With Lon Babby at his side emitting a visual beam of confidence, his newly hired general manager, Ryan McDonough, was introduced to the Phoenix Suns organization and the valley. Full of quips and anecdotes mixed with plenty of cheer and candor, the introduction of McDonough seemed to be a huge sigh of relief after a few tumultuous years for the team.
"First of all, let me introduce a couple special guests," Babby began the press conference. "As you all know by now, the Phoenix Suns have a little bit of a fetish for brothers. Let me introduce a couple of Ryan's family members..."
Along with a plug for some special issue Suns' team neckties that Ryan was wearing that can also be found in the team shop, it was clear from the beginning that Babby and the Suns were nothing short of elated to welcome in another era of Suns basketball.
The sigh of relief comes from the team getting their man. Three years ago, there was a list and Lance Blanks only rose to the top after others pulled out. There was no question where McDonough ranked in the eyes of the team this time around.
They got their guy.
For McDonough, being the first man in the gym and the last man out of the film room has certainly paid off, as his ten-year journey in the NBA has led up to this point.
"I am beyond excited, thrilled to be here," were McDonough's first public words as the team’s general manager.
This was not his natural setting. Sitting at a podium answering questions is not where he is most natural, McDonough is a gym rat and a video junkie that was able to rise from the film room to leading a team of his own through years of hard work. His career began with the Boston Celtics in the film room and as a scout for a handful of years before becoming an assistant to current Celtics GM, and former Suns mainstay, Danny Ainge.
As McDonough described Ainge, he was a "professional mentor" and the person that believed in him enough to bring him up from the lowest ranks to help build a championship-caliber team.
Bringing in an elite basketball mind that is as meticulous and organized as McDonough is a positive move for the Suns. When McDonough got the call to interview, he was given a precursor of five questions. He came prepared with doctoral-caliber essays that were thoroughly written to answer those five questions along with any other questions about his work ethic or preparation.
There was not a lot of candor from McDonough, although he showed his human side while discussing his two brothers being in the room as he was being introduced. That tender moment where he choked up in front of his family endeared McDonough to the media and the fans more than the three collective years of what was the Lance Blanks Era ever did.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, now begins the grind of being an NBA general manager and decision-maker.
"There are some good young pieces in place here," McDonough began assessing the Suns roster. "Lon and Robert (Sarver) have done a good job of acquiring draft picks and young players and positioning themselves for sustainable success."
One of the first orders of business is to move swiftly on naming the franchise's next head coach. That is a question that seems to have already begun to be answered with a small list of names already being rumored: Brian Shaw (Indiana), Kelvin Sampson (Houston), Quin Snyder (Russia), and Mike Budenholzer (San Antonio).
Finding both a "teacher and a leader" are the criteria for the team's next head coach, according to McDonough and Babby. Those four, along with Lindsey Hunter and potentially a few others, will be on the short list of coaching candidates.
The coach has to be an extension of what the front office is trying to instill for the organization as a whole. That is a necessary factor for game planning, communication, and overall success for the team. A teacher to bring along a young team in the midst of a rebuild, while having the command and respect of the locker room, is invaluable. Bridging analytics and feel for the game is a challenge. That is a trait very few have.
McDonough is a scout at heart that has worked with the likes of Chris Wallace (current Memphis GM) and Danny Ainge over the years to develop a feel for the game. The next coach needs to be an extension of that.
"There are different ways to build a team," McDonough explained. In Boston, they built through the draft with Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Gerald Green, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and two lottery picks that were shipped off for a future Hall of Famer in Ray Allen. All of those assets were then subsequently used to acquire Kevin Garnett and as they say, the rest is history.
With the way this current roster is constructed, the draft is the most important platform to build off of at this juncture. The team has two first round picks and a pick in the second round as well. "We have to nail these picks" was McDonough's first thought and called this year’s draft the "first focus" of his.
Then, there is the NBA Draft Combine next week, player workouts for a month after that, and the draft itself in June before free agency.
McDonough probably has written more player profiles than Merriam-Webster has written words over the years, so he knows this class. The Celtics were preparing to draft 15th overall while the Suns will draft in the top half of the lottery and at the very end of the first round. He likely has a plan already, but now he gets to look at the top of the draft.
There has not been one negative word written about the hiring of McDonough, but as he has stated and every Suns fan has to keep in mind, this is not an overnight fix.
It will be a process that takes time and might take all four of McDonough's contracted years before the Suns are back to the success that they are used to having. They have six picks over the next four years in the first round and a few bricks laid in the foundation. McDonough can be a part of the foundation in the slow build to the re-ascension of a proud and successful franchise.
The Suns are ushering in another era of Suns basketball, but instead of advertising it, they are putting in the work. You can try to sell a bad team or you can be progressive with necessary change. The Suns are done selling.
According to the consensus of all the mock drafts I've scoured over the past few months, there are six big men who could possibly be picked in the lottery portion of the coming NBA draft. While the Suns are currently in the 4th lottery position, we won't know for sure what pick they end up with until the lottery balls are drawn on May 21st...So anything is technically possible. Here are the big men candidates that could be considered depending on where the Suns end up.
Other measurables: 19 years old, 7'4" wingspan
Compares to: Larry Sanders/Dikembe Mutombo
Nerlens Noel is without question the most gifted, talented big man in the draft with the highest upside. He would have been the shoe-in for the first pick overall before a scary ACL injury that looked even worse than it ended up being. That said, many teams could still be willing to take a gamble on him and he still may end up being the number one pick. He's an excellent defender who knows how to challenge shots without drawing the foul, and has impeccable timing on his blocks. He's not quite to the level of Anthony Davis, but defensively he is very close. His offense is still very raw, but his elite athleticism (verticle reportedly between 39"-41") and physical tools still give him a leg up in this respect...he just needs to develop a jump shot. He's one of the few game-changers in this year's draft. If he's still available when the Suns end up picking I don't see them passing on him.
Stats last season:
|2012 - Nerlens Noel||24||31.9||4.1||6.9||59.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||2.3||4.3||52.9||2.7||6.8||9.5||1.6||1.9||2.1||4.4||2.6||10.5|
Other measurables: 20 years old, 7'1" wingspan
Compares to: Paul Millsap/Larry Johnson
Don't let his size (or lack thereof) fool you. Anthony Bennett is every bit as much of a big man as any of his taller compatriots...and then some. Bennett is a powerful, bruising power forward who plays much bigger than his size. He's long, aggressive, and athletic for a big man; and he has some nice footwork in the post. He is also a very good rebounder as well. His biggest drawback is his inconsistency on both ends of the court at times. However, most analysts have him as the second ranked big man in this draft behind Noel, and I tend to agree. He also had rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder this Wednesday. However this is not expected to impact his draft value.
Stats last season:
|2012 - Anthony Bennett||35||27.1||5.8||10.8||53.3||1.0||2.7||37.5||3.5||5.1||70.1||2.5||5.7||8.1||1.0||1.9||0.7||1.2||2.3||16.1|
Other measurables: 19 years old, 7'5" wingspan
Compares to: Zydrunas Ilgauskas/Jonas Valanciunas
Alex Len is this year's Myers Leonard in my opinion...A physically enticing big man who hasn't shown dominance at the college level, but one who many scouts believe could progress into a cornerstone at the low post for the right NBA team. Alex Len hasgreat size and length, and a sturdy build. Still, he needs to add more strength at the next level as he has already had trouble being out-muscled at times by smaller opponents in college. Len's draft stock took a hit recently with an ankle surgery to correct a stress fracture that will now keep him out for the next four to six months. Prior to that he was a likely top 5-10 pick, but he may slide a bit now due to his injury.
Stats last season:
|2012 - Alex Len||38||26.4||4.6||8.5||53.4||0.0||0.2||12.5||2.8||4.0||68.6||2.9||5.0||7.8||1.0||1.6||0.2||2.1||2.7||11.9|
Other measurables: 20 years old, 6'8" wingspan
Compares to: Lamarcus Aldridge
Zeller is the most offensively skilled big man in the draft by a long shot. His ability to score from anywhere inside the perimeter makes him a tantalizing prospect in the NBA. Another less heralded quality is Zeller's athleticism, which is much more apparent than his brother Tyler Zeller, who was drafted 17th overall last year. His wingspan is short for his height, which is a little concerning...but he didn't seem to struggle with rebounding in college due to it; likely because of his agility and ability to position himself in the correct proximity. Cody Zeller is still developing as a player, but his NBA ready skill set could make him one of the best values in the lottery.
Stats last season:
|2012 - Cody Zeller||36||29.5||5.5||9.8||56.4||0.0||0.1||0.0||5.4||7.2||75.7||2.8||5.2||8.0||1.3||2.3||1.0||1.3||2.2||16.5|
Other measurables: 23 years old, 6'10" wingspan
Compares to: Andris Biedrins
Mason Plumlee is one of the less talked about big men in the coming draft, and I'm not sure why. He's had a very good college career at Duke, and has shown great ability as a finisher and a rebounder. He is one of the more athletic big men in the draft, and his agility and quickness makes him a good candidate to play the four as well as the five at the next level, though he will have to improve his jumpshot in order to do so. He has improved every year as a Blue Devil, posting his best stats now as a senior with 17pts and 11rebs per game...though his ability was always apparent.
Stats last season:
|2012 - Mason Plumlee||36||34.7||6.1||10.3||59.9||0.0||0.0||0.0||4.8||7.1||68.1||2.8||7.2||10.0||1.9||2.9||1.0||1.4||2.6||17.1|
Other measurables: 20 years old, 7'9" wingspan!
Compares to:Samuel Dalembert
Meet Rudy, the dark horse of the potential big men who could be lottery picks this year. Gobert is a French player who measures in at a huge 7'2" tall, with a record breaking wingspan of 7'9" long! Not only are his measurements impressive, but he is also very athletic and explosive, and runs the floor very well. However, he is still extremely raw offensively and has to add bulk to his frame or he will get pushed around in the NBA. But there's no doubt the potential is definitely there, and he could end up being an absolute steal for a team willing to invest in him for the long term.
Stats last season:
Other measurables: 22 years old
Compares to: Luis Scola/Fabricio Oberto
Olynyk was one of the most impressive big men in college this year, and at times almost single-handidly carried the Gonzaga Bulldogs to victory. Olynyk is a very skilled big man with a nice jump shot and some impressive footwork. He is also more athletic than most people seem to think, and is quick and agile for his size as well.
|2012 - Kelly Olynyk||32||26.4||6.7||10.7||62.9||0.3||0.9||30.0||4.1||5.3||77.6||2.4||4.9||7.3||1.7||2.4||0.7||1.1||2.3||17.8|
Ultimately, who the Suns select with their first pick of the first round will have as much to do with when they end up picking as it will who they like. There's little question that Noel is the cream of the crop, but he may end up being drafted #1 overall, and if the Suns aren't lucky enough to win the lottery or at least move into the top 3, there's not much chance he'll be available.
However, no matter when the Suns end up in the lottery, If they want to draft a big man with their first pick, there are certainly going to be some pretty good players available. We'll know more about these players once the NBA Draft Combine begins on May 15th. There will certainly be risers and fallers depending on their performances there, but these are some of the names to keep an eye on.