The Phoenix Suns have a lot to leave behind in 2013, some bad and some good, but they have a whole lot more to look forward to in 2014. Mike Lisboa share his hopes for the new Suns in the New Year!
Happy New Year, Bright Siders! I hope everyone's New Year's celebrations were safe and fun. And if not, I hope 2014 brings you something better and brighter. In my circle of friends, we've got a New Year's tradition that I'd like to share with you, and of course, the Phoenix Suns.
It's called "The Burning of the Man." To start off the New Year as something indeed fresh and new, we gather at a fire pit on the beach here in Los Angeles. Someone donates some old clothes and then we stuff those clothes with newspaper. Then everyone, to themselves, writes down on a piece of paper what they'd like to let go of from the previous 12 months and stuffs it in the man who then gets lit on fire and turned to ashes. Then, everyone draws a name from a hat and we go around and say to the person whose name we've drawn, "The old man of the previous year bequeaths to you... (a wish, hope, etc. for the new year)." So it's literally raising our hopes and dreams for the new year from the ashes of the old one. That's got a nice Phoenician ring to it, doesn't it?
So, in kicking off the new year here at BSOTS, I thought I'd go down the roster and let the team know what I think should go up in ashes and what I bequeath them in 2014. Do you have your own man to burn for the Suns this year? Burn and bequeath in the comments below!
Ashes: Reputation as a cheapskate and bad owner.
To Mr. Sarver, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you a clean slate and a fresh start with a revamped roster, a re-tooled front office, a re-emptied salary cap and coming soon... a re-energized fanbase!
Ashes: That whole Lance Blanks thing.
To Mr. Babby, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you the wisdom of errors past and the success that comes with learning from them! Congratulations on your new hire!
Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek
Ashes: The high bar of early success.
To Messrs. McDonough and Hornacek, the old man of 2013 bequeaths to you the fearlessness to continue to make bold moves - or stand pat - in the name of building a champion in the Valley of the Sun! It's your ship right now, gentlemen. Sail it where it needs to go, not just away from where it's been.
Ashes: Back-up minutes and conditioning
To Eric Bledsoe, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the preparation and determination to seize a role as premier guard in the NBA. Get those starter legs underneath you and you'll be blazing up and down the court all 30+ minutes of the game like the Dragon in no time.
Ashes: His passport.
To Dionte Christmas, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a career here at home in the NBA after 3 years of bouncing around overseas!
Ashes - Any lingering doubts about his place in the sun
To Goran Dragi?, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the knowledge that, just as sure as the earth is beneath his feet and the sun above his head, he is a bona fide NBA star and that as he goes, so go the Suns.
Ashes - Poor health and poor shooting
To Channing Frye, the old man of 2013 bequeaths better health and faith in his shots - both inside and out!
Ashes - Rookie mistakes and opening season jitters
To Archie Goodwin, the old man of 2013 bequeaths veteran savvy and the maturity to know when to let the game come to him... and when he needs to go after the game!
Ashes - That last shot he missed. And defense.
To Gerald Green, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a complete lack of memory of any missed shots and a commitment to improve the D part of his role as a "3 and D" guy.
Ashes - The end of the bench blues
To Viacheslav Kravtsov, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the readiness to contribute on a moment's notice in games, and the swagger to play like a starter in practice.
Ashes - The burden of expectation and bum ankles
To Alex Len, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the freedom to play hard and be who he is on the court without the weight of being a franchise savior.
Ashes - Long twos and long bouts of disengagement
To Markieff Morris, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the grit and focus to play hard for every minute he's on the floor and the efficiency that comes with scrapping in the paint.
Ashes - Identity crisis
To Marcus Morris, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the faith in himself that he has all the tools necessary to be an excellent small forward for years to come.
Ashes - A pain in the neck
To Emeka Okafor, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a whole body and a happy return to the NBA stage as something other than a large expiring contract.
Ashes - His spot on the bench.
To Miles Plumlee, the old man of 2013 bequeaths a career as a starting center and the resolution to undertake the work of improving his whole game to become one of the best.
Ashes - His frequent flier miles
To Ish Smith, the old man of 2013 bequeaths more than one season on the same team after holding down roster spots on 7 teams since 2010.
Ashes - Earning the respect of the league every single night
To P.J. Tucker, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the recognition that without him on the floor, these Suns wouldn't be nearly as fun or successful because of his leadership in both words and actions.
Bright Side of the Sun
Ashes - Ashes
To Bright Side of the Sun, the old man of 2013 bequeaths the ability to let go of the past, whether it's the shame of last season or the dreams dashed in previous years, and the ability to embrace this latest incarnation of the Phoenix Suns fully and presently and to follow their adventures to a brighter and better basketball future.
While the Phoenix Suns have a big decision to make on Eric Bledsoe next summer, they have an equally important decision to make on Goran Dragic a year later. Can the Suns afford to pay up to $30 million per year for a non-All-Star back court?
Since the day the Phoenix Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers, GM Ryan McDonough has said that he plans to keep Bledsoe for the long term. Even knowing he's already got a starting caliber point guard in Goran Dragic.
But are they the long-term answer in the back court?
Some doubted McDonough's statements because Bledsoe had not yet proven himself as a starter in the NBA, yet would want starter money to stay with a struggling franchise. Others doubted the Suns would go all the way into "max" territory (about $14 million to start, for a 5th year player) to keep a guy that might never be better than their incumbent point guard Goran Dragic, who makes a measley $7.5 million per year for two more years (with a player option for another).
Even now, with Bledsoe playing better than most anyone thought he would in his first season as a starter, most insiders and dialed-in fans would say that Goran Dragic is the better player at the moment. Both average about 18 points and 6 assists per game on roughly the same minutes. Both drive to the basket often, and have a high conversion rate at the rim.
"What he's done so far is what we thought he could do," McDonough said to ESPN.com earlier this week.
But while Bledsoe gets slightly more steals and rebounds in his minutes, Dragic runs the team at a faster pace with fewer turnovers. The Suns are better team with Dragic on the floor than with Bledsoe, when the other is resting.
Yet, McDonough is still committed to signing Bledsoe long-term, knowing that the price will be high.
"We'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him," McDonough told ESPN.com, referring to the Suns enormous cap room.
Whatever it takes?
"Correct," he said. Then he at least gave himself some wiggle room by tacking on "any reasonable offer."
"We have some advantages," McDonough explained. "We're able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We're able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we're holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric's had a good experience here so far. He's played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we're doing."
Which is code for 'we'd like to get him for less than $14 million per year because he loves us and doesn't care about money, but if push comes to shove we'll pony up. But if we let someone else make an offer, we can give less raises and fewer years'.
Indiana did that with Roy Hibbert. Portland did it with Nicolas Batum. New Orleans did it with Eric Gordon. And so on. None of those guys were unhappy. In fact, only a handful of guys have gotten the full five years and 7.5% raises in the past few offseasons. Teams use the new CBA to control costs, and this is a good way to do a little of that.
Still, $14 million in the first year with 4.5% raises for the next three is a lot of dough.
Why would you give Bledsoe nearly twice the money of Dragic? And, where does that leave Dragic, who we all know is the better player right now?
Regardless of what happens with Bledsoe, the Suns only have guaranteed themselves eighteen more months of Dragic. Dragic is under cheap money this year and next ($7.5 million each). After that, he's got a player option for 2015-16 at the same salary in his pocket. If he declines that option, he could be an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.
Over this season and next, the two point guards will make about the same amount of money in total. Dragic will make $15 million ($7.5 million this year, $7.5 million next) while Bledsoe would make about $16 million ($2.65 million this year, max of $14 million next). If Dragic somehow plays himself onto the All-Star team this season (a longshot), he will get another $2 million over these two years.
It's in 2015-16 that the salary gap widens considerably for two players performing on equal levels, unless Dragic gets a raise.
No matter what happens with Bledsoe, Dragic is playing at a higher level than $7.5 million per year anyway. So expect Dragic to opt out in the summer of 2015, regardless.
That doesn't mean Dragic will go anywhere. He loves it in Phoenix, considers Phoenix his home. When given the chance to return here last year, he jumped at it. Now, with the team winning games, he can't be happier. He loves working alongside Bledsoe. Remember, he was begging for another playmaker all last year to play alongside him. He's not threatened by Bledsoe, but inspired by it. And they're WINNING.
Dragic could pick up his player option for 2015-16 next spring at $7.5 million and then sign an extension after that for roughly the same money. But why would he? If his counterpart is making nearly twice that money, why just take it without testing the market?
Likely, what will happen is that Dragic opts out in 2015, but gives the Suns first dibs to re-sign him. San Antonio has done this dance successfully for years. Who knows what the going price will be at that time, but it would certainly be more than $7.5 million.
Could the Suns afford to pay their starting back court $25-30 million a year? Most likely, they could afford it. It's quite possible that, with all the draft picks, the Suns will still have plenty of room in their salary structure a year from now to pony up for both Bledsoe and Dragic, using their Bird Rights to exceed the salary cap and maybe even pay the luxury tax.
But is it a smart business decision to commit half of your salary cap to two guys who may never become multi-time All-Stars? Maybe not. The luxury tax is a lot more oppressive these days, and very few NBA teams are willing to venture into that territory.
Dragic and Bledsoe are such a good story this season in part because they only make $10 million between them (Bledsoe makes $2.65 million). Will we feel differently about their 18/6 numbers if their income triples that number?
That's why the Suns are taking their time here, because they hold all the cards.
Handle Bledsoe this summer, without regard to Dragic. When you've got the rights to one of the best point guards in the game, you pay what it takes to keep him. Bledsoe is young, healthy and will only get better. Already, he's improved since last year and over the course of this season. Pay up.
And then 18 months from now, figure out where Dragic fits. If he's a Ginobili type, then you pay him accordingly to stay. If Dragic is still outplaying Bledsoe and wants to stay, then you look for takers on Bledsoe if there's a cap concern.
In each case, the Suns are in the driver seat.
Yeah, we are going there... At least we didn't give out Christmas Presents!
This time of year everyone is going to be writing themed stories, using corny clichés, and using the season as a way to write lazy stuff. We are no different.
A new year is upon us and it is time for us to see what the Phoenix Suns' (18-11) resolutions need to be. What does the team that has everything (that they didn't expect to have) need to strive for in the new year? Everyone looks in good shape, so losing weight is out of the equation. Hopefully nobody smokes and going back to college is not really high on the priority list. What to resolve... What?
Enough of me, let's get to what matters. The staff takes some New Year's Resolutions for the Phoenix Suns. Here we go.
Twenty-Fifth Topic: New Year's Resolutions
1. Breaking the Ice: What should the New Year's Resolution be for the entire whole of the Phoenix Suns franchise?
Jim Coughenour: To continue to make forward progression and not stand pat. This franchise has literally transmogrified from what many predicted to be a hopeless failure for years to come into possibly the most renascent team in the league. That momentum can't dissipate. The team needs to be just as aggressive and innovative this year, if not even to a higher degree, to get to where we all want them to be. Winning a championship is damn hard work (obviously we have experience in just how much a team can do and still fail) and I want to see more blood, sweat and tears.
Jacob Padilla: Win a darn championship. They've done pretty much everything else. They've had All-Stars, MVPs and Hall of Famers. They've won a heckuva lot of games and have used a highly entertaining style of basketball to win a lot of them. Now all that's left is the big one. It's probably not going to happen this year, but with Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek running the show I'd like to think the Suns will have a shot sometime in the next few years.
Dave King: Win with the kids and retreads! Don't sell out by acquiring a bigger talent for the sake of a playoff run. This team can win without a single deal to "improve" and shouldn't do anything to screw up the chemistry.
Kris Habbas: To stay the course. They have cleared house and brought back a sense of pride, resolve, and a new (back to the old) culture that is conducive of a winning franchise. They have a great young coach, general manager, and overall front office that are working together to make this a respected franchise. Stay the course.
2. Who on the roster needs a New Year's Resolution the most right now? What is the resolution?
DK: Markieff Morris. He needs a resolution to never, ever go back to the player he was in his first two NBA years and to commit to becoming the best version of the player he's become now: good on offense and rebounding, and not embarassing on defense. Kieff's ceiling is still higher than today's player IF he keeps going down this road.
KH: Alex Len. A resolution to find some resolution with his ankle injuries so he can get back on the court. Not for the team, they do not need his production to win games as we have seen, but for him in general it would be nice to put one healthy foot in-front of the other on the court again.
JC: Eric Bledsoe. Despite the general infatuation many fans have with him I still want to see more. At the end of the season the Suns will likely be faced with moving him or maxing him. Right now he's providing slightly less production than our other point guard who makes just $7.5 million. I would just like him to crystallize the situation. Over the last 7 games, nearly a third of his 24 games, he is averaging just 14.3 points and 4.4 assists... If he finishes the season at about 16.5 and 5.5 the decision becomes somewhat nebulous.
3. In 2014 what do the Suns need to do better?
KH: Dress better. Look, I get to go in the locker room with these guys before and after every game and either I have no idea what fashion is or these guys are taking it to a near Lady Gaga level. I am the first to admit I am no fashionista, but man leather is not meant to be worn that way Archie Goodwin! Pants should not come in that color P.J. Tucker! Turtlenecks are great and all, but Miles Plumlee rocking one in Arizona seems extreme! Whatever happened to a nice suit? Or some dress jeans, a shirt, and a jacket? Man, I am getting old.
DK: (Kris, you really don't have any idea what fashion is) What the Suns need to do better in 2014 is get better at post-game interviews. Bledsoe and the Morrii need speech inflection coaching. Dragic, Frye, Green, Tucker and Plumlee are good in interviews, but the younger guys need some work in that area. And as the season progresses, their gonna be asked to do a lot more interviews.
JC: Everything. Nothing wrong with striving for improvement. This isn't a sport for resting on laurels. If you like being an indolent sluggard there are a sh&%load of McDonald's looking for fry cooks.
JP: The non-wardrobe related answer is attention to detail, particularly on defense and on the glass, but that extends to offense as well. Rotations need to be crisper, everyone on the team (minus Goran who has license to leak out as often as he likes) needs to be more disciplined with their box-outs and with pursuing the ball and guys need to play in the flow of the offense and to their strengths. The Suns are playing well but there are still plenty of little things that can and need to be cleaned up if the Suns are going to continue to get better as opposed to regressing.
4. Can a change (Resolution) result in a drop-off of what they are already doing well? If that is the case, do they need one?
KH: Yes. A change in attitude and direction can easily throw things off course for any team let alone a young team like the Suns. If they try to make radical changes, say to the gameplan, there could be a ripple effect. Using defense as an example, if the Suns try too hard to be a better defensive team they might lose some steam on offense which is the reason why they are 18-11 right now. Change can be good, improvements are always welcome, but they can come with a cost like the butterfly effect.
JC: No need to Terry Porter this team by trying to coerce them into being something they're not. With the job that Hornacek has done so far I have the utmost confidence that he can make whatever tweaks are necessary, and possible, without disrupting the balance he has achieved so far. Then there's the McMiracle factor. I still don't think he'd have any trepidation over pulling the trigger on any move (at any moment) that he feels makes the team better in the bigger picture.
JP: Perhaps, but the Suns don't need any dramatic changes. A little more effort here, a little more focus there and they will be right where they need to be.
DK: Notice I took Jim's suggestion that fixing one thing can hurt another, and didn't point out in the earlier answer about the rebounding. Jim's right that fixing one thing can hurt another. I just hope they DON'T change something for the sake of change, because it could hinder the team. But adding Len/Okafor to the backup C position would be a good move, still.
5. How have the expectations changed for the team after winning 18 of their first 29 games?
JC: I still have none. Obviously the team is a hell of a lot better than I (erroneously) predicted at the beginning of the season, but I'm not certain what their ceiling is anymore. They've left me nonplussed at every turn, so why shouldn't I expect more twists and turns the rest of this season and throughout the year. So I guess maybe I expect to be surprised? Either way, this has been a lot of fun so far and I'm just really enjoying Suns basketball.
JP: The expectations have changed from none at all to expecting the team to be a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. That's exactly how the Suns are looking at it, and as Dave just wrote, defensive improvement is the key to getting there.
DK: LOL heck yeah. In my other article this morning, my new ceiling for this team is the WCF. That's right. The Conference Finals. No one wants to play the Suns. The last three consecutive opponents, two of them playoff teams, have changed up their rotation to field two PGs at once. Now that the Suns are forcing other team's out of their comfort zone, you know their reputation precedes them. Finally.
KH: The expectation is that the Suns are better than initially thought so it is time to change the conversation to that of a potential playoff team. That is how they should be perceived by the fans, by the media, and by themselves internally going forward. They have to beat bad teams. They need to prove themselves against their peers in the standings. And they have to rise to the occasion against the Championship Contenders. Good?
BONUS: What is your personal New Year's Resolution?
JC: Maybe I will write a book. I'd like to hone my talents in the sports I play. Do well in school. Try to be the best parent, husband, friend, etc. that I can be. I could go on. I don't necessarily make New Year's resolutions, but it's a natural time for me to reassess where I stand in life and how I'm progressing. I'm really good at getting busy and forgetting things, so reminders are always helpful.
I've already covered enough on the Suns (insert random Kevin Love mention to screw with Kris), but for BSotS I hope we can continue to bring the quality content that (I hope) makes us one of the best sites providing Phoenix Suns coverage. And just like the Suns, I hope we can continue to improve to make things even better and become THE premiere platform for all that is Suns basketball. Special thanks to all of you readers that make this place so great, and possible for that matter. Happy New Year everybody and go Suns!
JP: I don't make New Year's resolutions. I'd like to think I'm awesome as is, but even if that's not the case I'm too lazy to change it.
DK: I gave this in the other article as well: stop selling the team short. I won't sugarcoat anything, but I no longer predict a disappointing win total. WCF!
KH: I am not a resolution guy on January 1st, but I make decisions to change my life for the positive when need be. If I want to lose weight in August I am not waiting until January to start. You know?
Bright Siders, what do you think? What is your New Year's Resolution for yourself, for the Suns, and for BSotS? (Please do not say Kevin Love)