Team Name: Phoenix Suns
Last Year's Record: 25-57 (Worst record in the Western Conference)
Key Additions: Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Channing Frye (back after missing last season with a heart condition); Not so key additions: Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Vyacheslav Kravtsov, Ish Smith, Malcolm Lee, Dionte Christmas, James Nunnally
Short answer: a lot.
The Suns brain trust of majority owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby kicked off the activity by firing former general manager Lance Blanks and bringing in the highly regarded Ryan McDonough from Boston to replace him.
But that was only the beginning. Since taking over in Phoenix, McDonough has made almost as many moves as Bright Siders have given him nicknames. Starting from the top, McDonough brought back former Sun Jeff Hornacek to take over the vacant head coaching gig.
Then McDonough made waves at the draft by passing over Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore to take Alex Len. the Ukrainian 7-footer out of Maryland. McDonough and Hornacek praised the 20-year-old's athleticism and variety of skills on both ends of the court, as well as his potential, and called him the top overall prospect on their board. The Suns also trade up - from No. 30 to No. 29 - to secure the services of enigmatic Kentucky shooting guard Archie Goodwin, the youngest American prospect in the draft. McDonough wrapped up the draft by using the 57th pick on a prospect he was very familiar with in former Husky/Tiger Alex Oriakhi (although he won't be playing for the Suns this year.)
McDonough was also incredibly active on the trade market. First he managed to snag one of the most highly sought after players on the market - dynamic young point guard Eric Bledsoe. The Suns had to give up Jared Dudley - a fan favorite, great personality and all-around good basketballer - in addition to a second round pick, but for one of the most athletic young guards in the game, it was more than worth it.
McDonough later traded away another of the Suns' productive veterans in Luis Scola (who never really made any sense on the team in the first place) in exchange for the Indiana Pacers' 2014 first round draft pick and athletes (I won't actually call them basketball players at this point) Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green
Finally, in possibly the biggest addition by subtraction move of the entire offseason, the Suns bought out Michael Beasley, who was a complete disaster in Phoenix.
Recap: seven players out, 10 new players in (if you count Frye returning and players hoping to make the team in camp in Dionte Christmas and James Nunnally). The Sun have certainly been busy.
The Suns were the worst team in the West a year ago, and it's very possible they repeat that feat this season. The team just isn't that good compared to most of the rest of the league. However, whereas last year was just a depressing mess, this year does feature a couple of things to get at least somewhat excited about.
The Suns have made a big upgrade in athleticism this year. Eric Bledsoe has been dubbed Mini-LeBron due to his freakish athleticism, and Goran Dragic is no slouch athletically either. If the two can learn to play together in one backcourt and develop some chemistry, they could be a ton of fun to watch and could give opposing teams fits with their fearless and up-tempo playing style.
Goodwin's athleticism - and the way he uses it to get to the basket and draw fouls - is what has Suns fan salivating over the young guard's potential. Shannon Brown, whatever else he may be, is still an incredible leaper, and new addition Gerald Green is a tremendous athlete as well.
Even the rookie Len is a very good and mobile athlete for a man his size.
All of these players should fit well into the system Jeff Hornacek is trying to put in place: an up-tempo system with a whole lot of running.
Oh, and I will also claim the fact that Michael Beasley is no longer on the roster as a strength (he really was that bad last year).
I'm just going to go ahead and list all the problems the team had last year.
I'm probably forgetting some as well as I've tried to erase last season from my memory. Some of these issues have been addressed (Beasley is gone, the Suns have a new coach who appears to know what he is doing, Gortat is healthy, Bledsoe was brought in to help out Dragic), but many of them are still present.
This team is going to be an awful shooting team. Channing Frye is officially back with the team and the value he brings as a stretch big is enormous; heck, he's the best shooter on the team regardless of position. However, we really don't know how long it will take for him to rediscover his shot, or even how long it will take him to get into playing shape. And the addition of Frye is offset by the loss of Dudley. None of the guards that figure to get significant playing time can be described as anything more than an OK shooter, and some of them aren't even that. The lack of shooting doomed the Suns pick-and-roll from the start last season, and we could see that again this year.
I do think the team will be better and play more cohesively on defense this year under Hornacek and his new staff, but until they prove it we can't count on that being the case.
And as big of a fan of Goran Dragic as I am, if he is your team's best player, things probably aren't going to go well. There just aren't any surefire All-Stars on this roster, which is bad in a sport where one guy can make all the difference.
But hey, no Michael Beasley, right?
While there has been a little bit of talk from the players about competing and going for the playoffs (What are they supposed to say? We suck and don't bother watching?), that is pretty clearly not something the team needs to focus on this year. This is a rebuilding year. Goals should be more qualitative than quantitative this season. Win totals don't matter. It's all about developing the rookies, seeing what the team has in Eric Bledsoe, trading Marcin Gortat (everyone knows it has to happen) an attempting to get Hornacek's system into place. If by the end of the season all of that happens and the Suns also end up with a top three draft pick? I would call the season a complete and total success.
Very good question Jacob. Unfortunately, I don't think even Ryan McDonough has any clue what the answer is. The Suns currently have 18 players on the roster, and I don't even know which ones will still be in Phoenix in a month.
The rookies are pretty safe. Len and Goodwin, in addition to whoever the Suns draft next season, are the core of the rebuild. Their spots are locked down unless some Harden-esque blockbuster trade happens (can't rule out anything with McMiracle at the controls).
As for the DragonBlade backcourt, I wouldn't rule out anything there either. Do the Suns see it as a long-term starting backcourt? What happens if Bledsoe fails to live up to expectations? What if Dragic blows up (unlikely, but in a better situation he can be pretty darn good)? At least one of these two will be included in the core along with the rookies; I'm just not sure which one.
Marcin Gortat is going to get traded. It's just a matter of how long it takes and what the Suns get in return. For now, he's going to be the starting center while Alex Len is brought along slowly. But nobody expects Gortat to be a part of the Suns for much longer.
What about the recent draft picks by the previous regime? Kendall Marshall and Markieff and Marcus Morris have all been pretty underwhelming thus far in their careers. All three of them are playing for their jobs this season.
What about Channing Frye? Frye is an Arizona guy through and through and from all accounts he loves playing in Phoenix. He's not going to ask to go elsewhere like Caron Butler did. But at the same time, if he can return to form and show his value, he could be traded to a team in need of floor-spacing in return for a nice asset. Frye is another guy that makes sense both on the roster and as trade bait, so I could see it playing out either way.
The Suns started over this year, and everyone is playing for their job this season. Hopefully the competition breeds improvement and success, and McDonough and Hornacek can see enough this season to have a good idea of what they have on their hands and what they need to do moving forward.
Strap in Suns fans. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Last season, Phoenix Suns all-everything P.J. Tucker was that guy who got the partially guaranteed contract thanks to a quality Summer League stint after spending several seasons overseas. He wasn't expected to play at all, sans injuries to the guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
Yet, by opening night, P.J. Tucker had established himself as a player you just can't put on the bench. He hustled, dove, got into the opponent on defense, and ran one-man fast breaks that probably should have qualified for most of the Suns "Top 10 plays of 2012-13".
Nonetheless, his play earned him a 25 minute highlight video on YouTube. If you haven't watched this video, you need to do it now (well, after reading this article I guess). You'll be a better basketball fans for it.
The video went viral last week when SB Nation wrote a feature story on the video maker, and Tucker said his twitter timeline blew up with mentions and links.
"Oh yeah, I saw it," he said with a big smile. "A lot of them, I even forgot about. A lot of stops on D. At the end of the day, I played 25-26 minutes a game so it wasn't hard for him to find 25 minutes of stuff, but it's the kind of stuff he did. I liked it though. It was nice."
As one of the oldest returning players this season, Tucker (28) has an opportunity to play a leadership role along with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye. General Manager Ryan McDonough mentioned the team's veterans - predictably leaving Tucker off the list, as it the norm for Tucker's career - as guys who can help the kids get better.
The problem is that none of these guys is vocal - they would rather lead by example through their play and work ethic.
"I've always been a leader in my own right, leading by example," he said. "I'm not much of 'tell guys what to do', I just try to lead with ‘this is the way we go'. We are going to put out the effort, either get on the train or get off."
In Europe, Tucker worked himself into being the best player on his team, the most important player because of his hustle and commitment on both ends of the court. Last season in Phoenix, Tucker was seen by coaches as the perfect example of how they wanted to play - with heart, hustle and never-say-die attitude - but that never resonated with the team.
This season, he's not looking to make any changes.
"It's gonna be tough", he says of the losing streaks a young team will face this season. "I'm going to handle it exactly how I handled it last year. Going into every game and playing it for what it is. Every game. In this league you gotta have a short memory. You can't linger on from the last game because whoever is coming in is going to be tough. So you gotta have a short memory and keep playing. You got to fight through it.
"Sometimes you go on losing streaks and it's not going so well. Sometimes you get tired. Guys got to tough it up and get through it. From me, I gotta show these guys to be resilient, to keep fighting no matter who we got next."
Hopefully, this season's cast of characters will respond to Tucker's play and emulate it rather than simply observe it. So far Tucker sees a lot of positives from the team through pickup games in September, but he knows this time of year can be deceiving.
"Coming into camp last year," he said, with a shake of his head. "We didn't think we would have the season we did. It felt good, everything was good. You just never know until you get into the season."
Asked how he sees this team playing this season, Tucker went back to his mantra: "Young and energetic. I think everybody that checks in is going to play hard. I think the way Jeff wants to play, get up and down, you know. Just being a tough, energetic team."
Suns fans can only hope that Tucker's vision for the Suns comes true. He's smart enough to know that the players have to prove it when the games count. But he's an optimistic sort who would rather expect the best than any alternative.
"There's a lot of positive energy right here, right now, going into Flag," Tucker concluded. "So we'll see."
Tucker's playing time this season might just be dependent on his ability to make a corner three, which he has been terrible at doing so far. With Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe pushing the ball down the court and into the teeth of the defense, they will need at least one reliable outlet shooter on the wing who can take the dump off pass and make a shot. The Suns are hoping that Channing Frye can be one of those outlets, but the small forward position might just be Marcus Morris' to lose because he's a much better 3-point shooter.
But then again, we're talking about P.J. Tucker. While head coach Jeff Hornacek might not trust Tucker setting up in the corner for an open three point attempt, he likely won't be able to deny Tucker playing time because of his hustle and commitment. Tucker is always the guy the coaches love, even though he's on his third coach in nine months.
"Jeff's so mild mannered, so cool and laid back," Tucker said of his new head coach. "He tells you exactly what he wants, how he wants it done, what you should do to get better. I was a fan of [former Suns coaches] Alvin [Gentry] and Lindsey [Hunter]. I think they have a lot of the same qualities. I like Jeff just as much as I liked those two."