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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul, Devin Booker focused on hoops as NBA investigates Robert Sarver allegations

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PHOENIX — The leaders of the Phoenix Suns vowed to focus on basketball while awaiting the conclusions from the NBA’s investigation into allegations of misconduct by team owner Robert Sarver.

ESPN published a lengthy story Thursday, based on dozens of interviews, that detailed multiple incidents of misogyny and racism during Sarver’s 17-year tenure as owner. Sarver has issued a series of firm denials in statements and comments through his attorneys. The NBA has directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation, which would provide the basis for any action from the league against Sarver.

“I think we have a close-knit team that sticks together,” Suns star shooting guard Devin Booker said after Phoenix’s 123-111 win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday, when Sarver’s courtside seats were empty. “We obviously have conversations about it, but like Chris [Paul] said, we still had to show up to shootaround today and we still had to play a game. We’re focused on basketball, and I think things will get handled how they’re supposed to.”

Booker, Paul and head coach Monty Williams each acknowledged the severity and sensitivity of the allegations against Sarver but emphasized the need to remain patient as the league’s investigation takes its course.

“As someone who is the caretaker of a program, I find all these things that are being said serious in nature,” Williams said before the game. “It takes courage to come out and express yourself. But at the same time, I’m aware there are two sides to this equation. … We still have to wait to see how clear the facts can appear.”

Williams, who led the Suns to the NBA Finals last season, is in his third year with the team. He pointed out that all of the allegations in the story took place before he was hired by the franchise in 2019.

“If any of that stuff happened while I was here, I wouldn’t be in this seat,” Williams said. “The league is doing an investigation, and we’ll know more obviously once that is settled.”

Booker, a seven-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Suns, is the franchise’s longest-tenured active player. He said he has not witnessed any instances of racism or misogyny by Sarver.

“In my seven years that I’ve been here, I haven’t noticed that, but that doesn’t make me insensitive to the subject,” Booker said. “I think the NBA opened an investigation, and they’re going to do their due diligence of bringing out facts instead of ‘he said, she said.’ I’m sure the NBA has it in good hands and will do the proper research to find out the truth.”

The accusations included former Suns coach Earl Watson alleging that Sarver repeatedly used the N-word after an Oct. 30, 2016 loss to the Golden State Warriors despite Watson’s strong objection. In a statement on Thursday, Sarver called Watson “clearly not a credible source,” saying Watson created “an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization.”

Booker, however, vouched for Watson’s character Thursday night. Asked if he considered Watson credible, Booker said, “Earl? Yeah. That’s my guy.”

This is the second time in Paul’s career that the owner of a team he played for was the subject of a major controversy. Former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA in 2014 and forced to sell the team after recordings of racist comments he made became public.

“I feel like situations are different,” Paul said. “We dealt with that in that time when all that happened. I think right now, like Book said, we’re not insensitive to everything that was said or whatnot, but we don’t know all the details. So the NBA will do its investigation, and in that time, all of us on our team will continue to play and do what we do.”

Paul stressed the importance of the Suns to remain “locked in” and to “play for one another” while avoiding getting caught up in the conversation about the controversy.

“I’ve been through a few situations in my time in the league,” Paul said. “The powers that be, they look into it. They do their investigations or whatnot, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned through all these years is that us as a team, we’ve got to talk. It’s not about what everybody else is saying or everybody else is telling you to do or you should do. It’s about how we feel as a team, as a unit, coaching staff, everybody within the organization.”

Booker said the Suns would follow the lead of Williams, calling the coach the “perfect person” to guide the team during turmoil.

“He’s the best at that — managing situations, controlling the room and keeping people focused forward,” Booker said. “That’s what he’s done with our team. We’ve talked about it as a team. You can feel everything he says. We’re sticking behind him. We’re going to keep playing hard for him and winning basketball games.”

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst contributed to this report.

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Coach Tom Thibodeau removes struggling Kemba Walker from New York Knicks’ rotation

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New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters Monday afternoon that he is removing guard Kemba Walker from not only the team’s starting lineup but also the rotation as a whole, beginning with Tuesday’s showdown with the crosstown-rival Nets in Brooklyn.

“It’s a tough decision to make, but you always have to do what you think is best for the team,” Thibodeau said after practice Monday in explaining his decision. “I view Kemba as a starter, and so it’d be tough to play three small guards together. I gave it consideration, and I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he’s accomplished in this league.

“But I have to do what I think is best for the team.”

In this case, Thibodeau decided that meant benching Walker in favor of Alec Burks. Walker, a four-time All-Star and New York City basketball legend, returned home this past summer on a two-year, $20 million deal after being bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder following a trade from the Boston Celtics.

After seeing Burks go for 23 points in 39 minutes in Saturday’s win in Atlanta over the Hawks — a game Walker didn’t play in after scoring 17 points in New York’s loss to the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden the night before — Thibodeau has opted to put him in the starting five moving forward.

“I want to tighten the rotation. I liked the way the team functioned, so it will be similar to what we did in the Atlanta game.”

Walker, 31, is averaging career lows across the board, including points (11.1), rebounds (2.6), assists (3.1), field goal attempts per game (9.8) and minutes (24.5). After a hot start to the season, his numbers have tailed off dramatically, as he averaged 10 points on 39% shooting overall — and 29% from 3-point range — through 12 games in November.

Meanwhile, New York’s starting lineup has simply not worked. Entering Monday night’s action, the team’s typical starting lineup — Walker, Evan Fournier, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson — is the NBA’s most-used five-man lineup, logging 287 minutes. It has also been outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in those minutes, and has what would be the NBA’s worst defensive rating (118.9). Individually, the Knicks are being outscored when Walker is on the court by 13 points per 100 possessions, and are outscoring teams by 11 points per 100 possessions when he isn’t.

Walker spent the past two seasons in Boston after the Celtics signed him to a four-year max contract in 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving once the latter left to sign his own max deal with the Nets. After making the All-Star team his first season and helping Boston reach the Eastern Conference finals with strong play in series victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors along the way, Walker struggled with knee issues last season, missing 29 games in the regular season and the final two games of Boston’s five-game loss to Brooklyn in the first round.

In his first significant move as president of the franchise, former coach Brad Stevens chose to trade Walker to the Thunder, along with the No. 16 pick in July’s NBA draft, to bring center Al Horford back to Boston. Horford has seamlessly fit right into Boston’s lineup, particularly with starting center Robert Williams missing chunks of multiple games with various injuries early on this season.

Walker, on the other hand, eventually agreed to a buyout with the Thunder, allowing him to return home to New York to play a smaller role with his hometown team. But after being benched down the stretch repeatedly over the past several weeks, along with other members of the starting lineup, as New York’s bench has consistently outperformed it, Thibodeau decided Monday to take things a step further.

The Knicks are currently 11-9, putting them in the middle of the tightly bunched Eastern Conference standings. New York is three games behind the East-leading Nets and one ahead of the 76ers in 11th.

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Blake Griffin, out of Brooklyn Nets’ rotation, preaches patience, knows ‘that’s not my decision’

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NEW YORK — Falling completely out of the Brooklyn Nets‘ rotation was not something Blake Griffin saw coming.

After starting 17 games this season, Griffin has sat the past two games after Steve Nash inserted LaMarcus Aldridge into the starting lineup.

“No, I mean listen, [Aldridge] has been playing unbelievable,” Griffin said. “So, I totally get starting him, especially Joe [Harris] has been out, and I totally get that.

“Being completely out of it, though, I didn’t necessarily see that coming. But that’s not my decision. As players it’s our job to do whatever coaches see best, so at this point that’s what it is.”

Griffin, a six-time All-Star, was averaging a career-low 5.5 points to go with 4.9 rebounds while shooting just 16.1% from behind the 3-point arc. The power forward is shooting a career-low 31.8% overall from the field. Last season with the Pistons and Nets, Griffin averaged 11 points, 4.9 rebounds, 42.3% shooting overall and 34.1% 3-point shooting.

“Well, I feel for him,” Nash said. “That’s not easy. You know it’s tough when you go through a rough stretch of play and the world kind of caves in on you a little bit. I’ve been there and understand it. We have to give other guys an opportunity at this point, but Blake’s had a great attitude. I really admire him for being positive through this and keeping himself ready so if his opportunity comes back, he can have an impact.”

With Harris out for potentially four to eight weeks after he will undergo ankle surgery, the Nets need more shooting around Kevin Durant and James Harden. Aldridge has been one of the Nets’ best players this season, averaging 13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 58% shooting from the field in just 22.1 minutes per game.

Griffin said he has been in touch with some of his former teammates, including DeAndre Jordan, since Nash’s decision. Jordan started the season as a starter before losing his spot in the starting five early last season.

“I have seen [and] have had great examples,” Griffin said. “DeAndre last year, he is a guy that I talked to that reached out. A lot of the guys from last year reached out. He did a really great job with it. I told him that. That is how I am going to try to do it as well.

“Just be a professional and do exactly what you are supposed to do,” Griffin added of what message his former teammates told him. “It may sound like not good advice, but in this situation, everybody always needs to hear the right thing.”

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Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris to undergo ankle surgery, out 4-8 weeks, agent says

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris will undergo surgery on his injured left ankle and is expected to miss four to eight weeks, with optimism he can return on the shorter end of that timeline, Harris’ agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Nets head coach Steve Nash said Harris’ surgery will address “a little bone particle” in the ankle and hopefully allow the shooter to move forward from the injury. Harris has missed the last six games since injuring his ankle in a win at Oklahoma City on Nov. 14.

“He is going to have a scope and then we’ll see what that means once they’ve had the procedure,” Nash said after Nets practice. “We think this is a really positive thing that can put this situation behind him long term rather than risking reoccurrences or uncertainty with the injury.”

Harris is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 46.6% from behind the 3-point arc this season.

“There’s a little bone particle in there,” Nash said. “Just the uncertainty of it, just better to take it out. We thought that it would potentially sort itself out because it’s been there but it’s not. Hopefully that’s the end of it.”

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