The Phoenix Suns came into the offseason with a clear plan in mind. They intended to replace the current faces of the franchise - 38-year old PG Steve Nash and near-40 SF Grant Hill - with new, younger ones. Specifically, they focused on 20-year old PG Kendall Marshall, 26-year old PG Goran Dragic, 24-year old SF Michael Beasley and 23-year old SG Eric Gordon.
Marshall came via the draft, and all three free agents signed immediately (though Gordon's offer was matched by New Orleans).
Suns' master plan A:
Out: Steve Nash, Grant Hill
In: Kendall Marshall (R), Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, and Eric Gordon
Gordon never made it to the Suns, leaving a big hole in the "face of the franchise" discussion. If Gordon had come to the Suns, then a clear roadmap to the future would have been in place.
Without Gordon, the Suns quickly had to make a new plan in order to stay off the "playoff bubble" treadmill: (b) dump contracts aggressively to fight for the #1 pick in the next draft, or (c) aggressively work to acquire a game-changer via trade to fight for a #1 seed.
As a franchise, the Suns immediately ruled out (b) because they just are "not into tanking". Plus, their entire front office only has one year left on their contracts. Go figure.
That leaves (c) and the search for a game-changer via trade or free agency. In the 5 weeks since then, the following players better than anyone on the Suns' current roster have been traded: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson. Though only Howard and (maybe) Bynum are true franchise-changers.
Whither the Suns' franchise-changer, then? Plan (c) appears to be in trouble.
A quick look to the 2012 draft reveals that #1 pick Anthony Davis is also predicted to be a franchise-changer, while no less than three other 2012 draftees would be projected to start immediately ahead of their counterpart on the Suns' roster.
But the Suns don't want to "fight" for a top-5 pick. They proved this by the remainder of their moves this summer (after Nash/Hill for Dragic/Beasley).
While the Suns' top-end talent got worse, their supporting cast seems to have at least remained steady if not improved. Luis Scola is better than Hakim Warrick. Kendall Marshall is better than Ronnie Price. If healthy, Jermaine O'Neal is better than Robin Lopez.
It appears that, collectively, the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns are too good to earn a top-5 draft pick. That means the 2013 draft is an unlikely place to find a game-changer, unless your scouting department gets lucky.
It also appears that, collectively, the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns are not good enough to earn a home-court playoff seed for a deep playoff run.
They are still on that 8th-10th seed treadmill, knocking on the playoff door through March, they hoped to avoid when letting Nash and Hill walk out.
Suns fans have to hope the FO's makeover is incomplete. Lon Babby, Lance Blanks and personnel man John Treloar (as well as the entire coaching staff) are all on the final year of their three-year contracts.
If their only job was to initiate the "changing of the guard" to transition away from Steve Nash, then their tenure has been a success. If their job was to leave the franchise in a better place than when they arrived, their tenure has been a failure.
If/when the Suns underwhelm again this season, the next FO will have a very easy job. There are young guys with the talent to get better. They have 10 draft picks (including six mid-to-low first rounders) in the next three years. There is still $6 million in cap space this year, and up to $15 million next summer without dumping any players they don't want to dump. And there are a fistful of reasonable (tradeable) contracts on hand.
Strap in, Suns fans. This bumpy ride is not over.
Whether it's the current FO or a new one next summer, the building blocks are there for improvement.
There's really no long-term plan that wouldn't be received better than the current (incomplete) one.
In the meantime, we can root for the 8th playoff seed and potentiality of a Cinderella season.
Have you ever seen one of those stores with a banner out front that boasts "Everything on Sale!"? Often everything isn't really on sale, and in some instances they just got done raising prices, but the point of the advertisement is to draw in potential
suckers consumers who might not otherwise be interested in purchasing their products. Who cares if it's junk, it's on sale!
That store is the Phoenix Suns team shop.
In recent years there was no need for a sale. Nash, Shaq, Stoudemire, Marion and Hill jerseys flew off the rack at a rather brisk rate. The cast of athletes that will don the purple and orange this season aren't quite as star studded as that ensemble. In fact, the only Sun currently on the roster with an all-star appearance is Jermaine O'Neal, with 6. I doubt JO is going to move the needle that much. Going back as recently as 2009-10, the trio of Nash, Hill and Stoudemire combined for 19.
I asked a person (trying to protect their anonymity) I know that I would describe as a casual fan how many current players on the Suns he could name. I got two names in response - Dragic and Frye. Not even Dudley registered. The same person was able to name all five of the recently departed players from the preceding paragraph plus Barbosa.
Who is the face of the franchise?
Secondary to that, who are the fans going to develop a familiar bond with this year? Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also puts butts in the seats and sells jerseys. Is there somebody amidst the rabble that is destined to become a household name? Whose jersey do you want on your back?
Jump to see me stump for the players who might gain notoriety this year.
Assets: The best moniker on the team (The Dragon), a visage that makes women swoon, high upside, playing the point for a point guard centric franchise, I think he had a good game against the Spurs once
Liabilities: People can’t even figure out how to pronounce his name (drahg-ich vs. drahj-ik) - do you know?, 26 years old and only 36 NBA starts – there’s still no proof in Goran’s pudding
This could be Goran’s for the taking. Like I mentioned, they could have a less toothsome face to deal with. It appears that Dragic’s development has been stunted by limited playing time based on his early career situation. Through four years Dragic boasts paltry averages of 8.0 points and 3.3 assists per game. Last season may have been his coming out party. Over his last 26 games with the Rockets, Goran averaged 18.2 points and 8.0 assists per game. If the Suns get that Dragic, he has a great chance at being the man. But will he be the Dragon or revert to a hatchling?
Pros: Athletic hands, mad Twitter skillz, prototypical underdog, impressive elocution with the media
Cons: A ninth floor vertical, lack of athleticism and (let’s face it) elite talent, can the face of the franchise be best suited as a sixth man?
I would like Jared Dudley to be this guy. I really would. He’s an affable guy. He’s charismatic. He’s likeable. He’s just not that good. Despite increasing his scoring averages each of the last four seasons, his scoring per 36 minutes has remained fairly unchanged. Despite the obvious effort on defense, Omaha’s analysis delineated his deficiencies at that end of the court. Jared Dudley is a great teammate. He’s a great player to have on your team. But if he’s the face of the franchise, you’re pretty screwed.
Credits: Most proven talent on the team (under 30), in his prime (28 years old), the leadership role on this team could be his should he clutch it in his hands
Debits: The beak, tissue paper soft in the lane, ESPN NOT top 10 finishing technique, doesn’t provide the imposing, space eating element that is preferable in a center
This should be a prime year for Gortat. He has shown an increase in production since he came to the Suns, but there is rampant speculation as to what degree that should be accredited to Steve Nash. If he can dispel the doubts being raised by his critics and maintain or improve upon the level of play he displayed last year, eventually people will have to take notice. Sprinkling in a couple more savage dunks would also help.
Merits: Greatest raw talent (potential) of anyone on the roster, former No. 2 overall pick, has the ability to make the electrifying moves that bring crowds to their feet, can take over games
Demerits: Insert compulsory marijuana joke here, has failed to live up to his talent, appears at times to be giving the effort of a somnambulist
This is another great candidate to be the man. Or fail epically. Beasley has the sexy skill set that fans will gravitate towards if he can ever put it all together. He can be that guy who can drop 15 in a quarter. He can average over 20 points a game. Or he can continue to let his personal demons stymie his potential and never reach the zenith he is capable of.
Assets: Genius level IQ, law degree, former player agent, has
Sarver interfering plenipotentiary control of this team
Liabilities: Talks like a cartoon character, entering final year of current contract, questionable track record
This entry is a little tongue in cheek, but depending upon how this works out, he stands a great chance to be the villain. Babby didn’t inherit a great situation. Some of that he may or may not have been culpable for, depending upon your leanings. Despite some obstacles along the way, this is pretty much his team now. If things go awry, he will be the fall guy. If things succeed enormously, one of the other four guys listed above will get the credit. What if the team is in the middle? Can a 35 win team stir enough excitement in the fanbase to garner an extension, or will a blanket of apathy cozily nestled over the team spell his doom?
So who's it gonna be Bright Siders? Who is most likely to make the ascension this season?
Most sequences have a logical progression. There is causality. One event precedes another. Insert your favorite aphorism here.
Today is one of those days that gets fans just a smidge closer to their utopia. The preseason schedule has been announced, and the Suns will begin on October 10th with the sanguine kismet of facing the (drumroll please) .... Sacramento Kings!
These schedules are usually based on propinquity, so there wasn't a reason to expect any eastern foes. A match up against an LA team might have been more appetizing, but at the same time would have tarnished the anticipation of regular season match ups. To be perfectly blunt, the Kings' fans probably aren't reveling in the opportunity to get the first crack at the "new look" Suns, either.
The first home game is on a Friday night, October 12th (date night!) against the despised Trail Blazers.
The Suns do get to play the revamped Mavericks (road), the mighty Thunder (road) and (get this - I'm not kidding) have a preseason finale at USAC against the Nuggets with Iggy on ESPN.
Hit the jump for a complete rundown of the preseason schedule.
DATE OPPONENT SITE
Wed., Oct. 10 Sacramento Kings Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento 7:00 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 17 Dallas Mavericks American Airlines Center, Dallas 5:30 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 19 Okla. City Thunder BOK Center, Tulsa
Mon., Oct. 22 Sacramento Kings US Airways Center, Phoenix 7:00 p.m.
Tue., Oct. 23 Golden State Warriors ORACLE Arena, Oakland
Fri., Oct. 26 Denver Nuggets US Airways Center, Phoenix 7:30 p.m. ESPN
All times Phoenix time