Training camp is only four days old, yet the good guys are looking surprisingly good according to the Suns own media arm and the local beat reporters who moved up to Flagstaff this week. All media were invited to the party, but when its BYOB/F/L/G, only a few have made the trip.
Training camp culminates on Saturday with an open scrimmage and a Fan Fest where players stay to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. The Suns have not played in Flagstaff since 2004, but back then the fans showed up in droves and this season shouldn't be a whole lot different.
Your Bright Side team stayed in the valley all week, but three of us (Sean, Jim and I) are heading up the hill for the open scrimmage on Saturday and hopefully a few minutes with players and/or coaches before the Fan Fest starts in earnest.
Until then, here's a roundup of story lines coming out of camp. For those who are new to the game, the storylines are the same as every year and every NBA team. But let's give tons of props to Paul Coro (azcentral.com), Craig Grialou (620) and the Suns guys Matt Peterson and Greg Esposito. The Suns guys have tons of video of the week as well, so be sure to check that out.
The better NBA teams use this storyline to focus on end-of-the-bench guys who might surprise, but since most of the Suns roster is filled with end-of-bench guys, there's no restrictions on who looks good. They ALL look good.
These storylines are staples for early in training camp, before the players get on TV for all of us to see. Remember when Josh Childress was going great in camp and the first scrimmage (28 points to lead the team) in 2010? Remember when we heard that Lopez was coming along great in rehab, looked on as an All-Star potentially, but then he was really limited in 2011?
Keep an open mind, folks. And wait till the games are actually being played.
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.