How many franchise players are out there, how do teams ensnare them and do they really get to keep them? I have chosen my own arbitrary criteria for the sake of this analysis
so I can gumby the direction of the story to suit my needs so my conclusions are by no means infallible. Draw your own conclusions.
A franchise player is like sipping a mug of hot cocoa while soaking in the warmth radiating from the lambent flames rising from a log in a fireplace. Stretching out on a cozy rug in front of the hearth and reading the latest news and analysis on the Phoenix Suns via laptop or mobile device a person is confident that no matter how ferociously the blizzard outside wails that the tranquil scene inside will provide the protection of a third little pig brick house.
Perhaps a bad analogy due to the parching summer heat here in the desert... Maybe this instead.
A franchise player is like a frosty mug filled with ice cold beer with rivulets of condensation trickling down the sides. Relaxing in a cool leather recliner under a ceiling fan while listening to the mellifluous hum of the air conditioner motor chilling the air so that arctic breezes can be propelled through the air vents one knows that the scorching heat emanating from the cruel sun will be kept at bay. Readers under 21 please insert your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. We do not promote underage drinking here on the Brightside (or run on sentences, but whatevs).
Hopefully that works better for you. Now that I'm done with the fluffy intro (which unfortunately likely comprises the most interesting part of the article) on to my completely subjective method of defining a franchise player. The table below depicts all of the All-NBA players from the last nine years. Why nine? Well, 2004-05 was the first year a player drafted in the 21st century made an All-NBA team. This analysis only looks at players drafted 2000 or later. I think this sample size provides a a fairly comprehensive look at the current (and even former) franchise players in the league. My arbitrary definition of a franchise player - someone who has made at least three All-NBA teams in his career.
Drafted 2000 or later and selected for at least three All-NBA teams. Note that many of the players on these lists were drafted prior to the 2000 draft. So here's our list - most selections to least.
While the Suns are talking about playing faster, and dreaming of a two-headed point guard pushing the ball down the court with ferocity, it's vitally important to have guys who can take and make the 3-pointer or jumper in the lane when the defense collapses on the ball handler.
In fact, the best fast break attacks are those that legitimately threaten the kick out 3, forcing the defense to hesitate before collapsing on the guy driving to the hoop.
Enter Caron Butler, who made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts last season in a late-career renaissance as his own speed and agility decline after 11 years in the NBA.
"I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities," Hornacek said at the press conference yesterday. "Caron's knocking down 3s and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket."
Butler's best shooting percentages last season were from the corner 3 and elbow/wing 3, with his highest conversion rate earliest in the shot clock (55% when shooting in the first 10 seconds). With Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe handling the ball, Butler was used primarily as a catch-and-shoot guy by the Clippers. More than 80% of his shots were assisted.
In the half-court, Butler also provides an ability to take and make jumpers late in the clock, as his 54% conversion rate in the last 3 seconds of a shot clock attests (per 82games.com). The Suns really missed Grant Hill's ability to make a shot when the offense broke down last season, and now Butler can provide some semblance of that.
"When I was with the Celtics," McDonough said. "We had our good runs in the playoffs and he was a guy we were constantly trying to acquire. He made the All-Star team a few times and he's a great example for the young players in terms of how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself. So we're thrilled to have him as part of the Suns."
But before you get your hopes up too high, a 27 year old two-time All-Star isn't walking through that door. Butler is 32 years old now and showing his age. His lateral movement is dissipating, making him a turnstile on man-to-man defense. So Butler has adjusted.
Where Eric Bledsoe is a great on-ball defender who sometimes gets lost in team defensive concepts, Butler has made himself into a quality team defender who helps the overall results more than any individual accomplishments. The Clippers were nearly five points (per 100 possessions) better defensively with Butler on the floor last season.
As well, Butler's offense is declining as the years pile up. He is no longer a 20 ppg scorer who can fill it up from anywhere, fitting better as a 10-15 supplemental jump shooter these days. My brain wants to compare him to Vince Carter (the Mavs' Carter, not the Suns'), who provides veteran presence and occasional scoring outbursts for a Mavericks team that needed it.
What the Suns want from Butler is his leadership, and setting an example for the young kids. With the exodus of veterans Jermaine O'Neal and Jared Dudley already and the potential loss of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola as well, the 2013-14 Suns might be in need of a good locker room presence.
"I'll just continue to do what I always have been doing throughout my career," Butler said of his expectations this season with the Suns. "Setting an example on and off the court - arriving to practice early and leaving late, talking to guys about basketball, life, family, everything, and just keeping the guys determined and dedicated and disciplined throughout the process. Just being a big brother and a shoulder that they can lean on.
"It's kind of being an extension of Coach in the locker room, being a guy that guys can come to and just vent out to and just help the process in the transition of changing this whole thing to a winning culture around here."
There was a great rift in last year's team that hindered any kind of development the front office hoped to see through a myriad of changes. The veteran leaders did not lead. They did not demand the attention of the youngsters, who appeared to believe they'd already arrived and didn't need to learn about how to be a pro.
"They taught me how to conduct myself on and off the court," Butler said of veterans he had around him when he was young. "They taught me about being a professional at all times and every time you walk out in this world, every day is a job interview. A good name is better than any silver or gold and that's something that I have."
Hopefully Butler's leadership, along with that of Hornacek's staff, will be more effective this season. He certainly knows how to crack a joke at the right moment.
"It was rather flattering to find out that the guy had a man-crush on me for so many years," Butler said of McDonough's long history of following Butler's game. "So once I found that out, I was extremely excited. Just coming here, he told me he had been following me for many years and what he expected out of me and I was definitely ready for that challenge."
Butler, for his part, doesn't simply want to be a locker room leader and coach. He is on the last year of his deal paying $8 million per year, and wants to earn another multi-year NBA contract that's becoming more and more elusive for declining players.
"I train hard in the offseason and there are certain things I want to be able to show and display out on the court," he said. "So I'll definitely have that opportunity here."
Even at his age, Butler is still better than 10 points per game for a team that needs his offense. And really, 32 is not that old. Jermaine O'Neal revived his career in Phoenix at age 34. Grant Hill and Steve Nash played at a high level through their late 30s. Recently re-signed and promoted Aaron Nelson needed a new challenge, and now he has one in Butler.
So while the press conference itself was a little subdued in terms of energy, I got the impression that both Butler and Bledsoe were excited to join the Suns, provided the culture is receptive to a winning mentality.
"We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization," Butler said. "And I'm really excited about this challenge ahead of us."
With every non-playoff Western team improving this offseason (Blazers, Kings, Pelicans) or at least trying to tread water (Lakers, Mavericks), the Suns have little hope for a vast improvement in wins next season. But that's not the primary goal. The primary goal is fixing the culture and attitude among all the players, setting them in the right direction and developing the kids into real NBA players.
Butler can only help in that regard.
Eric Bledsoe is a Phoenix Sun. If I had said this just a couple weeks ago, people would have called me crazy. And they would have been correct, considering that Bledsoe was a Clipper back then. However, as of today, Eric Bledsoe is officially a member of the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns introduced the two newest additions to the team in a press conference this afternoon. We were able to hear from Lon Babby, President of Basketball Operations, Ryan McDonough, General Manager, and Jeff Hornacek, Head Coach, just how they plan to utilize their newest toys. The players themselves also shared their thoughts on being in Phoenix and how they plan to fit into the team's roster.
The shinier of the two new toys is undoubtedly Eric Bledsoe, a dynamic 23 year-old basketball player ready to embrace the opportunity Phoenix will give him. Notice how I called him a "basketball player" instead of a "point guard" or "shooting guard" - that is exactly how Eric referred to himself when our very own Dave King asked him which of the two backcourt positions he is the best fit with:
"I'm a basketball player. You put me at the 5, I'm going to try to play the position the best way I can. So whatever position Coach Hornacek decides to put me in, I'm going to play it the best way I can."
Eric Bledsoe just wants to play basketball. That's great news for Suns fans. To Marcin Gortat and Alex Len - look out, you may have some competition for minutes.
On his feelings about landing in Phoenix, Bledsoe shared, "I was excited. First of all, I honestly didn't know where I might end up. I thought I was kind of going to Orlando but this opportunity came and I'm excited to get this thing started. I'm just ready to get started." Bledsoe also noted that he is excited about the opportunity he will have to showcase his skills on a broader palette than he had in Los Angeles:
"It's definitely a plus for me. Unfortunately, I couldn't play as much as I wanted because I was playing with an All-Star. Now, Ryan has confidence in me and I have full confidence in myself. We're going to make some big things happen here so it's a blessing."
Bledsoe enters a Suns team that already has an established point guard in Goran Dragic. However, he is excited to be a part of new Head Coach Jeff Hornacek's plans to implement a fast-paced offensive system that emphasizes transition scoring, noting that he and Dragic could be a formidable duo. Asked about his fit with such an offensive system, Bledsoe had this to say:
"It fits in great, especially with me. I'm a transition type of guy and it'll make it a lot easier having Dragic, who can also control the game. Like I said, I'm just ready to get started."
Jeff Hornacek echoed those thoughts by describing his plans for a backcourt of Dragic and Bledsoe:
"As a coach, I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities, Caron's knocking down threes and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket, I think it's a great addition to these two guys."
Much like the way he identified himself as "a basketball player," Eric Bledsoe revealed that he is focusing on improving all aspects of his game during this offseason, stating that he is working on "everything." Suns fans will be pleased to know that Caron Butler also shared that Bledsoe was in the gym within hours of arriving in Phoenix yesterday. Butler had VERY high praise for his counterpart:
"He (Eric) is an explosive, dynamic guard who has "superstar" written all over him. I think he's just going to come here and put everyone on notice. I think he's going to put the sports world on notice. He's a relentless worker. The second he arrived yesterday, he was in the gym. That's the attitude and approach he's had all offseason and I think he's going to be great this year and years to come."
Caron Butler's compliments of Bledsoe, along with the praise Babby, McDonough, and Hornacek all showered on him, is exciting news for Suns fans. Regardless of whether or not he truly could become a "superstar," it's nonetheless exciting to have a young, high-demand commodity that holds great promise.
Only time will tell what's in store for Eric Bledsoe, but he is ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges he faces in Phoenix and has already hit the ground running. I, for one, am tremendously excited to see the Suns' new two-headed offensive machine led by "basketball players" Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the Phoenix Suns' introductory press conference of Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler. Bright Side of the Sun will continue to produce plenty of content and news with the speed of the Suns' new starting backcourt!