The Phoenix Suns have gone through such a stunning transformation in such a short period of time that they are now trading in good pieces for better ones.
Last summer it was addition by subtraction for the Suns.
The team had just suffered through a season that was a miasma of losing commingled with laziness, frustration and subversive tactics. Lance Blanks, Lindsey Hunter and Michael Beasley epitomized the failure of one of the worst seasons in the team's history.
But it wasn't just them. Shannon "the Cannon" Brown played me first basketball. Kendall Marshall seemed to feel entitled. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat were visibly vexed by the mounting losses. Even Wesley Johnson's smile didn't sparkle quite as bright. The team chemistry was poisonous.
It was time for cataclysmic changes.
In came new GM Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek.
A scorched earth policy saw the Suns jettison all but four of the 16 players that played for them during the 2012-13 season. Only Goran Dragic, Markieff and Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker remained.
Trades were made that resulted in unexpected contributions from incoming players like Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. Channing Frye returned from a heart ailment that caused him to miss the previous season. Eric Bledsoe entered the fold in exchange for a bag of magic beans.
Things changed really fast.
In April of 2013 Hoops Habit didn't even have the Suns in the top 10 among non-playoff teams with a bright future. By January of 2014 Dime Magazine ranked the Suns number one among rebuilding teams that could take over in the future.
In the span of two summers the Suns went from a roster teeming with players they didn't want to one completely stocked with players they do. This second offseason has followed the trend of upgrading the roster.
Out went Channing Frye, Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas and Leandro Barbosa (sort of).
In are Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Tolliver, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis.
The Suns roster gained a lot of talent and depth. If this would have been a trade I'm pretty sure it would be unilaterally considered a pantsing.
While the vivacity and locker room presence Christmas and Smith brought will be missed, the Suns are at a point where they need that chemistry to be elicited from more established veteran rotation players. Contending teams don't typically count on the players at the end of the bench to be glue guys for the team.
These guys weren't poisonous to the winning culture the Suns are fostering, they made a positive impact on the team last season. The Suns have just positioned themselves in the very enviable position of being able to trade good pieces for better ones.
Ish Smith is a peripatetic point guard for a reason. Despite his blinding speed, he has a broken shot that has relegated him to spot duty. Even his increased playing time last season was more of a matter of necessity, with Eric Bledsoe missing so much time. Still, it took Ish all of two days to land with a playoff team, the Houston Rockets, after he was released.
Dionte Christmas was overjoyed to make this team and showed it all year with his infectious enthusiasm. His off court demeanor was infinitely more valuable than anything he did on it. He was a source of endless puns and he played right along with them. Every time he scored in a home game, which wasn't that often, Christmas music blared through the arena.
Fans genuinely liked these guys. When they parted ways people said goodbye instead of good riddance. They were merely victims of circumstance. A team that is becoming more talented and deep at every turn. Unfortunately, Christmas and Smith have about the same value as a ham sandwich when it comes to trades. Unless a pittance somehow becomes critical in terms of salary matching these guys just don't factor into the equation.
Flash forward to T.J. Warren, who may have been the best player in the Vegas Summer League, and Tyler Ennis, who was rumored to be coveted by at least the Toronto Raptors, and the equation changes. These young players are better assets now and have more potential long term.
The Suns now have nine very competent rotation players, including Bledsoe, and their four first round picks from the last two drafts. The only player under contract who would probably be considered a placeholder is Shavlik Randolph. The other contracts are all relative bargains. The Suns have actually spent so wisely that the value of their contracts could potentially make matching salary in trades difficult because nobody really makes that much money. Trades will come, though, as the Suns look to consolidate several of their good pieces into one great one. Trades that I'm confident the Suns will win.
The Suns have come a long way from May 7, 2013 when the team hired Ryan McDonough to clean house. It is no longer a situation of addition by subtraction for the team.
It's addition by addition.