Earl Watson

Suns Notes: Assistants, Watson, McDonough, Bledsoe

Three Suns assistants were fired Sunday along with head coach Earl Watson, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPNNate Bjorkgren, Mehmet Okur and Jason Fraser were all dismissed after a meeting with management Sunday night. Bjorkgren served as a bench coach, while Okur and Fraser were part of player development.

Bjorkgren is a former G League head coach and an original member of Watson’s staff. Okur, who played 10 years in the NBA, joined the Phoenix staff at the start of last season. Fraser had been with the team since 2015.

Tyrone Corbin will be promoted to lead assistant under interim coach Jay Triano. A former head coach with the Jazz and Kings, Corbin is in his second season on the Suns’ staff.

There’s more news this morning out of Phoenix:

  • Watson had a tumultuous relationship with GM Ryan McDonough during his two and a half seasons as head coach, Wojanarowski writes in the same story. They clashed frequently over a variety of topics, and owner Robert Sarver ultimately sided with McDonough. Watson, who leaves with an 87-142 record, offered a farewell message to the team and his fans. “Thank you to my Suns family, the Phoenix community and everyone who has supported me through this journey,” he said. “Life has unpredictable pivots that I embrace humbly and with great purpose.”
  • Suns star Eric Bledsoe received a lot of attention for Sunday’s tweet that read, “I don’t wanna be here,” but it wasn’t the first time he expressed a desire to get out of Phoenix, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link). The eighth-year guard met with with management before the season started to tell them he wanted to be dealt. On top of the losing, Bledsoe was unhappy when the team decided to shut him down because of soreness in his knees last March.
  • Bledsoe was excited about the possibility of being traded to Cleveland over the summer as part of a rumored deal for Kyrie Irving, according to Sam Amico of AmicoHoops. The teams were close to completing the trade and Bledsoe was “depressed” when it fell through, a source tells Amico.
  • The Suns’ problems stem more from the roster McDonough put together than Watson’s coaching, writes Mitch Lawrence of Forbes. Phoenix is trying to compete with four rookies and four second-year players, including a 19-year-old in Dragan Bender and three 20-year-olds. Lawrence states that Bledsoe and fellow veteran Tyson Chandler aren’t pleased with the youth movement. He also notes that McDonough hasn’t been able to find a franchise player despite picking fourth twice, fifth and eighth in the past five drafts.
  • Former Suns stars Steve Nash and Dan Majerle are among the potential replacements for Watson suggested by Jordan Greer of The Sporting News. Others are Adrian Griffin, Ime Udoka, Monty Williams, Sean Miller, Jerry Stackhouse, Mark Jackson and Brent Barry.

Suns Fire Earl Watson

The Suns have fired head coach Earl Watson, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). After a 2016/17 season in which no head coaches were fired, Watson’s dismissal comes just three games into the 2017/18 regular season.NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Suns owner Robert Sarver and general manager Ryan McDonough are meeting with the club’s assistant coaches. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis, says Woj.

While Watson didn’t get much of a leash to start the year, it’s hard to think of many teams that have come out as flat as the Suns to open a season. The team has already lost to the Trail Blazers by 48 points and to the Clippers by 42. Those blowout losses sandwiched a narrow defeat to the Lakers, who beat the Suns in Phoenix.

The Suns’ slow start has also led to one of the team’s veteran players apparently expressing his displeasure publicly, with Eric Bledsoe tweeting earlier today, “I don’t wanna be here.” Although Bledsoe’s tweet lacked context, a report out of Phoenix from local radio host John Gambadoro suggests it’s just what it sounds like — the point guard is unhappy with the Suns and would like to be traded.

Watson initially joined the Suns’ coaching staff as an assistant in 2015/16 before the mid-season firing of Jeff Hornacek prompted his promotion to the helm. In 33 games that year and then the entire 2016/17 season, the 38-year-old coach posted a .287 win percentage, having dropped 82 games along the way.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: Jackson, Harden, Muhammad, Wolves, Clippers Arena

Rumors of the Suns trading promising rookie Josh Jackson for Kyrie Irving should be put to rest, writes Greg Moore of AZCentral.com. Moore writes that Jackson and Devin Booker each create a sense of “awe and wonder,” making anyone who watches them dream of the future.

The Arizona-based scribe argues that the manner in which coach Earl Watson talks about Jackson comes off much more as genuine optimism for the future than big talk to boost trade value.

“I love Josh Jackson,” Watson said Monday. “Something about him is just uncommon.” Devin Booker, meanwhile, “always had that edge.” “(Those) two together are going to be great young guys who can push other guys to become better because they’re so inner competitive,” Watson said.

Watson joked in response to being asked about a rumor that Jackson had grown two inches since being drafted:  But “if he did, we love it, and even if he didn’t … let’s build the legend. Yeah, he grew. Absolutely. He’s like 7 feet now … anyone coming up against him should be intimidated by his constant growth vertically, in height, and ability to play above the rim.”

In a recent interview, Jackson addressed the trade talk, saying, “I think if that was going to happen, it would have happened by now.” However, he also said: “I’m going to make the best of whatever situation that I’m presented with. If I’m traded to China, whatever, I’m going to come out, and I’m going to be happy and just try to make the best of it.”

Here are more notes from the Western Conference:

  • James Harden is more fit and fired up than ever, writes Sam Amick of USA Today.  “I know how exciting this season is (going to be, and) I know how important it is, so I’m going to take full advantage of it. I have a lot of charity (events), a lot of things going on, but when I’m in that gym that’s kind of my getaway. That’s kind of when I’m locked in,” Harden said. The Rockets‘ 2017 postseason ended with concerns over Harden’s fatigue and stamina.
  • Shabazz Muhammad may have to settle for a short-term “prove-it” deal for next season, writes Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. Heading into the offseason, coach Tom Thibodeau used the word “optimistic” when discussing re-signing Muhammad. However, in July, the wing’s rights were renounced. On Wednesday, Timberwolves signee Jamal Crawford tweeted Muhammad, “c’mon back home.”
  • The mayor of Inglewood and the four other council members unanimously approved a revised agreement with a Clippers-controlled company to shrink the four-block area where an arena could be built so homes and a church aren’t displaced, reports Nathan Fenno of The Los Angeles Times. More than a dozen citizens had raised concerns about the potential arena before the vote took place.

Pacific Notes: Pelinka, Buss, Ulis, Bender

Rob Pelinka’s deal with the Lakers is for five years and it’s worth over $20MM, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com (h/t RealGM). Los Angeles hired Pelinka to be the team’s GM last month. Windhorst adds that lucrative deals are becoming typical for high-ranking members of teams’ front offices.

Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • A judge ruled that Jeanie Buss will retain controlling ownership of the Lakers, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com (ESPN Now Link). It was previously reported that Jim and Johnny Buss would try to take over control of the team.
  • Tyler Ulis continues to impress in a starting role for the Suns, Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic writes. “I knew Tyler was pretty special quickly,” coach Earl Watson said. The rookie is averaging 14.8 points, 9.1 assists, and 1.4 steals per contest since becoming the starter in mid-March.
  • Dragan Bender is back on the court after recovering ankle surgery and while his minutes are limited, the Suns like what they see, Bordow adds in the same piece. “He’s just a straight basketball player,” Watson said. “He goes out there, he just plays the game. He takes what the defense gives him.”


Pacific Notes: Kings’ Rookies, Booker, Nwaba, Ulis

While the Kings have dropped out of playoff contention, Dave Joerger will still seek to build the talent and IQ of his younger players. As Joerger acknowledged in a recent post-game press conference, ensuring proper player development is a large part of his job.

“Having been there with those guys (in Memphis) I felt a great deal of responsibility to maximize every win that we could get,” Joerger told reporters, including Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. “That’s where are these gray hairs popped out. Now the gray hairs are (from) are you playing the right guys with the right group, developing guys, giving them the right experiences?”

Joerger has given valuable playing opportunities to rookies down the stretch; providing Skal Labissiere, Buddy Hield, and Georgios Papagiannis with multiple 20+ minute games over the past week.

More from the Pacific…

  • The Suns are tanking “with spirit,” Dan Bickley of AZCentral.com writes. What’s more, Bickley points out Devin Booker‘s 70-point game as proof that he’s Phoenix’s next franchise player. “The Suns should feel blessed,” Bickley wrote. “They’ve lost 60 or more games only once in their storied history, and that was their expansion season in 1968-69. The organization’s commitment to losing is so sturdy and hardcore that they could conceivably end the current season with 60 losses and a 16-game losing streak, and somehow, the season will be perceived as a smashing success.”
  • Lakers rookie David Nwaba will be assigned to the L.A. D-Fenders to boost their D-League playoff run (source: Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News). Nwaba has been a pleasant surprise in Luke Walton‘s rotation, averaging 7.8 points with 5.5 rebounds over his last four games. Nwaba, who appeared in 40 games for the D-Fenders this season, figures to receive a considerable workload during the D-League postseason.
  • The Suns want Tyler Ulis to shoot more, Doug Haller of AZCentral.com writes. Haller relays an amusing anecdote, in which coach Earl Watson shouted “Shoot it!” at Ulis during Tuesday’s match-up with the Hawks. “He’s very talented,” veteran guard Ronnie Price said of Ulis. “He has a chance to have a long career in the league. He has a lot to his game that people are starting to see, so for him, it’s just getting comfortable and keeping him confident. As a team we all trust him. We all know what he’s capable of doing, but we can’t have him second-guessing himself with shots.”

Pacific Notes: Len, Zubac, Warriors, Chriss

With restricted free agency looming, Alex Len has been given every opportunity to lock down the Suns‘ starting center job. Veteran big man Tyson Chandler has been shut down for the season for non-health reasons, and Dragan Bender remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Earl Watson has recently deployed a combination of Len, Alan Williams, and Marquese Chriss at the five. Now averaging 10.8 PPG with 9.5 rebounds over his last four games, the onus is on Len to prove himself as an NBA-caliber starter down the stretch.

“It’s my contract year, so it’s a huge stretch. I just have to show everybody I can be a starting center in this league,” Len told Doug Haller of AZ Central. “I got an opportunity, I just have to prove it.”

Watson spoke positively of Len, noting the fourth-year center’s efforts to add 3-point shooting to his arsenal.

“Big guys in this league, either you develop and shoot the 3 or you become a great rebounder,” Watson said. “Alex Len is a capable corner 3-point shooter, he just has to get comfortable shooting it and he has to practice it. That’s where the confidence will come from.”

More from around the Pacific…

  • Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post performed a “postmortem” of the Lakers, previewing the team’s summer strategy. Per Bontemps, Magic Johnson would be inclined to select Lonzo Ball of UCLA whether L.A. receives the first or second pick. Bontemps notes that D’Angelo Russell may be used as trade bait over the offseason, while the team still holds Brandon Ingram in a high regard (despite his gaudy 29% mark from 3-point range).
  • Chriss has become the Suns‘ bright spot, Doug Haller of AZ Central writes. The 19-year-old feels confident and comfortable in his rookie season, displaying an “ultra-aggressive” style of play on each end of the court. When asked of his post All-Star break improvements, Chriss offered a pragmatic answer: “A lot of the shots I took (in the first half of the season) were contested,” he said. “They weren’t good shots. I think this second half I’ve taken a lot better shots and I’ve kind of picked my spots of when to go to the hoop.” 
  • According to Tim Kawakami of Mercury News, the Warriors and Jerry West have had preliminary discussions of an extension (Twitter link). While the interview didn’t delve into his long-term plans with Golden State, West held an informative Q&A with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.
  • Ivica Zubac discussed his future plans with Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com. Zubac, who has lost 24 pounds since December, spoke about the benefits of getting in shape. “I can run way more,” Zubac said. “I’m playing a lot more minutes now. In the beginning of the season if I entered the game and played three minutes — that would be it. … Now I’m feeling great.” The 20-year-old rookie plans to get stronger over the offseason, so he can “fight all these guys in the post.”

Western Rumors: Bjelica, Watson, Crawford

Timberwolves big man Nemanja Bjelica underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured navicular bone in his left foot, the team announced in a press release. Bjelica’s season-ending injury occurred during Minnesota’s 117-104 loss to Boston on March 15th. He was averaging 6.2 PPG and 3.8 RPG in 18.3 MPG while appearing in 65 games. The club did not announce how long it would take for Bjelica, who will make a guaranteed $3,949,999 next season, to recover from the injury.

In other developments around the Western Conference:

  • Suns coach Earl Watson brushed aside speculation that might leave Phoenix if the UCLA coaching job opens up, Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic reports. Current UCLA coach Steve Alford is considered a top candidate for the vacant Indiana job because of his ties to the school. Watson, a UCLA alum, would be a logical choice to replace him if that happened. “I’m more focused on creating value for our [organization], to give management and ownership many options to build a championship contender here,” Watson told Haller. “What I mean by that is, building the value of the young players so that their value and their game and their confidence give them the option to be financially secure in this league when they become free agents; giving our ownership the option to build around them or give ownership and management the option to make moves because their value is so high to put us in contention quicker.”
  • Jordan Crawford has become a potent force for the Pelicans, William Guillory of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. Crawford averaged 14.3 PPG in his first seven games with the club while shooting 51.9% on 3-point attempts, giving it a much-needed boost on the perimeter. Crawford’s production allowed the 28-year-old guard to turn a 10-day contract into a two-year deal“When I got the 10-day, that was the accomplishment,” Crawford told Guillory. “I didn’t really feel like I was on a 10-day once I was here. The hard part was getting the 10-day.”
  • Lakers power forward Larry Nance Jr. wants to remain with the organization on a long-term basis, as he relayed to Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype.com in a Q&A session. Nance is still on his rookie contract and will make $1,471,382 next season. The club will have to decide whether to make him a qualifying offer in the summer of 2018. “We’re on the up-and-up as a team and we’ve got a bright future,” Nance said. “And would I love to be a part of that future? Man, I’d love nothing more than that.”

Pacific Notes: Williams, Nwaba, Watson, Evans

The Lakers need to find a new crunch-time scorer after last week’s trade that sent Lou Williams to the Rockets, writes Mark Medina of The Orange County Register. Williams inherited the job after Kobe Bryant retired, but there’s no clear favorite to take his place. D’Angelo Russell has been productive since Williams left, averaging 23.3 points in the past three games, and he made two 3-pointers in the final minute of Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte. “They still have a problem with scoring down the stretch. As a team, they’ll have to figure out who is their go-to guy,” Williams said. “A few of them have it. But it’s a matter of collectively who they’re going to put the ball in whoever’s hands and live with that guy.”

There’s more tonight from the Pacific Division:

  • David Nwaba made a positive impression in his first game as a Laker, relays Joey Ramirez of NBA.com. Last fall, Nwaba landed a spot with the Lakers’ D-League affiliate at a tryout, and he signed a 10-day contract on Tuesday. Nwaba, who comes to the NBA with a strong defensive reputation, saw five minutes of playing time late in Tuesday’s game. “It was a good experience,” he said. “I took the challenge. I wasn’t afraid of the challenge. I’m just trying to showcase my skills on the defensive end. I think I did an OK job about it.”
  • Suns coach Earl Watson believes his team is in need of a tough guy to watch out for its scorers, according to ESPN.com. Watson was angry after Tuesday’s loss in Memphis, particularly about an elbow from Vince Carter that knocked down Devin Booker. Carter was ejected, but Watson said the incident changed the momentum of the game and highlighted the Suns’ need for an enforcer. “We have to find someone in free agency or the first chance we get who can protect our top offensive players,” he said.
  • Kings guard Tyreke Evans is excited to be back in Sacramento, where he won Rookie of the Year honors seven years ago, writes Shahbaz Khan of NBA.com. Evans, who was part of the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans, says he has become a different type of player. “I’m more mature now,” he said. “Now, it’s about me knowing how to make the right play and I think that I’ve gotten better at that.”

Suns GM: Eric Bledsoe Unlikely To Be Traded

Suns GM Ryan McDonough told Doug Haller of AZCentral.com that Eric Bledsoe is unlikely to be traded at this year’s deadline, citing the 27-year-old’s team-friendly contract.

“We never say ‘never,’ but I think he’s one of the least likely guys on the roster to get traded,” McDonough said.  “He’s under contract for a couple more years after this year. More likely, we’d try to add guys in that 27-and-under age group to play with Eric and (guard) Devin (Booker) and our young core and build that way.”

Now in the third season of a five-year, $70MM contract, Bledsoe has averaged 21.6 points with 6.2 assists through 56 games in 2016/17. Bledsoe would surely gather interest on the trade market, but McDonough appears to be in no rush to deal one of his franchise’s prized assets.

“In terms of his work ethic and his buy-in to what we’re trying to do organizationally, he’s been off the charts,” McDonough said. “He’s made Phoenix his offseason home. It means a lot to him to be a Sun. I think it’s very unlikely to see anything with Eric.”

Earlier in the month, Zach Lowe of ESPN noted the Suns would have to consider moving Bledsoe if the return included a “good wing or center, plus a high first-round pick.” Bledsoe and Devin Booker have been stellar for the 18-39 Suns; in Lowe’s column, coach Earl Watson all but guaranteed Bledsoe and Booker would each be on Phoenix’s roster at the start of 2017/18.

Pacific Notes: Cousins, Kerr, Watson, Walton

DeMarcus Cousins is off to the best start of his career and may finally have the coach he has been wanting, writes Paul Flannery of SB Nation. None of that may stop trade rumors as the Kings continue to compile a losing record, just as they have through Cousins’ first six seasons. Many observers believe Cousins will head out of Sacramento when his contract expires in the summer of 2018, but unlike teammate Rudy Gay, Cousins hasn’t spoken publicly about leaving. One factor in keeping him may be new coach Dave Joerger, who has established a strong rapport with the big man. It has been a welcome change from George Karl, who had an ongoing feud with Cousins throughout his brief tenure. “He’s amazingly talented,” Joerger said. “We watched his talent get better every year from the other sideline. Like man, this guy just keeps getting better. And then when I got to coach him, I’m like, holy cow. He is incredibly talented. And then, the way that he has gone about his business and grown. Again from the other sideline to now here, he has really grown in the way he handles his business. Whether it’s practice, shootarounds, games, dealing with officials, handling adversity. Those two things have impressed me.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who sparked a controversy when he talked about trying marijuana to ease his back pain, believes the NBA should study the medical properties of the substance, relays Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. The league continues to drug test players and coaches, but Kerr said some exceptions should be considered in the new collective bargaining agreement. “I think the league should look into the use of medicinal marijuana for pain relief,” Kerr said. “As far as recreational, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about pain relief and what’s best for our players’ health. That’s what should be in the CBA, and that’s what our owners and the league and the players’ union should be most concerned with.”
  • An opposing view comes from Suns coach Earl Watson, who as a youth saw many of his friends use marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs, writes ESPN’s Chris Haynes. “I think our rhetoric on it has to be very careful because you have a lot of kids where I’m from that’s reading this, and they think [marijuana use is] cool,” Watson said. “It’s not cool. Where I’m from, you don’t get six fouls to foul out. You get three strikes. One strike leads to another. I’m just being honest with you, so you have to be very careful with your rhetoric.”
  • Restrictive NCAA rules soured Luke Walton on the idea of college coaching, according to Mark Medina of The Orange County Register. Walton spent a year as an assistant at the University of Memphis in 2011, but didn’t like the limitations he had to follow. “The time I spent and was allowed to be with the players on the court, I really loved,” Walton said. “But because of all the other stuff, it was nice to realize the NBA was probably the way I wanted to go instead of college.”