Changing of the guard.

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).

Out: PG Ronnie Price, SG Michael Redd, SF Josh Childress, PF Hakim Warrick, C Robin Lopez

In: PG Marshall, SF Wesley Johnson, SF P.J. Tucker, PF Luis Scola, C Jermaine O'Neal

Returning (ie. not dumped): Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris

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.


But what exactly will "next" consist of?

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.

Goran Dragic


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?

Jared Dudley


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.

Marcin Gortat


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.

Michael Beasley


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.

Lon Babby


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?

Poll
Who will be the face of the franchise for the Suns THIS year?

  990 votes | Results


It’s become a tradition for the Phoenix Suns to fare poorly in ESPN’s future power rankings, and the edition released this week provided no exception. The rankings by ESPN’s John...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
Who's the man... err Gorilla.

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!

Yay?!

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 TIME

Wed., Oct. 10 Sacramento Kings Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento 7:00 p.m.

Fri., Oct. 12 Portland Trail Blazers US Airways Center, Phoenix 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 5:00 p.m.

Mon., Oct. 22 Sacramento Kings US Airways Center, Phoenix 7:00 p.m.

Tue., Oct. 23 Golden State Warriors ORACLE Arena, Oakland 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Oct. 26 Denver Nuggets US Airways Center, Phoenix 7:30 p.m. ESPN

All times Phoenix time


Shot-blocking is back!

The Phoenix Suns signed 16-year NBA veteran Jermaine O'Neal to a one year, $1.35 million deal yesterday (the veteran minimum for a player of his service years). O'Neal becomes the Suns' longest-tenured NBA veteran, doubling the service years of the next guy on the list - Sebastian Telfair, 8 years.

O'Neal was named to 6 consecutive NBA all-star games, all with the Indiana Pacers, the last of which coming in 2007. He has career averages of 13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, and is sixth among active NBA players in career blocked shots (1,702). His defensive abilities are stellar, even beyond the box scores with 63.1 career defensive win shares (per www.basketball-reference.com).

But long before the all-star nods ended, O'Neal has had trouble staying healthy. Since the start of the 2004-05 season, O'Neal has played in only 460 of a possible 722 games over 9 seasons. His healthiest recent season was 3 years ago, playing 70 games for a struggling Miami Heat team alongside youngster Michael Beasley.

So you shouldn't be surprised when a player in the twilight of his career, after nine frustrating years battling one injury or another, chooses the chance at the fountain of youth over winning a championship ring.

"I always knew the training staff was phenomenal," O'Neal said in a teleconference with Phoenix media yesterday. "That's the word around the league among players. They really take the body and put three, four years on it by the things they do to the body."

Just ask Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Redd and even Antonio McDyess.

In fact, that's just what he did when getting the now-popular Regenokine (also known as Orthokine) treatment in Germany this spring, at the same time as Grant Hill. Many an NBA player with degenerating knees has now tried that procedure in the past couple of years, with so far unproven results. Players swear by it, but players also wear those rubber bracelets too.

Hill raved about the Suns' training staff, and the evidence supporting the Suns trainers' success is much longer and more trustworthy than the ____kine procedure. If O'Neal is going to have one more relatively healthy and productive season, the best odds are in Phoenix.

Michael Redd scored 10 points per game as a backup SG after missing most of the previous two seasons. Grant Hill got healthy for the first time in years, going from near-retirement to 5 good seasons in Phoenix and 1-2 more productive years before he's done. Shaquille O'Neal went from washed-up and injured to making another NBA All-Star game (and then washed up and injured again, once he left Phoenix). Antonio McDyess was near retirement as well, before getting healthy in Phoenix and playing another several good seasons. And we all know Steve Nash's body was a constant battle as well.

Enter Jermaine O'Neal to the NBA's fountain of youth.

That's what he based his decision on, rather than a chance at a ring after having tried that in Boston the last two years. The only other time Jermaine O'Neal was a true unrestricted free agent (he'd previously signed huge extensions), he signed for the MLE to play alongside the Big Three in Boston.

"[The Big Three] are at a position in their career, and I'm kinda at the same position," O'Neal said in 2010, per espn/boston. "Obviously, those guys have a ring, but they want another one. I don't have a ring and I want one.


"Their hunger, their focus are at a different level. There're other good teams out there that I looked at that I could compete for a championship with. But these guys just came off an NBA Finals appearance, and in 2008 they won one. They know what it takes to get there, and really, when thinking about it and talking to my family, we thought this was the best fit for me."

Two years later, things have changed. Now, he just wants to stay healthy to play one more season without dealing with injuries. He's certainly ahead of the game by getting in his best condition in years this summer, and looking five years younger lately (corroborated by Jared Dudley last month via twitter).

The procedure in Germany has given him a chance to do lower-body training that he had not done for about five years. He has also done cleansing and dieting over the summer.

"I have a different type of lift right now," said O'Neal. "I have a different type of quickness right now. A lot of people may say it's the procedure, but I say it's the work I put in."

But everyone looks good in the summer, because they're not playing NBA basketball. Pickup games and workouts are a whole different thing. Michael Redd felt good last summer, but took most of the season to catch up to the NBA game again. Brandon Roy is apparently tearing it up on the court this summer, and got himself a 2-year $10-million deal. But this is the same guy who had to retire from the NBA because of his knees.

Can Jermaine O'Neal stay healthy this season in Phoenix?

If so, he will be better than Robin Lopez in limited minutes. While Lopez had promise as a rebounder, shot blocker and defensive stalwart, O'Neal has absolutely proven it over 16 seasons. Even last season, O'Neal's rebound rate and block rate per significantly higher than Lopez. He even ended the season with more 'defensive win shares' than Lopez, despite playing only 25 games to Lopez' 64. Yes, O'Neal is a better backup center than Robin Lopez, even at this age.

But that's only if O'Neal can stay healthy. If not, the Suns will turn to other guys at backup center, like Channing Frye and Luis Scola.

If you're hoping for Suns wins, better hope O'Neal found the fountain of youth.


Page 836 of 1565

836

Sponsored Ads