Trans. Oct 24 9:50 ET (Oct 24 9:50 ET ) The Arizona desert turned up a UFO crash in 1953, purple alien eggs just last year and Lord knows what else in the 60 years between. It’s only natural the Phoenix Suns add another wrinkle to their own weird science experiment, turning a two-headed snake into a three-headed monster in the backcourt. In a strange summer, general manager Ryan McDonough agreed to a four-year, $27 million contract with Sacramento Kings dynamo Isaiah Thomas on the day the NBA’s moratorium lifted, seemingly signaling the end of fellow restricted free agent point guard Eric Bledsoe’s fun in the Arizona sun. But the NBA Executive of the Year runner-up doubled down, inking Mini LeBron to a five-year, $70 million deal some two months later. With All-NBA Third Team selection Goran Dragic also in the Phoenix mix, McDonough effectively created the league’s most dangerous polycephalous point guard. So, the Suns will roll the dice with a troika of All-Star-caliber guards, identified flying object Gerald Green and a mysterious frontcourt in an attempt to recreate last year’s bizarre 48-34 record, which tied the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors for the best season by a team that didn't make the playoffs since the NBA switched to the 16-team playoff format in 1984. Under NBA Coach of the Year runner-up (noticing a trend here) Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix played at a top-10 pace in his first season at the helm, and the Suns will run again, even faster if possible. Only, they’ll have to do so without Channing Frye, whose floor-stretching capacity from the power forward position translated into 8.3 additional points per 100 possessions in his 28.2 minutes a night on the floor, according to Basketball-Reference.com . Out of the Frye pan and into the fire will be Markieff Morris, whose own breakout 2013-14 season (2,153 minutes, 13.8 points, six rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, 56.4 True Shooting percentage, 18.4 Player Efficiency Rating) earned him a four-year, $52 million deal to split unevenly with his twin brother, Marcus Morris. Sharpshooting veteran free agent forward Anthony Tolliver (41.3 percent on a career-high 247 3-point tries for Charlotte last year) and young center projects Miles Plumlee and Alex Len round out a bigs mess. Add a pair of potential mid-first-round steals in T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, another Dragic named Zoran and a post- “super extreme” DUI suspension P.J. Tucker, and it should be another supernatural season for the 2013-14 League Pass legends. Last year taught us this much about the Suns: They are here. 2013-14 season in 140 characters or less: What the Ish is this? The weirdest collection of awesome under the Suns. Did the summer help at all? The Suns let their most productive big walk , spent the money Frye got in Orlando on a third point guard , handed one contract to a pair of twins , signed their best player’s brother and drafted one half of Bojan and Bogdan Bogdanovic — all as their starting small forward spent a no expenses paid three-day vacation in county jail . So … just your typical NBA offseason? Seriously, that’s freaky, even by their standards. Go-to offseason acquisition: Had Thomas not stood just 69 inches tall, he would have commanded far more than $27 million over four years in free agency. After all, the Sactown sparkplug was one of six players to average 20 points and six assists while posting a PER above 20 this past season. The others: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook. Those dudes aren’t so bad. Thomas comes with another caveat, though, since Sacramento’s fast-paced offense and non-existent defense over the past decade has produced plenty of padded stats that haven’t translated elsewhere. In the past 10 years, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic combined for one 20-point-per-game season upon leaving the Kings. At the very least, Thomas allows Hornacek to keep some combo of Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas on the floor for the majority of the game, strumming that double-necked point-guard guitar all night long. The fact that Thomas’ per-minute averages have remained steady as both a starter and reserve in his three-year career is an encouraging sign that the Suns will be able to keep making the same sweet music they did last season. Glaring weakness: The Suns don’t quite have a black hole in the middle, but it’s an awful dark mass in the space-time continuum. Plumlee and Len are expected to receive the bulk of those minutes, and that duo (mostly Plumlee, due to the multiple injuries that scuttled Len's rookie season) anchored the NBA’s fourth-worst efficiency differential at the position last season, according to HoopsStats.com (minus-3.8). Plumlee’s minutes plunged throughout 2013-14 as Hornacek got more comfortable playing Markieff Morris and the since-departed Frye in smaller, more offensively potent lineups. As a result, though, Phoenix allowed 42.2 points in the paint per game , also the league’s fourth-worst group. Not even highly regarded defensive assistant coach Mike Longabardi could help the Suns rise above the middle of the pack in points allowed per possession. Plumlee is still their best bet to clog the middle on defense, even if he does the same on offense. Contributor with something to prove: Following his client’s second knee surgery in three years, Bledsoe's agent spent the offseason demanding a max contract for a player who has started all of 78 NBA games. McDonough, who reportedly offered four years and $48 million, entered a summer-long staring contest with Rich Paul, and the two sides met closer to Bledsoe's demands. To say the 24-year-old has something to prove is an understatement. For chunks of last season, Bledsoe replicated what so many projected for Chris Paul's former backup. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound brick of muscle averaged 17.7 points (57.8 TS%), 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds while generally tormenting opposing backcourts alongside Dragic in 43 games. That's encouraging for a fourth-year point guard on his rookie contract; now it's expected from an eight-figure-salaried franchise player. Potential breakout stud: Double ankle surgeries stunted Year 1 of The Alex Len Project, presenting a built-in excuse for the No. 5 overall pick’s PER (7.3), true shooting percentage (46.9) and statistical averages over 42 games (two points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 8.6 minutes per game). Now, double finger fractures — on the same right pinkie, mind you — offer another easy excuse for the 7-foot-1 Ukrainian to start slow out of the gate. Yet Len made huge strides from his freshman to sophomore seasons at Maryland, and the 21-year-old has the potential to take a similar step forward after one year under Hornacek and Longabardi. He added the customary 15 pounds of muscle, and then collected six points, six boards and a pair of blocks before breaking his finger 25 minutes into Summer League. The re-broken finger is a setback for a player in desperate need of preseason practice, but he’ll still start the regular season healthy, and the minutes will be there for him to demonstrate his improvement, especially if he develops a mid-range jumper. Best-case scenario: It won’t be easy for Dragic to repeat his breakout All-NBA season, Green to shoot 3’s at a 40 percent clip again and Tolliver to replace Frye’s 2,312 minutes, but some combo of Bledsoe’s health, the addition of Thomas and the improvements of the Morris twins, Plumlee and/or Len should help the Suns recreate the magic that made them the NBA darlings of 2013-14. Even then, they’ll still be navigating a crowded Western Conference playoff picture that may also include Anthony Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans — all for the right to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Them’s the breaks for a franchise on the rise. If everything falls apart: Even if the science experiment takes a tu
Chris Paul returned from a night of rest and hit 12-of-18 shots, four 3-pointers and 6-of-6 free throws on his way to 34 points, five rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a block in Wednesday's gritty win over the Suns.
The Scoop:Both teams treated this as a real game, which was a nice change from some of the other games tonight. CP3 was fantastic, and if he could score like this on a more consistent basis, we'd be more likely to tell you to take him before guys like Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
So, now it’s on the players. Currently, Clipper fans don’t have to hate themselves, as they probably did at times, for paying to see a team owned by Donald Sterling. NBA fans, as we often did, don’t have to hate ourselves anymore while enjoying those late night, must-watch Clipper broadcasts on League Pass. The players don’t have to cringe anymore when Sterling goes meandering around the locker room. Doc Rivers won’t have to question his own ethics anymore. It’s over. (Shelly Sterling needs to go, to be sure, but it’s over.) What we have left, finally, is ball. Ball run by the league’s best point guard, one of its best coaches, and one of the NBA’s best players. Plays run by a supporting cast that is to be envied. Work run in the toughest conference in NBA history, one the Los Angeles Clippers have as good a chance as any at getting out of this spring, possibly representing the Western Conference in the 2015 NBA Finals. Such an idea was an uneasy prospect for the NBA and its fans for decades, because even though presenting a Conference championship trophy is a relatively new phenomenon, it would still include one Donald T. Sterling at the other end of the handoff. At the next stage, the thought of Sterling at center court, accepting a Lawrence O’Brien trophy alongside Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers was even more nauseating, but this is what the NBA (and the media that covered it, myself included) allowed. Somehow, Sterling was removed from the league and from the Clippers’ media guide with relative alacrity, a credit to both the league’s new commissioner, and common sense. New owner Steve Ballmer works with an open checkbook, and while that won’t do much for the 15 on the roster (Sterling actually did compete and pay fair salaries over the last decade or so), it will do wonders for the coaches, employees, scouts, and various other personnel that had to fight for every penny. Fears will be lifted, and the team will be better prepared. Which means, again, that this will be on the players. Contributors like J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes can’t help that they were injured last year, and Rivers couldn’t help his team’s failure to fill that final rotation spot last season, but excuses have to be out the window. Chris Paul’s game figures to age well, but he turns 30 in May. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Barnes are even older. DeAndre Jordan is in a contract year in anticipation of a summer that will feature scads of teams with maximum cap space. Blake Griffin is very, very good. It has to happen now. The Clippers worked their way into the league’s best offense last season even with again types like Hedo Turkoglu, Antawn Jamison, Stephen Jackson, Sasha Vujacic, and Danny Granger taking up space on the wing. The defense surprisingly held nearly as steady despite the coaching upgrade and influence of Doc Rivers, and Jordan will once again have to turn in a mindful campaign on that end. Griffin needs to continue to surprise offensively, thinking on the fly and not relying on pet moves, and for the second straight season Chris Paul will have to deign to give up the damn ball. Not every score has to come off of one of his assists, or one of his gorgeous floaters or mid-range shots. The trick is that we’re dealing with the Western conference. The Clippers could roar to the top seed, and it wouldn’t (and certainly shouldn’t) be termed an upset if the squad was upended by any number of Western opponents in the second or even first round. The conference is that good, and the quality of play is that high. The only disappointment in last year’s second round ouster at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder was in how the Clippers looked – clearly, they were ready for the season, and the Sterling saga, to end. It understandably drained them. That was also a second round matchup against a higher seed working with the league’s MVP on its side. Such is life in this conference. A conference that the Clippers could make their own, in 2014-15.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford hit clutch 3-pointers in the final minute and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Utah Jazz 101-97 Friday night for their first victory of the preseason.