Second year center Alex Len has all the skills and athleticism he needs to succeed in the NBA. All he's missing is a run of good health.

This is a big summer for Alex Len, the former #5 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Phoenix Suns say he was at the top of their Draft Board, and were lucky that he fell to #5 due to injury concerns and lack of production in college.

But there's never been a question of his talent, or his NBA frame. The former gymnast stands 7'1" with a 7'4" wingspan. He's got a great shooting motion, quick feet and a mean streak. If he can put everything together, watch out NBA.

Len is ready to participate in his first Summer League, beginning Saturday in Las Vegas, after missing last year due to the ankle surgeries.

"I told Alex this summer league is very big for him," Summer Suns coach Mike Longabardi said on Tuesday. "We all know that. I want him to be available so he's got to be durable so he can play. We want to keep him injury-free as best as possible."

With any player, the more healthy you are the more you can play the game of basketball.

"He's feeling more comfortable," Longabardi said of Len this summer. "He's playing a lot more free and easy, which is good. That's why summer league is so important. It's huge for him. If he gets to play, he can learn from his mistakes and hopefully not repeat them."

Twin Towers?

Could Alex Len and Miles Plumlee form a twin towers lineup for the Phoenix Suns? In this scenario, Len would be the "mini-stretch" power forward because he's got a very smooth 18-foot shooting stroke.

The Summer Suns, coached by Mike Longabardi, are going to try multiple lineups - some small, and some super-sized.

"We do have some versatility," Longabardi said of the Summer Suns roster. "We can play very big with Alex and Miles. We're going to play to our strengths as best we can."

With a point guard like Tyler Ennis, who is focused on finding the open man and running a clean offense, this super-sized front line could work very well.

But will Len be camping at the three-point line like his predecessor Channing Frye? No. If he does, he'll get pulled so quickly his head will spin.

Play to their strengths

"I just want them to play their game," Longabardi said of guys stepping out of their comfort zone to make an impression. "We don't need anybody to reinvent themselves. Everyone is here for a reason."

Just in case you wondered if the players heard Longabardi's mantra, here's Len 10 minutes prior when asked what Longabardi asked of him: "Just play your game. Don't be selfish and pass the ball."


Len's reason for being here is to be a big presence on the inside. He is already the Suns heaviest player, at 260 pounds with a 7'1" frame and a 7'4" wingspan. The 20 year old says he's added a good 10 pounds of muscle in the past two months, but we've heard that from countless players over the years. Get him on a basketball court nightly, and those extra pounds will shed like... well... the water weight that most of it is. Even then, 250 pounds is more than any other Suns player.

Yet Len has clearly been working on his body since the end of the season. While his waistline is still thin, his arms, chest and legs all looker thicker. He's definitely more buffed out than he was as a rookie, and those muscles won't fade away with exercise.

The kid will fill out in time. He's only going to turn 21 next month, so he's got a lot of "growing out" to do. By 23, I wouldn't be surprised to see him pushing 280 with good mobility.

Speaking of mobility...

"Yes, definitely," Len said of of his ankles being healthy right now. "I worked hard with the training staff and they got me healthy."

Coach Longabardi speaks with a bit more caution.

"We're going to be smart," he said of Len's minutes in SL. "What [Head Athletic Trainer Aaron Nelson] and [coach Jeff Hornacek] and Ryan [McDonough] feel is possible. This is big for him. We want him to develop. But we have back to backs. We have 3 straight days of two-a-days. We are going to be smart with that."

After spending an entire year rehabbing Len from ankle injuries, and now expecting those ankles to carry 260 pounds at NBA speed, the Suns are smart to be cautious. They want Len in incredible shape, so he's not hurting himself by making mistakes due to fatigue.

"The most important thing is conditioning for him," Longabardi said. "If he's in great shape, he's got to play and push through so he's not tired and make some silly mistakes whether its a foul or a turnover. That's big for him in summer league."

But clearly the Suns want Len to succeed and are doing everything they can to put him in that position.

"I am puling for him," Longabardi said. "I am one of his biggest fans. I want him to do really, really well. He does look good.

"He's put the time in with 'Nellie', 'Cowboy' all those guys in the Training Staff Mafia. And he's put his time here with [assistant coaches] Mark [West] and Kenny [Gattison]. And he wants to be good. Now we just got to make sure he's durable and he can sustain it. That's huge."

Len's skills

The Suns coaching staff has some specific expectations of Len this summer.

"Offensively, I want him to be efficient," Longabardi said. "I want him to take care of the ball, take great shots. Defensively, his communication has got to be great, he's got to play with multiple effort."

Some of those shots will be on the block, some as a cutter and some from the midrange area. Len also showed some really nice passing ability in preseason last year, so I'm sure the Suns would like to see him giving up a good shot to get an even better one with a cutter to the rim.

Len's assessment of his offensive expectations: "Pick and rolls, catch and finish, hit the open shot."

Defensively, when coaches talk about multiple effort with big men, they mean playing the whole 24 seconds of the shot clock. Many players are effective when their man has the ball, or when they are being attacked on the drive, but often just stand around when the action is not coming to them.

With Len, the Suns want him making multiple defensive efforts on the same possession. Attacking the ball handler on a pick and roll, and then adjusting back to your man, then adjusting when a player drives, and then again when the player dishes to another. Sometimes, there are three or four attacks on the basket in the same possession, and the Suns want Len active for all of them.

It's a lot to ask of a 20 year old, but this is the NBA. And Len has the athleticism and quickness to be that great defender.

Great expectations

Alex Len has the skillset, frame and athleticism to be a very good NBA center. Or, maybe even a LaMarcus Aldridge-type power forward. The NBA doesn't have a lot of 7'1" forwards out there, but Len could be an aberration due to his overall athleticism and mobility.

But for this upcoming season, let's just hope that Len stays healthy and progresses into a valuable role player off the bench as the backup center. He will only be 21 this season. Big men take a while to fully develop. If you put too much pressure on him to succeed too early, he might just fail.

"Development is important," Longabardi said of everyone on the team. "We want to make sure these guys are getting better and are ready to play come November. Thats what's most important."

So be easy on him, but don't be surprised if you see him in summer league and ask yourself, "Where was he last year?"

When the clock struck 9 p.m. MST on Wednesday night, the 2014 NBA free agency moratorium ended, and teams will be able to officially ink players to new contracts. Earlier in the day, the league...

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This note may seem trivial but it would be harsh to call it that if the Phoenix Suns want to open up the 2014 free agency period at 9 p.m. MST Wednesday night with as much cap space as possible....

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With the Summer Suns set to take the court in Las Vegas this coming weekend, the young roster is practicing for the first time and beginning to form their chemistry together. With much of the attention on the newest draft picks and the potential of last year's rookies, one of the team's centerpieces may be flying under the radar. What can the Suns' fans expect to see from Miles Plumlee this summer and in the up-coming season?

The Phoenix Suns' 2014 NBA Summer League roster boasts some impressive young talent.  With the return of the incendiary Archie Goodwin, a first time Summer League appearance from a healthy and stronger Alex Len, as well as the first look at Suns' newest draft picks T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis, it's easy to overlook one of the most important players on the team, Miles Plumlee.

How it all started

After being drafted 26th overall in 2012, Plumlee played in his first two summer leagues as a member of the Indiana Pacers. In his first appearance, he averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds in just over 30 minutes per game.  Last year, Miles played just slightly less in his summer league outing, averaging 27 minutes along with 10 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

Although his points slightly declined, it was last year when I first really noticed Miles making a difference with his strength and athleticism in the post.  He not only increased his rebounding, but also his blocks...going from an average of one a game to three.

Plumlee is now entering his third season in the NBA, his first after suddenly being thrust into the starting center position for the Suns last season after only playing a total of 55 minutes in his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers.  That's a big change for a player who didn't even know if he had a future in the NBA just a year earlier.

"It boosted my confidence a lot," Miles stated. "From one year still hoping I'd find my place in the league to the next year finishing up and realizing I do have a place in the league.  It feels great but I realize I have a lot to work on."

That transition from being a player at the end of the bench to a starter on a 48 win team in the Western Conference shouldn't be understated.  While Plumlee won the starting job after Marcin Gortat was traded, due to his impressive play in practice and scrimmages before the season, that puts a lot of pressure and physical demands on a player who was never accustomed to playing such an important role.

What to expect this summer

This will be his first NBA season in which he will actually be prepared to play a substantial role, and Miles seems to embrace his role as not only a key component to the success of the Suns' team during the regular season, but also a veteran leader among the younger players on the Summer League roster.  "I feel more like a veteran out there," Plumlee said. "Since I understand the game and I know the mistakes I made the first couple of years, now it's my job to kind of help the younger guys understand the offense and how to execute the defensive schemes.  I'm a little more of a teacher on the court."

The Suns' head coach of the summer league team, Mike Longabardi, hinted that the Suns could use both Plumlee and Len on the floor together in their version of the twin towers.  When Miles was asked how the two of them have meshed together thus far, he responded,  "It's gone well.  We're really working on our big-to-big passing, and Alex has a great mid-range jump shot.  It's not the same as having Channing (Frye) space the floor, but I think we've got something really good going right now."

Miles also has a good understanding of how he fits on the summer league team.  "I know my role." Plumlee continued, "Just get better at the things I do well and maybe show some of the things I've been working on if the opportunity arises."

This means you are likely to see Plumlee continue to do many of the things he did so well last year.  And that is to be a force down low in the paint, where his athleticism and strength can be used to the team's advantage on both ends of the floor.

Miles also said that he's working on expanding his range and working on his face up game as well, which will definitely be important in the regular season, especially when left alone off the screen.  So, you may see him attempt a few more shots outside the paint in the summer than you're used to seeing from him.

However, Miles certainly knows what side his bread is buttered on.  You can bank on him to do the majority of his work in the post, as expected.

Future outlook

Of course, Plumlee hasn't been focused on merely making an impact for the Summer League version of the Phoenix Suns.  For Miles, it's all about making strides in his game that will carry over to the regular season.

When I asked Miles what aspect of his game he's been working on the most during the off-season, he replied, "Just really solidifying my post game."  He continued, "I had a good skill level, but really getting the confidence and understanding the game more and slowing it down and making the right decisions."

Plumlee also elaborated on the effects of his increased comfort level in executing those post moves.  "I don't have to think about it as much anymore.  I'm thinking more about looking where everybody else is on the court."  He continued, "I think it makes me a better play-maker.  I can see what's developing...It's not just go score every time.  If I see someone for a three or someone cutting, that's something we're really emphasizing.  The more it's natural instinct it definitely makes it easy."

Miles has been spotted at the facility numerous times during the off-season, so his commitment to getting better isn't just lip service.  When asked what motivates him to spend so many hours in the gym and practicing, Miles replied, "I've played this game my entire life. It's exciting the moment you realize you're getting better, and you see what you can be and what you can become." He added, "It's that excitement that keeps you in the gym and keeps you working."

But Miles hasn't been alone in his hard work and spending time at the facility this summer.  When asked about the uniqueness of the players spending so much time working together in the off-season, he replied, "It's a testament to what made us so good last year. Guys want to work together and get better.  I don't know of many teams that have that many guys working together (in the off-season )"

This not only points to their tight-knit relationships on and off the court, but their cohesion as a team and how they all seemed to function so well together last season.  Could this same dynamic continue into the upcoming season as well?  "I'm very faithful that it's going to carry over." Miles added, "We all love playing together and it's going to be the same next year."

With a full year as a starter now under his belt plus a commitment to getting better and also to helping his teammates, Miles Plumlee seems intent on not only being one of the most important players on the summer league roster, but on the entire team as well.

The Phoenix Suns may have lost out on two of their top targets this summer. Now what?

What many feel were the Phoenix Suns top two targets - LeBron James and Gordon Hayward - are now, reportedly, off the market.

Gordon to the Jazz, via Charlotte




Gordon Hayward was never going to leave the Jazz, so it's no surprise to hear they are going to match this offer sheet. That's likely why the Suns never went down that road any further than saying hello to Gordon as free agency opened. After being the bridesmaid on Eric Gordon in 2012, the Suns didn't want to do that again.

LBJ is likely out too

"By every source I have, there are just two considerations at this point - and that's Cleveland and staying in Miami."

--super-reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, on Fox Sports Live last night

Woj has not written anything on this, which means it's not really news even in Woj's world. But the writing does appear to be on the wall that LeBron has only two considerations left.

The Phoenix Suns were always a long shot, so this should not come as much of a surprise. The Suns are just not yet the preferred destination of the best player on the planet. You can get all huffy about it, but it is the way it is.

Brian Windhorst predicted this a week ago, right after news broke that the Suns were going to make a big pitch for LeBron and the running mate of his choice.

"I guess in theory that could happen, but I don't think it's likely. [LeBron getting Melo on board to Suns]

"As a journalist I say its possible because Phoenix is such a desirable situation. But we're talking a 1% situation.

"The other thing is, if Melo and LeBron are going to team up they could do it with the Lakers. I know the Lakers don't have the pieces and parts like the Suns have, but if they got together LA would be #1 on the list there."

--Windhorst, on KTAR 620 on July 1

But Windhorst wasn't discouraging the Suns from trying. He was just simply saying it was a little too early.

"It's free attention. It's a no brainer for the Suns organization to make their pitch. That would be a victory in many respects."

--Windhorst, on KTAR 620 on July 1

Maybe it was too early, after all. While the Suns are a great place with winning, young talent, many in the industry believe they need to do it two years in a row to prove it's sustainable. Everyone had career years. When that happens, you often find teams regressing the next year.

But the Suns got to the table, which is better than all but a handful of teams.

Next Steps

While the Suns waited patiently on LeBron, it doesn't appear they want to wait on restricted free agents from here on out or they likely would have gotten Hayward's signature on an offer sheet.

If that's the case, then you can probably rule out Chandler Parsons or any other RFA not named Bledsoe or Tucker.

The Suns should also rule out any midlevel deals. Why pay market price for an average NBA player when you've got equivalent or better talent on the roster for cheap rookie-contract deals?

The Suns should go the trade route now. They should look for an underpriced and/or underappreciated talent on another team and get them in Phoenix.

One such target could be Ryan Anderson in NOLA. The Pelicans have already committed to an Omer Asik acquisition to play next to Anthony Davis, which leaves Anderson out of the starting lineup. The Pellies also have to shed at least $5 million to afford to bring on Asik in the next couple of days.

Armed with a bunch of cap space, the Suns can easily absorb Anderson and - voila! - will have replaced Frye with a younger guy for basically the same money ($1 million more per season) for fewer years (2). That looks like a great option to me.

Another advantage to acquiring Anderson is that he would be a good trade asset in a Kevin Love deal if that ever comes back around. Anderson is a starting caliber PF, kind of Love-lite, with a sizable contract to help the salary matching as needed.

That's just one example of going in a different direction. Let's see how the Suns move to Plan B, whatever that is.

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