Devin Booker

NBA Announces All-Bubble Awards

The NBA announced today that Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has been named the Player of the Seeding Games, earning de facto MVP honors for the league’s restart.

Lillard, who averaged 37.6 PPG and 9.6 APG on .497/.436/.888 shooting in eight seeding games, led the Blazers to a 6-2 record, allowing the team to surpass the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West. Portland will earn the conference’s final playoff spot if it picks up a win over Memphis today or tomorrow.

Lillard was the unanimous selection among 22 media voters for the bubble’s MVP award. Devin Booker (Suns) received 19 second-place votes, with T.J. Warren (Pacers) picking up two and Luka Doncic (Mavericks) getting the other one. Booker, Warren, Doncic, James Harden (Rockets) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) all received third-place votes.

Meanwhile, Suns head coach Monty Williams was named the Coach of the Seeding Games, per today’s announcement. The selection comes as no surprise after Williams led Phoenix to an 8-0 record this summer. The Suns narrowly missed out on a spot in the play-in tournament, but were the only club that went undefeated during the seeding games, despite initially being ranked 21st of the 22 teams invited to Orlando.

Williams was a near-unanimous choice, with Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts receiving one first-place vote and finishing second overall in voting. Nets coach Jacque Vaughn and Raptors coach Nick Nurse were among the other top vote-getters.

The NBA also announced All-Seeding Games First and Second Teams, as follows:

First Team:

  • Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
  • Devin Booker (Suns)
  • Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
  • James Harden (Rockets)
  • T.J. Warren (Pacers)

Second Team:

Lillard, Booker, and Doncic were unanimous First Team selections, with Harden and Warren each receiving 18 of 22 First Team votes. Antetokounmpo received the other eight First Team votes.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: DeRozan, Payne, Booker, J.R. Smith

After the Spurs‘ victory on Tuesday night over the Rockets, veteran guard DeMar DeRozan was asked about his future with the organization. The 31-year-old guard has a $27.7MM player option for the 2020/21 season.

The former first-round pick did not go into much detail about his future with the Spurs and instead focused on the current task at hand.

“My mindset is always, I am here, I am living in the moment and continue to build with these (young) guys,” he said (h/t Tom Osborn of the San-Antonio Express-News). “I am just trying to go out there and get us to a playoff spot.”

Back in March, one report suggested that the 31-year-old guard was not happy about his situation with the Spurs. However, his $27.7MM option will be tough to pass up in what may be a limited free agent market.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype examined how recently-signed combo guard Cameron Payne has helped the undefeated Suns in the bubble. In the seeding games, Payne is averaging 10.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 3.2 APG. He is also shooting an astonishing 50 percent from three-point range. Kalbrosky points out that Payne’s ability to create his own shot as of the reasons for his success on the court.
  • All-Star guard Devin Booker has the Suns on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, writes Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Booker understands the magnitude of Thursday’s game and is looking forward to the challenge. “I know it’s a different format than what it’d be usually, but we can feel the energy,” he said. “We can feel the hype of the game. I’m looking forward to it.” For the Suns to get into the play-in game, they need to beat the Mavs and hope that either Memphis or Portland loses.
  • Lakers guard J.R. Smith spoke at length about his road back to the NBA with Kyle Goon of the Southern California NewsGroup. The 34-year-old sharpshooter discussed the role his father, Earl Smith Jr. played in getting him back to the league. “If you ain’t gonna play, now you gotta find something to do,” Earl said he told J.R. “I thought, ‘Get your ass in shape, go to L.A. Do your thing.” Smith has not played often in the team’s seeding games in Orlando but could be a key player in the postseason.

Pacific Notes: Harrell, Bazemore, Thompson, Booker

Clippers coach Doc Rivers is hopeful big man Montrezl Harrell can play in the team’s final seeding game on Friday, Jovan Buha of The Athletic tweets. Rivers would like to play one game with his usual rotation prior to the playoffs, Buha adds. One of the league’s top reserves, Harrell left the Orlando campus due to the passing of his grandmother. He’ll have to rebuild rhythm with teammates and regain his conditioning, Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times notes.

We have more on the Pacific Division:

  • Kings swingman Kent Bazemore appears unlikely to play against the Lakers on Thursday, Sean Cunningham of KXTV tweets. Bazemore, who hasn’t played since last Thursday, is dealing with a calf injury. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
  • Warriors guard Klay Thompson has been working out mainly in Orange County, Calif., including a workout with backcourt partner Stephen Curry, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Thompson was cleared to train without restrictions in June after suffering a torn ACL during last season’s Finals.
  • The Suns have been the breakout team in Orlando and Devin Booker is confident that will carry over to next season, Nick Friedell of ESPN writes. “I don’t think there’s going to be any sad faces around here, whether we leave here in the playoffs or not,” Booker said. “We’ve put the work in and we’ve grown as a team. We’ve took tremendous strides that I think will build for us for continuing years to come.”

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Thunder, Booker, Bazley, Jazz

When the Nuggets rested all five of their starters for the entire fourth quarter in a close loss to the Lakers on Monday night, it was clear that the team was prioritizing health over its playoff seed, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Having been shorthanded throughout the restart, Denver will want to make sure it keeps key players like Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Paul Millsap off the injured list with the playoffs around the corner.

Fortunately for the Nuggets, two of their missing rotation players may be nearing a return. As Singer relays (via Twitter), TNT’s Jared Greenberg said on Monday night’s broadcast that the club is hoping to have Gary Harris and Will Barton available on Friday for the last of eight seeding games. Neither player has suited up so far this summer.

Meanwhile, rookie Vlatko Cancar, who is recovering from a foot fracture, has arrived at the Walt Disney World campus and is in quarantine, according to Singer (Twitter link). Although Cancar isn’t expected to play, the Nuggets can now say their entire team is in Orlando, Singer notes.

Let’s round up a few more notes from around the Northwest…

  • Former Suns GM Ryan McDonough, who drafted Devin Booker with the No. 13 pick in 2015, tells Chris Mannix of SI.com that the Thunder tried to trade up one spot from No. 14 in what he believes was an effort to nab Booker themselves. “You could kind of hear or sense the air come out of the (OKC) room,” McDonough said of the moment when he told the Thunder he was drafting Booker. “You could tell they wanted him.”
  • Although he has been part of the Thunder‘s rotation for most of his rookie season, Darius Bazley has received a bump in minutes this summer and has responded well, with his first career double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds) on Monday. Nick Gallo of OKCThunder.com notes that Bazley’s play in the restart bodes well for his long-term potential, while Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman points to the 20-year-old’s shot selection as a key reason for his breakout.
  • Like Denver, the Jazz are prioritizing staying healthy and developing their bench players as the postseason nears, says Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Miye Oni, Jarrell Brantley, and Rayjon Tucker are among the beneficiaries, playing at least 23 minutes apiece on Monday vs. Dallas.

Suns Notes: Playoff Race, Booker, Carter, Warren

The NBA’s best team since the season restarted seemed lucky to be invited to the Disney World complex at all. The Suns were 26-39 when the hiatus began and stuck in 13th place in the Western Conference. With five straight wins, they are the only unbeaten team in Orlando and are now in serious contention for a playoff spot.

“I could give you some coach-speak, but I don’t know,” coach Monty Williams said to Nick Friedell of ESPN after Saturday’s win over Miami. “I just think we have a group that wanted to come here and prove to the world that they were worthy of being here. They heard a lot of the stuff being said. I think when people say stuff about you, you want to prove them wrong. … We’ve been competitive all year; we’ve been a scrappy team. We play teams hard, we share the ball, we try to make the right plays. We’ve tried to stick to our DNA and not get outside of that.”

The Suns are a half-game behind the Trail Blazers for ninth place and a spot in the play-in series next weekend, and two games back of the eighth-place Grizzlies. It’s the first five-game winning streak for Phoenix since 2014, but with tough games left against the Thunder, Sixers and Mavericks, the players know they might have to stay perfect to break their postseason drought.

“A lot of guys grew up in these three or four months,” Ricky Rubio said. “It seems like a second season with all of them with the same coach, and it helps to see the growth with this team. We have more room to improve … but we have eight games, and we know we have to go 8-0.”

There’s more Suns news to pass along:

  • After Saturday’s game, Devin Booker reacted to Draymond Green‘s comments that he should force his way out of Phoenix to play for a winning organization, Friedell writes in the same story. “Since I’ve been in Phoenix, we haven’t had the win success that we had, but the support’s been there,” Booker said. “And this is what we owe to the fans, we owe to the organization. It’s been a long time for us and I think this bubble opportunity was big for us, and we’re taking advantage of it.”
  • One of the surprises has been the emergence of second-year guard Jevon Carter, who hit six 3-pointers and scored 20 points last night, Friedell adds. Carter was acquired from the Grizzlies in a minor trade last summer.
  • The Suns could have had the leading scorer in Orlando, but opted to ship T.J. Warren to the Pacers last offseason for cash and draft picks in a three-team deal. During a recent appearance on TNT, Warren called the trade “disrespectful,” saying, “No one wants to get traded for cash.” (hat tip to Adam Stratton of Valley of the Suns).

Draymond Green: Devin Booker Needs To Get Out Of Phoenix

Warriors forward Draymond Green admits he may have crossed the line into tampering with comments he made Friday on “Inside the NBA” calling for Suns star Devin Booker to force his way out of Phoenix, writes Sam Quinn of CBS Sports. Booker has been one of the top performers in Orlando, leading the Suns to four straight wins and keeping them in the playoff race, but Green doesn’t believe he has a bright future if he remains with the franchise.

“It’s great to see Book playing well and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix,” Green said. “It’s not good for him, it’s not good for his career. Sorry Chuck (Charles Barkley), but they’ve gotta get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere that he can play great basketball all of the time and win, because he’s that kind of player.”

Asked by co-host Ernie Johnson if his comments constituted tampering, Green laughed and replied, “Maybe.”

Green has been openly critical of the Suns before, Quinn notes. In the preseason, he blasted them for giving up too early on lottery pick Marquese Chriss, who turned in a career-best season for the Warriors.

“Let’s be frank about it,” Green said. “When (Chriss) was there, the organization was terrible. Everything was going wrong. But he get blamed, like he’s the problem. When he left, ain’t nothing go right. That’s my take on it.”

Green has a reputation for reaching out to stars from other teams, most notably Kevin Durant after Golden State dropped the seventh game of the NBA Finals in 2016. Durant agreed to join the Warriors and captured two championships with them.

It would be difficult for Golden State or any other team to pry Booker out of Phoenix. He’s the centerpiece of the rebuilding effort in Phoenix and still has four seasons remaining on the maximum extension he signed in the summer of 2018.

While Green’s statement will attract scrutiny from the NBA office, the league has tended to overlook player comments and assess tampering fines only to team executives, observes Chris Cwik of Yahoo Sports. He cites the example of LeBron James saying last year that he would like to have Anthony Davis as a teammate. The league responded by sending an anti-tampering memo to all 30 teams, but didn’t impose a fine on James.

Knicks Notes: Booker, Draft, Wesley, Mini-Camp

Suns guard Devin Booker may be the player to watch as the Knicks try to trade for an unhappy star, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Booker is a former client of new team president Leon Rose, and as a Kentucky alumnus, he has a close relationship with newly hired executive VP William Wesley. Booker had plenty of good things to say about Rose when he became part of New York’s front office.

“I think he’ll do unbelievable,’’ Booker said. “One of the most genuine guys I know. One of the most honest guys I know. So I’m happy for him in his new position. I think the Knicks are in really good hands.’’

Berman suggests the Suns’ lack of success may eventually cause Booker to want to move on. They haven’t come close to making the playoffs in any of his five seasons.

There’s more from New York:

  • Finding a shooter will be a priority in the draft, Berman adds in the same piece. The Knicks own three of the top 38 picks and will be looking for a 3-point threat after shooting just 33% from beyond the arc this season. Berman notes that LaMelo Ball remains the team’s first choice among point guards, but he hasn’t been an effective long-distance shooter. If they draft him, the Knicks are hoping he can develop that part of his game, just like his brother Lonzo has.
  • Wesley has exerted influence over owner James Dolan for the past 15 years and was responsible for at least one disastrous decision, Berman states in a separate story. Wesley reportedly convinced Dolan to hire Steve Mills to replace Glen Grunwald as general manager in 2013 after a 54-28 season. The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since that move.
  • Steve Popper of Newsday questions whether the Knicks should bother with a planned mini-camp in Chicago for the eight teams that weren’t invited to Orlando. The team wants to bring players together for workouts, but sees no benefit to a combined effort with seven other franchises while the coronavirus continues to spread, Popper writes. New York also has a coaching search to concentrate on and would prefer to hold private sessions so the new coach can begin to teach his system to the players.

Pacific Notes: Kings, Booker, Davis, Bazemore

In anticipation of the Kings returning to NBA action against the Spurs on July 31, James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area analyzes the team’s full 17-man roster. The team will begin practicing in tandem after the squad arrives at the Orlando Disney World campus next week.

Sacramento big man Marvin Bagley III, injured for most of the season, and newly inked guard Corey Brewer are considered intriguing “wild card” pieces to the Kings puzzle. With a 28-36 record, the Kings are currently on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Suns All-Star Devin Booker deserves to shoulder little blame should Phoenix miss the playoffs in the NBA’s season restart, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Rankin posits that, with Booker having elevated his play this season, the front office deserves much of the blame for his surrounding teammates. Center Deandre Ayton, drafted ahead of All-Stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young in 2018, has been putting up solid counting statistics this season, but has yet to live up to his billing as a No. 1 pick.
  • Lakers All-Star big man Anthony Davis considers the long league layoff to be beneficial to his club’s title hopes, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I think our chances are higher just because we’re all rested and we’re all ready to go,” Davis said while addressing reporters during a video conference yesterday. Davis and fellow All-Star starter LeBron James have been instrumental in leading the 49-14 Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. The team boasts top-five ratings in offense and defense this season.
  • Kings bench swingman Kent Bazemore, currently playing out the final season of a four-year, $70MM contract, has indicated that he would like to re-sign in Sacramento for next season and beyond, according to James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link). Bazemore was traded to Sacramento from Portland in January. In 21 games with his new team, he has averaged 10.3 PPG, while shooting 42.6% from the field and 38.6% from three-point range, plus 5.0 RPG, 1.1 APG and 1.2 SPG.

Suns Notes: Point Guard, Free Agency, Booker, Baynes

The Suns will miss out on important opportunities for player evaluation if the season doesn’t resume, states John Hollinger of The Athletic in a conversation with Gina Mizell. Holllinger says after going through several failed attempts to find a back-up point guard, Phoenix could have used Ty Jerome in that role for the remainder of the season to see if he can handle it. He speculates that since Jerome didn’t get the opportunity to prove himself, the Suns will wind up spending resources on the position in free agency.

If Phoenix uses all its cap space to land a power forward, that will leave a room exception of about $5MM to sign a point guard. Hollinger mentions the Clippers’ Reggie Jackson, who formed a connection with Suns executive Jeff Bower in Detroit, as one possibility, along with the Wizards’ Shabazz Napier. Hollinger adds that D.J. Augustin and Jeff Teague may also be available for that price.

He also notes that the team may opt to address the position through the draft. The Suns hold the 10th spot right now, which is probably too low to land any of the top point guard prospects, but Hollinger suggests Alabama’s Kira Lewis could be a sleeper in that range.

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • The Suns could create up to $24MM in cap room, Hollinger notes in the same piece, which might be enough to attract Danilo Gallinari, Davis Bertans or Paul Millsap, but he notes that the options will shrink if that number is lowered because a loss of revenue due to the hiatus. Depending on what happens in free agency or the draft, Hollinger suggests Phoenix may try to re-sign Aron Baynes and Dario Saric to one-year contracts.
  • In an interview with Robby Kalland of Dime Magazine, Devin Booker said Monty Williams‘ first priority when he took over as head coach was to change the way the Suns were viewed around the league. “And if that’s having to get a little nasty, play tougher, more physical, but people are going to know when they play against up some talented, hard-working guys,” Booker said.
  • Baynes is pessimistic about the potential of a “bubble” environment as a way to finish the NBA season, relays Matt Layman of Arizona Sports 98.7. “They’re trying to come up with some scenarios that would work, but I think in terms of everyone being in one hub, how’s that going to work when you have 450 guys and if one guy does test positive then you have to get back in two months of isolation to get back to playing again?” Baynes said this week in an interview with an Australian radio station. “That’s unrealistic and there’s a better way to put all those resources that are being used into something else than professional sport.”

Suns Address Draft Needs, Devin Booker’s Point Guard Potential

Even as the season hangs in limbo, NBA teams continue to prepare for the offseason. The Suns admit that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “unique” environment for the team to scout talent, as Gina Mizell of The Athletic writes.

The Suns are looking to add play-making, defense, and shooting in the draft. Phoenix has the 10th-worst record in the NBA with 3.0% chance of landing the No. 1 pick.

“We’ll find a player that can fit with this group and embodies what we’re about,” GM James Jones said. “Just having a chance to really dig into it, I’m excited about the draft. I know some people aren’t as high on this draft when it doesn’t have star power or marketing power or sexy names. But I see a lot of good basketball players, and that’s all we’re looking for.”

Jones added that he’s impressed with the current guys on the roster.

I love our team,” he added. “We can see that we have everything that we need to continue to improve internally.”

Regardless of how the team navigates through the draft and free agency, it’s possible the Devin Booker will get more run at point guard.

“He’s at a point in his career where he’s just making the right plays consistently,” head coach Monty Williams said of Booker. “My thought is, put the ball in his hands about 10-12 minutes — maybe more — per game, and see how that impacts our team.”