NBA AM: Suns Struggling With New Pieces
Not The Fit They Envisioned: If you have high hopes for the Phoenix Suns making a run at the playoffs, you may want to temper those expectations. The team is packed with talent, but they are struggling with their new identity early in this new season, which means they may dig themselves into a hole before they can find their way to the postseason.
“It takes a while to jell,” Suns’ veteran Jared Dudley told HOOPSWORLD. “You got to find each other’s games out. Coaches got to find what players work good with each other, what plays for which players. We’ve shown spurts and glimpses of what we can do, we haven’t put it together for a whole 48 (minutes). Defensively we’re better, but offensively we’re still ways away from Phoenix-style you guys are used to.”
The Suns have installed a new offensive system and have thrown out much of the run-and-gun style that made Phoenix one of the more fun teams to watch. The new system gives virtually every player on the team an unlimited green light to score, which is creating a lot of chaos for a young team struggling to define roles.
In the offseason the Suns added Goran Dragic as a free agent signing, and scooped up Luis Scola through the NBA amnesty waiver process. Both played together in Houston last year and have something of a connection, but as Scola explains it, it’s going to take more than just those two to make this work.
“Obviously, it’s helping me,” Scola said of Dragic. “But two don’t make a team. Everybody needs to know each other and what we do, we’re struggling a little bit in the process, but we still have to find a way to win basketball games.
“We need to start building. We’re not there right now. I think we have good players; we can play. We showed we can play… We got to get in our heads and figure out how to… We know it’s going to take some time, so we need to learn to do that while being effective. Because if not, it’s not only going to be a bad year, it’s going to be a long year.”
With the NBA regular season in full swing the Suns are going to have to figure out a lot of things on the fly and on the road, and that’s means watching a lot of game film and making adjustments on a game to game basis, and that becomes a daily process.
“A lot of film,” Dudley said of how to solve the problems. “You got to show guys what are good shots, what are bad shots the counters to the offense. Then in practice, we don’t have one against Miami, so I know we’ll watch some good film when we get there. We’ll have a day off in Charlotte, but then that next day, we’ll probably have a good practice before we play them. That’s where we have to do a lot of teaching; we have to figure that out. When we give up defensively points, offensively we have to get better quality shots.”
The Suns view themselves as a playoff contender in the West, acknowledging that they have enough talent to be there. The bigger question is can they solve their fundamental issues in time to string together the wins necessary to secure a spot in a very deep Western Conference. Each year the gap between making the postseason and not sometimes comes down to just a couple of games and the Suns know they don’t have many games to spare, even this early in the season.
Harkless Ready And Waiting: Orlando’s Maurice Harkless was the 15th pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s NBA Draft and considered one of the gems of the Dwight Howard trade. Magic fans haven’t had a chance to see much of Harkless as he recovered from offseason surgery and did not participate in any preseason action.
Harkless, who has dressed and been labeled as active in both of Orlando’s games this season is healthy and just waiting for his chance to play, until then he is trying to be a student of the game.
“Every play I ask coach something and he always gives me an answer,” Harkless told HOOPSWORLD. “So, I feel I’m learning a lot from just watching.
“I think it’s good to just learn as much as I can because being that I missed the whole training camp. Learning is important. Naturally, I’d rather just be out there playing, but I think coach is doing a good job.”
Harkless thought he would get his first NBA action against the Suns this weekend, but the coaches changed their minds on game day, opting again to take things slow with Harkless rather than throw him into the fire.
Harkless, like most young guys in the NBA is biting at the bit to get his NBA career started, but he sees that the intensity level has come way up now that games matter.
“Guys are playing a lot harder than they did in summer league and then preseason definitely. I’m learning a lot about defense. That’s the main thing for me. [It is] the toughest thing to learn because it’s so different than what I’m used to. I’m learning every day, so I think I’m coming along.”
Harkless has been challenged by teammates to races and drills in practice as he tries to stay sharp and ready physically. He holds the team’s record for fastest three-quarter court sprint, so it’s made him a friendly target especially among his fellow rookies.
“When I get out there I’m going to play hard every time I’m out there,” said Harkless of the competitiveness of his new team. “Knowing that everybody on my team is going to work hard and have my back, that’s a team that I want to be on.”
The general consensus on the Magic to start the season is that they wouldn’t win very many games. Harkless admits that the guys in the locker room have heard the predictions and use it as fuel.
“We all hear people talking,” smiled Harkless. “We use it as motivation; we just come in work hard every day. We want to prove people wrong.”
At 2-0 the Magic have some room for early satisfaction that their system is working. For Harkless, he is just waiting for his chance to be a part of that, and that is coming sooner than later.
Nothing’s Changed For Lawson: Denver’s Ty Lawson signed a four-year $48 million contract extension last week, and while some players feel a little more pressure when their team’s reward them with big money deals. Lawson tells HOOPSWORLD the money really hasn’t changed anything except provide him with security.
A New Sheriff In Town: The Memphis Grizzlies have a new ownership group and now they have a new CEO. New Grizz owner Robert Pera named former NBA agent and executive Jason Levien as the CEO of the team this week, giving Levien total authority over the day to day operation of the team.
Levien was a long-time player agent who negotiated huge deals for players like Chicago’s Luol Deng and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin before leaving the agent side and taking a position with the Sacramento Kings. After roughly 16-months with the Kings where he helped organize several cap clearing trades, Levien left the NBA side for almost two years before surfacing as part of the Philadelphia 76ers ownership group last year.
Levien helped construct a complex ownership structure for the new 76ers owners and made something of a name for himself as a deal maker in sports and was brought in to construct several over ownership packages including a huge Major League Soccer deal in Washington DC.
Levien is credited with constructing Pera’s Memphis ownership group that was able to secure the Grizzlies from Michael Heisley in what’s being reported as a $377 million deal.
Levien will be handling the day to day of the Grizzlies business on Pera’s behalf and is expected to make a number of changes over the next few months both on the business and basketball operations side.
Under Michael Heisley’s ownership, Current Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace handled the day to day basketball details with Heisley making final decisions on transactions and contracts. Wallace will now report to Levien, although his status and the status of head coach Lionel Hollins, who is in the final year of his deal, is still very much up in the air.
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