Let me start by saying this as clearly as I possibly can: The NBA Draft is hard. No team gets it right all the time. There's no such thing as "perfection" when it comes to selecting young prospects. At the same time, Lon Babby believes that good scouting makes a difference. Outcomes from the draft aren't completely random, even if there is some degree of luck involved when it comes to which 20-year-olds turn into good NBA players and which don't.
The purpose of this story isn't to embarrass the current front office who is responsible for the last two year's picks or their predecessors who own the prior three. By looking at the last five year's of Suns' draft history, we are simply laying out the facts of what happened so maybe we'll find some trends, common mistakes, or just to better understand how these things work.
We begin in 2008.
Goran Dragic Home Run
By any possible standard of draft evaluation, Kerr was spot-on with Dragic. At the time, he said that Goran was the second-best point guard in the draft behind only Derrick Rose. In retrospect, he would have been 100 percent correct if not for Russell Westbrook, who was considered at the time to be a raw "tweener" lacking pure point instincts...which has proven to be pretty accurate.
Regardless, going hard after a fairly unknown kid from Slovenia in the second round and having him turn out to be the best point guard behind an MVP and an All-Star is a win.
Kerr used the 15th-overall pick on Robin Lopez. Anyone who's followed my ramblings for the last five years will understand my oversized love for Robin Lopez. I STILL think he's got the potential to be a late-bloomer (like a Tyson Chandler) and prove Kerr right when he said Robin was the better twin. (Stop laughing now please.) I also think we can't discount the devastating impact of the back injury in March 2010 that set him back two years and perhaps more.
But let's not argue about Robin's history or future. Let's look at who Kerr skipped to take Lopez.
The obvious answer is Roy Hibbert.
Kerr was looking for a mobile big who could protect the rim. Hibbert, at the time, was considered more of an offensive player with suspect ability to defend the perimeter and hence, the pick and roll. Robin (pre-injury) was more athletic and tenacious as a defender away from the paint but still brought the size and mentality to mix it up down low.
It's easy to say now that Kerr should have taken Roy over Robin, but factoring in the injury, I don't see this one as a total whiff.
Since the Suns were trying to fill a need at the center position and had Amare and Grant Hill on the roster, it would have been difficult to take a power forward or wing. You can argue about McGee over Lopez if you want, just don't expect me to ever agree despite plays like this (and because of many plays like this).
As for the other guys, I'll just repeat that you won't find any draft that doesn't have examples of players over and under performing their draft slot. That means there's ALWAYS going to be both good AND bad examples.
The Suns mostly got "B" grades from the draft "experts". Some liked the Lopez pick but panned the Dragic selection:
ESPN Draft grades: Evaluating every team - Chad Ford
B. When the moment of truth came, Phoenix took the guy who might have been the best player available. Lopez could become an Anderson Varejao-type defensive presence. I do like Dragic at No. 42 as a guy who could eventually find his way here to play an important role on a team.
DraftExpress: 2008 NBA Draft Report Card
D. (Robin Lopez) has the potential to be a solid backup, which, considering his size and energy level, makes him a reasonable pick at 15. The Suns will of course hope he can develop into a bit more. What is surprising, though, is the way they handled themselves in the second round.
2008 NBA Draft Grades | NBADraft.net
B. Robin is clearly the more mobile of the two (brothers), and there are some that feel he could ultimately end up the better pro.
This draft was very interesting with Kerr taking Clark 14th. At the time, he acknowledged the high-risk, high-reward nature of the talented but complicated Louisville forward. Clark was widely (and rightly) considered to have top-five talent but had questions about his focus and toughness (which turned out not to be his problem).
The Suns also took Taylor Griffin (48th) and Emir Preldži?lm (57th) in the second round. Taylor Griffin was always going to max out as a hard-working practice player and that other guy was sold to Cleveland and has never been heard of since.
You might recall some (extensive) discussion about the relative merits of Clark vs James Johnson. That turned out to matter little. Personally, I was on the Ty Lawson bandwagon at the time (look it up). But the real gem turns out to be Jrue Holiday.
The Suns, to their credit, liked Holiday but reportedly went with the dynamic wing defender in Clark since they saw Dragic as the POINT GUARD OF THE FUTURE. Incidentally, the future is here and Dragic is the point guard.
I suppose we could now delve into an extensive comparative analysis of Dragic, Lawson and Holiday. But that's really missing the point, which is the idea of a team with Steve Nash AND Goran Dragic using a late lottery pick on another point guard. Kaaaaaaaahn!
With the power of hindsight, you'd obviously do it and figure out how to leverage the assets later. But at the time, Kerr's decision made sense.
UPDATE: I entirely forgot about the deal the Suns had in place to trade for Steph Curry. When they picked Clark, they thought their backcourt was going to be Dragic and Curry which makes passing on Lawson and Holiday even more defensible. The Warriors backed out of their handshake deal later that night.
Here's guys Kerr passed over in 2009:
Kerr received mostly "B's" for his 2009 Draft. Notably, folks seemed to like the Clark pick but downgraded him for taking Taylor Griffin...except for Chad Ford who saw T-Griff as an NBA 10th man.
2009 NBA Draft live analysis - NBA - CBSSports.com
B. (Clark) will have trouble co-existing with Amare Stoudemire, but might not have to ... Speaking of which: Which Warriors fan started incredibly lopsided Stoudemire-to-Golden State rumor?
2009 NBA draft report card - NBA- NBC Sports
C. Clark can shoot from range, rebound and defend. He just might prove to be a significant part of the start of a revival, especially if Stoudemire truly is on the way out.
SLAM ONLINE | " 2009 NBA Draft Grades
B+. Phoenix hit a home run in the first round by taking Earl Clark at 14. This is a guy who has top-5 upside and the potential to be a stud at the next level. Of course, Clark presents more question marks than certainties, and is one of the biggest enigmas in the entire draft.
B-. The Suns got one of the 10 most talented players in the draft with the 14th pick. The concerns over Clark's intensity seem to be a stretch. But drafting Griffin 48th seemed a little odd, as Blake's older brother probably shouldn't have been drafted.
A-. Judge the Suns on whom they grabbed at No. 14, and you have to be impressed. Clark was a top-five talent in this draft. He can play multiple positions, and if he gets motivated, he can be a dominant player who should be a terrific fit in the Suns' up-tempo system. Griffin is about grit and athleticism, but he has the talent to stick in the league as a 10th man.
This was Kerr's final draft and, in fact, he had already decided to leave the Suns before draft day came. He stuck around so the Suns wouldn't be rudderless at draft time. It turned out, of course, leaving the Suns rudderless in the following month's free agency was much more costly.
The Suns had no first round picks thanks to two separate trades.
In 2004, the Suns traded the Knicks 2010 pick (and Tom Gugliotta's contract) for nothing (Keon Clark and Ben Handlogten). The Suns' own pick was one of two used to bribe the Thunder into taking Kurt Thomas' contract. This turned out to be the 26th pick, Quincy Pondexter. That Knicks pick (9th), six years after the fact, was used by the Jazz on Gordon Hayward.
Damn you, 2004 Suns for not anticipating that!
In the second round, Kerr took two bigs: Gani Lawal (46th) and Dwayne Collins (60th). Collins had big hands and wore the coolest shoes I've ever seen but after going to Italy, has seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth.
Lawal, however, was considered a great pick given his incredible athleticism and energy. He suffered a torn ACL during his rookie year and despite a few different attempts to make it the NBA, has found a home in Europe where he currently plays for an Italian team. I wonder if he knows what happened to Collins?
UPDATE: I'm told Collins never really recovered from a knee issue which is why he disappeared.
Jeremy Evans (55th), is the only guy taken after Lawal having any sort of NBA career, most notably as a dunk contest winner.
Given what he had to work with, Kerr received decent feedback for his second-round picks.
ESPN 2010 NBA draft results: Draft grades - Chad Ford
C. With Amare Stoudemire about to test the free-agent waters, the Suns attempted to shore up their front line with two tough, athletic rebounders. Neither Lawal nor Collins is great on the offensive end, but they'll add toughness for Phoenix in the paint.
2010 NBA Draft Grades | NBADraft.net
A-. Both power forwards were great value picks with no risk as second rounders. Either one of these ACC products could crack the Suns' rotation this season potentially, and both will help on the boards, which fills a big need.
2010 NBA Draft Grades: Did The Clippers Actually Win? - SBNation.com
B-. Lawal is pretty good at a lot of things, but doesn't really stand out with one elite skill. Still, he's big, decently athletic with a good motor. He has a chance to contribute in the desert. The same applies to Collins, another bouncy big out of Miami. Not bad work for the mid to late-second round.
Things start to get more interesting now since we are talking about the Lance Blanks era of Suns drafting history. In his first year running the ship, Blanks picked Markieff Morris with the 13th pick. He had no second-round picks to worry about.
Kieff is an interesting cat. I think at this point, he's got the most upside potential of all the young players on the Suns roster, including his twin brother (that's not saying much). He does pretty much everything you'd want from a modern power forward. He rebounds, has post game, can face up, and can even shoot from distance. His defense is suspect, so far, but I believe he has the potential to improve that part of his game as he gains experience.
Of course, as we've seen over the last two years, Markieff has struggled mightily to put all those things together into a consistent package. This isn't all that uncommon, but it does tend to lower his ceiling potential in my mind. It's hard to see him not having a decent career as at least a role player, but if he was going to develop into a starting-caliber player, I think we would have seen more by now. Maybe.
Out of context, Markieff was a decent and safe pick for a first-year GM. Unfortunately, there are several guys taken later in the draft that are having much better NBA careers...so far. Those include: Kawhi Leonard (15th), Nikola Vucevic (16th), Iman Shumpert (17th), maybe Donatas Motiejunas (20th), and obviously, The Manimal, Kenneth Faried (22nd).
You could argue the Suns would be better off with any of those guys, especially Leonard and Faried. Time might still prove Blanks right, but so far, things don't look so good for his pick...yet.
Blanks got "B's" across the board. Only one writer, Tom Ziller, suggested the Suns would have been better off with Leonard or Chris Singleton (?), but calls that a "quibble". So overall, while we have some issues with this draft in retrospect, at the time all those "experts" didn't have as good foresight as they have hindsight.
NBA Draft Grades 2011: Suns Confuse Markieff Morris' Family, Get Tougher - SBNation.com
B. Morris immediately becomes Phoenix's toughest power forward. The Suns now have two brawlers in the frontcourt (Morris, Marcin Gortat), and the team's famously bad rebounding should improve, provided that Alvin Gentry gives Morris lots of early minutes. Chris Singleton or Kawhi Leonard would have been better value picks and also met the defense/toughness need. But that's more a quibble than a demerit.
2011 NBA draft team grades - Sam Amick - SI.com
B+. The Suns were focused on adding some muscle to their frontcourt, with the thinking that Channing Frye would be better served eventually coming off the bench. And while Markieff Morris (No. 13) wasn't expected to be taken before his twin brother, Marcus (who would go a pick later, to Houston), I'm fine with any team taking a deliberate approach to a draft and being able to execute its plan.
Ball Don’t Lie’s 2011 NBA draft grades - Ball Don't Lie - NBA Blog - Yahoo! Sports
B- The less-heralded Morris brother can turn into a fair pick-and-pop or roll guy, and his long arms and defensive instincts will serve Phoenix well in stretches. With this team in win-now mode, however, I fail to see where he'll make an immediate impact. Does anyone believe that this guy is coming in to play consistent minutes next season? Considering the options, though, this was a talent worth selecting.
2011 NBA Draft Grades | NBADraft.net
B+. Once again we witness the Suns take the more defense-orientated twin, but this time they're on the hook that that guy turns out better. Markieff Morris is an NBA ready power forward that can defend the rim, clean the glass and make an open jump-shot from the perimeter. He seems like a nice fit for the Suns who are obviously attempting to become less of a disgrace defensively. Good for them.
This is where things really went off the rails for Blanks in my mind. I realize there are some who still hold out hope for Kendall Marshall (13th). I don't. The more I watch him, the more I'm willing to take your bets that he won't be in the NBA three years from now.
But let's not rehash Marshall's failings now. At the time, the Suns knew Steve Nash was leaving and they didn't know Goran Dragic would be replacing him. That placed an extremely high priority on the point guard position, and even a hater like me sees Marshall as a point guard.
Also in Blanks favor, there's not exactly a ton of guys picked after Kendall that have torn shit up. Of course, it's still only their rookie year. The Suns had no second-round picks.
Here's some guys who you could see as being better pros than Kendall: Maurice Harkless (15th), Tyler Zeller (17th), Andrew Nicholson (19th), Jared Sullinger (21st), Tony Wroten (25th), and Perry Jones III (28th).
None of those guys are a sure thing by any means and most are bigs, a position the Suns didn't need to fill with more mediocre players. Wroten is the only point guard of the group, and he's not doing much in Memphis (although I still like him better than Marshall).
The biggest sin of the Marshall pick seems to be the classic mistake of taking need over talent. Obviously, if you consider two or three players as roughly equal, you pick for need. But in a case where no one is jumping off the page, you take the best player available.
There were no players taken ahead of Marshall who are obvious busts.
The grades for this pick are very interesting and foreshadowed the debate that still rages around Marhall's future. Blanks received everything from "A" to and "F" for this selection.
NBA Draft Grades: Who Won (And Lost) The West? - SBNation.com
A. If the Suns magically keep Steve Nash, Marshall could be one of the best back-up point guards in the league quickly. If the Suns lose Steve Nash, Marshall could sit on the fringes of the Point Guard Era conversation. Concerns about his foot speed are valid, but Phoenix is quite adept at playing with a matador at the point, and Marshall should be better than Nash defensively in total.
ESPN 2012 NBA Draft -- Chad Ford
C. I think Marshall will be a solid NBA player. He might be the best passer in the draft, but his lack of lateral quickness might limit him to role player duty in the pros.
Instant Grades: 2012 NBA Draft Round 1 - NBA - CBSSports.com
F. The Suns took what seems to be their new point guard and wow, what a downgrade. This is probably about six picks too high, and with questions about his speed and ability to guard, the Suns only regressed.
Ball Don’t Lie grades the 2012 NBA draft | Ball Don't Lie - Yahoo! Sports
B. The Suns were the first — or, depending on how you judge a few other squads, the only — team to pick for need.
B+. Kendall Marshall was able to operate the point guard spot at North Carolina in beautiful fashion. He understands how to play the position at such an advanced level, but Phoenix does not have the talent relative to the NBA that North Carolina has compared to the rest of college basketball.
The Suns take a lot of heat for their picks which really seems to be a stand-in for the overall lack of young talent. Having zero players selected for this year's Rising Stars Challenge was a real smack in the face.
However, when you look beneath the covers of each of these drafts, it becomes more difficult to assign blame. Ultimately, the Suns had several late-lottery picks and the results are about what you'd expect from late-lottery picks.
The best pick of the bunch was Dragic and, in my opinion anyway, the worst was Marshall. The rest? You can find examples, in hindsight, of better options, but for the most part the Suns got decent grades for their selections at the time. To expect a team to turn every mid-first round pick into a home run is not reasonable.
A fun study would look at the draft grades and contemporary assessments of the players we point to as better than those selected by Phoenix. Hindsight is one thing -- and it's certainly fair to hold the front office accountable for results -- but I have much more respect for folks screaming about the decisions when they happened and not years later.
And who's to say those guys would be doing as well as they are if they were in a Suns uniform on a less-talented roster. Would The Manimal really be all that effective with this team or would the holes in his game be more pronounced? Would Leonard be able to focus so much on his role if he wasn't surrounded by the Spurs Hall of Fame talent?
It's hard to say. Players are not fantasy pieces you can simply plug into any situation and expect the same results.
The only real takeaway I have from this VERY long-winded exploration of well-covered history is this: Be very careful drafting for need over talent. That's not exactly a revolutionary concept. If you made it through 3,720 words to get to this point...thanks?
The Wolves entered the season with dreams of the playoffs in their heads, but ended up right back where they've been
for eons since they traded Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007.
This time, a major injury to Kevin Love played the biggest part in the Wolves inability to sniff the playoff picture. The team began the season with a bang (and even without Love) at 16-15, only to fall completely apart to the tune of a worse-than-the-Suns 7-28 since then.
Love is still not back, though Ricky Rubio is getting stronger and stronger by the month even though he still can't hit his jumper consistently. Head coach Rick Adelman has missed a lot of time this season with an ill wife, and the Wolves have endured a handful of other major injuries to mess with their rotation.
The last matchup, in Phoenix, was one of the worst overtime basketball games I've ever witnessed. The Suns eventually won 84-83 after 53 minutes of play, outscoring the Wolves 7-6 in the overtime period.
It was a breakout game for former Timberwolf Wesley Johnson: 14 points (on 7-14 shooting), 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Since this game on February 26, Johnson has been a rotation regular and one of the few bright spots on the season.
Conversely, another former Wolf - Michael Beasley - had a terrible game with 4 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds in only 13 uninspired minutes.
Minnesota has lost 17 of their last 18 on the road, so don't be surprised if the Suns pull out another win.
Each game, it seems the Suns' Goran Dragic must face another elite point guard. So far, Dragic has faired well in just about every PF matchup this season including last time against Rubio.
In the last game, Rubio finished with only 5 points, 10 assists and 4 steals (but 6 turnovers to boot). Dragic had 10 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds (with 3 turnovers). It was a wash.
You thought I was going to say the Suns right? Wrong.
It's the Wolves who are worst in the NBA, though they have recently returned Chase Budinger to their lineup after missing all but 6 games this season. On the season, the Wolves have hit only 29.4% of their three-pointers and have been even worse on the road.
Budinger can hit the outside shot, but he needs to share his minutes with Andre Kirilenko and is still getting into game shape.
Certainly, starting center Marcin Gortat is out. Possibly, Jermaine O'Neal (calf strain) is out as well.
That leaves Hamed Haddadi to man the pivot with PFs Markieff Morris and Luis Scola backing him up. Scola has done well against bigger centers this season by annoying them on defense and pulling them out of the paint on offense. Maybe he will do that to Pekovic tonight.
As the season progressed, the Suns went from hoping for the Wolves' first-round pick (if they made the playoffs) to hoping to fend off the Wolves for a higher pick overall.
Both teams have 23 wins on the season, though the Wolves have done it in 3 fewer games.
Just like Wednesday's game, the Suns are fighting for lotto position while also fighting for inspired play that can portend well for next season.
The best laid schemes of mice and men... often go awry.
Two men brimming with confidence and poise entered employment with the Phoenix Suns organization just as the team had hit hard times. George was a shrewd fellow with a sharp tongue and a rapier wit. His counterpart, Lennie, was a man of stout stature, but feeble mind. The shared dream of the duo was to return the Suns to prominence.
For his part, Lennie just dreamed of tending to the players he found pretty to his eyes. George was Lennie’s protector, attempting to keep him from simple minded mistakes when evaluating the players he thought were shiny and special. The two were nearly inseparable and shared a palpable bond of camaraderie.
They laid out their plan and went about achieving their vision. At first things seemed auspicious and they thought they were on their way. They often sat together and George would tell fantastic stories to Lennie about the prolific feats the franchise would soon perform. Lennie loved the stories and just wanted to tend to his players.
Then a sinister presence materialized from the shadows one day when George was not around to protect Lennie. It was Michael Beasley. Lennie couldn’t help himself. He grabbed onto Michael with his prodigious strength and wouldn’t let go.
When the fans of Phoenix realized the carnage of Lennie’s actions they formed a lynch mob. 2Nashty grabbed his pitchfork. East Bay Ray lit the torches. They would put an end to this wickedness.
Realizing what Lennie had done (and needing a proper scapegoat), George met him at their secret war room deep in the depths of USAC. He knew there was no saving Lennie now. He did the only compassionate thing he could think of. He shot Lennie in the back of the head.
When the mob arrived their vengeance was satiated and they left George to his devices. George missed Lennie, but still held fast to their shared dream. Fade out.
This was not a story about successful rebuilding. This was a fictitious satire about rebuilding gone awry. Hopefully the real Suns front office can learn from this melancholy tale and won’t repeat the mistakes of George and Lennie. For other hints they could also look at the successes and failures of other franchises to extend their purview.
The History: The Raptors have struggled for most of their 18 season history. The team has only reached the semifinal round in the playoffs once (2000-01).
Line of Demarcation: The Raptors made the playoffs in back to back seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08 followed by only 33 wins in 2008-09.
The Rebuild: The Raptors are in the situation they now inhabit due to a bad #1 overall selection in a weak 2006 draft class (should have taken LaMarcus Aldridge) and losing their #4 overall pick in the 2003 draft (Chris Bosh) for relatively little, depending on the development of Jonas Valanciunas. In 2008 Toronto traded Roy Hibbert to Indiana for a 30 year old Jermaine O’Neal (who only played for them for half a season), who was flipped in a deal that landed them Shawn Marion and eventually vanished into nothing.
Subsequent draft picks of DeMar Derozan (#9), Ed Davis (#13), Valanciunas (#5) and Terrence Ross (#8) have yielded solid prospects, but no one who currently appears destined to be an all-star. The Raptors would draft #10 this year based on today’s standings (if they hadn't traded their pick to Houston in the Kyle Lowry deal and the pick was then traded to OKC in the Harden deal) , giving them just one top five pick in their current rebuild. Up against the cap, the Raptors seem poised to prolong their resurgence at least one more year.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Five
The History: The 76ers only missed the playoffs five times in their first 42 seasons, but have done so 10 times in the past 22. They have won three NBA championships with the last coming in 1982-83. The once decorated franchise has struggled to find an identity since the departure of Allen Iverson.
Line of Demarcation: Philadelphia has made the playoffs the last two years, but will be on the outside looking in this season. The last time the 76ers won more than 43 games was the 2002-03 season.
The Rebuild: The Sixers have committed the cardinal sin of rebuilding by picking higher than ninth just once in nine years of purgatory. But surely they’ve learned from their lessons, right? No, not right. Philadelphia is currently slated at #11 and has no realistic chance of sinking lower than #10. The Sixers did hit on a #17 overall pick that landed them Jrue Holiday in 2009, but whiffed on a #2 pick (Evan Turner), who has been underwhelming, the following year. The latest setback on the treadmill of mediocrity was a deal that sent promising big Nikola Vucevic away as part of a package that returned Andrew Bynum. Bynum has never played a game for Philadelphia.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Ten
The History: The Wizards were an average to above average franchise for much of their history as the Bullets, reaching their apogee in 1977-78 by winning the NBA championship, but the team derailed after the 1987-88 season and has been one of the whipping boys of the league since.
The Line of Demarcation: One could argue that the team has been in rebuild mode for 25 years, but they did make the playoffs four consecutive seasons from 2004-05 to 2007-08 before Gilbert Arenas’s career imploded.
The Rebuild: After a series of less than impressive decisions, the Wizards may have finally gained some traction with recent draft picks John Wall (#1 overall) and Bradley Beal (#3 overall). The team doesn’t have much cap leverage due to $27 million going to veterans Nene and Emeka Okafor, but it appears that the current roster may compete for a playoff spot as it stands now.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Five
The History: The Pistons have been a model franchise for a large part of their history; a model in terms of success if not in terms of on-court demeanor. After winning titles as the “Bad Boys” they defied conventional wisdom by winning another title in 2003-04 without an incontrovertibly genuine superstar.
Line of Demarcation: On November 3, 2008 the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets. That marked the end of an era.
The Rebuild: The good news for Pistons fans is that two of their last three draft picks (Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight) are their two best players and the other is 19 (Andre Drummond) and has intriguing potential. The bad news is that three of the next four are in their thirties. The Pistons will have some cap room this summer, but may be best served to bide their time until more money comes off the books the following year. The Pistons appear to be at least two years away from competing for the playoffs.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Five
The History: The Cavs have been a slightly less successful version of the Suns. They even came into existence shortly after the Suns. Cleveland was never able to get over the top in a tough Eastern Conference in the late 80s/early 90s and failed to reach the zenith again recently despite possessing the preternatural talents of Lebron James.
Line of Demarcation: The decision.
The Rebuild: When the Cavs lost Lebron they went from the penthouse to the outhouse overnight. The Cavs may ascend from that predicament expeditiously, however, as they appear to have successfully navigated the lottery the past two seasons. Three top-four picks make navigating much easier. At the head of that list is budding superstar Kyrie Irving, who fits the bill of a franchise player. Entering this offseason with another potential top-five pick and $30 million in disposable cap space, the Cavs could be a top four team in the East as early as next season if they don’t find a way to royally screw themselves.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Three
The History: The Magic have had a comparatively brief and undulous history. The draft gods have smiled on them to the tune of three #1 overall picks (Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber and Dwight Howard) in just 24 years of franchise history (the Suns meanwhile have had zero). In spite of the immensely talented individuals who have donned Magic jerseys, the team has failed to reach the ultimate prize and has instead served as a talent turnstile.
Line of Demarcation: After being unable to appease Dwight Howard (is it even humanly possible to?) the Magic traded him for a return package featuring Aaron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic and three first round picks.
The Rebuild: This is the first year of reconstruction for Orlando so their progress is pretty hard to gauge. Vucevic has shown enough promise to conclude that he will be at least a competent starter in the league (22-year-old second-year players who average 12 and 12 are nice). If history is a bellwether for the Magic’s near future they will probably end up with the number one pick, be back in the playoffs in no more than two years, and eventually lose said superstar to the Lakers.
Years in Rebuild Mode: One
The History: Since their inception in 2004-05 the Bobcats have been an impeccable example of where heinously incompetent management can lead a team. The Bobcats have managed just one winning record in the franchise’s nine seasons. Furthermore, Charlotte has yet to draft a player (out of eight lottery picks) that has made an all-star game.
Line of Demarcation: Opening day of the 2004-05 season.
The Rebuild: It’s not going well. Kemba Walker has showed signs of improvement, but when Kemba Walker is the best player on your team that is pretty telling. The team is hoping for big things from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but it has not yet materialized for the 19-year-old phenom. God only knows how far this team is from elevating itself to being a consistent winner.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Nine (The entire franchise history)
The History: The Jazz are also a close approximation to the Suns, as the franchise has been largely successful without attaining the ultimate goal. Utah has only lost 50 games once since the 1982-83 season. The team even has two NBA Finals appearances, like the Suns, with Karl Malone and John Stockton propelling them. Unfortunately, they were thwarted by some guy named Michael Jordan.
The Line of Demarcation: On February 23, 2011 the Jazz traded malcontent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, a 2011 first rounder that became Enes Kanter (#3 overall) and another first rounder in this year’s draft. William’s career, fittingly, has spiraled downward since the trade.
The Rebuild: With Jefferson and Millsap coming off the books, Utah will have $30+ million in cap space this summer. Couple that with a young nucleus of Gordon Hayward (22), Favors (21) and Kanter (20) and two first round draft picks this year (between 10-20) and the Jazz appear well on their way for a return to prominence.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Three
The History: The Mavericks last rebuild lasted through the entire decade of the 1990s. Ten years. What extricated Dallas from a decade of doldrums? In 1998 the Mavericks made a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks where the Bucks received Robert Traylor and the Mavericks got Dirk Nowitzki in return. It can be hard to gauge who wins a trade right away, but in the long run this one was definitely a draw. The dawn of the new century brought new life to a renascent franchise, though, and Dallas made the playoffs 12 consecutive years, even winning the title just two years ago. That streak is almost sure to be extinguished this year as the Mavericks sit 3.5 games out of the playoffs with two teams to jump.
The Line of Demarcation: Age. Five of the seven leaders in minutes per game are at least 33 years old. Dirk Nowitzki will be 35 years old on opening night next season. Compound that with the roster attrition in the form of Tyson Chandler and the Mavericks appear destined for another rough patch.
The Rebuild: This would be year one unless Dallas can find a way to bounce back and make this an anomaly instead of a bellwether. The Mavericks may be preparing for Armaggedon (or counting on their ability to max a couple players, because they currently only have $2 million committed for the 2014-15 season. They definitely aren’t prepared for a youth movement, though, because Jae Crowder is the only player on the roster under the age of 25 that’s seen any playing time this season.
Years in Rebuild Mode: One
Portland Trail Blazers
The History: Another traditionally successful franchise, the Blazers won a championship in 1976-77 behind Maurice Lucas and Bill Walton. The team also had a ridiculous streak of 21 consecutive years in the playoffs from 1982-83 to 2002-03. In contradistinction to those glory days Portland has made just three playoff appearances in the past decade.
The Line of Demarcation: Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s knees.
The Rebuild: Portland is a paragon of resiliency. Instead of being pulverized by the magnitude of these two losses, the Blazers future still appears bright. LaMarcus Aldridge, at 27, is the veteran on the team and it appears the team hit on last year’s #6 overall pick Damian Lillard. The bad news for the Blazers is that the team is top heavy and financial considerations may make it difficult to acquire complementary pieces to integrate with their wunderkinds. A caveat – the Blazers owe their first round pick to Charlotte, but it is top 12 protected. Portland is currently 12th in the lottery seeding, just one game behind Dallas for 13th.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Two
The History: Minnesota is still somewhat of a fledgling franchise with only 24 seasons under their belt. It’s been a painful youth, with only three seasons of 50+ wins to date. Even an interval of success (due to Kevin Garnett) sandwiched between years of futility was overwhelmingly filled with first round exits.
The Line of Demarcation: Latrell Sprewell was compelled to leave as he sought to find a way to feed his children. Sam Cassell also exited stage left.
The Rebuild: The Wolves are a great example of what happens when you consistently miss on high lottery picks. After years of stumbling and bumbling the Wolves finally appear to have built a core around Kevin Love, who was acquired in a draft day trade for OJ Mayo. However, they are still in freefall this year after being besieged by injuries. After a 16-15 start inspired hope of a battle for a playoff spot the team has floundered to the tune of 7-27 past that point. A potentially high lottery pick would be the team’s best route at further improvement as they have little flexibility against the cap.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Nine
The History: The Kings have been a downtrodden team for the majority of their history, but they did win a title 62 years ago when they were the Rochester Royals, so there’s that. Sacramento was close to something special in the early 2000s, but ran into the buzzsaw that was the Shaq/Kobe Lakers.
The Line of Demarcation: The departure of Chris Webber followed by the ouster of coach Rick Adelman spelled the end of an eight year run.
The Rebuild: The Kings rebuild has consisted mostly of gross mismanagement and ineptitude. Players of questionable character (DeMarcus Cousins) have entered a questionable culture while fans feel bamboozled by the seemingly impending relocation of the franchise. Hopefully the Kings can win in their (likely) new home.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Seven
New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans
The History: Since their inception in 1988-89 as the Charlotte Hornets the team has been fringe mediocre and has never made it past the semifinal round in the playoffs. That appeared ready to change after the Hornets selected Chris Paul with the #4 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Bulwarked by the trio of Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler the Hornets set a franchise record for victories (56) in 2007-08.
The Line of Demarcation: Chandler left first, Stojakovic got old, and David West exited. When a disenfranchised Chris Paul was moved before the strike-shortened season it was time to start over.
The Rebuild: The Hornets got Eric Gordon and a draft pick that became Austin Rivers in return for Paul. New Orleans hit the jackpot in the 2013 draft and selected Anthony Davis #1 overall. An icing on the cake free agent signing of Ryan Andersen also nudged the team in the right direction, but injuries and unfulfilled expectations will have the Hornets adding another high lottery pick to a precocious group with six of the seven players with the most minutes per game being 24 or under.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Two
The History: The Suns franchise is the epitome of the phrase, “close, but no cigar.” Starting with the coin flip for Lew Alcindor, the Suns have continually been on the cusp of greatness. Despite having the fourth-best winning percentage in the league, the Suns have failed to win the title in two trips to the Finals. Starting with the 1988-89 season, coming off the heels of a drug scandal, Phoenix made the playoffs 19 times in 22 years. The most recent stretch of success culminated in an exciting, fast-paced brand of basketball given the moniker “seven seconds or less” engineered by Steve Nash. The Suns still played the role of bridesmaids during this era, with bad luck (cruel irony and maledictions) and bitter rivals getting the best of them as they failed to get past the Western Conference Finals in three attempts.
The Line of Demarcation: On the heels of a loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals the Suns declined to offer a max contract to Amar’e Stoudemire due to health and insurance reasons. Without his robin, batman (Nash) languished for two more years on a team with a less than stellar supporting cast.
The Rebuild: The realization that wholesale changes are needed has just begun to settle in for Phoenix. Unlike other teams at the bottom of the scrap heap the Suns six leaders in minutes per game are all at least 27. The team’s best assets moving forward are cap flexibility and this year’s lottery pick. As tyros to the reclamation process, the Suns will need to catch up to some of their brethren.
Years in Rebuild Mode: Three
So is this tragic tale of George and Lennie prophetic? I'm sure Lennie hopes otherwise. Some of the red numbers above may make your heart sick. But if the Suns can learn from the pitfalls and prosperities of these other woebegone franchises they may avoid the wrath of the angry mob... or the fog of apathy that even the brilliance of the Sun cannot penetrate.
Disclaimer: Yes, I did do that on purpose to get you to read this... No, I am not suggesting P.J. should be the 5th pick... read on.
To tank or not to tank, that has been the question. Well, one question among many for the Phoenix Suns fans this season.
Over the past few months, we have all had our eye on the ball – that of the ping pong variety. Yet as the season has played out, our vision has become clearer and our fate is coming more into view. We will most assuredly land a lottery pick this draft. Where in the lottery remains a mystery. With luck, we may land the number one pick overall. With every loss, that chance becomes greater. [Yet for some reason, against teams we really shouldn’t beat, the Suns decide they come to play and muck up the works.]
Lottery picks are certainly intriguing and something we will all opine about over the remainder of the season and leading up to the draft. Yet there is another storyline that isn’t quite as sexy, but could potentially impact the Suns fortunes just as much.
Thanks to our buddies in LA, we will receive another first round pick [if you want to call it that], and will be selecting a player using Miami’s draft pick. And as our luck has always gone, both the Lakers and the Heat decided to start playing, pushing that pick from a late lottery to picking 30th.
"But Jason, why would you even suggest that this pick may have the same or better impact than potentially the first pick in the draft"
That is a valid concern. However, as we have seen in the past [cough, ODEN, cough], the first pick is no guarantee. Neither are top five picks, as we have two of them on our roster right now whom we would gladly trade for a Kit Kat bar. [I am overlooking the fact that there is a far greater chance to get a great player up there, but then my article would be fairly short].
While it is a rare sight to see a player selected in second round of that NBA draft actually make a team and produce, it does happen enough to believe that there are opportunities to find a gem amongst the rubble. In fact, since 2000 there have been numerous players able to overcome their poor draft position and become viable NBA players. There have even been rare [soon-to-be] NBA all-stars who were overlooked completely.
In the 2000 NBA draft [possibly the worst draft ever], Michael Redd was considered the 43rd best player in the draft. In fact, not only was he overlooked by every single team in the league, even the team that finally drafted him picked Jason Collier [15th pick] over him and then traded that pick for Joel Pryzbilla. The Suns picked Jake Tsakashitas with the 25th pick. UGH!
The next year, teams passed over Gilbert Arenas [30th - although we now know that might have been a good idea] and Memet Okur [37th]. In 2002, Carlos Boozer was overlooked [35th] along with Matt Barnes [46th]. In both of those drafts, there were other players that have had decent role playing careers as well, while a number of first round picks have busted out of the league.
In 2003, the second round boasted a plethora of quality gets [Korver, Kapono, Walton, Pachulia, Bogans, James Jones, Bonner] and even a couple of high quality players like Steve Blake [38th ] and Mo Williams [47th]. The 2004 draft missed on Anderson Varejao [31st]. In 2005, NBA braniacs goofed up on David Lee [30th], Monta Ellis [40th] and much maligned Marcin Gortat [57th], among others [Bass, CJ Miles, Turiaf, Amir Johnson and Lou Williams]. 2006 gave us Paul Millsap [47th], Steve Novak [32nd] and PJ Tucker [35th]. Carl Landry was overlooked in 2007 [31st] along with Glen Davis [35th], while everyone really pooped on Marc Gasol [48th].
The 2008 NBA draft should have caused a mass firing amongst GM’s when they all passed over the likes of Pekovic , Chalmers , DeAndre Jordan , Omar Asik , Mbah-Moute  and the DRAGON . Even the last four drafts have produced Crowder, Blair , Parsons , Fields , Meeks , Thornton , Budinger , Danny Green  and little old Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the draft in 2011.
The Suns, meanwhile, have had 13 first round picks since 2000, and have kept only nine for at least one season, and only ONE past their rookie deal [Amar’e]. "Jake" Tsakalidis, Amaré Stoudemire, Casey Jacobsen, Žarko ?abarkapa, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Rajon Rondo, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernández, Alando Tucker, Robin Lopez, Earl Clark, Markieff Morris, and Kendall Marshall. I am not sure even if we had all of those players we would even win 10 games this year.
"But Jason, who should we be thinking about that other teams are sleeping on?"
Good question. Here are just a few guys that may be available at 30 in this year’s draft I think you have to consider if they are available:
Doug McDermott, 6-7 F Creighton: Lottery pick, you say? Very possible. But time and again we have seen guys like McDermott drop in the draft. Unathletic, position-less, older players that impressed in college but have little upside in the eyes of scouts tend to be overlooked. Last year it was Jae Crowder. If McDermott actually comes out early [he is a junior] and slides to 30, this is a no-brainer. This guy can flat out play. He is Jared Dudley 2.0.
Allen Crabbe, 6-6 G California: The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Crabbe is a shooting guard with good size and the ability to score. He was the leading scorer for an NCAA tourney team that boasts no other players who would make my high school team. While guys like McLemore, Oladipo, Smart, Goodwin will all be gone, and all the love going to the aptly named Glen Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr., I am not sure the drop off to Crabbe is very much, if at all. He may move up in the pecking order with workouts, but if he is available at 30, Crabbe would be a solid pick.
Deshaun Thomas, 6-7 F Ohio State: Ohio State is a two seed in the NCAA Tourney, won the Big 10 tourney, was tied for second in the regular season and is ranked seventh in the nation. A team like that usually boasts two or three big time players, a few young solid prospects and a deep bench. Ohio State has Thomas, a solid Aaron Craft, and bodies. Why Thomas goes under the radar is beyond me. The focal point of every opponents scouting report, Thomas still manages to score over 19 a game on one of the best teams in America. This guy is totally overlooked and if available, you would be wise to pick him. Can you say steal of the draft?
P.J. Hairston, 6-5 G-F UNC: Hairston has been an enigma for UNC in his two seasons. A heralded recruit known for his shooting prowess, P.J. came in and disappointed immediately, relegated to spot duty on a loaded team. This season, he has been at times confounding, and others spectacular. The mid-season shift to power forward has spurred a late season run for the Heels, and his play has shown NBA scouts the possibilities he brings to the table. With child, it is a forgone conclusion he will bolt for the NBA. Right now, he is not even projected in the draft at all according to various reports. I am here to tell you that PJ Hairston will not only be a 10+ year NBA player, but will probably end up an all-star. Watch him shoot up the draft during workouts, but if available, he is the one guy you don’t pass on, regardless of anyone else listed here. And this is coming from a guy that has seen every single game and gets really pissed at Hairston far too often. His ability is tailor made for the NBA and he will be great. Drafting him at 30 is equivalent to drafting whoever at 14 [if the Lakers missed the playoffs].
Jahii Carson, 5-9 PG ASU: OK, this is sort of a bonus and I am not sure Jahii will enter the draft, but if he does, and despite the fact we don’t need to draft another point guard, I really like Jahii’s game. Yeah, he is super small, but so is Isaiah Thomas and he is a really nice young NBA player. Jahii is better than him. If Carson develops a consistent ability to knock down the long ball, watch out.