The craziness that was the NBA trade deadline inspired Jacob Padilla to take a break from his Bright Side sabbatical and offer up his many thoughts on the state of the Phoenix Suns.
Ed. note: This is the last in a multi-part series on trade deadline impacts. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect that of the entire BSotS staff, but Bright Side supports and honors all sides to a situation.
That was my reaction when I sat down on Thursday and tried to sort through the carnage of the NBA trade deadline fallout. So much had happened in such a short time that I struggled to comprehend it all. All I could come up with was "Wow."
I was sitting at my computer, ignoring my homework and frantically trying to keep up with my TL as the deadline drew closer and closer. Then, finally, the bomb dropped. Goran Dragic was no longer a Sun. Though the writing had been on the wall ever since Dragic went public with his trade demands, seeing it made official was like a shot to the gut. I sat there for a moment, trying and failing to process it, and then, expecting the Suns were done for the day, I went to class.
An hour-and-a-half later, I left the classroom and checked Twitter to see what I had missed - which turned out to be quite a bit. Not only was Dragic out, but Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee, Zoran Dragic and the protected pick from the Lakers were gone as well. In return, the Suns received Brandon Knight, three first round picks and an array of spare part veterans.
Considering the circumstances, the final return was about as good as a Suns fan could have hoped. I'll let SB Nation's Tom Ziller sum it up:
"But no team had more at stake entering Thursday than the Suns, and no team detonated its roster quite like Phoenix. At the end of the day, the Suns had traded the Dragic brothers and Isaiah Thomas, the Lakers' pick, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee for Knight, three future first-round picks and some roster chaff. Somehow, the Suns traded away five players - three of whom played major roles - while improving the team's long-term outlook and maintaining its viability in the West playoff race.
That shouldn't be possible, and perhaps time will render McDonough's haul less impressive. Regardless, the gambit will forever be remembered as incredible in its pure explosive power."
The Suns traded their near all-star guard for another one, which allows them to remain competitive. A playoff berth appears to be a long shot at this point with Oklahoma City finally passing the Suns to move into the eighth spot, but Phoenix certainly isn't going to roll over and concede.
More importantly, they did so while also better positioning themselves moving forward. The new Suns core consists of the following: 25-year-old Eric Bledsoe, 25-year-old Markieff Morris, 21-year-old Alex Len and now 23-year-old Brandon Knight. Toss in 20-year-old Archie Goodwin, 21-year-old T.J. Warren, 25-year-old Marcus Morris and 23-year-old Reggie Bullock and you have a seriously young and talented team that is already competitive. Phoenix also has its own first round picks in 2015 and 2016, a 2016 first rounder from Cleveland via Boston, and two future firsts from Miami to use as ammunition to continue improving the roster.
Knight was one of if not the youngest player in his draft class and was selected with the understanding that he was raw but had a lot of potential, especially considering how intelligent he was. He stumbled through his first few years in the league, but has finally started to put it together this season. Aesthetically, he's not my favorite player, but he's an excellent piece to have and could fit quite nicely next to Bledsoe.
The Suns emerged from this debacle on pretty solid footing. For that, I am happy and bow down to Ryan McDonough yet again. He truly is a master of asset accumulation and roster building.
However, unlike many of you, I don't live in Phoenix nor have I ever visited the city. I did not grow up with or around the Suns. I have no real connection to the franchise itself outside of my fandom. To me, the name on the back of the jersey does matter because the players ARE the Suns. And therein lies the issue.
I've told my story here a few times before. I began following the Suns because I became entranced by the play of Steven Nash in 2006. I fell in love with the team, found Bright Side of the Sun and now here I am, a Suns fan for life. Even so, it isn't all about the laundry for me.
Nash was my favorite player, right up until the day he was traded. There was just something about his mastery with the ball, his distribution wizardry, his pass-first mindset despite being a terrific scorer in his own right that appealed to me. That Fourth of July was the second worst holiday I've ever experienced - right behind having the Chicken pox on Christmas when I was 5.
Then the Suns brought Nash's former understudy, Goran Dragic, back to the Valley of the Sun. I was not sold initially. I liked Dragic - the 23-point quarter against the Spurs in the 2010 playoffs will forever be part of Phoenix lore - but I wasn't yet all in on him. The 2012-13 season was rough, but slowly he won me over. In a season with little to cheer for, I began focusing in on Dragic's play and loved what I saw. Blinding speed, crafty finishing, solid court vision ... The Dragon had grown up to become a viable starting NBA point guard, and a fun one to boot.
Last season, he became more than fun; he became one of the best guards in the NBA. Dragic took his rightful place as Steve Nash's successor, and there was not a player in the league I enjoyed watching more.
He was the face of the franchise. The Suns plucked him out of Slovenia and built him up into a quality back-up, something the Suns couldn't ever seem to find during the Nash era. Like his mentor, he had gone off to find his place in the world before returning to Phoenix to run the team. He was so gosh darn likable.
Now he's gone.
At first, I was shocked at the almost instantaneous erosion of the relationship between Dragic and the Suns. But after further consideration, it is clear that this had been building for some time.
A long time ago under a different regime, the Suns shipped Dragic out (along with a first round pick) for Aaron Brooks. Despite Phoenix casting him aside, Robert Sarver sold him on returning to the Valley as the Suns' successor to Nash at point guard.
The Next year, Ryan McDonough replaced Lance Blanks as general manager and McDonough made a power move, acquiring another highly regarded point guard in Eric Bledsoe. The plan was to play the two together in a dual-point guard system, and for the most part, that plan worked. The Suns went from 25 wins to 48 and just missed out on a playoff berth. It took some sacrifice by both Dragic and Bledsoe, but they made it work. Bledsoe also missed nearly half the season, and in his absence Dragic emerged as an All-NBA-caliber guard.
Last summer, McDonough brought in Isaiah Thomas, another point guard, and a year after putting together one of the six best seasons by a guard in the NBA last season, Dragic saw his role limited in order to accommodate Bledsoe and Thomas.
So in summary, the Suns:
- Traded Dragic away.
- Convinced him to come back to be the team's point guard.
- Brought in another point guard in Eric Bledsoe, though Dragic had his best season anyway.
- Brought in a third point guard in Isaiah Thomas and limited Dragic's role in a contract year, while also asking him to play even further out of position at times.
Looking at that timeline, it's not difficult to see why Dragic became unhappy. To be honest, I agree with him. I don't understand taking the ball out of your best player's hands (regardless of what Ryan McDonough thinks about Eric Bledsoe or Markieff Morris). From my perspective, they asked Dragic to sacrifice far more than either Bledsoe or Thomas, and in the end, none of the three were as good as Dragic was last year while the team is in the same spot.
Signing Isaiah Thomas was a baffling move to me at the time. However, as with most roster shake-ups, I convinced myself it could work. McDonough got him on a great contract and an upgrade over Ish Smith very well could have catapulted the Suns into the playoffs last year. He was a great asset to have.
But that seems to be a problem with the front office - it's all about asset acquisition. That's certainly a good thing - as I said, the roster is in a great spot moving forward - but it also has its downside. This isn't a video game; the people and their feelings still matter.
In his introductory press conference, Thomas seemed to understand his role as a super sixth man. Every word out of his mouth since then, however, made it obvious he did not. And McDonough said as much after he was traded.
How much of the rocky relationship between Thomas and the Suns was on the organization and their communication versus how much was on the player? And even if the majority was on Thomas, shouldn't the Suns have seen this coming based on his career to this point and his personality? Shouldn't that have been part of their due diligence? At 5 feet, 9 inches and the last pick in his draft, Thomas really does not belong in the NBA. He's had to fight and claw for everything he's earned and has a chip on his shoulder twice his own size. He's succeeded in part because of that "me against the world" mentality, but at the same time, that self-confidence means he doesn't accept his limitations and makes it difficult for him to truly fit in to a team concept.
So the Suns parted ways with Dragic and Thomas both, and none of the parties handled it particularly well.
Dragic came out with some harsh quotes as part of his ploy to get traded, publicly saying he could no longer trust the Suns and that he wanted out a couple days before the trade deadline. That put the Suns in a bad spot and stripped them of most of their leverage in any potential deal involving Dragic.
The Suns obviously would have preferred that Dragic kept things in-house and made his request known privately, and Dragic even admitted after the fact that his words were too harsh. However, looking back now, Dragic's (and most likely, his agent's) methods worked out pretty well for him since he ended up at one of his preferred destinations. It is a business, after all.
Since the trade, the Suns' brass have come out with some strong words against Dragic, initially at the team's post-deadline press conference and then during some interviews with McDonough after that. McDonough's theme is that Dragic was not a team player and cared more about himself than the team. Considering the five years across two stints Dragic has put in as a Sun and the efforts he made over the last two years to adjust, McDonough's quotes come off as awfully petty.
Which is exactly what this franchise does not need. While money is the motivator in any free agent acquisition, reputation does play a factor. As former Phoenix front office member and current ESPN writer Amin Elhassan has noticed, the last handful of players to leave the Valley of the Sun have not done so on great terms.
Suns are really OD'ing with their remarks today...seems like they always have slick remarks for everyone after they're out the door.— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) February 20, 2015
Nash, Hill, Frye, now Dragic...ask around the league about their reputations as players & ppl. At some point, when is it YOUR fault— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) February 20, 2015
@AminESPN you make a great point. The Suns always seem to apply the Scorched Earth philosophy.— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) February 20, 2015
Look, I get it, throw enough cash at someone and you can get free agents. But money aside, if I'm a player & I see how they treat guys...— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) February 20, 2015
...what about the Suns organization over the last five years makes me think "this is a place where they care about players"?— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) February 20, 2015
This is starting to become a trend, and a troubling one at that. Ryan McDonough is brilliant general manger who has already worked wonders in two years in the Valley and he knows far more about the NBA, his team and this situation than I ever will. I could be completely off-base with my assessment. I also have not taken a look at the role Jeff Hornacek plays in this situation. However, this is already far too long and I am going to end it here.
After all of this, I am still a Suns fan. I do have some worries about the future as I've laid out above, but even so the forecast is overwhelmingly positive for this franchise. McDonough is a young general manager and he is going to learn and grow alongside his young and talented team.
In the end, despite the unpleasant route taken, I think all parties have arrived at a good place. Dragic is going to be terrific in Miami and the Suns no longer have to worry about committing to a player who was 4-6 years older than the rest of the core.
Welcome to the team, Brandon Knight. Welcome to the rotation, Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren. Welcome to the future, Suns fans.
As always, trust in McDonough.