The NBA fully expected to be able to pass lottery reforms this week, but the Phoenix Suns were one of 13 teams to surprisingly vote "no" on the proposition that would have improved middling lottery teams' chances to jump into the Top 6 next June.
The prevailing thought is the small-to-mid market teams did not want to give the big markets any more opportunities to jump start their franchises, and there was some worry that these proposed reforms ran the risk of doing just that.
For the Suns, that decision had to be a tough one.
As a team that has drafted 13 or 14 in four of the past six drafts (2009 - Earl Clark, 2011 - Markieff Morris, 2012 - Kendall Marshall, 2014 - T.J. Warren) and is predicted to do so again this coming season, the proposed lottery reforms would have more than tripled the Suns chances of jumping into a Top 6 position.
So you would think the Suns would vote "yes" on reform, right?
Yahoo! Sports journalist Adrian Wojnarowski postulated that some teams don't like the reform because it could entice the playoff bubblers, like the Suns, to tank the end of the season because they have a better chance of jumping into the top 6 than they used to have. Sure, but that's a lot of tanking. You have to get into the 11 range just to make it worth your while.
Would you really tank the last two weeks of a playoff race just because your chances of jumping to the Top 6 are in the 4-12% range?
Think about last season. The Suns spent the last month of the season fighting to stay in the playoff race and only dropped into 9th in the final week and could have made the playoffs with two more wins. No reason to suddenly tank at that point. Can you imagine the Suns benching everyone for the Spurs, Mavs and Grizzlies games just to cement their 4% chance at a Top 6 pick?
Or, maybe you are the Timberwolves, who were "locked" into the 13th position for what felt like most of the season. Do they tank the final month to maybe drop to 12th and gain 4% higher chance at jumping up?
Sure, there might be some late-season maneuvering, but there always was some of that due to pick protections anyway. If the Suns would have dropped down close to the Wolves in wins last season, you might have seen Kevin Love some down with an injury in the final week to ensure the Wolves kept their 13th overall selection (Suns would have gotten their pick if it were 14th). But then again, if the Wolves chances of jumping up were higher they might not be as worried about positioning.
Where the 13 "no" teams really struggled, though, was likely because of the impact to the 6-11 picks. While NBA front office folks were excited about the better possibilities to play roulette with the Top 5 picks, the new odds would have made the 6-11 range too much of a crap shoot.
From the Suns' perspective, that's the Lakers pick.
For those who watched the Suns take on the Lakers in a (meaningless) preseason game in which Ronnie Price (yes, that Ronnie Price) put up 10 assists for the Lake Show to help force overtime, you might have been excited for lottery reform.
The Phoenix Suns get the Lakers' first round draft pick next year as long as the Lakers don't end up with a Top 5 pick after the lottery balls bounce. With lottery reform, that would have become a lot dicier.
If you think the Lakers are going to be bottom-five awful, you have to like that the proposed Suns chances of getting their pick went up from almost nil to the 34-45% range. Yippee!
But if you believe the Lakers will be somewhat competitive this season, the Suns chances to get their pick take a dip with this reform. If the Lakers finish anywhere in the 6-11 range based on record, the Suns chances of getting their pick would have taken a huge hit.
It all depends on your perspective. But the Suns, apparently, decided that the devil you know (today's odds) is better than the devil you don't (proposed odds).
The Suns not only have a solid starting four returning from last season - Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee - they also have nearly two teams worth of backups good enough to play NBA rotation minutes. Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver all signed offseason contracts. Gerald Green, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Shavlik Randolph all come back as well. Add in rookies T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Zoran Dragic and you've got a baker's dozen plus two.
But as you saw in the "somewhat like a regular season rotation" game against the Clippers on Wednesday night on ESPN, it's really hard to play more than 10 of the 15 guys on a given night while keeping some semblance of order.
Ten players got between 10 (Tolliver) and 34 (Bledsoe) minutes, yet firestarters Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green couldn't garner more than 16 apiece despite Dragic getting just 26. Six other minutes were given to the 3rd and 4th centers because of foul trouble, a small-ball trend not likely to change with the current roster.
But injuries are playing their part to cull the herd.
While some, including me, think that Markieff Morris fits better on the second unit as a primary scorer than in the starting lineup, the position is now Morris' to lose as Anthony Tolliver has been struggling with a hand injury.
Against the Lakers and Clippers, Mr. Stretch Four missed all eight of his three point attempts and is not productive in enough other ways to overcome missing everything on offense. To be an effective rotation player, Tolliver has to be a knock-down shooter. His hand injury must still be affecting his shot.
Keef has not played exceptionally well this preseason, but he is a known quantity and - best of all - seems to be healthy. Keef can score in the midrange as well as on the perimeter and offers a toughness the Suns need against the West elite.
Miles Plumlee is the starter because there's simply no better option. He's a known quantity who always gives you what you expect - clanky hook shots combined with active defense and solid rebounding. It's the backup position that's been
less than hotly contested.
Alex Len, the most talented of the bigs, missed the first five preseason games with a hand injury while Shavlik Randolph sustained a knee sprain last week.
Len returned against the Clippers and played 16 minutes, in part because of Miles Plumlee's foul trouble (6 fouls in 16 minutes) but he did not attempt a shot and clearly favored the hand on offense. Len's defense however was a pleasant surprise as he instinctually defended the rim several times on Clipper drives.
Randolph returned from his sprain and played well against the Lakers but only got one minute against the Clippers.
Each injury has given Earl Barron a chance to shine. Jeff Hornacek said the Suns were willing to "eat a contract" if Earl Barron played his way onto the team and the only one you could see being eaten is Shav's. He returned and played well this week against the Lakers but only played 1 minute vs. Barron's six against the Clippers. A lingering knee injury won't help his chances.
There's been no real injury to the guard core, so it's still a four-man weave with Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin and Zoran Dragic on the outside looking in. Ennis has hardly played this preseason. Goodwin did not play against the Clippers, and Zoran has been out an all-important week with visa issues. Expect these guys to have similar roles to Earl "in case of emergency" Barron.
Bledsoe, the Dragon, Thomas and Green are the four primary guards. Green and Thomas both hobbled at one point during the Clipper game. Green came down hard on a Clipper's foot in the fourth quarter, while Thomas stumbled getting through a tough screen on the perimeter. Both continued playing, so the injuries were likely superficial.
After playing a lot of SG last year, P.J. Tucker has slid to PF a lot more than SG this preseason. Part of that is the lack of front court rebounding prowess that he can bring, and part of that is some extra weight Tucker is carrying this preseason.
Speaking of Tucker, entering the preseason he seemed a lock for the SF position he held down all last season. His tenacity and predicability got him 30 minutes a game on a deep team.
Tucker may still earn that time, but he's butting up against a three-game suspension to start the season so Marcus Morris has gotten a lot of SF time this preseason and looks to be a lock for the starting SF position to begin the season. Morris grabbed 8 rebounds against the Clippers in 29 minutes while scoring 17 points, including two threes.
Rookie T.J. Warren joined the hand-injury brigade on Tuesday night, jamming his thumb against a Laker so hard that he cracked a bone. His injury starts at a 6-8 week recovery and rehab period, but as we've seen from Alex Len it can take months to fully recover from such an injury to such an integral part of the body. Hands cannot be protected without wrapping that renders the person ineffective (unless you're Kobe Bryant, I guess).
Between injuries, via issues and rookie-ness, the Suns are getting closer to a rotation to being the season.
Unfortunately for Randolph, Warren and Tolliver, in particular, it appears that their unfortunate injuries are likely to reduce their role in the early-season rotation.
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