Will Brandon Knight be known as Ryan McDonough's first big gamble?
We don't talk about the 2012-2013 Phoenix Suns enough. That team won 25 games, barely had any future assets on the roster, and was stuck with a large group of players that either didn't belong in the NBA or belonged on winning teams.
There was no hope. Some Suns fans (like myself) were hoping for a tank job in 2014 and dreaming of Andrew Wiggins.
New general manager Ryan McDonough did what he could to make this possible. He took all of the valuable basketball assets he had for the present and traded for the future. The point of this rebuild from McDonough was the lack of risk.
If the Suns were going to be terrible, they were going to be really terrible and hopefully end up with a franchise saving player though the draft. All of these deals made by McDonough didn't have any risk.
Marcin Gortat was not going to re-sign in Phoenix and was dealt for a first-round pick that turned into Tyler Ennis.
At the time the Suns did not need role players with veteran leadership so they traded them away. Jared Dudley and a second-round pick turned into Eric Bledsoe. Luis Scola turned into Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, and a future first-round pick.
What actually turned out happening was that the Suns were not terrible at all and decided to win 48 games. We all know that story though. The Suns moved a little too fast for McDonough in that story, but that did not stop him from rebuilding and continuing to look towards the future instead of the present.
He had a core for the future with Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, and all of his draft picks. At the other side off that core though was a duo of veterans who were ready to build upon that 48 wins in Goran Dragic and Channing Frye.
It looks like McDonough was not ready to take that risk, as he let Frye walk and sign a 4-year deal with the Magic. With Bledsoe's restricted free agency and Dragic surely becoming an unrestricted in 2015, McDonough took away the risk and signed an insurance policy in Isaiah Thomas to a very cheap contract.
There was no risk with Thomas. If one of the guards decided to leave, McDonough could replace him with a 20 PPG scorer ready to enter his prime. If both guards decided to stay, McDonough could move him very easily because of the cheap contract Thomas was on.
While that turned out to be a humongous risk that didn't work out (more on that later), McDonough thought he was taking his first risk in re-signing both Bledsoe and the Morris twins.
McDonough was looking towards the future and wanted his future All-Star point guard to stay in Phoenix and saw even more development in the Morris' future and decided to re-sign them a year early. This was not a major risk because these were major young assets that McDonough had to hold onto. There still was some present though and it has paid off so far.
Everything was looking up and all seemed secure for the Suns future. There was still a lot we did not know, but there wasn't much to worry about looking at the long-term future.
As it turns out, that would soon change. What we did know this season was that the Suns were not the same. The energy and balance on the floor was not there. Regression from certain players and prioritizing Thomas' playing time crippled them.
Little did we know, there was more than just a limp in this team's future as Dragic was extremely unhappy behind the scenes and wanted out of the organization. Further more, a list of teams he preferred magically found it's way to various NBA reporters, making this a no-win situation for the team he thought betrayed him.
The insurance policy of Thomas had backfired in the worst way possible and now the Suns didn't even have a chance to keep Dragic. Taking that a step further, it looked like Dragic was ready for a payday with the teams he listed and the Suns were not going to be able to avoid the risk of a player in his 30's regressing on a big-time contract.
While we could sit back and debate whether or not the Suns would have been able to keep Dragic, McDonough avoided the risk of that gauntlet in the summer and the even bigger risk of sticking to his guns by not even honoring the trade request and trying to pay him the most.
What McDonough got once again in a deal was something for the future, with the Miami Heat's 2017 protected first-round pick (top 7) and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. Unless you think James Ennis and Shabazz Napier are the future, the Heat are going to need to get a once in a generation player again through either free agency or the draftin order for those picks to not be extremely valuable.
McDonough admitted in the press that the roster was unbalanced so he took option 2 in that Thomas situation and traded him for an expiring contract in Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick from Cleveland. While it wasn't in the dream scenario (Bledsoe and Dragic both on the roster), McDonough didn't want to risk an unbalanced roster any longer.
The fix for that deal though is where we finally arrive at Brandon Knight and it's the first major risk McDonough has taken in his tenure as general manager of the Phoenix Suns. The shining and glimmering asset of the asset-collecting McDonough was the protected first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers.
McDonough has not been shy in admitting that the Suns were waiting for either an All-Star or a future All-Star to make their next move. Well, it looks like the Suns think that is Knight and they decided to deal the Lakers pick, Ennis, and Plumlee for the 23-year-old combo guard.
We can debate the value of that Lakers pick and whether or not it's highest value is right now, but where that Lakers pick winds up is the first big risk McDonough has taken.
If that Lakers pick turns out to be eligible this season (top five protected), Suns fans will be headbutting a wall as the Sixers take someone like Stanley Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, or Justise Winslow. If the Lakers suck again next year or even the years after that, the same situation occurs with the Sixers picking either in the top five or possibly even first overall in 2018. That's the risk.
The risk the Suns are betting on is free agency. They see the Lakers reloading in 2015 and that pick ending up somewhere in the mid-lottery. The other side of that coin is the Lakers striking out in free agency again and now we are back to headbutting walls.
The payoff of that risk is Brandon Knight, but like dealing the pick, Knight has his risks. He's been playing point guard in Milwaukee, but the Suns see him as more of a shooting guard who excels the most off the ball. The main question here is if Knight agrees and will this summer during his restricted free agency.
Even more of a risk is how much the 23-year-old decides to develop if he re-signs in Phoenix. The Suns seem to think he's that future All-Star they wanted, but is he really going to grow that much? Is that risk for eight figures worth more than the risk of that first-round pick? Going further, what about the money they would have saved on that rookie deal as opposed to Knight getting paid? What could they have done with that extra money and possibly the better asset?
The ordeal of Knight re-signing is a risk on its own, but those questions are going to determine if Ryan McDonough first true gamble as GM will come through.
Either way, McDonough is going to keep learning and we will learn along with him that there is always risk despite there not appearing to be any. He has certainly learned that with the Thomas deal.
Even two deals like getting Brandan Wright and Reggie Bullock for pretty much nothing still has to come with them earning time on the court and being able to play their natural position in order for the deals to actually pay off. Even while performing robberies like the Dudley and Scola deal and letting Frye walk, he runs a team that is so desperate for veteran leaders and role players that all he has to do is look back to the past two summers to see where they have gone.
There are always risks, but McDonough's just recently entitled himself to his own large chunk. In 5 years we will be analyzing a lot of risks that McDonough took on the way and we just saw the first one unfold. He wasn't ready with Frye and Dragic, but now he's ready with Bledsoe and Knight. Now it's a question of whether or not his players are ready.