I have been trying to nail down (or at least get some insight) on the Phoenix Suns' summer direction but the front office has not been inclined to comment on it while the current season is still going on. There are obvious limitations on speaking about other teams' players, and the draft is still a big unknown until the lottery and workouts and players declaring for the draft. Even then, teams keep it close to the vest anyway.
Lon Babby, the Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations, rightly doesn't want to give anything away on Blanks' or Hunter's performance as of yet. The season's not over, and a lot of times simple comments on performance get blown out of proportion by the media. Plus, and this is my own conclusion, he didn't know if he himself would get a say in whether Blanks or Hunter stay on since his own contract expired in July.
But one area I thought I could make headway was to establish a basic timeline for naming a permanent head coach this summer. Over the weekend, I tried to engage Lon Babby in a discussion about that timing but got no response. This was unusual, because Lon has always been good about at least replying in some way to my inquiries*. Figuring it was a holiday, I tried again on Monday but still got nothing.
Ultimately, I gave up waiting and I wrote the Tuesday article on my own assumptions alone based on history. Robert Sarver had never acted quickly to keep his incumbent President/GM since taking over the team. There was always, after some unsuccessful negotiation, an agreement to remove the President/GM from their position (Bryan Colangelo, then Mike D'Antoni, then Steve Kerr).**
And without the President/GM settled, there was no way to resolve a head coaching situation. So I was fully prepared to wait longer than anyone thought was prudent.
But a mere FOUR HOURS later, the Suns organization surprised me. Robert Sarver broke his own mold this week by keeping a President/GM longer than one contract. And he did it in a timely, orderly fashion without any hiccup to the offseason planning process.
I also got my answer on why Lon Babby had been nonresponsive the last few days to my queries on the HC: because he was in the middle of negotiating his own extension.
Now that Lon Babby is under contract for two more years, azcentral.com beat writer extraodinaire Paul Coro has this tidbit:
Sarver's endorsement means that [General Manager Lance] Blanks will likely stay on board for his last contract year and there is a strong possibility that interim head coach Lindsey Hunter is named the permanent coach.
I am not sure if this is informed opinion or not. This could just be Paul's conjecture, but it also could be based on scuttlebutt around the arena.
Clearly and consistently, both Babby and Sarver have supported the work of Lance Blanks as talent evaluator even though the public has been less than enamored with him. Some of that is that he is "terrible at PR", as Sarver admitted in January. And part of it is that the Suns have not made any WOW moves in the three years since Blanks took over as GM. He has not hit a home run yet while the team had declined in performance every season.
Marcin Gortat was really a nice find, but a lot of people in the NBA felt the same. Gortat was the most coveted underutilized big man in the game, playing behind Dwight Howard, and a lot of teams wanted him. The Suns took advantage of a since-ousted Orlando GM Otis Smith who still loved Hedo Turkoglu in that deal.
On a lower scale, Blanks has unearthed some gems. P.J. Tucker, Wes Johnson, Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd are not diamonds by any means and may not be legitimate NBA starters, but they became valid rotation players. They were all signed to low-level contracts off the street and played well in Phoenix. The same could not be said for some other guys Blanks gave a chance to succeed in the NBA: Zabian Dowdell, Garrett Siler, Aaron Brooks, Ronnie Price, Luke Zeller and Diante Garrett.
His big free agent signing was Michael Beasley this season, who has not worked out. In fact, Beasley is having his worst season in the NBA despite being given a great deal of support and love within the front office ranks. The Suns tried to help Beasley reach his potential, but fared no better than his two prior teams. Blanks' draft picks were "eh". Not bad, not necessarily good either. He mis-evaluated Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez.
But the worst thing Blanks has done publicly has been to systematically help remove every link to the "old" days, the glory days, while trying to lay a brand new foundation on this franchise.
I agree that it was time to move on from the old days, but the way the Suns did it put a bad taste in Suns fans mouths. Certainly, more wins would wash away the bad taste, but for now all we know is that every icon has been swept out of the building since Lance Blanks signed his contract (Nash, Hill, Majerle, Gentry, etc.).
Whose fault is that? Sarver, Babby or Blanks? All of them, of course. They are a team. But since Blanks makes the hiring decisions on the coach, and by extension his coaching staff, and since Blanks is the resident NBA talent evaluator, I think that more of the blame goes to Blanks than either of the other two for this PR debacle. And certainly, a team wholly constructed based on Blanks' talent evaluation is the worst in the Western Conference.
I didn't mean for this article to turn into a Lance Blanks hatefest, so I will stop now. I am just trying to state facts here. I have to admit that I've never sought out Lance Blanks for an interview, so a big part of my ambivalence is my own fault.
Maybe Blanks is not responsible for most of this PR problem. And certainly, teams decline with age and injury. There were reasons the team is where it is today. Valid reasons. It's no surprise to anyone that the Suns are taking their turn at the bottom of the NBA, since that's been predicted for several years now.
With Lon Babby at the helm for the next two seasons at least, he gets a chance to see the Suns move forward and start back up the hill.
More to Coro yesterday: "I may be like Moses. I'm on a journey to get to the promised land of a championship. I didn't want to leave at the start of the walk through the desert."
Babby has been judicious with contracts to help make the Suns solvent.
He declined a contract extension to Jason Richardson in the fall of 2010. Richardson wanted $9-10 million a year. That was a good move, with Richardson already on the decline of his career. $10 million to J-Rich right now would be an albatross. So Babby replaced him with young Marcin Gortat, 25 at the time and ready to excel at a position that's tough to fill.
He declined to give an aging Nash $12 million a year. Nash eventually took a lot less from the Lakers, but even that $9 million the Lakers gave Nash would have been too much for a guy you increasingly can't count on staying healthy.
He overpaid Grant Hill in the summer of 2011 to keep him one more season alongside Nash while they tried to stay competitive, but then decided it was time to get younger than 39 at the SF position.
He gave out solid contracts to every other free agent they've signed, not saddling the Suns' books with any bad contracts. Even Michael Beasley's is reasonable, only guaranteed for two seasons and barely more than the midlevel.
He offered a max contract to a guy good enough to get one in Eric Gordon, and surprised the league when Gordon not only accepted the offer but expressed a great appreciation and desire to make Phoenix his home. That's a good sales job.
And he convinced Robert Sarver to use the amnesty clause on Josh Childress, which would effectively cost Sarver every penny of Childress' $7-8 twice a year for three years if they found the right players to replace Childress on the salary cap. That's a big chunk of money that Sarver just ate up.
So, Babby has been smart and safe. Nothing outrageous.
Now he just needs a good talent evaluator to pick the right players for the turnaround.
And the right coach. I really hope the Suns execute a full coaching search this spring with Lindsey Hunter as one of the candidates. You rarely get a chance to hear from a lot of people how they would handle your team, and a coaching search is a great way to do it. Then, you hire the most impressive candidate. If that's still Hunter, all the better. At least you proved it to yourself.
*Regarding my inquiries to Suns staff: I am not a hard-nosed investigative reporter. I am a softball guy, to be sure. The most I feel comfortable doing is shooting emails to guys like Babby, asking questions and offering to meet before games to discuss further. So it's no surprise that Coro and others had the extension news way before I did - which was in the Suns' press release. Sorry, BSotS. I have a full-time day job and a moderate personality. I just don't have it in my nature to force sources to give up breaking news before anyone else knows it. I don't know how those guys get all those details about stuff before it's been released. Do they have dirt on these sources? Or are they just so persistent the source gives them the info to make them go away? I dunno. I doubt I'll ever find out.
**Regarding Sarver's track record with President/GMs: I have no idea what happened in each of those prior negotiations. I can guess that Sarver wanted more control than Bryan C wanted to give up after his father had sold the franchise. And I can guess that both Mike D and Sarver agreed that Mike D sucked at being a GM. And I heard rumors of lowballing Kerr in 2010, but that doesn't totally explain why Kerr so quickly walked away from something that appeared to be so positive just two months before. So, we can't put all blame on Sarver "failing" at keeping President/GMs. Maybe they were all meant to be.
Insert your favorite 16 reference for the numerically equivalent podcast edition. I was infatuated with Molly (star of Sixteen Candles) as a child, so I'd much rather have that image burned into my head than Lon Babby who, though dapper in his own right, has decidedly less sex appeal.
Maybe you like Coreys... well, maybe not, but I was still enamored by Heather Graham, regardless of her inebriated state.
For some reason when I think 16, these movies are the first things that come to mind. But what can I say?
I'm old. I like girls. But if License to Drive taught us anything, it's that half full and half empty cups can stir debate... but sometimes empty cups can actually be a good thing.
In addition to the Jays, I was able to see games featuring Duke, Georgetown and San Diego State and the NBA Draft prospects those teams featured. I also was treated to the show put on by Dunk City (No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast for those that don't follow the tournament), but that's a different story.
In total, I watched about nine potential NBA players play.
Here's my take on the guys that have a chance to go in the mid-to-late portion of the first round.
Quote: "When the separation was created, I thought Franklin did a good job of getting into the paint and creating opportunities for others as well as scoring himself. He's just a terrific all-around player and a tough match-up. I thought his ability to get in and create good things for his teammates was a big key in the game." - Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger
Franklin is a high-flying guard that I really like. I got two looks at him in Philly and he put up two really solid performances showcasing his all-around game.
Franklin played 73 out of possible 80 minutes between his two games - the first a 70-55 win against Oklahoma and the second an 81-71 loss to FGCU - and racked up 41 points on 14-26 shooting (4-9 from downtown), 11-11 from the free-throw line, 19 rebounds, nine assists, seven turnovers and six steals.
I already knew Franklin was a great rebounder. His average of 9.5 per game as a guard (something that has only been done a handful of times) speaks for itself, but seeing him live, it's easy to understand why. Franklin has excellent athleticism, good length and strong hands, but even more than that, he has a strong motor and an ability to read the ball off the rim. He pulled down eight boards in the first game and followed it up with 11 in the second, figures that aren't the least bit out of the ordinary for him.
Franklin has a good body control and loves to use head fakes to get his defender off balance. He has a good post game for a guard, with solid footwork. There was one play in the second game against Florida Gulf Coast where he faced up from the high post, pump-faked, drop-stepped, then spun to the basket and finished. It was a brilliantly advanced move to see from a college guard, showcasing his balance, footwork, composure in traffic and strength to finish. It was one of the most impressive plays of the game for me, which is saying something considering he was playing against Dunk City.
One thing that I hadn't noticed before but that really stuck out to me is that Franklin is a capable, but more importantly, willing passer. He played well in the flow of the offense, looking to move the ball and find open teammates. In fact, he was almost too passive at times. At one point in the second game, the Eagles went on a big run and Franklin basically disappeared (although to be fair, most of that were his teammates taking bad shots). He needed to be more assertive with his teammates struggling; 13 shots was not enough.
Franklin's biggest problem as a prospect is his shooting. He only shot 40.4 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from 3-point range during the season. His jumpshot form looks decent enough; no hitches or anything like that. I think he can easily improve his shot and in fact has already done so throughout his college career. A lot of it is due to his shot selection as well, but I don't think it's bad enough to really be an issue moving forward if he is given a more defined role.
After losing to FGCU, Franklin remained out on the court to watch the Eagles celebrate. He just stood there and stared for a two or three minutes. This is a man who wants to win badly, and is willing to do the work necessary to do so.
Final Thoughts: I am a big fan of Franklin's game and how much he's grown from his freshman year. When it's all said and done, he'll probably end up in the middle of the first round and out of the Suns' draft range, but depending on what happens, the Suns should definitely consider him with their second pick (either at the end of the lottery from the Lakers or at the end of the first round from the Heat).
Quote: "If you have a 6-8 guy that can really almost do everything, like he can make threes, he can take you off the block and everything, it's kind of tough because we're not used to like 6-8 guys, especially in our league, doing things like that." - Cincinnati sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick.
Doug McDermott is a National Player of the Year Finalist, a two-time All-American and, for my money, the best scorer in college basketball. I may be a tad bit biased considering that he plays for my school, but that also means I've been able to see almost every game he has played in a Bluejay uniform.
I'm not really sure where McDermott's stock is right now. Some places have him in the second round, others have him going in the latter part of the first. What I do know is that he knows how to play basketball.
McDermott is first and foremost a knockdown shooter. He has proven the ability to shoot the three at a high rate all the way out to NBA range (49 percent this season), both spotting up and running off of screens. He has also developed a very reliable face-up mid-range jumper that has really rounded out his game this season. McDermott's shooting touch will be his number one asset in the NBA.
However, what separates McDermott from a Matt Bonner or Steve Novak is his high basketball IQ and his ability to play in the post. McDermott has a terrific feel for the game and this allows him to be a pretty good rebounder on both ends. He doesn't have great physical tools, but his mental ones are top-notch. He has great touch on shots around the basket. He's not going to be able to play the same way he did in college - as a post-up power forward - but that ability to finish in the post and around the basket will certainly help him at the next level.
Against a really tough Cincinnati defense, McDermott was still able to get his and lead his team to a win. He finished with 27 and 11. He struggled mightily against Duke, shooting just 4-16 from the field, but he also went 12-12 from the line for 21 points. That would be more troubling, but McDermott is not going to be facing the same kind of defense (double-teaming and switching every screen) that forced that performance in the NBA.
McDermott is too good of a shooter and too smart of a player not to find a role offensively in the NBA. The big question mark with him is on the other end. Can he guard anyone? He's too small to defend most power forwards and he's too slow laterally to slow down quick or athletic wings.
McDermott should become a good role player at the next level if he ends up on a team that can put him in position to use his strengths while covering for his weaknesses. Comparable players would be Kyle Korver, Jared Dudley and Mike Dunleavy.
Final Thoughts: I'm as big of a Dougie fan as you'll find. I want him to go as high as possible and I want him to be very successful. However, with the disarray the team is in now and with Jared Dudley already on the roster, I don't think Phoenix is the right place for Doug. That doesn't mean I won't hope the Suns get him, either with that Heat pick or with the Suns' second rounder, though, as I can't help but want a Bluejay on the Suns.