With a few days off to recalibrate their collective basketball minds and focus, the Phoenix Suns are back at it with another group workout featuring more potential late first round prospects and a wildcard.
Today's workout featured Pittsburgh center Steven Adams (No. 17 on the Big Board), N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown (31), Bucknell center Mike Muscala (32), Illinois guard Brandon Paul (34), Texas point guard Myck Kabongo (66), and Missouri center Alex Oriakhi (71).
Adams may be a reach at No. 5 for the Suns and will not be available for the No. 30 pick, but much like Mason Plumlee and the point guards this is due diligence on the teams part. If they are able to acquire another pick in the mid-to-late lottery then Adams is an option to replace Marcin Gortat in the long-term. His skill level is on par with Gortat as a raw athlete that will be at his best with a play-making point guard feeding him the ball at the rim.
Every other player in this workout can be had at the No. 30 pick and offers a unique skill-set. As GM Ryan McDonough has stated numerous times, the team will try to avoid duplicating positions with the two first round picks.
As a converted point guard Brown has the ability to score and distribute the ball with his great size and feel for the position. Paul is another option at the two with the potential to score the ball in bunches like a Jamal Crawford, but can also shoot the team out of a game like Shannon Brown. Kabongo is athletic, long, and sees the floor well, but is not polished or great at any one thing.
For the Suns in particular looking at Muscala at No. 30 or Oriakhi at No. 57 would add depth to the front-court. Oriakhi is a tank with NBA level strength and toughness.
Here is a scouting take on the prospects:
***The Suns have now had in 13 point guards, 10 shooting guards, 7 small forwards, 12 power forwards, and 9 centers so far
***Next workout is scheduled for this Tuesday
Finding a starting-quality NBA center is difficult. The Phoenix Suns have one in Marcin Gortat, but the 29-year old Polish Machine is a quickly becoming an old man on a rebuilding team. Factor in his expiring $7.75 million contract for the 2013-14 season, and you've got a player the Suns need to replace (or extend) quickly.
With the Suns in full rebuild mode, their center does not need to be an All-Star caliber player. In fact, the Suns really just need a guy who can play solid minutes, is productive, and is preferably tradeable when the time comes.
For the past two years, and even for the next year, that guy has been Marcin Gortat. But his age and contract situation will continue to eat away at his trade value for the next twelve months. Sure, it's possible a team might give up a future #1 at next year's trade deadline for Gortat in order to make a playoff push. But that would be a first-rounder from a playoff team - likely a pick in the 20s. If you can get a 2013 lotto pick right now, why not do it?
The latest rumors have several teams wanting to trade their 2013 lottery pick for established talent that can help them make the playoffs this season. Cleveland, Washington, Portland are among them. Portland, in particular, seems a clean fit for Gortat.
Logic dictates that the Suns would use that second lotto pick on a young center with high upside (after using their own for a wing). Problem is, the centers with the highest upside won't be playing 30+ minutes per game in 2013-14, and maybe not even in 2014-15. Alex Len and Nerlens Noel might not be fully healthy for another year, at which point they will still be growing into their bodies. Rudy Gobert has all the dimensions you want, but he needs even more time to develop than Len and Noel. Cody Zeller may best fit at PF some day. The other first-round center prospects may never see 30+ minutes a night in their careers.
Still, the Suns are best served by drafting a young center with the highest upside.
If that's the case, who mans the middle for the Suns in the meantime? With Gortat gone and Jermaine O'Neal off to a playoff team (most likely), someone needs to fill those 48 minutes per contest. You can count me among those who would rather not go into the season with Markieff Morris and Luis Scola on that depth chart for minutes in the pivot. While the Suns may want to stay in the hunt for the #1 pick in 2014, they don't want to do it by winning 10 of 82 games.
Enter Nikola Pekovic.
The 27-year old Pekovic is the starting center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and this summer is a restricted free agent. He played 62 games in the 2012-13 season, putting up 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. Pekovic is a solid, lumbering rebounder who gets his offense around the rim.
On the surface, you'd think this is the last guy the Suns should sign to man the pivot.
These are good reasons not to even look in Pekovic's direction. However, as I said before, the Suns need someone to man the pivot.
If you stay with Gortat, you have to stay with him for a good five more seasons (this upcoming season, plus a 4-year free agent contract to keep him in the valley). With Pekovic, the commitment would only be 3-4 years from today.
Pekovic is a good center (16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) but not spectacular. His Wolves teams barely broke the 30-win barrier with him as the main cog in the middle, so don't worry about losing too much draft position. With nothing of value in the middle, the Suns could win 10-15 games next year, and face a total mutiny from their fans.
If the money is right, say 3 years at $25 million like Omer Asik got last year or even 4 years at $40 million, then Pekovic is eminently tradeable whenever the Suns' younger center is ready for bigger minutes. Many teams want starting-quality centers. When the Suns are ready to acquire a star, having Pekovic as a trade chip is a good thing.
Why would the Wolves give up Pekovic, you ask? I don't know why. But the Suns won't be in bidding wars all summer for the other free agents out there, so it's okay to have their cap space tied up in an RFA offer for three days.
Trading Gortat for a lotto pick, drafting a young center to develop and signing a placeholder in Pekovic just might be the best plan for the Suns' center position this summer.
To start the 2010-2011 NBA season the Miami Heat came in with unparalleled expectations thanks to a roster that could not be rivaled by even the best video game trade artists. They deconstructed the roster to create a "Big Three" featuring All-NBA talent in their physical prime.
It was not pretty to start. The Heat began their run with a loss and stalled out of the gates with an unassuming 9-8 beginning to the new regime of hired guns. That debut included an offensive misfire as the Heat scored 80 points, a feat that would only be dubiously topped one more time that season. They had to get their bearings.
The team took a while to get used to playing with each other. After all, the "Big Three" were all used to being "Big Individuals" with their previous teams and the roster was not put together organically, rather overnight in a lab with a master chemist.
Now flash forward to the 2013 Phoenix Mercury and there is a team that can be put on that pedestal in terms of overall talent, but one that was put together more organically.
It took the Heat about 30 games to get their rhythm and feel for each other, which in WNBA terms translates to a full season meaning that the team has less time to figure it all out. However for the Mercury they did not have the luxury of a training camp or elongated pre-season before the season. It was meet and greet, exhibition against Japan, and then time for the bright lights.
They created a "super team" on the backs of Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree, and rookie phenom Brittney Griner.
Throughout Taurasi's career she has been the go-to player from college to the WNBA to the Olympics. Bonner became a star last year in Taurasi's absence. Griner was the alpha in college for four years winning a National Championship and playing in two Final Fours. They were stars individually and know have to meld together to make this a Championship team, because, on paper, they have the talent to beat any team on any given night.
Early on the team struggled, you guessed it, on the offensive end as they did not know how to get out of their own way playing too passively with each other.
Now, five games into a 34 game season, the Mercury are getting a feel for how to play with each other. After Friday nights 97-81 win over the Los Angeles Sparks the team has won two in a row, both games over playoff teams just a season ago.
We changed what we were doing the first three games and I took the blame for that. I was trying to do something we weren't familiar with and it is hard trying to put everything on one person (Griner) rather than what we had and just do. -- Head Coach Corey Gaines
Couple that with the recent 82-67 win over the WNBA Champion Indiana Fever and the Mercury are trending in the right direction.
The game swayed in the third quarter with the three-point shot. Taurasi hit three after three finishing the game with five long balls on her own as the team nailed nine total -- seven in the second half. This season as Coach Gaines alluded to was the Mercury trying to do something they were not used to as a team. He wants the team to get back to the quick hitting style that keeps opponents on their heels while opening up more opportunities for the offense to score.
That quick hitting style was inefficient in the first half as the team shot 43.6% (17-39) from the field and 15.4% (2-13) from three. The second half was a different story as they shot 57.5% (19-33) from the field and 58.3% (7-12) from three.
Taurasi is not going to have 34 points 7 rebounds and 6 assists every game. That is reality. But if she can have these occasional flashbacks of brilliance with the added punch of Bonner's 23 points 12 rebounds and Griner's 10 points 6 rebounds and four blocks this team is not going to lose many games going forward.
It has not been an easy start to the season though as the Mercury are still waiting for Taylor to get back on the floor while dealing with other nagging injuries and even a suspension. Griner is on a minute limit after getting hurt early in the season while Samantha Prahalis has not been playing well early on. Dupree had to serve a one game suspension and through all that they have come together as a team to get back on track.
Building momentum and great team cohesion takes time and patience. That is what the Mercury are doing in this slow burn to greatness.
There is always a spot in the game where you get into a groove and it is like '15 points just like that.' It is real quick, but you have to be ballsy enough to do it. You can't be scared. You have to take the chance. What is the worst thing that could happen? You'll miss. What is the best thing that can happen? You can make a big run... -- Coach Gaines on shooting with confidence
It took the Heat about 30 games to get it and once they did they were able to book back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals appearances including this year as they try to win a second straight. Is that the direction the Mercury are heading towards with this slow burn to greatness and a new WNBA "super team" for the future?