James Harden no longer a possibility for Suns; Luis Scola trying to become a three-point shooter

PHOENIX – It was widely speculated in the national media that the Phoenix Suns would make the kind of play for James Harden next offseason that they did for Eric Gordon this past summer when they extended a max offer sheet that New Orleans matched.

Now that Oklahoma City has dealt Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin and a slew of future assets, it’s fair to wonder whether the Suns should have tried harder to trump that offer after PBO Lon Babby told The Arizona Republic that the Suns and Thunder were “were engaged in discussions on numerous occasions” but that no proposal “got a whole lot of life.”

First off, the only way the Suns were ever going to acquire Harden was via a blockbuster trade since Sam Presti would only ever part with him for a boatload of quality assets and only then if contract talks fell apart (as they did).

With five first-round picks the next three years, the Suns could have offered Jared Dudley (likely a must in any Harden deal), Markieff Morris and three of the firsts — say one guaranteed lottery pick from the Suns, the Minnesota pick and the 2013 selection from the Lakers.

It’s unknown whether the Suns ever offered that kind of deal or whether Presti just liked the Houston package more, but Dudley seems like he would be a perfect fit as a leader of the Thunder bench and Morris would be a nice developmental piece upfront.

It can be argued whether Harden is truly a max kind of player and whether acquiring him and taking out all high lottery pick possibilities (due to how Harden would improve the team) would put the Suns on a path to the top of the West without acquiring another stud, but for a team that needs elite talent so badly it’s a risk I probably would have taken, especially considering how seldom rising stars like Harden become available.

The Suns never came close to acquiring Gordon because they did not want to “take one step forward and two steps back to give them enough to satisfy them,” as Babby has put it, and it seems that thinking held true with Harden as well.

Luis Scola working to add three-point shot to his arsenal

Whoever created the saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” forgot to tell that to Suns forward Luis Scola.

The 32-year-old grizzled vet enters the 2012-13 season having knocked down just one three-pointer in 17 attempts over the course of five NBA seasons with the Houston Rockets, yet he decided to spend all summer working to add the long ball to his diverse scoring arsenal even before he learned he would become a member of the trey-happy Phoenix Suns.

“I just think it’s a weapon,” Scola said. “I just think it’s something that helps teams and opens the court. I think I’m not far away from it, shooting very close to the three-point line, so it’s not that hard for me. If you never shoot it, you don’t have a good shot, it’s a problem because it’s a major adjustment.

“But if you’re shooting long twos — and I have for many years — you’re not that far away from it. From here one step behind is not that difficult. I feel pretty confident that I’m going to be able to pull it off, but we’ll see. At some point I have to make it.”

Scola spends time every day working on his three-point shot in the hopes of providing the floor-spacing presence upfront the Suns often have possessed over the years. He called it a “priority” for him because it’s a weapon his game does not currently feature that carries much value in this league, especially in comparison to the inefficient long two.

The first day Scola arrived in Phoenix for the season he went straight to Gentry and asked if he could shoot threes this year.

Gentry said, “Yeah, if you can make them you can shoot them.”

Scola asked for clarification on what that meant and Gentry replied that he if shoots 10 and makes four, then he can take another 10.

“At some point I have to make them,” said Scola, who has hit just 1-of-5 three-pointers this preseason. “Every coach will let you shoot if you make them. If you don’t make them every coach will tell you not to shoot them. I’ll stop shooting before nobody tells me to stop if I know that I can’t make them, but I believe in hard work and I’ve been working hard all summer, so I trust in my ability to work on something and get better at it.

“I only want to shoot it if I become effective. I strongly believe I can become effective at some point. I just need to keep working on it. Nobody will have to tell me to stop shooting if I’m not effective, I’ll be the first one to stop shooting.”

Gentry on developmental Suns

With the Suns set to carry 15 players this season for the first time in Gentry’s tenure, the Phoenix coach will need to balance the needs of the team with the development of his raw players, especially if this turns into a rebuilding season.

Obviously the present comes first in this type of situation, yet with lottery pick Kendall Marshall in that same boat as well, developing the potential of youngsters like Diante Garrett and Luke Zeller will be firmly on Gentry’s agenda this season.

“I think they showed in training camp that with a little polishing and experience they might have an opportunity to develop into real good players,” Gentry said of the newest Suns, Garrett and Zeller. “Zeller is a stretch shooter. He can stretch the defense, and we’ve always had that kind of guy on our team. Diante is just one of those young kids, he’s going to keep developing given the opportunity. We just thought having him here and being able to work every day against a Goran and Sebastian couldn’t do anything but help.”

I asked Gentry what the coaching staff can do to help Zeller take his practice shooting prowess into games after Blanks called him “one of the best shooters in the world” on Thursday.

“Well, world might be a little strong,” Gentry said. “Let’s start with the county and then we’ll work up, but he is a very good shooter and a big guy that can stretch the floor and shoot three-pointers. I think everything comes down to experience in this league. He hadn’t had experience in certain situations in this league. He needs to continue to work and get stronger. He needs to be able to hold his ground and rebound, things like that. You can’t do that until you’re out on the floor and get experience.”

NBA blog previews: Southeast and Southwest divisions

Atlanta Hawks: Peachtree Hoops

Charlotte Bobcats: Rufus On Fire

Miami Heat: Hot Hot Hoops

Orlando Magic: Orlando Pinstriped Post | Orlando Magic Daily

Washington Wizards: Bullets Forever

Dallas Mavericks: MavsMoneyball

Houston Rockets: The Dream Shake

Memphis Grizzlies: Straight Outta Vancouver | 3 Shades of Blue

New Orleans Hornets: At the Hive

San Antonio Spurs: Pounding The Rock

And 1

  • Babby on David Stern after he announced he would retire in February 2014: “I can’t imagine that there has ever been or will ever be a commissioner as successful as he’s been. … Kenesaw Mountain Landis maybe, but other than that who has done a better job as a commissioner of a professional sports league?”
  • Babby on the season: “I honestly have not been this excited since I’ve been here to see how this unfolds.”
  • Heading into the season, Gentry is still concerned about the team’s rebounding and ability to stop dribble penetration. Stop him if you’ve heard that before.
  • With Morris primed for a bigger role as the primary backup power forward who can play some backup center at times, Gentry is worried about his ability to limit fouls after he was a foul machine in Summer League and throughout the preseason. “I think he’s got to do away with the cheapie fouls,” Gentry said. “I told him especially if you’re going to guard five men you’ve got to best utilize your fouls. I think what happens to him is there’s always two or three cheap fouls.”
  • More Babby: “Just make good decisions every day, and what I won’t tolerate is not being prepared. If we’re surprised by something, that’s unacceptable. If we make the wrong decision after we have all the information, you just try to do better the next time.”

Tags: Diante Garrett James Harden Luis Scola Luke Zeller

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