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NBA@2: The Post-Nash Era Begins In Phoenix
Posted By Bill Ingram On July 25, 2012 @ 2:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
It seemed almost unthinkable to fans of the Phoenix Suns. Surely Steve Nash would retire in Phoenix. And yet, just as they watched so many other members of the 2009-10 Western Conference Finals team disappear, this summer they watched as the Suns traded away the player who had been the cornerstone of their franchise since 2004-05.
“You can’t prepare for a situation like that,” Suns general manager Lance Blanks told HOOPSWORLD. “He’s meant so much to the organization and to the community. I mean, he means a lot to the NBA. It’s really not something that you can prepare for you. You just have to go through it and we wish him all the best. I was fortunate to be around him for a couple of years, or his last two years in Phoenix, and I feel honored to have been there for that. We’re very sad, and at the same time very excited about the future with the guys that we’ve assembled going forward.”
When the subject of trading Nash to the Suns’ hated rivals in Los Angeles surfaced, majority owner Robert Sarver balked. He wasn’t about to help the Lakers get one huge step closer to a championship. At the end of the day, however, that’s exactly where Nash landed, and Blanks says it’s a testament to both Nash and Sarver for the way they handled the situation.
“I think when you look at it, you really have to take your hat off to Steve and how he handled himself all the way through the process,” Blanks said. “Not to mention the many great years that he gave to the Phoenix Suns, but not only that, our owner Robert Sarver. It’s a testament to him, as well, to allow a decision like that to be made and I think it speaks volumes about them both with the way it was handled and taken care of on both sides.”
The most important question that Blanks had to answer, in the wake of Nash’s departure, was who would succeed him at point guard? Fortunately, a player very well known to Suns fans was available, and he was also thrilled to return to Phoenix. Goran Dragic left Phoenix in a trade with the Houston Rockets in 2011, and during his time in Houston he proved he was ready to be a full-time starting point guard in the NBA.
“Well, it is bittersweet and we feel honored to have him back in the organization,” Blanks said of re-signing Dragic via free agency. “Goran has proven a lot of things in the year-plus that he was gone from Phoenix. Quite honestly, I think without that trade he might not have become the player that he managed to be able to become. Also, when you look at the situation in Houston and how he handled being given the keys and just taking over there as a point guard, I think there’s really not a better person for the job now in taking the keys if you will and just leading us into the next era.”
Blanks wasn’t satisfied with just Dragic, however, and has been busy adding more pieces to his revamped team. Players like Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Shannon Brown promise to make 2012-13 an extremely competitive year for Phoenix.
“Well, overall it’s just a total upgrade in terms of us bringing in guys like Beasley,” Blanks said. “We’ll have a competitive environment. Goran wants to take over at the point guard position. There are a number of things I’m extremely pleased about. Now it’s just going to be about making these guys gel. Luis Scola is a veteran who’s played all over the world and played at the championship level for his whole career. We feel like we’re balanced with not only leadership, but youth and good people and I just feel excited about the team getting on the floor going forward and watching (head coach) Alvin (Gentry) do his magic with these guys and watching them come together.”
The other big key to the Suns’ immediate future will be the development of their talented, young prospects, from Markieff Morris, who was second in summer league rebounding, to Kendall Marshall, who led the Las Vegas league in assists per game.
“They’re feeling their way,” Blanks said. “Young guys, you can tell Markieff is becoming more comfortable out there on the floor. Even though we didn’t have summer league last year he’s a better player than he was, let’s say, even at the beginning of training camp, so I’m excited about that. Kendall is just feeling his way through. He’s going to need time and seeing patterns and the speed of the game and passes that work and don’t work and shots that work and don’t work. (Summer league coach) Dan Majerle has done an excellent job of making these guys play hard, having them play in a way where they’re sharing the ball and they’re aggressive at both ends of the floor. I couldn’t be more pleased with where things are. Hopefully it will reflect with summer league wins and losses but we can measure it in other ways, as well.”
Rebuilding is never easy, and trading away a beloved franchise player is even less so. With that said, the Suns have made some hard choices this summer, going from a team divided between older veterans and improving youth. Now, youth will be served as the team begins an aggressive rebuilding mode, but with the pieces Blanks and his team have added, the Suns could be back in the playoff mix even without first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash on the roster.
Motiejunas Ready For the NBA
Even as the Houston Rockets work feverishly to land either Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard or Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum via trade, they are also looking forward to seeing how rookie Donatas Motiejunas might impact their team. Motiejunas was the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and the Rockets acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves shortly thereafter. He wasn’t in Houston’s plan last season, but now the Rockets are hopeful that he can be an impact player.
“I’m happy,” Motiejunas said to HOOPSWORLD. “It’s still a different game than in Europe with more speed and more everything. It’s more physical, I can say that, but it’s nothing I didn’t expect. I expected something like that. It was kind of the style of basketball we tried to play on my team this year so for me it was nothing new and I tried to show my best and to be the best and play the best. It was how it was.”
Motiejunas saw action in four of Houston’s five summer league games in Las Vegas, looking very good in three of them. He scored 25 points (11-13 FG) and grabbed nine rebounds in his debut, and also recorded games of 19 points (7-11) and six rebounds, as well as 20 points (10-16) and 12 rebounds in the team’s finale. The Rockets won all three of those games. He also had one throw-away game in which he had just one point (0-5) in 22 minutes, but that seemed to be an anomaly. Motiejunas says Rockets fans can expect more of what they saw in those three strong showings.
“They’ve already seen five of my games, four, sorry, one I didn’t play but they saw four games so that’s kind of the thing they can expect from me,” Motiejunas said.
Growing up in Europe, Motiejunas didn’t get to see many NBA games. Instead, he was watching Euroleague games and his favorite player would eventually be a Houston Rocket.
“In Europe, especially when I was growing up, they didn’t show so much NBA games,” Motiejunas said. “Most of them were in the middle of the nights and they don’t show replays so most of the games I was watched were Euroleague games. So at that moment I was following Luis Scola, who was already out from the team, but he was one of those guys who was one of the best players under a basket for me.”
Of course, Scola is now a member of the Phoenix Suns, but Motiejunas did get some valuable advice from him before he left Houston.
“He talked to me about what they are expecting, said not to discount things, so I have had a chance to talk to him a little bit, it was a really exciting moment for me,” Motiejunas said. “The guy who I followed all my life, to meet finally was a big thing.”
When Motiejunas first talked about joining the Rockets this season, he was adamant that he wanted to have a significant spot in the rotation. Now he says he’s satisfied to leave the rotation up to Rockets head coach Kevin McHale and his staff.
“I will leave this sort of thing for coaches, they see the team better,” Motiejunas said. “They know where I can develop, where I can play better, and that’s the coaches. I cannot say anything. Coach will start me, I will be happy. Coach will start me from the bench, that’s not a disaster either. I will be happy. Until I have a chance, for me, it’s the most important thing.”
It’s really too early to predict what kind of season Motiejunas will have for the Rockets. Sources suggest that the Rockets are tempering their expectations, saying Los Angeles Lakers forward Josh McRoberts is kind of a worst-case scenario type of comparison. They are hopeful that he’ll be more of a Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki/Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani type of impact player, but they are also very careful in saying that those expectations may be entirely too high.
For now, Motiejunas is an interesting player with a great deal of potential. The Rockets are content to wait and see how far that potential might take him.
How Roy Hibbert Got Paid
When the curtain went down on the 2011-12 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers had made another quantum leap forward in their rebuilding process. As often happens, however, they were also faced with some tough decisions right off the bat as free agency got underway.
No decision was tougher than what to do about restricted free agent Roy Hibbert. The NBA consistently overpays seven-footers, and the fact that Hibbert had become an All-Star made it very likely that he, too, would garner a significant payday. The outgoing management team of Larry Bird and David Morway didn’t believe that Hibbert, who averaged 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, would receive a max offer, but the Portland Trail Blazers quickly put together a max-level offer sheet.
Rather than matching Portland’s offer, which was only verbal, the Pacers’ new management team of Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard signed Hibbert to what is said to be a four-year, $58 million contract.
Sources close to the situation tell HOOPSWORLD the former management team would have done exactly the same thing, even though their hope was to find a more affordable deal for Hibbert.
It wasn’t really about Hibbert’s stats, but more so about his much-improved defense and his potential for further development. The Pacers don’t believe Hibbert is now the player that he will be in two or three seasons, and they want to make sure he is a member of the Pacers when he realizes his potential. Additionally, the marketplace for starting-caliber centers is fairly shallow, and if the team had allowed Hibbert to walk away it’s unlikely that they would have been able to replace him with comparable talent.
An average salary of $14.5 million may seem like a lot for Hibbert, and frankly it is. But in negotiations you have to determine a player’s market value and either pay it or let him walk away. At the end of the day, the Pacers would have taken a significant step backwards without Hibbert, so whatever the cost, he will be their starting center for the foreseeable future.
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