Historically speaking, this is a "lay low" year. If the Suns stay true to form, the roster would stay nearly intact going into the 2013-14 season. For the past five years, the Suns have alternated years of heavy activity in even years vs. virtually no activity in odd years.
Let's hope the pattern doesn't continue.
In 2009, the Phoenix Suns laid low in the free agent market until finally signing Channing Frye to "replace" Shaquille O'Neal for barely more than the league minimum before re-signing Grant Hill and extending Steve Nash for two more years through the 2011-12 season. Thanks to that minor tinkering, the Suns were able to hit the 2009-10 with a running start and a clear vision, taking a 14-3 record before the league knew what hit them.
After the lockout ended in December 2011, the Suns laid low again. They only patched the backup point guard (Telfair, Price) and shooting guard (Brown, Redd) positions while riding out Nash's last season with basically the same cast of characters that just missed the playoffs the prior season. 2011-12 This was the "stay the course" year, and the Suns did just that. They basically matched the record and result of the prior year, coming up short of the playoffs.
In 2010, the Phoenix Suns did anything but lay low. After losing Amare Stoudemire and GM Steve Kerr, the Suns quickly signed "Amare Lite" Hakim Warrick to an $18 million deal less than 24 hours later on July 2. With the die cast, the Suns showed the world they were all in for a 2010 bondo job. Within ten days, they had signed Josh Childress for $35 million and traded for Hedo Turkoglu's monster contract. All before a new front office was hired to manage the team going forward.
The herky-jerky player moves of the summer of 2010 quickly proved to fail in the 2010-11 season, with the Suns trying to play Hedo at PF to overwhelm teams with offense. The Suns limped to a 12-11 start before blowing it up with a six-player trade in December that left the team in further disarray until a late-season surge proved to be too little, too late.
Then 2012 happened. On July 1, 2012, the first day of free agency, the Suns visited their top free agent target, Michael Beasley, and offered $18 million over three seasons. They envisioned Beasley in his perfect incarnation - a dialed-in, matured small forward who could carry the scoring load for the offensively-challenged Suns.
By July 4, the Suns had traded Steve Nash for 4 draft picks, got verbal agreement to sign Goran Dragic for up to $34 million, Beasley for up to $18 million and made a restricted free-agent offer to SG Eric Gordon for $48 million. That's $100 million committed within four days of free agency, folks.
As you all know, those quick commitments were mostly failed moves. Beasley simply remained Beasley and the Hornets matched on Gordon. Only Goran Dragic proved to be a great value, and his signing was reportedly engineered by the owner rather than the since-deposed GM.
If the Suns stay true to form, they take this summer off and ride the current roster as hard as possible while adding only a low-level rotation player or two. Listening to new GM Ryan McDonough, that might just be what he wants to do.
"We'll be patient and deliberate and see if we can find some good values for us," McDonough said to Paul Coro of azcentral.com/sports over the weekend. "Every year in free agency, a lot of money is spent right out of the gate. Teams spend big. The price gets driven up. A lot of times, it's to a point where teams feel uncomfortable, but they still do it because they're chasing guys. I don't think we'll be in that game."
So far, so good. The Phoenix Suns have not (yet) jumped into the fray with an "aggressive" move to quell the nervous masses and curry short-term favor from the public. Often, those moves are the worst kind to make.
In fact, a full 30+ hours into free agency it's surprising that not a single NBA team has overspent yet. There have been a half-dozen "commitments" (only verbal agreements can be made until July 11), with none more than $3 million a year I believe.
But don't let that fool you. Starting today, the big names will start to commit and money will begin to fly out of wallets at a record pace. Teams are fighting each other over positionless Tyreke Evans, not-as-good-as-he-should-be Josh Smith, and childish Dwight Howard. The only question is who signs first, and for how much.
The Suns need to stay out of that fray.
While I don't want the Suns to get a dime closer to the salary cap this offseason (they currently have $6.5 of cap room), I would be quite disappointed if they bring back the same cast of characters next season only supplemented by a couple of impressionable rookies.
The was a bad locker room last season.
Oh, they were cordial to each other. To a man, they were all nice people. Dragic, Scola, Dudley and on down the line to Kendall Marshall. Every last one of them were good people.
But they didn't get along professionally. They didn't pull for each other. They didn't hold each other accountable, or keep one another in line, or rally to support each other in bad times. They simply fragmented more and more as the season went on.
The Suns were right to move on from Gentry, who wasn't getting through to them. The worst locker room scenes were in the last weeks of Gentry's reign. But Hunter fared no better, and in the end it was the players.
"We have had more than 90 games to figure it out," Dragic said with a shrug late in the year in response to this question: Would the team be better off next year after a summer to refresh?
To a man, every single player, as well as the coach, knew that this roster was incompatible with each other. Not enough leadership, not enough basketball IQ, not enough commitment to excellence. Too many players wanting each others' playing time.
This roster has to change. I really hope that at least 40% of last year's roster is gone by October. I don't care how fast it happens, or how many fireworks are shot off. I only care that it happens.
And I don't mean I want the Suns to win more games next year. I am ready for a tough season that bears fruit via the 2014 lottery. I just want different players.
Unfortunately, in my mind anyway, the Suns declined to release chemistry-failure Michael Beasley before July 1. If they had done so, they could have not only relieved themselves of the SuperCool headache but stretched the cap hit of his remaining $9 mill owed over 5 seasons (twice the remaining years plus one).
Of course, the Suns aren't in the business of saving cap room this year, so maybe they want to wait on that decision until they see how the summer plays out. Yet, I really would be disappointed if Michael Beasley goes to training camp with this team next fall. He's a nice guy, but he's that guy who always makes you breathe a sigh of relief when he's gone. He's tough on the coaches because he can't stay within a scheme on offense or defense, and he's tough on his teammates because he's unpredictable in every aspect. Rookies should not have Beasley around to influence their habits.
Luis Scola can be traded as of July 15, and he should be. For any price available. He is such a classy veteran, but he just doesn't want to be part of serious losing. I've never seen a more depressed individual than Scola while enduring last season's debacle. Please, Suns, move him to a playoff contender. Indiana could use him, as could San Antonio. Get an asset back. Though, don't hold your breath for a 2014 first round pick, Suns fans. Scola isn't worth that. But a second rounder would be good enough for me.
One or more of Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Kendall Marshall should be swapped out for other comparable talent with team-first, effort-first attitudes. It's not that these guys are bad players. On the contrary, they could each be very good. But their collective contribution to the Suns was lacking in terms of effort and consistency. All of them wanted more than they deserved in terms of playing time, and were surprisingly lacking in self-awareness of their own faults.
At the end of the season, Suns vets hinted at young players who thought they were better than they really were, and who wouldn't listen to the vets for advice or help. I think the more you have of these guys, the more likely they are to feel validated because other kids are getting away with it.
The combo of Beasley, Morris, Morris and Marshall - in other words, all the Suns players 23-and-under - fed off each other's attitudes to utlimately pull them down as a group. When you have a group that's not succeeding as a group, you split up the group. That's Management 101.
After that (divesting of Beasley, Scola, and 1-2 of the three Ms), the Suns' moves should all be about the future. If they trade Marcin Gortat and/or Jared Dudley, it should only be if a good, young asset comes back in return for each. That could be a 2013 pick, or a 2014 pick or another young player with big upside.
Gortat is not a clubhouse leader, but he is a good NBA player and can play all the minutes that Alex Len is not ready to play.
Dudley is not a superstar nor is he a mentor in the classic sense, but he is a good example for the young kids to follow in terms of attitude and work ethic. He's a lot like new coach Jeff Hornacek in that regard, though not nearly as talented or accomplished.
So far, so good this offseason.
Let's keep it going:
According to the report by a Huff Post Sports guy I've never heard of before, the San Antonio Spurs would trade for Marcin Gortat. The Suns would either get Boris Diaw or Tiago Splitter in a sign-and-trade. In either scenario, the Suns would reportedly get a 2014 first-round pick from the Spurs.
Here's the original source of this trade rumor:
Source: Spurs-Suns deal 4 Gortat would either be n a Splitter sign-and-trade or Diaw/filler. Suns get at least a 2014 1st rounder either way— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) July 1, 2013
It's almost not worth discussing this in too much detail at this point since this is such a thinly sourced rumor. For my money, and this is just a quick gut reaction, Diaw's one remaining year and likely late first-rounder for Gortat is a bit light on the return. And I don't really see the need to invest in a longer-term deal for Splitter in a sign-and-trade.
So, my vote would be, no. I'd hang on to Gortat and wait for a bigger and better offer which I believe would come around the trade deadline. For the record, I don't actually have a vote.
Draft History/Talent Evaluation
In 2004 the Celtics had an impressive draft based on where they were selecting. Al Jefferson (15), Delonte West (24) and Tony Allen (25) all went on to successful NBA careers, while Justin Reed (40) did not. Since McDonough joined the team in 2003 it's hard to know how much impact his input had on these selections. Since he was credited with the Rajon Rondo pick in 2006 let's bypass the 2005 draft and start with 2006.
1. Rajon Rondo (21)*
2. Gabe Pruitt (32)
3. Glen Davis (35)*
4. J.R. Giddens (30)
5. Semih Erden (60)
6. Lester Hudson (58)
7. Avery Bradley (19)
8. Luke Harangody (52)
9. JaJuan Johnson (27)*
10. E'Twaun Moore (55)
11. Jared Sullinger (21)
12. Fab Melo (22)
13. Kris Joseph (51)
*Players acquired in draft day trades.
Rondo was a spectacular pick.
Avery Bradley may be a solid starter.
Davis is a fringe starter on a bad team.
Moore may hang around as an NBA player.
The book is still out on Sullinger, Melo and Joseph, but only Sullinger showed much promise his rookie season.
The other seven picks were garbage.
Between #19-35 three of the Celtics six picks were solid.
The Celtics never drafted a player that stuck below #35.
The Celtics never picked higher than #19.
McDonough was part of one great success, a mixed bag of late firsts and seconds, and was never involved in drafting a lottery talent. I won't dismiss Rondo from the discussion, but is every GM that hit one pick a great talent evaluator? Because if the Rondo pick is considered an outlier the rest isn't very impressive.
Safety vs. Risk
McDonough's first lottery pick, and a relatively high one at #5, has been viewed by some critics as a "safe" pick. I aver that only picks inside the lottery can really be viewed as safe. The expectations past that point drop precipitously, alleviating much of the blame for a pick that goes awry (which is the rule, not the exception).
Lottery picks can be safe or risky. There is always chatter of high floor/low ceiling players in contrast to risk/reward prospects. My belief is that Alex Len was more of the former. Based on my own rampant, and likely fatuous, speculation players like Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore have more potential than Len. I would slot Len in a class with Otto Porter Jr. as guys who are likely to have solid careers, Len more solid than Porter, but are unlikely to make multiple all-star appearances.
It has been propounded by some that based on McDonough's background, track record, pedigree, glowing endorsements and the general buzz surrounding his hiring that the fans should put trust in his ability to make the right moves until he proves otherwise. My stance is that trust is something that is earned, not passed around frivolously.
I am cautiously optimistic that Ryan will continue his meteoric rise through the NBA ranks based on his consideration as a prodigy in the eyes of esteemed personnel across the league, but the truth remains that he is still a novice to this new role. When a new employee starts in my company I have a level of confidence based on his qualifications coming in, but his performance is scrutinized much more than established employees that I trust based on years of proving their ability.
I prefer the word rope over trust. At this point I'm willing to extend him enough to make a lasso or a noose.
Getting His Guy
Despite my leanings that the Suns went the safe route, they have touted Alex Len as their #1 overall BPA. While I have no reason to doubt their probity, I think it's "safe" to suggest that every team is going to speak favorably about the selections they make on draft night.
Four other teams that picked ahead of the Suns also felt they got "their guy." Who's wrong and who's right? Did Cleveland pick for need or was Anthony Bennett easily ahead of the pack? Is it possible that Victor Oladipo might have been #1 on the Suns' board? Usually a team picking that high wouldn't admit that the player they picked at #5 was fifth on their draft board... At the same time, there's no advantage in making wild claims that could invite more criticism down the road. Then again, we're coming off the epic failure of Lance Blanks, so there's that...
By trumpeting Len in this fashion the Suns left several windows to the future open.
1. The Suns chose to forego the sexy picks. Either McLemore or Noel would have probably been received with more accolades and fanfare. McLemore, especially, would have been more of an instant gratification pick as he plays a more exciting brand of basketball complete with high flying dunks. The Suns felt they made the correct big picture pick.
2. If any other player in the draft class turns out better than Len, which is very likely, they have given naysayers an opening to rebuke their selection since they have revealed the top of their board. If either Noel or McLemore, or both, proves to be a better pro the pick will look even more egregious.
3. If Len turns out to be the man they'll make the four teams ahead of them look inept and can strut around as the smartest team in the room (similar to the Celtics in 2006). The Suns have basically given the rest of the league a little bit of a Jared Dudley, "What's up!?"
The Suns went young. The Suns went with players who are unlikely to be game changers as rookies. Len isn't going to be the favorite of many pundits to win rookie of the year accolades. Both are unpolished, Goodwin moreso than Len, and will take time to grow into and embrace their new NBA roles.
We've been introduced to Babby's "dry powder" philosophy during his tenure here, and in line with that the newbies were desiccant picks. They fit splendidly into a long term rebuilding project. A plan that favors prudence to haste. A plan to rebuild the "right way."(Although I don't necessarily think that quick and right have to be mutually exclusive... of course that's just me).
By opening their team workouts and giving media more access to the proceedings the Suns actually managed to be more clandestine than the cloak and dagger nature of recent years. I never understood the policy of working out players behind closed doors and it appears that McDonough didn't either. Instead he chose to hide right in front of our faces.
The lack of predictability among whom the Suns were targeting should be lauded. Unlike last year, when I successfully predicted the Suns would choose Kendall Marshall (whom I didn't want the team to pick) despite the furtive nature of the team's activities leading into the draft, this year I was admittedly nonplused when Len's name was called. How many of you thought it would be him with Noel and McLemore still available?
I'm still of the belief that the Suns were high on Oladipo, but even after the draft I would be intrigued to find out exactly what the Suns board actually looked like... because I still have no idea. The ability of the team to be more open with their fans while still being able to keep their plans completely under wraps is refreshing.
Free Agency and the Future
1. Ryan has a track record of being at least a competent talent evaluator. Hopefully this will translate to success in this area. The first case study with the Suns is in progress.
2. I felt the Suns went the safe route with the #5 pick... and so did McDonough. If a team picks the player they had ranked #1 overall that probably seems a pretty safe proposition. It still remains unclear whether the team might be willing to gamble a lottery pick on a high ceiling player with issues. For instance, a guy that drops due to possible character concerns associated with a mother with a criminal record and an itinerant history related to schooling. In a league with very few guarantees, trepidation over a calculated gamble can be self-defeating.
3. McDonough has all the qualifications to succeed, but my trust in him will evolve on a merit based system. I'm sure Ryan would agree that it's something he needs to earn.
4. Ryan apparently has no problem with going after the players he covets completely independent of external influences. This is a collaborative effort between him and his staff.
5. Be patient. The Suns are going to be.
6. Expect the Suns to be an open book... inscribed with invisible ink. Or don't expect anything. The Suns have been anything but predictable since McDonough's hiring.
7. Based on McMiracle's obsession with preparedness there is at least some reason to be confident that the moves of today adumbrate favorably towards a return to prominence in the future... After all, luck favors the prepared.