Mikal Bridges

Haynes’ Latest: Crowder, C. Johnson, Barton, Tatum

The injury bug has bitten the Suns in a major way in recent weeks, but forward Mikal Bridges told Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report that the club’s struggles are also due in part to the absence of Jae Crowder. Bridges added that he supports Crowder’s decision to remain away from the team while the Suns attempt to trade him.

“That’s one of our leaders,” Bridges said. “I texted him not too long ago and told him how much I miss him. That’s my guy. It’s the NBA. It happens. I know he wants to be here, but it’s the league. That’s just how it is sometimes. This is my fifth year in the league, and I understand how it could be. You’ve got to protect yourself sometimes. We’ll love to have him here, but we get it.”

For his part, Crowder tells Haynes that his teammates respect and understand his decision, but that he’s frustrated by his situation.

“This move of pushing me out the door was a blindsided hit to not only me but my teammates, as you can see from speaking to them and myself and the conversations we’ve had behind closed doors,” Crowder said in a text message. “I will continue to prepare myself daily for battle once the call is made and continue to be a leader on the court, locker room, as well as off the court. I am thankful my teammates appreciated my leadership. I’m confused and hurt my coaches didn’t appreciate the things I brought to our team and organization. And this has nothing to do with financial or contract differences.”

We don’t necessarily know all the details about how things have played out between Crowder and the Suns behind closed doors, but the two reasons most frequently reported for his absence have been his desire for a contract extension and his dissatisfaction with his role (the team intended to move him from the starting five to the bench).

Given Crowder’s claim that his disappointment has “nothing to do” with his contract situation, perhaps the role change is why he doesn’t feel appreciation from the Suns’ coaches. Sitting out more than half a season seems like an overreaction to being asked to become a sixth man though, so perhaps there’s more to the story.

Here’s more from Haynes:

  • Suns forward Cameron Johnson told Haynes that he expects to return from his knee surgery at some point after the team returns from its current road trip. Phoenix will have a five-game home stand from January 19-26 — it sounds like Johnson plans to be back at some point during that week.
  • The Wizards have been receiving inquiries on Will Barton‘s availability, but aren’t said to be actively shopping him yet, Haynes writes. The 32-year-old is shooting a career-worst 37.5% in his first season in D.C., is earning over $14MM, and and has received multiple DNP-CDs recently, so the idea that there would be teams willing to give up anything of real value for him is dubious. Josh Robbins of The Athletic recently identified Barton as a possible buyout candidate, but perhaps the Wizards could get an asset for him if they’re willing to take on some multiyear money in exchange for his expiring contract.
  • Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been invited to participate in next month’s three-point contest, but has yet to decide whether he’ll take part, per Haynes.

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Zeller, Clippers, Bridges

Lakers star LeBron James is getting closer to the career scoring record, but there’s plenty of motivation for him to keep playing after he passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In an interview with Dave McMenamin of ESPN, James, who recently turned 38, reiterated that he’s determined to stay in the NBA until his oldest son arrives, which would be the 2024/25 season at the earliest.

“I need to be on the floor with my boy, I got to be on the floor with Bronny,” he said. “Either in the same uniform or a matchup against him. I don’t mean like [guarding one another all game] — because he’s a point guard and I’m a, at this point now I’m playing center or whatever the team needs from me. But I would love to do the whole Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. thing. That would be ideal for sure.”

James is also determined to lift the Lakers back into title contention. He said individual records don’t mean much to him anymore, citing his decision to sit out the final five games of last season with an ankle injury, which prevented him from qualifying for the scoring title.

“I want to win. [The losing is] not sitting well with me,” James said. “I don’t like having accomplishments, and it don’t feel right, when it comes in a losing effort. … So as we sit here right now as a franchise and as a team that’s below .500 — we’ve been playing some good basketball as of late, but we want to and I want to win at the highest level. Breaking records or setting records or passing greats in a losing effort has never been a DNA of mine.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Cody Zeller is among the free agents who have worked out for the Lakers recently, Marc Stein tweets. The longtime Hornets center held his audition when L.A. visited Charlotte last week, according to Stein.
  • The Clippers continue to be careful with the health of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but a five-game losing streak may bring some urgency to the team, per Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports. L.A. was so thoroughly outplayed Thursday in Denver that coach Tyronn Lue benched his starters for the entire second half.
  • Mikal Bridges still hasn’t missed a game in his NBA career, but the Suns forward may be wearing down as he tries to compensate for injured teammates, observes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Bridges had a wrap on his right knee Friday as Phoenix dropped its fifth game in a row. “Just makes us stay together even more,” Bridges said of the losing skid. “That’s what we’ve got to do. It’s easy when you win to stay together. So our true selves is going to show when we’re losing. We just keep fighting. I think you stay together more as a team when you lose. That’s going to show if you’re a really good team or not and I think we have that.”

Suns Notes: Payne, Paul, FAs, Bridges, Ayton

Already missing Devin Booker for several weeks, the Suns are finding themselves increasingly shorthanded in the backcourt.

Key reserve Cameron Payne aggravated his right foot injury on Wednesday in his second game back from the ailment and was ruled out for Friday’s contest vs. Miami. Starting point guard Chris Paul was available for that game against the Heat, but didn’t play in the second half due to right hip soreness, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

“It’s tough having guys in and out,” Suns wing Torrey Craig said. “Soon as you think you’re about to get guys back, somebody else gets hurt. Guys get re-injured, but it’s part of the game It’s part of adversity, but we’ve just got to figure out a way to get through all this.”

The banged-up Suns – who have also been without starting forward Cameron Johnson (knee surgery) since early November and former starting forward Jae Crowder (away from team) all season – are in the midst of their worst skid of the last few years — after a 16-7 start, they’ve lost 13 of their last 17 games, including the last five in a row. Now at 20-20 on the year, Phoenix has already lost more games than it did all of last season, when the club led the NBA with a 64-18 record.

“If you think about everything we’ve been through, we’re still .500,” Williams said after Friday’s loss, per Rankin. “We just want to win one. Our guys are hurting to win a game and that’s where as a coach, you just feel bad for those guys because you know how hard we’re playing and how bad they want it.”

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • The Suns have an open roster spot and could look to the free agent market for help, writes Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic. Although Moore mentions Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Favors as possibilities, the player he’d really like to see the team call is Josh Jackson. Moore argues that the former Suns lottery pick could help bring the team the “fire and intensity” it needs.
  • With Booker and Johnson out and Paul underachieving, there has been more pressure on Mikal Bridges this season to be a two-way force. He has struggled to score as efficiently as he has in the past — his .449 FG% is easily his lowest mark since his rookie year. Gerald Bourguet of GoPHNX.com considers what the Suns and their fans should realistically expect from the fifth-year forward and whether or not he’s meeting those expectations this season.
  • After averaging just 10.3 points per game in his previous three appearances, Deandre Ayton bounced back offensively on Friday with 23 points, though it took him 20 field goal attempts. Before Friday’s contest, Ayton spoke about his role on offense, and Rankin has the highlights in a story for The Arizona Republic.

Suns Notes: Booker, Johnson, Williams, Bridges

The Suns fell to 1-4 on the season without Devin Booker after a lopsided loss to the Grizzlies Friday night, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. After scoring a season-high 58 points last Saturday, Booker has sat out three straight games with groin soreness.

“I am not going to downplay the fact that we miss Book,” Landry Shamet said. “Of course we do. He is an All-NBA guy. He should be in the MVP conversation. We miss him, but none of the basketball X’s and O’s stuff matters if we don’t pick up on that mentality, physicality. Hit first.”

Coach Monty Williams updated reporters on Booker’s condition before the game, saying he has started shooting again but still isn’t able to move around very much. He refused to speculate on whether Booker might be available for the Christmas Day game at Denver.

“He’s chomping at the bit as you can imagine,” Williams said. “Book’s frustrated when he’s not on the floor. Hoping he can get out there soon.”

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • Injured forward Cameron Johnson will accompany the team on its upcoming six-game road trip, Rankin notes in the same story. Johnson isn’t expected to play during the trip, which runs through January 4, but it’s still a positive sign as he works toward returning from November 8 meniscus surgery. Johnson was projected to miss one to two months, and he’s nearing the end of that timeline.
  • The Suns’ poor showing lately has included a couple of losses to teams that were able to push them around, Rankin adds. The latest occurred Friday as Memphis came into Phoenix and built a double-digit lead in less than four minutes on its way to winning the first quarter by 19 points. “Our edge in these games, whether it’s Boston, Memphis, these teams who are big and physical and want to put their hands on us, we don’t have the pre-game edge that we’ve had around here,” Williams said. “We’ve got to get back to chasing something and right now. I feel like the prey, and I don’t like that feeling. I just told our guys the same thing. We got to get our edge back.”
  • Mikal Bridges has apologized to Deandre Ayton for his role in Tuesday’s argument that was perceived as a dispute between Ayton and Williams, Rankin states in a separate story. Bridges and Ayton clashed on the court shortly before Ayton and his coach were seen yelling during the time out. “It’s something we do. I feel like it was longer than usual,” Bridges explained. “Me and (Ayton) usually get into it and then five seconds later, we’re like best friends because we can do that to each other.”

Suns Notes: Booker, Ayton, Landale, Payne, Okogie, Bridges, Johnson

Suns guard Devin Booker erupted for 58 points against New Orleans on Saturday but it’s no slam dunk that he’ll play Monday against the Lakers, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.

Booker is listed as questionable to play due to groin soreness. He recently missed two games due to hamstring tightness.

Several other prominent players are on the injury report. Deandre Ayton (left ankle sprain), who has missed the last two games, is also listed as questionable. Jock Landale (concussion protocol) and Cameron Payne (right foot strain) won’t play.

We have more on the Suns:

  • Josh Okogie has continued to impress his teammates and coach with his energy and effort, Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic writes. Okogie didn’t hit a single field goal, but made seven free throws and grabbed six rebounds (four offensive) against the Pelicans on Saturday. “I thought the offensive rebounds he got were just about as impressive as any play that happened (Saturday),” coach Monty Williams said. “He just kept going, and you could see him spring off the ground. Go above everybody to get it, like I said, I have to figure out ways to get him on the floor because he helps us on both ends.” Okogie is on a veteran’s minimum deal and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
  • Mikal Bridges, who is in the first season of a four-year, $90MM extension, is disappointed with his defense this season, he told Mark Medina of NBA.com. “It’s early, but I have to continue to get better and not have any lapses,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of lapses with getting beat on (backdoor) cuts. I have to stay with it. They want me scoring more, but I still have to stay locked in on the defensive end. I have to be more aggressive and physical.”
  • Cameron Johnson, rehabbing from meniscus surgery performed early last month, did some shooting during Saturday’s shootaround without a knee brace, Rankin notes. “He’s looked good,” forward Torrey Craig said. “I’ve been checking him out in the weight room, watching him do things in there, and then coming out shooting with us. Obviously, a huge step.”

Pacific Notes: Sabonis, Bridges, Lamb, Thompson

The Kings improved to 12-9 with a rout of the Clippers Saturday afternoon and they seem to have added another element to their already dangerous offense, writes Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Domantas Sabonis continued his hot shooting from three-point range, connecting on both of his shots from beyond the arc. After starting the season 1-of-12 on three-pointers, Sabonis has hit 8-of-14 in his last 10 games.

“It’s big,” he said. “The more I can keep shooting them and knocking them down, teams are eventually going to have to respect it, which is going to allow me to be even more of a play-maker. A lot of times, I can’t thread the needle because the big is so far down. Now, he has to be up, to open the room up for everybody.”

Sacramento had everyone available today as Trey Lyles returned after missing two games with an illness, Anderson adds. Coach Mike Brown likes having the extra option among his reserves and cited the performance of Terence Davis and KZ Okpala while Lyles was unavailable.

“That just makes our bench deeper,” Brown said. “Trey was playing well when he was playing. Obviously, TD stepped up and played big minutes for us. KZ played some pretty good minutes in the last game. So, it makes my decision making harder, but (Lyles) has been playing his behind off and it’s great to see.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns forward Mikal Bridges, who hasn’t missed a game since entering the league, believes he can continue that streak despite tweaking his right knee Friday night, tweets Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Phoenix will travel to San Antonio on Sunday, and Bridges is listed as probable. “I think I just hyperextended it a little bit, but I’m all right,” he said.
  • Anthony Lamb has become an important part of the Warriors‘ second unit, according to Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. When Lamb joined Golden State in October, it marked his fourth two-way contract in less than two years, along with one 10-day deal. “He’s a versatile player,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a quick catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter. The ball doesn’t stop when it hits his hands. When he’s open, he usually gets it off quickly. And he’s shooting it really well. He does a lot of things well that contribute to winning.”
  • Warriors guard Klay Thompson sat out tonight on the second game of a back-to-back, but Kerr doesn’t expect that to continue all season, Poole tweets.

Pacific Notes: Bridges, Johnson, LeBron, George, DiVincenzo

Suns forward Mikal Bridges has stepped up as a the team’s key secondary scorer behind All-Star shooting guard Devin Booker, per Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports.

With starting Phoenix point guard Chris Paul having taken more of a backseat offensively this year, Bridges has been scoring more than ever. The 2022 All-Defensive Teamer is averaging a career-high 16.4 PPG on a .591/.464/.886 slash line, along with 5.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG and 1.1 BPG.

So far, that jump in production has paid off for Phoenix, currently the early No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with an 8-3 record thus far this year.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns were dealt a major lineup blow when starting power forward Cameron Johnson had to go under the knife for a torn meniscus. Head coach Monty Williams isn’t ready to commit to a specific recovery timeline for Johnson, but said the way the tear was treated should result in a quicker return, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “One of the options was that he could’ve had a (meniscus) repair and that would’ve been a longer timeline for sure,” Williams said. “So we’re grateful it wasn’t worse. We’re grateful he got great care and we’re not sure when he’s going to come back, but we’re grateful for the outcome.”
  • Clippers All-Star forward Paul George and Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James have enjoyed one of the most endearing on-court rivalries of either player’s career, across their various teams over the years. Brian Windhorst of ESPN takes a fascinating look at the two stars’ intertwined NBA runs. Windhorst reminds us that both players had several near-misses as teammates, alternately with the Cavaliers and Lakers, from 2017-19.
  • Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has stated that reserve shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo is on track to return to the floor Friday, per Kendra Andrews of ESPN (Twitter link). Kerr adds that DiVincenzo participated in a Wednesday scrimmage and Thursday practice without any setbacks to the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the team’s last eight games. Since signing with Golden State this summer, DiVincenzo has only been healthy for three contests. In 14 MPG, the 6’4″ swingman is averaging 5.0 PPG on .455/.333/.750 shooting splits and one assist.

Suns Notes: Bridges, C. Johnson, Landale, Okogie, Shaq

Mikal Bridges will be running the Suns‘ offense more often and Cameron Johnson will see time in that role as well, writes Dana Scott of The Arizona Republic. Coach Monty Williams believes Chris Paul was worn down by the end of last season and sees this as a way to save wear and tear on his 37-year-old point guard.

“Those guys have the ability to facilitate, and I just haven’t given them the chance,” Williams said. “We’ve talked about being comfortable with uncomfortable change. There’s gonna be times where it doesn’t look great, but I think that’s where they’re gonna grow. … They both have the capability to expand the offense that way and that part is exciting when you think about those opportunities.”

Bridges, who finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, welcomes the opportunity to add another dimension to his game. He hasn’t missed a single contest in his first four NBA seasons, and Johnson said they worked out together every day during the summer at the Suns’ practice facility.

“I think he’s just improved all around,” Johnson said. “I mean ball-handling, shooting, being able to create, getting stronger in the weight room. It wasn’t that we’re going to get better at one specific thing. I thought we got better as basketball players, and he’s playing really well right now.”

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • After being traded twice this offseason, Jock Landale is confident that he’s found a home with the Suns, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Phoenix acquired the 26-year-old center from the Hawks in July for cash considerations. “It’s a hell of an organization,” Landale said. “The people in here are high character people and as far as finding enjoyment, I always go home and talk with my fiancée and my parents and mates about the level of passion and commitment and joy I’m getting out of the game right now is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
  • Josh Okogie will likely miss the entire preseason with a strained left hamstring, Rankin adds. Okogie, who signed as a free agent after spending the past four years in Minnesota, will be reevaluated in two weeks.
  • Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal tells TMZ Sports that he would be interested in partnering with Jeff Bezos if the Amazon founder decides to make a bid for the Suns.

Suns GM: “Brooklyn Wanted To Keep Kevin Durant in Brooklyn”

Suns general manager James Jones doesn’t believe the Nets were ever serious about moving Kevin Durant after his trade request in late June. In an interview with Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, Jones said Brooklyn set its asking price on Durant so high that no team would be willing to meet it.

Durant reportedly named Phoenix and Miami as his preferred destinations when he first asked to be traded, and there was massive speculation that the Suns were the favorites to land him because they had what the Nets reportedly wanted: young talent and multiple first-round picks. However, Jones doubts that Brooklyn’s front office made a legitimate effort to part with its star.

“Cause Brooklyn wanted to keep Kevin Durant in Brooklyn,” Jones responded when asked why a trade didn’t happen. “And that’s why he’s in Brooklyn and not on some other team, but as far as with us, I get it. It’s always a great topic of discussion, but the one thing people forget is that when you’re talking about trades, or any player acquisition, the team that has the player has to be willing to move the player. And so if they’re not moving the player, which they didn’t, it’s just conversation and it’s great discussion. Great interest for the NBA fan base and the team fan base.”

Jones added that trade talks with the Nets never progressed past the initial stage. He said every team in the league probably made a call to Brooklyn to see what it would take to get Durant, but there was no “in-depth discussion” between the Suns and Nets.

Jones addressed a few other topics in the interview:

Dealing with Mikal Bridges after he was prominently mentioned in Durant trade rumors:

“Mikal’s watching and he’s watching reports and third parties report about him. I get it. Being a player on both sides of it, I truly understand it, but it’s a testament to Mikal’s ability. He’s a really good player. So I would assume any time someone is linked to us, a good player is linked to us, that our good players will be brought up by someone. It’s the nature of it, but I think speaking to Mikal, he understands the business. He understands he’s put himself in a position to be regarded as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Any discussion around great players, I would assume he’d be one of the first guy’s names that’s going to be thrown out there.”

The status of extension talks with Cameron Johnson:

“We’re having discussions. Cam is a big part of what we do. Really excited for the progress he’s shown over the last few years, especially last year. I think he’s primed to take some steps forward. We’re excited about this team, and we’re excited about the guys on this team one through 16. He’s definitely someone we’re going to need to take another step if we want to continue to progress and grow as a group.”

Possible roster moves before the start of training camp:

 “Always in evaluation mode. Always looking. Right now, we’re at 16 guys (14 standard, two two-way). There’s a chance I may add a couple more guys for training camp, but I think we’re close to the end of where we’ll be as far as our training camp roster goes.”

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Westbrook, Randle, Suns, Curry

Now that Kyrie Irving is reportedly off the table for the Lakers, Jovan Buha of The Athletic breaks down the team’s other potential options for dealing Russell Westbrook.

As Buha writes, a trade with the Pacers for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield makes sense for the Lakers, but they’d likely have to include both their 2027 and 2029 first-rounders to make that happen, which hasn’t transpired to this point. Buha wonders if Indiana would be interested in the move if the Lakers put protections on the ’29 pick or perhaps include a pick swap instead.

Turner and Hield would instantly become the Lakers’ “third- and fourth-best players on the roster, upgrading the starting lineup, depth and collective shooting,” Buha states, adding that Turner would complement Anthony Davis in the frontcourt due to his defensive versatility and ability to space the floor (.349 career 3PT%).

The Lakers could also get involved as a third team in a potential Donovan Mitchell trade, or target Jazz veterans like Bojan Bogdanovic, Patrick Beverley, Jordan Clarkson and Jarred Vanderbilt, Buha notes.

Here’s more from the Pacific:

  • Within the same piece, Buha says the Lakers aren’t interested in a potential reunion with Knicks forward Julius Randle, whom L.A. drafted No. 7 overall in 2014, due to his long-term contract and “less-than-ideal fit” with Davis and LeBron James. According to Buha, New York, Charlotte and San Antonio are all unlikely trade partners for Westbrook for various reasons, even though the three teams theoretically make some sense.
  • With Kevin Durant said to be sticking with the Nets, at least for now, a trio of Suns players whose names were floated in trade talks for the star have a big opportunity entering 2022/23, per Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic. Moore thinks Mikal Bridges likely won’t be affected by the rumors, but wonders if Cameron Johnson and Deandre Ayton should have bigger offensive roles next season to improve the team’s versatility as Phoenix looks to win its first championship.
  • Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area details why Warriors star Stephen Curry, the reigning Finals MVP, is underpaid despite having the largest salary in the league in ’22/23 ($48.1MM). Golden State’s franchise valuation has increased a little more than 12-fold over the past 12 years ($450MM to $5.6 billion), the team is immensely popular both locally and nationally, and the Warriors have won the championship four times in the past eight years largely due to Curry’s impact, making him worth more than double his current contract, according to Poole.