Following the recent models of Houston and Orlando, the mock Phoenix Suns took full advantage of the SB Nation mock draft to acquire as much youth as possible while clearing the necessary cap space for future maneuverings.
Going into the mock draft, the Phoenix Suns boasted the league's second-oldest non-playoff rotation (26 years old, second only to Dallas) and nine guaranteed 2013-14 contracts with only one of those contracted players younger than 24 years old.
Truly, the 2013 NBA Draft is going to be the opening bell of a new era of Phoenix Suns basketball. It has to be.
Going into the draft, the Suns have the #5 and #30 overall picks (and #57, but that one unlikely to make the playing rotation). If the Suns draft only those two spots, that leaves just three roster positions under 24 next season. Three.
Top it off with only $8.5 million in cap space, after factoring in releases of all non-guaranteed players, the Suns did not have a lot of wiggle room this summer to eat salary in trades in order to get youth after the draft.
Quite simply, it's not good enough just to draft those two spots and wait for free agency.
This was my mantra going into the SB Nation Mock Draft:
This mock draft was not going to complete "the team of the future" for Suns. Rather, the draft would create even more assets for future trades. I was not going for veterans. Just kids. I wanted to preserve the Suns chances at a cornerstone player in the 2014 draft. There are no quick fixes with this team.
Remember that Houston took three first-rounders last year, turning one of them into James Harden. Orlando spent the entire year acquiring kids after Dwight left, ending the year with several rookies (Vucevic, Nicholson, Harris, Harkless) that will someday be used to acquire a star.
That was my mantra. Do whatever I could to collect youth and assets.
First, the mock front office and I decided that we would take the best available player at #5, rather than move up or down. There are 5-6 players all jockeying for top 5 positions, all fairly equal in talent and upside.
When Oladipo fell, it was a slam dunk. But if any of the other 4 (Noel, Len, McLemore, Porter in that order) had dropped, I'd have taken whoever it was.
After taking a guard at #5, we wanted to take a big man at #10. You can debate the name of that big man all you want, and so would I, but at the time of this draft the 20-year old Rudy Gobert was the top-rated remaining big man in the draft. Two weeks later, that's more of a question.
The trade itself is one of value. Gortat was leaving in a year. He's not here to babysit a young team, he wants to play for a playoff team. His $7.75 million expiring contract needed to be turned into youth sooner or later, lest the Suns lose him for nothing. The #10 pick was a valuable asset. And Joel Freeland is a quality backup big man too.
Here's another debatable pick, because of the relative value of Dudley vs. Gortat and the duplication involved in taking Jamaal Franklin. Yet I wasn't building the roster of the future here. I was collecting assets. Franklin will have the same/similar value as Jeremy Lamb had last year - a projectable young player for inclusion in a trade. Or, if he blows the Suns socks off, he makes Oladipo expendable in a bigger deal for an even bigger star. It's all about collecting assets.
Yet more duplication here. But realize that Brandon Knight is the same age as Kendall Marshall but he is more accomplished as an NBA player and can get his shot when he wants it. He's a 37% 3-point shooter on 4+ attempts per game and can play combo guard with Dragic. If Knight develops into the star the league thought it was getting in 2011, he gives the Suns yet another tradeable asset (Dragic or Knight) without destroying the team.
I am hoping the Suns would be able to use the #37 on someone like C.J. Leslie, but it would most likely be used on a draft-and-stash of a Euro player. Same for the #57 - draft and stash. The picks could also be used to acquire a veteran 3-point shooter for the nights the kids aren't playing well.
With these moves, the Suns now have $14.9 million in cap room this year.
The $14.9 million assumes the release of all non-guaranteed deals except P.J. Tucker.
I realize this roster might not win 20 games next year as currently constructed, but at least it's got some potential. Remember the Suns won 25 excruciating games last year with an old lineup boasting little future.
The Morrises still might develop, and will now get to share the stretch-4 role.
Further moves I would make, once July 1 hits:
PG Dragic, Knight
SG Oladipo, Franklin
SF Tucker, Franklin, Mook Morris
PF Kieff Morris, Mook Morris, Frye
C Frye (or free agent, if Frye not healthy), Gobert, Freeland
Highlighted are the team's veterans. I realize this roster is a hodgepodge (some might call it a sh!* sandwich) and not likely anything the Suns would want to enter the 2013-14 season with.
But I wasn't going for that. I was going for assets. Assets to be used for something much bigger. "When" that something happens, I don't know. But the Suns are primed when it does.
The best building lock of the future is Victor Oladipo.
I got what I wanted out of this draft. Was it the best the Suns could have done? Heck no. But doing this all in real time, not knowing who was going to fall where and which trade proposals were going to work out, I found out quickly that there's no blueprint to follow. You think you're doing the right thing and then, bam, the picks don't go as expected.
If Noel or Len had fallen to 5, and the trades went as they did, we could have ended up with Noel(Len)/Muhammad/Franklin/Knight. That would have been a nice distribution of talent, one for each position, but is Len a better prospect overall than Oladipo? Who knows. And, unless you duplicate positions with youth, you can't really afford to trade any of them unless you're getting a better player back at that same position. The way the draft unfolded, both Knight and Franklin can be dealt from a position of strength.
As the draft went on, after the top 6-7 picks, there was basically only a choice of future backup center or rotational wing player with high upside. With the Morrises and Frye already filling the potential stretch-4 roles, I didn't think a young PF would get any playing time to up his trade value. And the Morris value is at an all-time low right now. They need playing time to prove their worth to the Suns and/or in trade.