Since the Phoenix Suns are once again sitting out the NBA Finals, and the entire playoffs for that matter, we here at Bright Side thought we'd revisit that glorious Finals run twenty years ago, game by game. Take a walk through yesteryear with us to watch the Suns come thisclose to winning an NBA Championship.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the 1993 NBA Finals, you can imagine why the Bulls might take a night off. Why they might lose their edge a bit. But this Bulls team didn't. Michael Jordan poured in 44 points and Scottie Pippen came up one assist shy of a triple-double while the Bulls put up 121 loss in a loss.
The Phoenix Suns just came out a tiny bit scrappier, desperate for a win and a reprieve in the Finals. They took an 11 point lead in the fourth, only to see Chicago tie it up. It took three overtimes to close out the Bulls, but the Suns squeaked out a 129-121 win.
Charles Barkley collected 24 points and 19 rebounds, while Dan Majerle hit a then-Finals-record 6 three-pointers on the way to 28 points. This game makes you wonder what could have been for Richard Dumas, who put up 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals as a rookie. Too bad that was aided by illicit drugs that eventually killed his NBA career (admitted by Dumas).
After hosting 50 players in 8 days before taking the next few days to re-assess and re-evaluate, the Phoenix Suns announced yesterday that they will hold two more NBA Draft prospect workouts in the coming days. Players will come to the Valley on Saturday and Tuesday, with names being announced just as the workouts starts.
The Phoenix Suns still hold the #5, #30 and #57 picks in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Despite hosting so many players already, there were some notable omissions. I will be very curious to see if McDonough is using these last two workouts to fill in those blanks, or to bring back some players for a second look.
NOTE: The Suns brought in 50+ players already. For the sake of brevity, I am only noting the first-round prospects here. Lots of second-rounders hit the Suns practice floor as well.
Visited: Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. McCollum (candidates for #5 pick), Shane Larkin (mid-first), Ray McCallum, Erick Green, Nate Wolters (candidates for #30)
NOT Visited: Dennis Schroeder
Schroeder is the only PG prospect not to walk through that door at US Airways Arena this month. He worked out for a few teams late in June and then suddenly returned to Germany to wait out the draft. Rumor has it he got a promise in the late lottery.
Note that the Suns have seen every PG they can see, despite having Dragic and Marshall already on the roster.
Visited: Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad (candidates for #5 pick), Reggie Bullock, Archie Goodwin, Ricky Ledo (candidates for #30 pick)
NOT Visited: Jamaal Franklin, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Allen Crabbe
Franklin, a candidate in the 10-20 range, had an injury keeping him from working out for any teams until this week. Pope is also a 10-20 range guy. If the Suns bring them in, then you know they are still considering adding another first-round pick because they will be gone by #30. If the #5 pick turns out to be a C, then Franklin or Pope would be a nice consolation prize at the SG position in that scenario. Crabbe is a late-first, early second guy. Not sure why he hasn't visited yet.
Visited: Muhammad (candidate for #5 pick), Tony Snell (candidate for #30)
NOT Visited: Otto Porter (candidate for #5 pick), Sergey Karasev, Dario Saric, Giannis Antetokounpo
Porter has refused to visit any team lower than #3, fueling speculation that he has assurances he won't drop further. Karasev reportedly got a mid-first promise and returned to Europe. Saric returned to Europe without a promise, and will definitely not play in the NBA in 2013-14. He may pull from the draft entirely. The Greek kid is playing in Europe, and was scouted by new Asst GM Pat Connolly this week. All these guys will likely be gone by #30.
Visited: Anthony Bennett (candidate for #5 pick), Tony Mitchell, Jackie Carmichael, C.J. Leslie, Dwayne Davis (candidates for #30)
NOT Visited: Livio Jean-Charles (on the first round bubble)
Not much to see here. The power forward depth this year is weak, though you could argue that Nerlens Noel and Mason Plumlee could play PF in the NBA.
Visited: Alex Len (candidate for top-5 pick), Rudy Gobert, Cody Zeller, Mason Plumlee (all in the 7-20 range)
NOT Visited: Nerlens Noel, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Jeff Withey, Gorgui Dieng, Lucas Nogueira, Mike Muscala
Noel refuses, so far, to visit anyone outside the top two, though the Suns have been inquiring. Noguiera was scouted over in Europe in the past week by Pat Connolly. Not a whiff on the others.
Looks like the Suns are picking and choosing their favorites here, more than any other position. Those who have visited are athletically gifted players who can protect the rim and/or rebound at a high rate. Three of the four have a ceiling as quality NBA starting center, while the fourth (Plumlee) profiles as a rotation-type PF/C. Those not invited are more traditional backup center prospects with limited upside.
What do with that mythical second lotto pick?
Unless more centers are brought in this weekend, it appears that if the Suns draft a shooting guard at #5 AND acquire another lottery pick their only big-man targets are Plumlee, Zeller, Gobert and possibly Nogueira.
If they draft a center at #5 AND acquire a second lottery pick, it appears their only lotto-range "small" target is a point guard, Shabazz Muhammad or possibly the Greek kid Giannis Antetokounpo.
More workouts coming
But again, there are more workouts scheduled, on Saturday and Tuesday. Look for the Suns to bring in more mid-first wing prospects for a look-see, and possibly more mid-to-late-first center prospects.
Clearly, Noel and Porter are the biggest no-shows, since they are projected in the top-5 of a Draft that the Suns hold that 5th pick. It's possible they will visit Phoenix in the next 13 days, but only if they believe their stock is dropping far enough.
Other than those two, it's interesting that the Suns have seen Gobert and Plumlee but not Steven Adams or any other C prospect in the same range.
PHOENIX – “He’s a talented guy, he can play inside and he can play outside. He’s one of the better athletes in this draft. You can see his body, he’s a guy who physically can come in and play fairly...
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"How I always feel is that the best people should play," Phoenix Suns veteran shooting guard Jared Dudley said when he came in to clear out his locker at the end of the season. "That doesn't mean that the best people should start because that's not how it is, but you should play the most minutes."
Whether Jared Dudley was in the starting lineup or not, his production was remarkably consistent. You knew what you were going to get when Duds hit the floor.
His production per minute was consistent no matter the role. So while Dudley would prefer to start games for the Suns, he is also the first to recognize that it doesn't matter who starts as long as the best player gets the most minutes. If the Suns draft Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore or C.J. McCollum later this month, Dudley would most likely not be the starter. In fact, whoever the Suns draft would likely get more minutes than anyone got last season next to Goran Dragic, leaving even fewer for Dudley to play unless he shifted back to small forward.
But one thing is true: "Every time I was on the floor, we were a better team," Dudley said.
"In the NBA, for the most part, you win with veterans," Dudley said.
As you can tell, the Suns most effective players were their veterans. But before you start pounding the table to keep and play Dudley, Gortat and Brown next season, remember that this particular veteran-laden lineup still only won 13 of their first 41 games.
Throughout the NBA, it's definitely true that veterans win more games than a lineup of kids. The Suns and Mavericks were the only "older" teams to miss the playoffs last season, while Houston and Golden State were the only young teams that found a way to win enough games to make it.
But that just goes to show that other teams have already figured out what it took the Suns too long to learn: don't play veterans if they don't take you deep into the playoffs.
Dudley, at 28 next season, fits into the mold of "older guard". If the Suns are playing him big minutes in 2013-14, it means they want to win as many games as possible. Yet, if that ceiling is 35 wins, is that worth it? Is it worth sacrificing the chance at a superstar draft pick in 2014 to win 5-10 more games because Dudley got the minutes?
Dudley recognizes the difference between a playoff team and a rebuilding team.
"When you're out of the playoffs you can do stuff like that," he said of his reduced minutes in the second half of the season. "And you should do it to see what your talent is, going into the off season."
But what if you start the season in rebuilding mode from day one, already out of playoff contention? Do you play your 28 year old veteran sixth man a lot of minutes to win a few more games? Or do you play the young guys to help them develop and shorten the down period?
For Dudley's part, he was waxing philosophical at the end of the season. Every veteran, to a man, suggested it was time for the Suns to rebuild. Even if that meant trading them to another team.
"For us, we have some veterans that would be good trade bait for more of a playoff type team," Dudley admitted, pointedly.
For his part, Dudley is all about team. He has made himself available on a weekly basis to KTAR this off season, offering his take on anything NBA related. When Jeff Hornacek was hired to coach the Suns, Dudley weighed in the way you knew Dudley would weigh in.
"Me and Jeff Hornacek we don't have the great physical abilities of someone else, but what I've seen from him, he was a hard worker as a player," said Dudley to KTAR/620 after Hornacek was hired. "I heard good things from different players in Utah about him being a shooting coach and everyone liking him. That's kind of my style: hard-working, team guy and guys liking me.
"I'm excited to get to work with him. Any time you bring in need blood and new energy it turns out pretty good."
Hornacek was brought in to herald the rebuilding era. New GM Ryan McDonough has targeted the wing positions as the most important to upgrade, as representative of the biggest hole on the team.
But Dudley still finds the positives.
"I definitely believe [this hire is good for me]," said Dudley. "Not only me but the team, because when you get into the team concept we all do well. When you see the Spurs -- and I hate to use the Spurs because that's our rival -- but that's a team. They're successful for a reason.
"Do they have stars? Yes. Are some of them aging? Yes, that happens. But from the role players, everyone has a job, everyone does their job."
Dudley knows the Suns fortunes are not going to turn around overnight. At least publicly, he is excited about the future with the Suns and wants to be part of the team.
But he might be past his prime before he sees the playoffs again, if he stay with the Suns. He's not quite old enough to want to be the player/coach who sacrifices his game for the betterment of the youth.
"In the NBA, there's nothing overnight," he says. "These Suns draft picks in the next two years can set up you up for the next four years."
He said to win a lot of games you need superstars, and the only way to get a young star through trade is to have enough young talent on the roster to entice the other team.
"If you look at now how people are getting these other stars," he said. "You've got to have young talent to go trade for those. You can get a Harden type, even though they gave up [veteran, expiring Kevin] Martin, they gave up picks [a 2013 lottery pick and 2012 lottery pick, Jeremy Lamb, along with other young pieces]. So if you want to get those guys you're gonna have to give up young assets that are talented that they see potential."
The Suns don't have a bevy of young talent that are teams are coveting. Kendall Marshall won't get you a star, and neither will the Morris brothers.
To get back to the NBA elite, the Suns need assets. The Suns need to stockpile enough young talent that (a) they can afford to trade without emptying the cupboard and (b) is talented enough to still entice the "buyer" into completing the trade.
Trading Jared Dudley for another first round pick in the 2013 Draft might just be the best way to return the Suns to the NBA's elite. The #5 pick needs to stay with the Suns as a building block. The #30 pick won't be good enough trade bait to garner a star. A pick right between those guys (or two picks, if Gortat is traded for the same reason), could add to the Suns tradeable stockpile.
If you can turn Dudley into a 19-21-year old that other teams see as a potential star - like Houston did with middle first-rounders last year - then maybe you trade Dudley to do it.
Otherwise, you keep Dudley to help coach and develop the younger guys bound to take his minutes from him. Would he even be happy in that role?
This week on the podcast we pay homage to both Finals that are in full swing -- The NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup -- with guest host Paul "PLR" Richardson of the Sports Kave.
Paul has been embedded in Arizona sports for years, but hails from Chicago before he landed at the "Harvard of the West Coast," Arizona State University. The Sports Kave has a presence at Arizona Diamondbacks games, Arizona Cardinals games, Phoenix Suns games, and all other sporting events here in the Valley. Like a lot of the readers here on Bright Side, PLR is a big fan of the Suns targeting Shabazz Muhammad in this years draft. Take a listen to see why!
I am clearly not as clever as Jim, so here is the podcast: Episode 26
Check back next week as we vote whether or not Jim should come back or if the podcast should become a parody show in the ilk of: Kris & Company