- Suns lead assistant Kevin Young didn’t travel with the team for the showdown with Golden State because he’s under health and safety protocols, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports. He’s missed three games after testing positive for COVID-19. Young became associate head coach under Monty Williams after Willie Green departed to become head coach of the Pelicans.
NBA executives and player agents believe the Bulls and Heat received a proverbial slap on the wrist for violating league policies in the free agent acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report writes.
The teams will have to forfeit their next available second-round pick, but that is unlikely to prevent other teams from trying to circumvent the rules in pursuit of free agents. Second-round picks appear more available than ever, Fischer notes.
As part of the league’s investigation and subsequent penalty, Chicago and Miami can’t trade any of their currently held future second-round draft picks until the forfeiture is resolved, Fischer reports.
We have more from around the basketball world:
- Due to the success of LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey, Australia is increasingly viewed by European prospects as a springboard to the NBA, according to Ken Maguire of The Associated Press. According to NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger, the Next Stars program has become so popular, the league had to turn “people away in droves.” Four of this season’s seven Next Stars are from Europe and another French prospect is playing for the New Zealand Breakers.
- ESPN’s Bobby Marks takes an in-depth look at this year’s trade market, breaking down the league’s players into three categories — those with expiring contracts; those on multi-year deals; and those with trade restrictions. Marks notes that only the Thunder can acquire a player via cap space, so the rest of the teams will need to trade salaries that match within 125%, 175% or $5MM, depending on how much salary is changing hands and whether or not the teams are taxpayers.
- The Suns’ Monty Williams and the Bulls’ Billy Donovan have been named the league’s Coaches of the Month for games played in October and November, NBA Communications tweets. Phoenix is on the verge of setting a franchise record for most consecutive victories, while Chicago has a 14-8 record.
Suns guard Devin Booker is expected to miss multiple games due to the left hamstring injury he sustained during Tuesday’s win over the Warriors, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported during a TV appearance this afternoon (video link).
Wojnarowski said Booker’s hamstring ailment is “not believed to be a serious injury,” but the Suns will err on the side of caution with their leading scorer. The expectation is that Booker will miss “at least a few games,” according to Wojnarowski. That means he’ll likely be unavailable for Phoenix’s rematch vs. the Warriors in Golden State this Friday.
Booker, who left Tuesday’s game in the second quarter and didn’t return, has averaged 23.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 4.5 APG on .458/.403/.857 shooting in 21 games (32.2 MPG) this season for a Suns team that now leads the NBA with an 18-3 record.
Cameron Johnson will likely be in line for a bigger role with Booker out. He played a season-high 29 minutes on Tuesday, replacing Booker to start the second half and in the Suns’ closing lineup. Landry Shamet is another candidate for more playing time.
- Baxter Holmes of ESPN provides an update on the investigation into Suns owner Robert Sarver, noting that the firm conducting the probe has begun scheduling and conducting in-person interviews with current and former team employees. However, as Holmes outlines, former employees who signed non-disclosure agreements are still seeking assurances about their ability to speak freely to investigators without facing legal consequences.
- There’s no indication yet that the investigation into Sarver will result in him having to sell the Suns. However, reports from Matthew Belloni of Puck.news and Abigail Gentrup of Front Office Sports identify former Disney CEO Bob Iger as someone who would be interested in buying the franchise if the opportunity arises.
Through one-quarter of the 2021/22 NBA season, no teams have been more impressive than the Warriors and Suns.
Golden State, currently riding a seven-game winning streak, has a league-best 18-2 record. Neither of the team’s losses have been by more than four points, and one came in overtime. It’s perhaps no surprise that the Warriors have the NBA’s second-best offense, but their 99.4 defensive rating – which leads the league by more than four points – wasn’t something we saw coming.
Phoenix, meanwhile, got off to a 1-3 start, but hasn’t lost since, reeling off 16 wins in a row to improve to 17-3, just a single game behind Golden State. Like the Warriors, the Suns have been buoyed to the top of the NBA standings by an unexpectedly dominant defense, which currently ranks third in the league. Mikal Bridges is already generating Defensive Player of the Year buzz, though Draymond Green may be the current favorite.
While we didn’t necessarily expect Golden State or Phoenix to look this good entering the season, there’s no compelling reason to expect major regression from either team.
The Warriors aren’t even at full strength yet, and could become even more dangerous when Klay Thompson and James Wiseman return to action. The Suns didn’t lose any key players from the roster that made it to the NBA Finals in the spring, and youngsters like Deandre Ayton and especially Bridges are still improving.
The two Pacific teams are set to face one another twice this week — in Phoenix on Tuesday and in Golden State on Friday. The matchups, featuring the NBA’s two hottest teams, should be great ones, but we’re not focused in today’s poll on the winners of those games. We’re taking a longer-term view and considering how the season’s results have affected our perception of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference in 2021/22.
As John Hollinger of The Athletic writes, the Suns and Warriors are head and shoulders above the rest of the NBA at the moment, but there’s still plenty of time for other teams to fight their way into that top tier. The Jazz are one candidate — their +9.8 net rating actually ranks second in the NBA, behind only Golden State. The Lakers have gotten off to a slow start, but they were considered the preseason favorites to win the West, and any team with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook on its roster can’t be written off.
We want to know what you think. Would you take the Warriors or Suns over the field at this point? If so, do you view Golden State or Phoenix as the best bet to come out of the West? If you’re taking the field, which team do you like best from that group?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section to share your two cents!
Suns guard Devin Booker and Hawks guard Trae Young have been named the NBA’s Players of The Week for the Western Conference and Eastern Conference respectively, the league announced today (via Twitter).
Booker’s Suns went 4-0 during the week of November 22-28 to extend their winning streak to 16 games, while Young’s Hawks were 3-1.
Booker averaged 30.0 PPG and 3.5 APG on .530/.560/.900 shooting in victories over San Antonio, Cleveland, New York, and Brooklyn. Young put up 31.3 PPG and 8.5 APG with a .563/.517/.833 shooting line, scoring at least 30 points in all four of his games.
The other nominees for the awards this week were Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns in the West, along with Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Kevin Durant, and Terry Rozier in the East (Twitter link).
Suns players met with head coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones when the allegations against team owner Robert Sarver broke early in November, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Although the players haven’t said much publicly about those allegations, they got information about the situation and discussed it internally during those meetings.
“We have a communicative group,” Suns star Devin Booker said. “We talk to each other a lot. We keep everything in house. It’s a tight-knit group. We speak on everything, and we share with each other how we feel about it, and nobody else finds out how we feel about things.”
The Sarver allegations could’ve become a distraction for a franchise that exceeded expectations in 2020/21 and got off to a 1-3 start this season, but the Suns have avoided letting that happen. They’ve won 12 consecutive games since the story broke, extending their overall winning streak to 14 games. They’ll be looking to push that number to 15 on Friday in New York.
- After not signing a contract extension in the offseason, Suns center Deandre Ayton is focused on continuing to improve and expand his game as he nears restricted free agency. “I saw the flaws and the mistakes and stuff that I should’ve done in the playoffs and Finals, especially the Finals,” Ayton said this week, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “I didn’t like the way I performed in the Finals. … Like I said from the beginning of the season, I’m trying to be more of a threat. … I’m trying to make a mark and trying to get used to certain things I wasn’t used to doing.”
The stress reaction that Suns big man Frank Kaminsky suffered in his right knee won’t keep him out for the rest of the season, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Kaminsky didn’t join the team for its current four-game road trip as doctors are trying to determine the best way to deal with the injury.
“We’re going to miss him for sure, but we’re hopeful he can get back sooner rather than later,” coach Monty Williams said. “He’s a huge part of our team, culture and we just have to wait and see, but just feel for him cause he was playing so well.”
Kaminsky is coming off one of the most productive stretches of his career. When starting center Deandre Ayton missed six games with a right leg injury, Kaminsky averaged 14.6 points per game in that stretch, including a career-best 31-point outing. He averaged just 6.6 PPG in 15.2 minutes per night last season for Phoenix, but his role has expanded with Dario Saric rehabbing a torn ACL.
There’s more from Phoenix:
- Ayton was upset over not getting an extension before the deadline, but he has put aside any hard feelings because the Suns are winning, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype states in a podcast with Rankin on several Suns-related topics. Ayton felt disrespected to be left out while some of his teammates were extended, Rankin reveals, but as long as he keeps playing well, he’ll be in position to demand a huge contract next summer.
- Also on the podcast, Rankin says the investigation of owner Robert Sarver will likely last for several months. He notes that it’s being done by the same law firm that recently investigated the Mavericks, which took about eight months to complete. Rankin says the players have talked about the allegations against Sarver and are doing their best to prevent them from becoming a distraction.
- Questions about Jalen Smith‘s work ethic led to the Suns’ decision not to pick up his third-year option, Rankin adds. It’s significant that when Ayton was sidelined, most of his minutes went to Kaminsky instead of the 2020 lottery pick. Rankin notes that Smith has an unusual combination of skills and the Suns don’t have a G League affiliate where he can develop his talents.
Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle delivered a wake-up call by benching the team’s starters against Charlotte on Friday, James Boyd of the Indianapolis Star writes. Carlisle pulled his opening group with eight minutes left in the third quarter, clearly unhappy with the way they were playing.
Indiana’s reserves then closed a 25-point deficit and nearly took the lead, but Charlotte managed to hang on for a 121-118 win. Carlisle’s decision led to the Pacers giving a better effort on Saturday in a 111-94 victory.
“Energy and effort, you gotta bring it every night,” star big man Domantas Sabonis said. “It’s a long season, a lot of games, and sometimes it’s hard to bring it. But it has to be a collective group, not (just) one or two guys can bring it because then the defense breaks down or on offense someone’s not committed to what we’re doing. (Saturday) felt like everybody was committed and good results showed.”
There’s more from the Central Division tonight:
- Cavaliers big men Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen are set to return on Monday against the Nets, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). Markkanen has missed nine games due to the league’s health and safety protocols, while Allen has missed three due to an illness. Cedi Osman (back) and Lamar Stevens (ankle) are doubtful for the contest, Fedor adds.
- Speaking of the Cavaliers, the team plans to be cautious with rookie Evan Mobley in his recovery from a sprained elbow, Fedor writes in a story for Cleveland.com. Mobley is making progress, but he was given a two-to-four-week timetable just under a week ago. In 15 starts this season, the 20-year-old has averaged 14.6 points, eight rebounds and 33.7 minutes.
- Matt Sullivan of RollingStone.com examines the secret COVID outbreak that caused fear within the NBA, Bucks and Suns during last season’s Finals. The series still went on as planned, with Milwaukee winning the championship in six games.