Phoenix Suns

Tucker Has Tough Love For Rookies; What's Next In Phoenix

And-Ones: 2017 Draft, Trade Rumors, J. Anderson

With the NBA’s All-Star Game around the corner, the trade deadline nearing, and the home stretch of the 2016/17 season not far off, it may not be the time to focus on June’s draft. But don’t tell that to ESPN’s Chad Ford (Insider link), who has published his newest 2017 mock draft, based on the current projected draft order.

In Ford’s latest mock, Markelle Fultz (Celtics), Lonzo Ball (Lakers), Josh Jackson (Suns), Malik Monk (Sixers), and Dennis Smith (Magic) are the first five players off the board. As ESPN’s draft guru explains, teams like the Celtics and Lakers don’t necessarily need another point guard, as their rosters feature bigger holes elsewhere. However, Ford thinks it will be hard for any team in the top two to pass up Fultz or Ball, based on their potential.

Here are a few more odds and ends from across the NBA:

  • Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype spoke to a handful of current and former NBA players, including Caron Butler, Garrett Temple, and Rashard Lewis, about what it’s like to have one’s name mentioned in trade rumors, and how NBA players deal with those reports. “A lot of times, guys just want to be told the truth – no matter what that is,” Temple said. “What upsets guys the most is when the GM or personnel people are saying one thing to their face and doing something totally different behind the scenes.”
  • James Anderson, who has appeared in 247 NBA games, including 51 for the Kings last season, is believed to be drawing NBA interest, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The 6’6″ wing has spent the season with Turkish team Darussafaka Dogus, with whom he has a two-year deal. However, Carchia writes that the club may be willing to let him out of that pact in the event of an NBA offer.
  • Former Mavericks center Bernard James has been cut by French club Limoges just two games into his contract with the team, a source tells international basketball reporter David Pick (Twitter link). It’s not exactly an ideal birthday gift for James, who turns 32 today.

Suns Re-Sign Ronnie Price

The Suns have re-signed veteran point guard Ronnie Price to a second 10-day contract, the team announced today (via Twitter). Price’s first 10-day deal with the team, signed on January 27, expired overnight.

Although he has been with the team for the last week and a half, Price has yet to play a single minute for the Suns this year. In 62 games for Phoenix last season, he averaged 5.3 PPG and 2.4 APG, earning himself a two-year, $5MM contract with the Thunder last summer. However, Oklahoma City rethought that commitment in the fall, opting to waive Price at the end of the preseason rather than carrying him on the 15-man roster.

Price’s new 10-day contract will run through February 15, at which point the Suns will have to decide whether or not to retain him for the rest of the season. Considering the veteran hasn’t had a rotation role at all so far, I’d be a little surprised if Phoenix locked him up beyond this deal — the club could benefit from having an open roster slot heading into the trade deadline, and may want to use that 15th roster spot to take a shot on a younger player.

Bledsoe Continues To Develop In Year 7

  • Seven-year veteran Eric Bledsoe continues to make strides for the Suns and is enjoying his best season as a pro. “He’s taking amazing steps in his development,” head coach Earl Watson said Thursday . “It’s allowed him to become more efficient, and he’s seeing the game differently. What’s scary, in a positive way, is that he still has room to grow.”

Timberwolves Offered Muhammad for P.J. Tucker

The Timberwolves offered swingman Shabazz Muhammad for Suns forward P.J. Tucker, according to Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto, citing a league source. Minnesota was rumored last month to be one of the teams interested in Tucker, who told Scotto he’d rather stay put in Phoenix.

The salaries don’t quite match up but they’re reasonably close, with the 6’6” Tucker making $5.3MM in the final year of his contract and Muhammad earning approximately $3.0MM. Muhammad’s qualifying offer is priced at $4.24MM this summer.

Tucker, 31, is one of the hottest trade candidates this month because of his cheap, expiring contract and his reputation as a solid defender. Tucker, who is averaging 6.9 PPG and 5.8 RPG in 28.3 MPG this season, has posted a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating ever since he joined the Suns for the 2012/13 season, according to Basketball Reference.

“This is the last year of my contract, but as of now, I’m a Phoenix Sun,” he told Scotto. “So, I’m going to keep playing until somebody tells me otherwise. In this league, it’s part of the business, especially coming up in a contract year.”

Tucker added that he’s not seeking a trade.

“Phoenix has been great to me. I’ve been here five years,” he told Scotto. “It’s been a great five years, somewhere I would love to be for a long time. So places like this, where I just fit and they understand me and let me be myself. It’s a big factor for me.”

The Clippers, Bulls, Cavaliers and Hawks have also been linked to Tucker. The Clippers reportedly offered a second-round pick last month but the Suns held out for a first-rounder.

Lowe’s Latest: Bledsoe, Knight, Nuggets, Mudiay

Eric Bledsoe is enjoying the best season of his NBA career so far in 2016/17, putting up career-best marks in PPG (21.6), APG (6.2), and several other categories. As Zach Lowe of ESPN.com writes, Bledsoe’s impressive season raises the question of whether the Suns should sell high on the veteran point guard or commit to him a part of the team’s long-term future.

Phoenix projects to have a top pick in a 2017 draft that will be loaded with point guards, and Bledsoe has undergone three knee surgeries already, so there’s a case to be made that the Suns would be wise to sell high on him. However, don’t count head coach Earl Watson among those who feels that way. “I can almost guarantee Devin [Booker] and Eric will be on the same team next year,” Watson said, per Lowe.

Here’s more from Lowe’s latest piece:

  • As a parenthetical aside in his discussion of Bledsoe, Lowe writes that “nobody wants” Suns guard Brandon Knight. Knight has been mentioned more frequently than Bledsoe as a trade candidate, but if Phoenix hopes to secure a substantial return, it doesn’t sound like moving Knight will accomplish that.
  • The Nuggets are “quietly exploring” what sort of return they could get for a package of Emmanuel Mudiay and multiple picks, sources tell Lowe. The ESPN analyst isn’t sure the Suns would be a logical trade partner for Denver though, since Phoenix will have the opportunity to draft a point guard in the summer. Lowe adds that Denver is in no rush to move Mudiay.
  • The Suns would have to consider moving Bledsoe if the right team were to offer a “good wing or center, plus a high first-round pick,” according to Lowe. However, he adds that most teams are reluctant to move probable lottery picks at this time of year, when it’s still not clear where they’ll land in the draft.
  • Although there’s no indication that the two teams are discussing such a deal, and he acknowledges that there would be roadblocks, Lowe offers his favorite hypothetical Bledsoe deal, involving the Magic: Lowe’s proposal would see Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja, and Orlando’s 2017 pick go to the Suns in exchange for Bledsoe and Alex Len. Per Lowe, the Magic front office remains “divided” on whether or not Elfrid Payton is the club’s long-term solution at point guard.

Earl Watson, Ryan McDonough Talk Trade Rumors

It wasn’t long ago that Earl Watson was in an NBA locker room as a player rather than a coach, so he knows how to help his young Suns team deal with the trade rumors that will surface this month, writes Doug Haller of AZCentral.com.

“Communication is key,” the Suns head coach said. “And it’s not communication (as far as) who’s going to get traded and who’s not going to get traded, it’s more of transparency (regarding) how much we appreciate you now. All we can control is this moment and our actions and our attitude. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of a report that the Suns and Kings had trade discussions about DeMarcus Cousins, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough appeared this week on Arizona Sports 620. While McDonough stopped short of confirming any interest in Cousins, he acknowledged that he’s doing due diligence on any opportunity that may be available.

“What I will say, generally, is that we have conversations with every other team in the league about every elite player in the league,” the Suns GM said. “Our interest level, obviously, differs on those players. … This time of year I think some of the rumors get a little bit out of control. Some of them, there is a shred of truth to them. Some of them, there’s no truth to them. And obviously, from the team side, it’s not great when your own players are mentioned in a deal either individually or in a package, but that’s part of the business.”

Suns, Kings Discussed DeMarcus Cousins

FEBRUARY 1, 8:18am: There’s “nothing to” the reported talks between the Suns and Kings, according to Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, who tweets that the Kings don’t have interest in moving Cousins, especially without getting a high-level player in return.

Considering the original report came from a Phoenix outlet, with a Sacramento outlet throwing cold water on it, I would guess that any Cousins talks were initiated by the Suns. The Kings may have listened to Phoenix’s pitch, but there’s still no indication that they’re looking to move their star big man.

It’s also worth noting that members of rival teams have said that Sacramento’s front office structure is confusing to navigate, as Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com wrote last week. It’s possible that the Suns discussed Cousins with one Kings executive even if Sacramento – as an organization – ultimately wouldn’t have signed off on a trade.

JANUARY 31, 4:52pm: The Suns have had discussions with the Kings about big man DeMarcus Cousins, says John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports, although there’s no indication that the trade talks ever developed into anything serious.

The deal, Gambadoro reports, was said to center around a package involving at least T.J. Warren, Alex Len and the Suns’ first-round pick in 2017.

Worth noting is that both Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker were specifically exempt from the alleged proposal. Not only are Bledsoe and Booker two of the more intriguing assets on Phoenix’s roster, they’re Kentucky alumni like Cousins.

This isn’t the first time that Cousins’ name has been involved in trade speculation and it’s not likely to be the last. The center looked to be a likely trade target prior to Sacramento’s emergence as a contender in the Western Conference but then the team started to win more games. Now that Rudy Gay is expected to miss the rest of the season with an Achilles injury, they’ve fallen into a three-way tie for 10th in the West.

Earlier this month news broke that the Kings and Cousins were on track for a $200MM contract extension this summer but that may not deter Sacramento’s front office from moving their young superstar should it net them a suitable return from Phoenix or elsewhere.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Pacific Notes: Booker, Lakers, Durant

The Suns haven’t experienced much success this season, but Devin Booker believes the team’s future is bright, as he tells Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

“We have a really good young core,” Booker said. “Our young players are developing, including myself, very well. Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis have been getting some time now. And then we have a mix of really good veterans, Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, P.J. Tucker; they’re leading us on the right way. Each and every day, they push us every day in practice. They’re patient with us. We’re messing up a lot. That’s what you expect coming into this league, playing against grown men. We’re still learning, but at the same time, I think the future is really bright here.”

Phoenix has a record of 15-33 and currently sits in the second spot in our Reserve Standings. Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders examines the trade market for Lou Williams and Nick Young, and finds it difficult to envision the Lakers netting a first-round pick for either of the veterans. Pincus believes Los Angeles could flip one of them for a young player with untapped potential akin to the team’s 2014 Steve Blake trade. In that deal, the Lakers brought in Kent Bazemore, a player who flashed promise once he was given meaningful minutes.
  • The Lakers may need to move Williams and Young in order to open up the cap space necessary to sign a max-level player, such as Blake Griffin, Pincus writes in the same piece. Young holds a player option for next season worth slightly under $5.7MM and Williams will make $7MM next season in the final year of his deal.
  • Kevin Durant told Stephen Curry to stop trying so hard to incorporate him in the Warriors‘ offense, as Chris Haynes of ESPN.com relays. “I just said to [Curry], ‘Don’t worry about me,'” Durant told Haynes. “I’ll figure it out around you. You’re the engine of this team, and I know that. I’m not trying to come over and feel like everything just revolves around me. Just do you, man. I’m going to play around you. I’ve played this game long enough. I know how to score. I know how to find the ball. Just go out there and play your game.’ And that’s what he’s been doing.”

Six NBA Teams Still Below Salary Floor For 2016/17

With the NBA’s 2017 trade deadline fast approaching, it’s worth taking a look at which teams around the league remain below the salary floor for the 2016/17 season. Each NBA club is required to spend at least 90% of the cap in each league year — if a team doesn’t meet that requirement, it will have to make up the difference at year’s end by paying it out to its players.

While teams will make up the shortfall at year’s end if they have to, it makes more sense to find a way to reach the floor in the coming weeks. It’s why multiple teams below the salary floor acquired – or re-acquired – Mo Williams earlier this month, as I explained last week. It’s also why some of these teams may get involve in deadline deals to take on unwanted salary in exchange for a future draft pick or another asset.

Last February, for instance, the Trail Blazers reached the salary floor after agreeing to take on Anderson Varejao‘s contract from Cleveland, giving the Cavaliers a significant trade exception and allowing the Cavs to substantially reduce their luxury tax bill. In return, Portland secured a first-round draft pick for 2018 that the team later turned into a first-round pick for 2017. So, in exchange for taking on a contract and paying some money that they would’ve been on the hook for anyway, the Blazers ended up with an extra first-round pick in a strong ’17 draft.

The teams listed below will likely be on the lookout for that sort of opportunity in the coming weeks, and some of them will also be active in taking a look at various players on 10-day contracts.

Here’s the full list of teams that remain below the salary floor ($84.729MM), along with their accompanying cap data:

Brooklyn Nets
Team salary: $76,507,540
Amount below salary floor: $8,221,460
Note: Quincy Acy‘s new two-year deal, which is expected to move the Nets about $1.7MM closer to the floor, is not yet included in this total.

Philadelphia 76ers
Team salary: $76,986,092
Amount below salary floor: $7,742,908

Denver Nuggets
Team salary: $77,117,054
Amount below salary floor: $7,611,946

Utah Jazz
Team salary: $80,498,192
Amount below salary floor: $4,230,808

Phoenix Suns
Team salary: $80,921,006
Amount below salary floor: $3,807,994

Minnesota Timberwolves
Team salary: $81,427,199
Amount below salary floor: $3,301,801

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