Do you remember the last few drafts leading up to the Suns selection of Amare Stoudemire?
Suns.com used to provide us with great coverage of the workouts. There was excitement in the fan base leading up to the draft. Ever since the Nash era began we were shut out from the draft experience. Every year we were disappointed with the unfancy pick or straight selling our pick for cash. A truly horrible experience as a fan. Remember that year they presented Amare Stoudemire to us as our draft pick after they sold our pick again because he came back from micro-fracture surgery?
Do you know the guy whose rights we sold? I give you a hint. Mike D'Antoni said he could not play that player because he could not shoot.
Anyone who played NBA 2k11 had the pleasure of consistently being reminded by the announcers that the Suns traded away draft picks for Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, Rudy Fernandez, Nate Robinson, Serge Ibaka and so on. Good times being a Suns fan, going from great draft coverage and excitement to a strategy of pissing off the fanbase every year.
The NBA draft is the only true asset generator for NBA teams. You get a free chance to improve the value of your team every year with little risk due to the rookie scale contracts. Using the draft is esentially to stay competetive and to rebuild a team. The Suns have not made use of the draft for the last 10 years basically and that is why they are in the situation they are in right now. A terrible team with no future to look forward to as a fan. I could fully appreciate our team even when they are losing and play bad basketball if I had something to look forward to down the road.
Do you remember Amare Stoudemire's rookie season or sophomore season? We were not a good team, in the second year we finished #7 in the lottery and sold the pick which could have been Andre Iguodala just so we could hand out a bigger contract to Quentin Richardson.
And that is the mistake. The Suns front office in the past and Lon Babby right now think that free agency is the way to build a team and do not seem to value the draft. The problem with free agency is that really good players usually never hit the open market in the NBA and if they do there are many teams interested in signing them so you have to offer an attractive situation. Great players want to play with great players.
Other than that most teams are hopelessly trying to sign one mediocre or even above average free agent after another and keep drafting late in the lottery. The majority of free agent signings in the NBA eventually turn out to be bad contracts that no team wants to pick up. This happened to the Suns when they handed out a big deal to Josh Childress who had not played in the NBA for years and another big deal to Channing Frye.
I keep seeing people on message boards repeating the words of Lon Babby that good teams do not build through the draft and that Oklahoma City is an exception so let us take a look at the good teams in the NBA:
Dallas technically they did not draft Dirk Nowitzki but that is a moot point. They had a draft day deal set up to get Dirk Nowitzki so full credit to them. They also later drafted Josh Howard, Rodrigue Beaubois.
Memphis acquired Gasol, Gay, Conley, Mayo through the draft.
Utah acquired Kanter, Hayward, Burks, Millsap through the draft and previous to that Deron Williams who they turned into more assets when pressured to do so.
Denver acquired JR Smith, Ty Lawson, Nene through the draft.
Portland acquired Aldridge, Roy, Oden, Batum through the draft.
Oklahoma City acquired Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden through the draft.
Indiana Pacers got Hibbert, Granger and George.
Those are all currently over .500 teams in the NBA with the exception of Houston the only team in the NBA over .500 that did not acquire the key players in the draft but still they are filled with players on rookie deals.
Now you take a look at our very own Phoenix Suns and you will see that Markieff Morris and Robin Lopez are the only players on this team that we acquired through the draft. Everyone else was acquired as a free agent or through non draft-related trades. Go figure that Robin Lopez might not be on the Suns soon.
Yes Lon Babby is right. Rebuilding through the draft might mean that your team stays bad for several years but this comes down to how good your team is at drafting and as you can see above it ultimately essential for running a good team. The San Antonio Spurs do not just stay good by managing the contracts as Robert Sarver tried to tell us in the past. They are good at using the draft to keep their team in the mix and keep assets on their roster.
Obviously there are teams like Golden State who stay bad for years but usually that is due to one of the following reasons:
1. Those teams spend cap room on free agents that do not have enough impact to make a real difference for the team which keeps those teams from ever truly hitting rock bottom which increases chances to draft a franchise player.
2. Those teams consistently make bad draft choices.
3. Both of the above combined.
As a Suns fan we face the risk of our front office not blowing things up right now and ending up at outside of the top 5 picks and then use our capspace to sign good but not great free agents like Wilson Chandler to big deals so we will again look at a late lottery pick next year while not having the capspace to sign a franchise changing free agent if one ever becomes available or simply not being attractive to them.
Trading Steve Nash is esential. Another blog on this site a couple of days ago summarized that trading Steve Nash accomplishes nothing. That is wrong. While it would be nice to have Steve Nash leadership around to help develop young guys, you also have to consider that Steve Nash will keep us out of the top 5. Plus Steve Nash allows the Suns to run a very specific type of offense that they will not be able to execute in the post-Nash era. Players like Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat need to develop moves in an offense that requires more than shooting open jumpers or executing a pick and roll with Steve Nash.
If you could trade Steve Nash to Utah for Devin Harris and one or two of their draft picks or to Indiana for Collison and draft picks you have to do it right now. You have to stay in the race for the #1 pick to have a chance at a quick rebuilding process after this year. The value that is coming back in a Nash trade is not the only value, it is also the value of the Suns' very own pick that increases dramatically.
It is not easy to deal a center when the franchise with the exception of one great year of Shaquille O'Neal has been chronically lacking a center. But there are things to consider. The Suns are some years away from being relevant again. Gortat has by far the highest trade value on the team and his value might never be higher than what it is right now. He soon turns 28 so by the time the Suns are halfway through a 5 years rebuilding process he would be 30 and looking for a new contract which you can figure will pay him more than 10 million dollars per year. You come to the conclusion that Marcin Gortat to a team that is further along with the rebuilding process like for example Minnesota has much higher value than to the Suns. Exploring his trade value could go a long way to make a future changing trade.
With Love, Gallinari and Westbrook off the market there is not much hope that the Suns can land a difference maker. Dwight Howard and Deron Williams openly have their list of preferred destinations out there and the Suns are on none of them. It is not even a given that they will be free agents and if they do you figure they will go to the new Brooklyn team or one of them will go to Dallas rather than to a struggling Suns team with an owner that the media loves to portay as the worst owner in pro sports.
Eric Gordon and Roy Hibbert did not get extensions or rather declined them. This means nothing as their teams still have the rights to match any offer and certainly will. The best player that might be available is Brook Lopez and would he want to come here if we have Gortat and just might have traded away his twin brother?
The only thing to look forward to right now. The higher the pick the better this has always been true. I keep reading how some fans say we got Marion and Amare at #9 so we should not worry about our draft position but that is non-sense. We got relatively lucky those years as other teams failed to pick the best player infront of us but in general franchise chaning players very rarely are found outside of the top 3 and the rate gets lower with draft position.
Two things that every Sun fan knows are:
1. The Suns have never had a #1 pick.
2. The Suns have never won a championship.
That is not coincidence. Twice the Suns lost a coinflip for the #1 pick and missed out on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and David Robinson. I am not being unreasonable when I say that the Suns would have at least 1 championship by now had they won one of the #1 picks.
March Madness is still weeks away but here is my current list of draft prospects in order that I like. It is my own evaluation for the Suns and not what I think the actual draft order will be like.
1. PF Anthony Davis - Kentucky
6'10 at least with extremly long arms. Averages almost 5 blocks per game and close to 2 steals. He is a mix of Shawn Marion and Marcus Camby at the PF position. He needs to get stronger and he will probably still grow. Around Anthony Davis you can probably build a great defensive team.
2. C/F Andre Dummond - UCONN
6'11 251 His game is similiar to young Amare Stoudemire with slightly better ballhandling and passing and he is considerably bigger.
3. G/F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Kentucky
6'7 230 and extremly athletic. He reminds me right now of Andre Iguodala with lesser passing. He is the poster-child of a "lead by example" and would be perfect guy to rebuild around. Keepin mind he won't turn 19 until shortly before next season.
4. SG Bradley Beal - Florida
6'4 200lbs this guy knows how to score. He has an arsenal of moves and his jumper looks like he will be a very good shooter eventually. He rebounds the ball really well for his size.
5. SF Harrison Barnes - North Carolina
6'9 223 he is clearly a SF. He has nice all-around game but he is not a great athlete or very explosive. He could be the next Paul Pierce if he gets more aggressive. Or he could be the next Glenn Robinson or just a role player. This guy has question marks about his ceiling as a player for the position he is projected to be picked. He would be ideal for a bad team that is close to being good and has more pieces already in place.
6. SG Jeremy Lamb - UCONN
6'5 190 Reminds me of a bigger more athletic version of Rip Hamilton. Moves very well without the ball. He would fit well with a PG that likes to control things, not sure how well he would play if the ball is put into his hands.
7. F Perry Jones - Baylor
6'11 220lbs maybe taller. Very long and loves to shoot from the outside. This guy needs to get tougher and stronger and start rebounding like crazy. He has the physical tools to be the #1 pick but questions about his position will hurt his stock. In the NBA he has to be a PF but his skillset in college makes him look like a SF at times. Pray he turns into the next KG and not into the next Anthony Randolph if you pick the guy.
8. PF Thomas Robinson - Kansas
6'9 240 this guy is an aggressive PF that is athletic and wants to dunk everything. He plays very much like Amare Stoudemire and rebounds the ball well in college. Good kid too, but he looks a little bit short and he is also already a junior I think so you expect him to be more advanced. On defense he is not much of a shotblocking presence averaging just 1.1 compared to Anthony Davis who puts up 4.7
9. PF Jared Sullinger - Ohio State
6'9 270 another short PF. In college he is a monster in the post. Al Jefferson off college basketball unfortunately his defense is non-existant and he is an average athlete. Blocks less than 1 shot per game.
10. G Austin Rivers - Duke
6'4 combo guard. Extremly talented, fast and athletic isolation guard. Think Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams, Allen Iverson. He comes across a little bit arrogant. He is the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Explosive first step and good shooter. He has an up and down freshman season but talent is there. He would be a good player to have on rebuilding project because he gives you at least someone who can score and have big games. Attitude is the only question here.
11. SF Quincy Miller - Baylor
6'9 200 small forward. He draws comparisons to Kevin Durant. He is long, athletic and skilled. He was once projected to be a potential #1 pick overall but tore his ACL more than a year ago. His knee is the issue here but considering he was just 18 years old when that happened he should have had a good recovery.
12. F Terrence Jones - Kentucky
6'9 forward. I did not like him much last year but he is playing really efficient all-around basketball for a talented Kentucky team. Shooting almost 40% from college 3 and averaging nearly 2 blocks per game along his teammate Davis who averages another 5 almost. Could he be what Earl Clark should have been?
13. G/F LeBryan Nash - Oklahoma State
6'7 same physique as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Needs to work on his jumper. If he can do that and improve his ball-handling he would be better served as a shooting guard in the NBA probably just as MKG. Had a breakout game recently but a bad freshman season overall so far.
14. PG Myck Kabongo - Texas
6'2 shooting guard. A true PG, unselfish with good court vision and passing skills. He needs to improve his shooter and be more aggressive at times. He will be a good starting SG that might not get a lot of recognition. Raymond Felton might be a good comparison or Andre Miller / Rajon Rondo mold. He is a guy I am really hoping declares and that we can pick him up later in the first with an additional pick.
Clearly the top 5 is where we want to be. Sitting at #8 we would likely look at having to draft one of the power forwards that are there when we just drafted Markieff Morris last year. Although I do not think that Markieff projects as a good starter in the league I would not want to draft another PF with questionmarks right now.
I am not shocking you when I tell you that next year will not be pretty either. It will take more time to turn the franchise around. Unless we make the mistake to sign free agents to big contracts and end up in mediocrity again we should have a young team with some talented players but win few enough games to be in the hunt for the #1 pick and the prize in 2013 is promising
Shabazz Muhammad is a 6'6 shooting guard and currently chosing between some of the best college programs for his freshman season. He might actually go to Arizona. He is probably the most promising shooting guard prospect to enter the NBA since Kobe Bryant.
Many people argue that we cannot and will not trade Steve Nash because not only that he does not want it but also because Robert Sarver wants to keep him to sell tickets. As I can see our attendance this season is already horrible. The fan base that has shrunk in the Robert Sarver era is shrinking even more every day this team struggles to score 80 points while keeping an aging roster that offers the fan nothing. A young team at least offers us a chance to root for young players to develop and it keeps us interested to see what they can do on a game to game basis.
Keeping Steve Nash around much longer in this situation in my opinion will overall turn off the fanbase even more. Imagine we keep Steve Nash here in Phoenix for 2 more years in which we have no chance to make the playoffs but also no chance to draft in the top 10 and the front office only then when Nash retires decides to rebuild. Clearly that is the worst thing that could happen to the Suns fanbase.
Lets hope the 2012 Draft will be the first exciting draft for us since 2003.