Quick preview of the Phoenix Mercury's Training Camp, their needs, and the unique new pre-season concept being rolled out by the WNBA this year...

How fun was last season? Let me re-phrase that: How crazy was last season with a decent ending all things considered? It was a roller-coaster of coaching changes, roster adjustments, injuries, winning, and then in the end losing.

This season has the potential to be a special one as last year was the first half of The Avengers Story with this year promising to be the final battle. The Mercury might leave New York City Super Hero level wreckage in their path to a Championship.

Well, that was what was said last year too... By me.

No doubt the Mercury have star power. From Taurasi to Griner, Taylor to Bonner, and all the way to Dupree this is a team of stars.

There is no lack of talent on this team, but a "team" is who wins the Championship every year. That is obviously the Mercury's goal under new head coach Sandy Brondello meaning they need to add a little more substance to this group of obvious style. This team has a lot of style.

While The Avengers analogy is not overly creative or perfect, it fits this team. Every player mentioned above has had their own run as the Alpha on a team. Taylor is an Alpha, Taurasi has always been an Alpha, Bonner became an Alpha while those two were injured, Griner is a young Alpha, and Dupree has Alpha potential. Put all of them in a room together to ration shots and minutes and roles and egos and pride and their Alpha-ness and things become tricky.

That is where the need to add substance comes into play. Briana Gilbreath, Alexis Gray-Lawson, and Krystal Thomas provide some. They need more.

With the way WNBA Rosters are constructed each team is allocated ten spots for players with injury exemptions available, as every Mercury fan is aware of over the course of the past two years. The team is returning eight players from last season leaving two spots open to be filled.

Play-Making and forward/center depth are two of the teams main strengths leaving holes at guard, the need for specialist shooters, and more "glue" that makes a team a Champion.

2014 Pre-Season Training Camp Roster

Coaching Staff: Sandy Brondello (Head Coach), Julie Hairgrove (Assistant), Todd Troxel (Assistant), and Tamara Poole (Athletic Trainer)

(*On Roster Last Season)

Mistie Bass (8) -- 6-3 190 lbs. Forward

Tiffany Bias (23) -- 5-6 lbs. Guard

*DeWanna Bonner (24) -- 6-4 137 lbs. Guard/Forward

Hallie Christofferson (5) -- 6-3 lbs. Forward

*Candice Dupree (4) -- 6-2 172 lbs. Forward

*Briana Gilbreath (15) -- 6-0 150 lbs. Guard

*Alexis Gray-Lawson (21) -- 5-8 180 lbs. Guard

*Brittney Griner (42) -- 6-8 199 lbs. Center

Chelsea Hopkins (1) -- 5-8 lbs. Guard

Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (10) -- 5-9 167 lbs. Guard

Ewelina Kobryn (11) -- 6-4 210 lbs. Center

Maggie Lucas (33) -- 5-10lbs. Guard

Shay Murphy (14) 5-11 164 lbs. Guard

Erin Phillips (31) -- 5-8 165 lbs. Guard

April Sykes (48) -- 6-0 183 lbs. Guard/Forward

*Diana Taurasi (3) -- 6-0 183 lbs. Guard

*Penny Taylor (13) -- 6-1 165 lbs. Forward

*Krystal Thomas (34) -- 6-5 210 lbs. Center

2014 Orlando Pre-Season Tournament

Starting on May 9th, 2014 the Phoenix Mercury will make Orlando home as they are one of four teams; Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever, and Chicago Sky, that will play in a pre-season tournament. It will be a four game tournament played at the HP Field House at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.

The teams will practice and make the event home for a four game tournament with some bragging rights going into the season and a chance to motivate nearly 1,500 AAU girls from the ages of 7-18 at the event.

"We are excited to be partnering with an organization like the WNBA," said AAU President & CEO Henry Forrest.  "We are looking forward to a great event as well as a continued long term relationship."

The Chicago Sky will face the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference portion first followed by a Western Conference collision between the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx. The winners will play each other for the "Championship" on May 11th as will the others in a consolation prize game.

The league's best and brightest stars will be on display.

Reunited with his twin brother Markieff just over a year ago, Marcus Morris turned the corner in his third NBA season, setting career highs in a slew of categories, and becoming a key contributor on a Suns second unit that proved to be one of the team's strengths.

When Marcus Morris was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Phoenix Suns last February for a second round pick, his career was at a crossroads. Despite modest success with the Rockets last season, they traded the #14 overall pick of the 2011 draft for a mere second rounder, allowing Marcus the opportunity to play with his brother Markieff in Phoenix.

Between the poor team chemistry and coaching change, the environment on last season's Suns wasn't conducive to high performance from any player. Marcus was no exception, shooting only 41% from the field and 31% from 3 in his 21 games after the trade, even ending up in interim coach Lindsey Hunter's doghouse for a spell.

Under new head coach Jeff Hornacek, this season was a completely different story for the 24-year old Marcus, as he enjoyed career highs in PPG (9.7), 3-point% (.381), PER (14.8), win shares/48 minutes (.111) and minutes played (22.0/game) in playing all 82 games and scoring in double figures 42 times.

Essentially, Marcus improved from being a fringe rotation guy to being a player who was a solid contributor off the bench, and could probably start for some teams in the league. Because there was so much improvement from a handful of other Suns, League MIP Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and his brother Markieff most prominent among them, Marcus' major steps forward as a player appear to have been overlooked a bit.

That's a shame because Marcus deserves a lot of credit for his achievements this season, and not just for his individual play. By their accounts, the presence of Marcus is also partially responsible for helping his brother Markieff to display more focus and consistency during his breakthrough season.

Marcus' primary role on offense was as a 3-point shooter, as 40% of his FGAs were from behind the arc, but Marcus was also occasionally effective from the post and with his mid-range shooting. That 3-point shooting was needed on a Suns second unit which didn't have much outside of Marcus and Green, and injuries forced Green into the starting lineup 49 times.

Some key stats for Marcus, and rank among Suns regular rotation players:

  • 15.9 points/36 minutes, 5th among Suns
  • .381 3-point%, 4th among Suns
  • 6.4 rebounds/36 minutes, 5th among rotation players (not including Len, Kravtsov, Randolph and Christmas)
  • .111 win shares/48 mins, 6th among Suns
  • 14.8 PER, 5th among Suns
  • .552 TS%, 6th among Suns
Not a bad season's work for a player who was acquired for a pick which ended up being 34th (Isaiah Canaan) in last year's draft. Other players the Suns might have taken with that pick include Ray McCallum, Tony Mitchell and Jeff Withey. Marcus' salary this season was just under $2M and will be a shade under $3M next season.

Lesser Brother?

From Robin Lopez to Taylor Griffin to Miles Plumlee, we Suns fans like to joke about the Suns regularly ending up with the "lesser brother" of players. For awhile, it looked as if this wouldn't be a factor with this Morris brothers when they both disappointed early in their careers. Now, the Suns have both of them, and they each showed dramatic improvement this season.

How much of that improvement is due to them playing together, as they say they've always wanted to do? What happens when the Suns possibly want to keep one but maybe not the other in the future? If another team inquires about a trade for one, do they need to trade them both? Assuming the Suns want to re-sign them both, how would those contract negotiations work?

It's a unique situation, and creates some interesting complications. The bond Marcus and Markieff have is one most of us will never be able to fully understand. They've been closest friends for their entire lives, share facial hairstyles, tattoos, and live together. They aren't your usual set of brothers. For that reason, I favor the Suns either keeping both, or trading both, unless that proves to be impossible in the face of other priorities.

For Marcus' share of the Morris twins improvement, and for his individual performance, I give him a B+. He's a solid, consistent player who does several things capably. Not a star, maybe not even an eventual starter, but he produced at least as well as Jared Dudley did in his time with the Suns, and well exceeded expectations.

All statistics cited are courtesy of BasketballReference.com. Thanks to Sean Sullivan for "The Silent Assassin"nickname.
A day after Jeff Hornacek came in second place to Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year voting, Goran Dragic ended the trail of Phoenix Suns snubs — fairly or unfairly labeled — during...

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After a cinderella year both for himself and the team, the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic gets a trophy for his work.

After the entire Phoenix Suns team displayed Most Improved Team characteristics all year long, their star point guard Goran Dragic received the individual Most Improved Player Award.

The Suns had many candidates on their roster for Most Improved - Gerald Green nearly doubled his career scoring average (15.8 vs. 8.0). Markieff Morris led all reserves in double-doubles (11), points off bench and rebounds off bench. Eric Bledsoe was the early leader for most improved before hurting his knee in December and finished the year as a max-contract shoe-in. The list goes on and on.

Gerald Green finished 4th, getting 16 first-place votes, and Markieff Morris was 10th.

But it was Goran Dragic who put up a season that only two league MVPs and two All-Stars have ever approached. Dragic became only the fourth player in league history to score 20 points per game, dish 5 assists per game, shoot 50+% from the field and 40+% from three-point range.

Only LeBron James (once), Larry Bird (three times) and Jeff Hornacek (1991-92 - All-Star) and Chris Webber (1995-96) have ever matched those numbers in a season. Webber only played a few games that season, so he would not have qualified for any awards.

Collecting 408 of a possible 1,134 points, Dragic received 65 first-place votes from a panel of 126 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers (158 points, 13 first-place votes) and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (155 points, 16 first-place votes) came in second and third, respectively. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote received.

In the past year, Dragic has been named to the All-Tournament team for Eurobasket 2013 as one of the two best guards in the tourney, got married to his longtime girlfriend and saw his child come into the world healthy and happy.

Now, he has some NBA recognition for stepping up his game better than ever before. He did not make the All-Star game, but he is the MIP and might make an All-NBA team as well.

Cue the Dragon!

Channing Frye and Emeka Okafor count nearly $21 million against the Suns cap this season and both may be free agents on July 1. Okafor's contract expires on June 30, and Frye can opt out of his final year as well. That means the Suns cannot include them in trades.

The Phoenix Suns want to rejoin the NBA elite in the very near future, and they have assets to burn - cap space to take on salary, youth on rookie contracts and six first round draft picks in the next 15 months.

Any incoming All-Star free agent or trade acquisition would join two rising stars at the guard positions - Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe - and a coaching staff that maximizes the skill sets on the roster. The Suns were supposed to win less than 20 games last year, but got 48 wins instead. Even more impressive, when both guards started the team went 23-11.

It's no wonder the Suns now see themselves as a premier destination for difference-making free agents, and a premier trading partner thanks to their available assets.

Could the Suns entice LeBron James to leave Miami for a younger team that could be a contender with his services?

Could the Suns entice Minnesota to trade them Kevin Love for their bevy of assets?

Could the Suns do both?

Very unlikely. In fact, incredibly unlikely. But as least the Suns are in the game. They are major players in that game.

Trade season re-opens for every team the day their season ends. For 14 NBA teams, including the Suns, that was last Thursday. The Suns could conceivably concoct a trade for Kevin Love right now, since Minnesota is also out of the hunt. They could even fold in lotto-bound Detroit in a three-team trade (hypothetically shipping Josh Smith to Minny, Love to Phoenix, and Suns assets to both places to even the score).

But trades are rarely made right now. Many people will point to the NBA Draft as the time trade season really begins. However, as you put together your trade packages, there are few Suns players you have to leave out because they cannot be traded.

Emeka Okafor

Okafor cannot be traded. The last day on which he could have been traded was in February at the trade deadline. After that, players with expiring contracts - or those that could expire at the player's discretion - cannot be traded before their contract runs out.

Teams are free to make trades again once their season has ended, but cannot trade players whose contracts are ending or could end due to an option or ETO.

-- CBAFAQ.com

Okafor is not a trade chip. Moving on.

Channing Frye

Frye could become an unrestricted free agent if he wants this summer because he has a player option for next season at $6.8 million. He has until June 23 to decide whether to pick that up - three days before the June 26 NBA Draft.

At that point, one of three things will have happened:

  • Frye will decide to stay with the Suns for one more year, picking up his option, and hoping to sign an extension before next June 30. If he does this, he can be traded afterward.
  • Or, Frye will opt out, to become a free agent. The Suns will hold his Bird Rights, and could re-sign him with cap space. If he does this, he cannot be traded.
  • Or, Frye will sign an extension now (in conjunction with opting out of 2014-15 to sign the new contract), for at least two years, and for no less than the amount he's already scheduled to make in 2014-15 ($6.8 million). If he does this, he cannot be traded for at least six months.

Extensions to contracts that are not rookie scale contracts (i.e., veteran extensions) may be signed up to June 30, the day before the player would have become a free agent.

A contract that contains an Early Termination Option (ETO) cannot be extended if the ETO is exercised (ending the contract early). A contract with an option can be extended if the player opts-in. A contract with an option can also be extended if the player opts-out, as long as the extension adds at least two new seasons onto the contract (excluding any new option year) and the salary in the first year of the extension is not less than the salary in the non-exercised option year. See question number 58 for more information on options and ETOs.

--CBAFAQ.com

While Frye would really love to take door #3 - signing an extension now - that's probably the least likely scenario. The Suns love Frye's contributions, but it's hard to commit to multiple years of at LEAST $6.8 million per year.

Most likely, the Suns will want the market to set the price, either this summer or next summer.

If Frye opts out this summer, by June 23, then he becomes a free agent. The Suns can retain his Bird Rights by accepting a cap hold of $9.6 million in place of the $6.8 million. That means the Suns will need to keep $9.6 million under the new cap until his contract situation is resolved.

But that cap hold effectively negates the value of Frye's Bird Rights. Bird Rights allow a few things: ability to exceed cap by re-signing, higher raises and one more year. There's no way the Suns will want to give Frye bigger raises than anyone else can offer, or more years. And the Suns will want that cap space gobbled up by a hold that's probably twice as big as the Suns will want to pay him per year.

If Frye opts out, the smartest thing the Suns can do it renounce their Bird Rights to him. The Suns can still re-sign Frye, but not to anything exceeding the cap and not for bigger raises.

If you want to re-sign Frye to a 3 year contract for $5 million per year, for example, you don't need Bird Rights to do it.

No telling what Frye will do, but if he opts out the Suns will likely try to re-sign him to a lower annual salary while not having that big cap hold during early free agency.

In the meantime, the Suns cannot trade Frye.

Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker

Most of us know the Suns cannot trade Bledsoe or Tucker unless it's a sign-and-trade as a restricted free agent. However, I keep hearing comments from Bright Siders about one or both of them being included in a Love deal.

That could happen, but only in a sign-and-trade and only after July 1. There won't be any Draft deals with Bledsoe or Tucker in them.

The Suns have publicly claimed they will match any offer for Bledsoe, unless he signs a lesser deal directly with the Suns beforehand. The Suns would love to get him on a contract without the RFA offers, but rest assured that would only be for a contract equal to or smaller than anyone else can give him.

P.J. Tucker wants to return, and he's already talking about going to summer league on July 11 "as long as his contract is worked out". My guess is he signs something reasonable as soon as the clock strikes 12:01 on July 1.

Either way, neither can be included in a trade until after July 1, and even then only in a sign-and-trade situation.

Ish, Dionte and Shav

All of Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas and Shavlik Randolph CAN be traded, though with Shav they have to wait until June 1.

All three are on non-guaranteed contracts for 2014-15 season with varying guarantee dates but the Suns have a minimum of the first two weeks in July to include any or all in a trade with the receiving team having the option to release them. They add up to about $3 million in non-guaranteed deals between them.

This really helps in trade talks, since the salary cap is everything.

Everyone else on the team is fair game in a trade.

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