Ah, the coldest winter. We've had a couple of days of no good, very bad, terrible news coming out of the NBA (D-Rose, Marc Gasol, Iggy, Beal injuries). So give thanks that we have guys like Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, and Tim Duncan for livening up the mood while franchise cornerstones fall, Derrick Williams moves to Sacramento, and O.J. Mayo puts up minus-20 plus/minus nights.
Now, when you think of Duncan, Wade, and Beasley, you probably don't think comedy. I personally think of ill-fitting button-up shirts, dirty plays, and weed. But after last night, all that is changing.
The Suns, by any measure besides championship banners, are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. They missed the playoffs just seven times from 1975-76 through 2009-10, with 19 50-win seasons in that span. But they’ve missed the playoffs three straight years now. Last season, the first of the post–Steve Nash era, might rank as the most depressing in the modern history of the team. Phoenix has since acquired Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler in a three-team sign-and-trade that Phoenix hatched with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but they still figure to be among the dregs of the league as a new regime enters an earnest rebuild.
The Suns, like several others in this crazy summer of coaching hires, settled on a first-time head coach to helm that rebuild — Jeff Hornacek, the sweet-shooting combo guard who played a crucial role on the 1980s Suns and 1990s Jazz. Hornacek got the head job in Phoenix after a half-decade as an assistant in Utah, where he began as Andrei Kirilenko’s shooting coach. He spoke one-on-one with Grantland in Las Vegas this week about the challenges ahead.
Ryan McDonough, the team’s new GM, says you blew him away in the interview process with your preparation — your knowledge of the team’s roster, and your plans for how the team should play, especially on offense. So: What’s that offense going to look like after a year of struggling to find an identity without Nash?
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
The Heat rolled in Brooklyn last night, thanks mostly to a 36-14 third quarter and another 24-9-7 night from the best player in the league. It was during that third quarter, though, that Miami’s other superstar got me thinking, and he did it with something he’s done so many times before:
Moving on from Steve Nash has proved difficult so far for Phoenix. The Suns are 12-26, just a game up on New Orleans in the “race” for worst record in the Western Conference. Their once-prolific offense fell to 23rd in points per possession after a dispiriting road loss to Brooklyn on Friday, and they’ve ranked among the league’s half-dozen worst defensive teams almost all season. Despite a recent slump from long range, Goran Dragic has done solid work as Nash’s replacement. But the rest of the roster is lacking in off-the-dribble creators, and the other free agent Phoenix expected to fill that void — Michael Beasley — has been a total bust.
Close games have been a particularly thorny problem, as they are for most bad teams — especially teams that play below-average defense and lack a foundational scorer. Phoenix is 8-15 in games in which the scoring margin has been at five or fewer points within the last five minutes, and their play in those crunch-time situations has dropped off almost equally on both ends, per NBA.com’s stats database. Random luck influences any small crunch-time sample size, but the consistency of the pattern has been discouraging.
Alvin Gentry, in his fifth season as Suns head coach, stopped by for a one-on-one visit with Grantland before Phoenix’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn on Friday.
How’s life in a post–Steve Nash world?
Well, obviously, we’re in transition right now. It’s something we’re all learning to deal with. I think Goran is going to be a very good player for us, but it’s a learning process, and it takes time. We’re all wishing the best for Steve, but we know we have to move on as a franchise.
In early July, the Phoenix Suns signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet. Gordon is only 23 years old and is a rising star in a position losing its star power. But he has missed 107 games in four seasons and played in just nine last year. The New Orleans Hornets had a tough decision to make: match the offer sheet and secure one of the more promising shooting guards in the league or leave the Suns to worry about an injury-prone player on a max deal.
Fast-forward to today. Gordon’s a Hornet but he’s not in the lineup. He’s missed every game up to this point, including the preseason, with lingering knee pain. Gordon’s return to the court was last reported to be six to eight weeks away. Given his continued setbacks, it’s easy to be skeptical he’ll make it back in that time frame. Even if Gordon’s rehab goes flawlessly, he's still slated to miss roughly a third of this season.
It's only natural for the New Orleans brass to be questioning their investment. Maybe they’re kicking themselves for not working out a sign-and-trade with Gordon when they had the chance. But maybe they’re keeping the faith, holding strong to the idea that Gordon’s injury woes will soon be a thing of the past and he’ll prove to be a cornerstone in their rebuilding process.
The decision the Hornets faced back in July — a common scenario in today’s NBA — carried with it major ramifications. With a strict salary cap and an increasingly harsh luxury tax, it is imperative to make the right call when it comes to huge financial commitments like the one made to Gordon. But as the Hornets initially debated the best course of action, their thought process was influenced by something that affects decision makers in the sports world and beyond: something called the optimism bias.
Bryce Harper 5/27/12 4th Home Run #4 Ticket Unused! - $6.00
On the surface, this seems like a perfectly harmless and inconsequential eBay listing that like many others before it makes you ask yourself, "All right, who would really buy this?" But then when you look a little closer, this item makes even less sense, because the very question you just asked gets answered when you see that there are only six available — AND FOUR ALREADY SOLD. Four people saw this listing and then bought it — and that is just in the last 36 hours.
Let's go one level deeper here. The page counter currently has 27 views, according to the little counter thing on the bottom, so that means, besides Sarah Larimer (who found this listing) and me, of the 25 people who previously looked at this item, four of them could not contain their excitement at the opportunity to buy a ticket stub for a game that (most likely) they did not attend and felt compelled to pay $6 to "buy it now." That's almost a 20 percent conversion rate (the rate of views that turn into, in this case, sales) — do you know what converts that high? Almost nothing! The average conversion of selling things on the Internet is LESS THAN 3 PERCENT. Think about what's happening right now: Bryce Harper is bending the conventional laws of the Internet at his whim with ticket stubs of a random game in which he hit a home run. IS THERE ANYTHING BRYCE HARPER CAN'T DO?!
On today's show, The Basketball Jones discuss second-half storylines to watch, trade rumors involving names like Rondo, Monta, and Beasley, things we'd change about All-Star Weekend, new franchises for "Clipper Darrell" to join, and whether Reggie Miller is a first-ballot Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
All that, plus Leigh's "Tweet of the Weak," a horrific round of "The Pun-Gun Game," Jeremy Lin's boxer briefs, the NBA's best mascot, Kobe vs. LeBron, and much, much more.
(And after you listen, make sure to check out our hilarious All-Star videos.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
After the Rangers had the Cardinals down to their final strike in the ninth and tenth innings and failed to finish them off, David Freese hit a walk-off home run in the eleventh to give the Cardinals a 10-9 win and send the Series to a deciding Game 7. In terms of drama, the only thing missing was an epic soundtrack. In terms of schadenfreude, the only thing missing was a reaction shot of George W. Bush weeping in Nolan Ryan's arms.