (Knicks)
  11. Fred VanVleet (Raptors)
  12. John Wall (Rockets)
  13. Zion Williamson (Pelicans)
  14. Christian Wood (Rockets)
  15. Trae Young (Hawks)

Forty-two players remain from the original list, which was announced in February 2020:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Nets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Lakers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Hornets)
  22. Dwight Howard (Sixers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Cavaliers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Rockets)
  36. Chris Paul (Suns)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Pistons)
  38. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  39. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  40. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  41. Russell Westbrook (Wizards)
  42. Derrick White (Spurs)

Two players removed from that list are Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, and Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic that Smart turned down an invitation because of injury concerns due to having a short offseason and playing late into consecutive seasons (Twitter link).

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

2021 NBA All-Star Reserves Revealed

The 2021 NBA All-Star reserves have been revealed. Below is the full rundown of the 14 players scheduled to join the previously announced 10 starters for the March 7 contest in Atlanta. All-Star reserves are selected by the league’s head coaches.

Eastern Conference Reserves:

Notable omissions this season include recent Heat All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, two-time Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton, recent Hawks All-Star point guard Trae Young, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, recent Pacers All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, and Sixers forward Tobias Harris.

Brown, LaVine, and Randle are making their All-Star debuts. Harden is the most decorated among the All-Star vets among the East reserves, as he will be appearing in his ninth All-Star contest.

Western Conference Reserves:

Lillard, who just barely missed out on a starting nod to Mavericks guard Luka Dončić, earns his sixth All-Star mention as he mounts a sleeper MVP campaign with the Trail Blazers. Paul will be playing in his 11th All-Star game, for a fourth different team (he did not earn an All-Star nod in either of his two Rockets seasons, but made it with the Clippers, New Orleans Hornets, and Thunder).

Snubs in the West include recent Suns All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker, Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, and 33-year-old Jazz point guard Mike Conley, the latter of whom may go down in history as the best NBA player never to make an All-Star team. Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, is a first-time All-Star. Last year, his teammate Brandon Ingram made his own All-Star debut.

Conley may still have his day in the sun, however. Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes that Lakers All-Star big man Davis, recovering from a right calf strain, will likely not be healthy in time to partake in the currently-planned All-Star game, and thus another Western Conference All-Star should eventually be named by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to replace the eight-time All-Star.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pacific Notes: Kawhi/PG-13, CP3, Green, Saric

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue has noted that his stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, absent thus far from the club’s six-game road trip due to coronavirus protocols, are “feeling well,” but he would not elaborate on when he expected them to return to the team, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Mentally, they’re in a great place,” Clippers reserve point guard Reggie Jackson said of the two unavailable wings. “They are doing all they can to get back as soon as possible.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul has verbalized his frustration with his club following Phoenix’s third straight loss, according to Royce Young of ESPN. “I’m not going to say we’re not good enough, but we’re not playing well enough right now,” Paul said following a 102-97 home loss to the Thunder.
  • After being traded from the Lakers this offseason, Sixers small forward Danny Green holds no ill will toward Los Angeles, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. In fact, Green stays in touch with his old teammates. “I still call them brothers,” Green said. “We still have a bond forever, because of what we achieved together and the time we spent in the bubble.”
  • The Suns are hopeful that forward Dario Saric, who has been conditioning for several days after being absent due to the league’s coronavirus protocols, can return for the team’s game against the Mavericks this Saturday, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM tweets. In seven games this season, Saric is averaging 10.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.0 APG. He is connecting on 35.7% of his 4.0 three-point attempts per game.

Northwest Notes: SGA, Murray, Beasley, Jazz

Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is looking forward to getting the chance to play Chris Paul and the Suns for the first time this season on Wednesday, as Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Paul served as a mentor for Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City last season, and the two guards have remained close even after CP3 was dealt to Phoenix.

“Obviously me and him built a bond over the past year, to where he’s almost like a brother to me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We talk about everything. How life’s going, how the teams are doing, how we’re doing.”

Gilgeous-Alexander added that it was a “blessing” to play with a veteran star like Paul last season, and that the bond the two former teammates built has had “even more of an impact than the on-the-court stuff,” per Mussatto.

Here’s more from around the Thunder:

  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was fined $25K on Wednesday for an incident that occurred during Monday’s win over Dallas, according to an NBA press release. During the third quarter of that game, Murray struck Mavericks wing Tim Hardaway Jr. in the groin area. Murray was assessed a Flagrant Foul 2 and was ejected.
  • After signing a lucrative new long-term deal with the Timberwolves in the offseason, Malik Beasley wants to win the Most Improved Player award and help lead the team to the playoffs this season, as he tells Ben Stinar of Forbes.
  • The Jazz‘s G League affiliate (the Salt Lake City Stars) officially announced its roster for the upcoming season, while the Thunder‘s affiliate (the Oklahoma City Blue) named Bradford Burgess an assistant coach. The Stars’ roster includes Yogi Ferrell, who will be an affiliate player for the Jazz after a brief stint with the Cavaliers earlier this month.