|Suns, Mavs put future stars on display|
PHOENIX -- The regular season could not come soon enough for Phoenix or Dallas.
Not only will the teams put their expected future stars on display in rookies DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic -- two of the first three players taken in the 2018 draft -- but they also can return to the focus to the court.
Take the offseason. Please.
The Suns fired general manager Ryan McDonough last week after a difficult five-year run in which the team went through five coaches, made a series of unsuccessful trades and extended their playoff drought to eight seasons despite three years of high draft picks, capped by No. 1 overall Ayton last summer. They have won 68 games the last three years.
Dallas is still is not clear of the fallout from an independent investigation conducted late last season that found a corporate culture "rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior." A long-time team photographer was fired before a preseason trip to China after being tainted by similar allegations.
The Maverick won 24 games last season, their fewest in 19 years, although the addition of Doncic -- the third player taken in the draft -- and free agent center DeAndre Jordan to a cast that includes Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. adds promise. Barnes has been ruled out of the season opener both Wednesday because of a right hamstring that kept him out the entire preseason.
New Suns coach Igor Koskokov, an 18-year veteran NBA assistant who spent the last three seasons with Utah, is expected to open his career with star guard Devin Booker in the lineup.
Booker, McDonough's signature draft pick and a $158-million man after signing a five-year contract extension in July, suffered a fractured bone in his right hand in the offseason that required surgery and kept him out of preseason games.
"I haven't played competitive basketball in a very long time," said Booker, who led the Suns by averaging a career-high 24.9 points a game last season despite injuries that kept him out of 28 games including the final 12.
"So I'm very excited to get out there with a whole new team, new coach, almost new organization. I feel like we're moving in the right direction and (Wednesday) is going to be a new test for us."
Without Booker in the preseason, the Suns have mixed-and-matched point guards while starting second-year player Josh Jackson at off guard, 7-foot-2 center Ayton at center and former Houston players Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza at forward. Ariza spent the last four seasons with Houston; Anderson, the last two.
Ayton, the first player taken in the draft, will give the Suns an inside scorer they have lacked since Amare Stoudamire left as a free agent following the 2009-10 season, the last time the Suns made the playoffs.
"I'm pretty excited," Ayton said Tuesday. "Obviously I don't want to show it. But trust me, I'm doing back flips in my mind right now.
"I'm an entertainer. I don't look any myself as a basketball player. I like to entertain people. I don't like to do jump hooks all day. I like to run and jump, shoot the ball. Doing this is fun. I look forward to times like this, playing in front of everybody and showing what I've got."
Veteran Isaiah Caanan fits the traditional point guard mold as well as anyone on the Suns' roster, but they also could play Booker there. Caanan suffered a fractured right ankle in Jan. 31 game against Dallas and missed the rest of last season.
"He's a very important piece for us," Kokoskov said.
The Mavericks traded up in the draft to take 6-8 guard Doncic, a native of Slovenia who has been praised for his basketball IQ, led Madrid to the European league championship last season at age 19. He also was named the league MVP and the final four MVP.
Forward Barnes has led the team in scoring the last two seasons and free agent Jordan adds an interior presence. Point guard Smith Jr. averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists as a rookie last season and is being counted on to take on more of a leadership role. Franchise mainstay Dirk Nowitzki, entering his 20th season, may not return until November while recovering from ankle surgery.
"Smith and Doncic are playing well together," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the team returned from its their exhibition series in China.
"That's no shock to me. Those guys are both high-level young players. They are both winners and they both will recognize the special abilities of the other and find a way not only to co-exist but thrive together.
"We need them to continue to do that. Dennis is becoming more of a leader every day and that's got to happen. It's got to continue to happen."