I will begin this examination, aided by feedback from Jeff Hornacek, by giving mad props to the Phoenix Suns organization for the way they interact with the media and community. Within minutes of sending my interview request they had Hornacek lined up for an exclusive interview the next day, less than 22 hours away, which was also the day before he left for vacation. The Suns are really a paragon in the aspects of maintaining an open dialogue, providing media access that not all teams do and being very gracious in the process. Hopefully this excellence will translate to on court results in the very near future.

Big ups.

The rest of this article will not be as glowing at times, but I figured I'd start with the good news first.

Why did fast break basketball die?


For those of us old enough to remember, the ferocious Detroit Pistons' squad of the late 80's allowed 100.8 points per game during their 88-89 championship run (2nd in the NBA). Last year the Memphis Grizzlies only allowed 89.3... In fact, 18 teams in the NBA allowed fewer than 100 points per game, demonstrating the offensive futility of the league even further.

What is the culprit for this declivitous descent? As with many complex situations, there are several.

We started by discussing the beginning of the chart.

"How many of those top 50 players that have been voted on played in that decade? That first dream team had some fantastic players that could really put the ball in the hole," said Jeff. "I think we still have a handful of those players now, but I think overall around the league there were just more star players back then."

The original Dream Team consisted of Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton. Many people consider this the greatest collection of talent ever compiled to represent the US in the Olympics. It's not a stretch by any means to suggest that group is better than the top NBA players today.

"When did the additional teams come into the league?" queried Hornacek. "When I first came in the league there were only 23 teams in the league. Then Miami, Orlando, Minnesota... all those teams came in."

Charlotte Hornets 1988-89, Miami Heat 1988-89, Minnesota Timberwolves 1989-90, Orlando Magic 1989-90, Toronto Raptors 1995-96, Vancouver Grizzlies 1995-96 and Charlotte Bobcats 2004-05.

"When I first came into the league in 86 every team you played had three or maybe even four all-stars per team. It was like playing all-star teams. The additional teams kind of spread out the players."

Dilution of talent through expansion. I can see the validity of this contention. Expansion is great for the new cities and for league revenues, but there are only so many elite players and the more teams there are in the league the more they are dispersed.

"In terms of shooting, if you shot 50% you were probably average. Most teams shot right around 50%. There wasn't a ton of three pointers being shot back then," continued Hornacek. "When we look at things now with analytics, you see that the eFG% are 51%, that's why a bunch of these teams are shooting a ton of threes because they get more value for their shot. But most of the older teams were already shooting 50% when they were shooting their normal shots. I don't know if maybe shooters were a little bit better back then. Now guys are more into athleticism and trying to get to the hole."

In 1983-84, the first year of my chart above, the league average for pace was 99.6. In 2012-13, the last year, it was only 92.0. What about the birth of the 7SOL Suns? In 2004-05 the Suns led the league in pace at 95.9... which would have made them second to last in the 1987-88 season. The exciting basketball of the Steve Nash era was actually more like sweet molasses. Like Jeff mentioned, players are shooting a lot more three pointers. The shot was introduced in 1979-80, so many of the players in the 1980's didn't grow up practicing that shot. It was a bad shot then. But has this contributed to slowing down the game? Is the lost art of the pull up jump shot to blame? In the 2012-13 season the average number of three pointers attempted was 1,636. Going back 20 years to 1993-84 it was only 811. Basically half. Yet teams scored more...

How can the Suns revert to a faster, more exciting brand of basketball?

"First, of all you have to play some defense. If you can get stops and have teams take bad shots or create turnovers, then you can really fly up and down the court. You have to have guys that can run. If you have slower guys then it isn't going to work. You need to have guards that can really push the ball and distribute. That hasn't changed since basketball has been played."

The Suns have probably gained ground on the second part of Jeff's contention. The first part... Last season the Suns defense was putrescent. While the Suns pace (93.4) was ninth in the league, it only compounded their ineptitude. The Suns were dead last in three point field goal defense (.388) and tied for 25th in eFG% (.512) against. Consider that the Suns were 23rd in eFG% (.477), the more possessions in the game, the more chances for the Suns opponent to pull away... It doesn't make sense to create extra possessions if you can't get more value out of them than your opponent.

"I think with our guys, with Goran and Eric at the point guard, we have two guys who can get the ball and really go with it.  We have to have shooters. I think that guys like Caron Butler will really add to the ability to spread the floor and get down the court and get open shots. Hopefully Gerald Green and other guys that we have that can shoot the ball can help this."

Hornacek continued, "It's probably more difficult to score in half court situations because of the defense and physical play. You're taking more shots in a half court set, I believe, that are contested. If you get out and run the break, Cotton Fitzsimmons always told me if I have an open shot from 18 feet out when it's one on four then go ahead and shoot it because that's the best shot we're going to get in our regular offense in terms of being open like that. I think there's value that when you push the ball and get open looks then hopefully you shoot higher percentages."

The problem you may have, Jeff, is that you shooting an open 18 foot shot would still be the Suns' best option on offense. Hornacek could probably embarrass his players in games of horse. Hopefully he can teach his players the values of shots in an offensive system. Some shots are bad shots. Some players fall in love with taking bad shots... see Beasley, Michael.

"I think the last thing you need are guys that can rebound and bigs that can run. When you have bigs that can run that opens up the spacing for the guards who are pushing the ball and the shooters on the wings. Then you get the big man running down the middle for layups and quick post ups and it keeps the outside guys honest. They can't just sit there and run with the shooters, they're going to have to run back in the paint a bit to protect against the layup and then try to come back to the shooters. We have guys like Gortat and Alex Len who can hopefully outrun the other teams' centers which bodes well for our fast break."

While I think Alex Len may fit this tempo as a mobile big, it's not exactly tantamount to starting Stoudemire at center. I'm really interested to see the Suns' new center move up and down the court.

"Most guys who play basketball played on the playgrounds as they were growing up and their preferred way of playing was getting up and down the court. I think most players have that in them," professed Hornacek. "Obviously you have to find that balance when it gets out of control, when they're taking bad shots. That kind of stuff you learn in practice. We go over and over that in practice to allow the guys freedom but teach them what shots are good and what shots are bad. Of course you can't fast break every time down the court because there are out of bounds plays and time outs, so that's when you really have to have the execution of a half-court offense. That's where you need to find the balance."

Every time Jeff turns the conversation to the bad shots theme I can't help but inwardly cringe while thinking of the Beaz and Gerald "Chuck'em" Green. Since they are the same player, I wonder if they were actually on the court together and touched it might disrupt the space-time continuum. Scary. If Hornacek can teach Michael Beasley the difference between a good shot and a bad shot he's even more of a thaumaturgist than McMiracle.

How many points will the Suns score?

Here's where I really tried to pin Jeff down. My lead in was that last season there were five teams (Denver, Houston, OKC, SA and Miami) that scored at least 102.9 points per game. Given that, I asked for a one word response on whether the Suns scoring average for the 2013-14 season would be higher or lower than 102.9 points per game...

Coach Hornacek's one word reply:

"What did we average last year?  (It was 95.2 by the way) Over 102.9, we would hope we can get there. If we can get there I think that's a good start for us in our first year. So, hopefully, I would say yes."

You heard it here first, folks. I think that absolutely qualifies as "higher." Maybe that also qualifies as Hornacek's first official prediction as coach of the Phoenix Suns.

On fixing the Suns deplorable shooting.

"I always say, that when I changed my shot I still always felt I had the shooting eye. Even with a form that wasn't the best, I was still shooting through high school and college around 50%. I think I had the eye and that helped me," Jeff said. "Every level you go up it gets harder and harder, so you have to have a little bit of that, but with work everyone can improve. We put certain drills out there, certain routines for these guys. We have great coaches, all guys that have been around the league for a while that can help each one of our players improve their shooting. It's up to them, also, to put up that effort."

This was in response to a nature vs. nurture question. Hornacek provides a great example of improving through hard work. Through three years of his NBA carer Jeff was a .308 three point shooter. The next year he shot .408. The next year it was .418. Then .439.

"We go by the fact that you want to shoot that game speed shot. A guy that comes to the gym and shoots 500 shots in a lazy fashion, he's just wasting his time. If you're going to come to the gym and shoot extra shots, we want them to be game speed. If you shoot 100 of them at game speed, it's going to be more beneficial than the 500 at a slow pace. Our coaches will harp on that. We'll push the guys to really put themselves in the positions they would be in a game while they're practicing."

Practice like you play. Couldn't agree more. Never confuse activity with achievement. You got it Jeff. In fact floating through those 500 shots, like Hornacek spoke of, only reinforces bad habits. Shame, shame, shame... I know your name.

"With a guys' shot, it's going to take a little longer for them to really improve. However, If they are working out during the summer by the time they come into training camp they should be better shooters than what they left at the year before. We've given guys things to work on this summer."

This is a really important summer for several Suns' players. Guys like the Morri and Kendall Marshall are running out of hall passes.

"I think what else will help them is when we really get these guys to buy into the teamwork factor that when you don't have the shot right away then you can drive it and create and dish it out to someone who is open. When you look at the good teams, that's what they do. They either have the shot or they're creating something for somebody else. Consequently, they'll get more open looks which will help their percentages. I think that every guy that you saw on this team last year can have a better shooting percentage in the coming year."

Except Beasley.

That's it for Part One of my interview session. Yes there will be a Part Two. Different topics. Same me.

Coach Hornacek may have skated around a few of my questions, but he also pirouetted in the middle of the frozen pond on the majority. Trust me, frozen ponds are hard to find around here this time of year. He was engaging and spoke intelligently. It was almost like talking with Lindsey Hunter after a brain transplant and speech therapy. But I kid.

Or do I.

Special thanks to both of you who are still reading.


How is it already August? The NBA season is just a couple months away and even though offseason action has been starting to die down, there are still guaranteed to be plenty of NBA news and rumors around this time. Use the comments section below to talk anything you think might warrant discussion.

The Suns should be introducing Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee sometime soon so look out for that. Also, the much-awaited jersey reveal will reportedly be sometime this month. The team keeps revealing more and more sneak peeks, so feel free to post the links as you see any updates.

What else is new in the NBA?


The Importance of "Relative Value"


Relative Value is an economics term that is used to define the worth of a particular asset in terms of its overall attractiveness relative to another asset. In NBA terms, a team can assess the relative value of a player (and his contract) by comparing him to a different player (and his respective contract).

Another concept to understand about "relative value" in an NBA context is that a particular player/asset does not have a universal value for any given team. This idea is extremely important to understand, as it is often used to explain the rationale behind many NBA teams' decisions.

For example, Luis Scola is worth more to an Indiana Pacers team hoping to be in contention than to a rebuilding Suns franchise. On the other side of the deal, a 1st round pick is more attractive to the Suns, who are amassing a collection of assets as they rebuild, than it is to the Pacers, who may not even be able to provide minutes on a deep team to a 2014 rookie. The same idea of relative value can be applied to the Eric Bledsoe-Jared Dudley trade between the Clippers and Suns to understand why both teams emerged successfully.

The concept of relative value will continue to be important to the Phoenix Suns as they hope to build a team that can enjoy sustainable future success. Marcin Gortat, one of the team's best players, is a good player on a very reasonable contract. Then why should the Suns look to trade him at some point this season? It's because Gortat is a 29-year old without a future on this team. The Suns don't have a use for him long-term, not only because their #5 pick from this year's draft, Alex Len, plays the same position but because Gortat will be an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season. He would hold greater value on a playoff team that could use an upgrade at the center position.

Thus far into the offseason, new Suns GM Ryan McDonough has done a great job of making deals that increase the value of the Suns' collection of players and assets. With his two trades, he has successfully swapped two players (Jared Dudley and Luis Scola) that were wasting their value on this team for assets that have higher relative value (Eric Bledsoe and the Pacers' 1st round pick). Although the risk is higher when investing in young and unproven assets like Bledsoe or future draft picks, the return can also be unquestionably greater, and that is exactly what a team like this needs.

Buy Low, Sell High


An important investment strategy that also applies to NBA management is "buy low, sell high." The basic principle behind this is to acquire an asset when you think it's currently cheaper than it will be in the future, and to sell an asset when you think it has reached its peak in terms of value, thereby optimizing the value that every asset provides.

In the NBA, "buying low" means acquiring a player that is currently undervalued. Ryan McDonough understand this principle, displaying it in nearly every roster move he has made this offseason. The Suns' draft selection of Archie Goodwin is a perfect example of the "buy low" strategy. Goodwin was an undervalued prospect coming into the draft, due to a tumultuous year at Kentucky. However, McDonough believed that he would have been a top-ten prospect in the 2014 draft had he stayed in college and used the opportunity to acquire him late in the first round this year, even trading up one spot to nab him with the 29th pick. One could even argue that McDonough considered Alex Len to be undervalued, making him another value pick at 5th overall.

The trade for Eric Bledsoe also exhibits this philosophy, as it saw the Suns buy a 23 year old prospect they believe will explode onto the scene this year while selling a player (Jared Dudley) that has value to the buyer (LA Clippers), but was wasting that value on the Suns. Even the Suns-Pacers deal saw the Suns acquire two undervalued players in Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee in addition to the 1st round pick they acquired.

They "buy low" strategy can also apply to the Suns' goal to land their next superstar player via trade. Last October, the Houston Rockets traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb (their lottery pick that year), two first round picks, and a second round pick to the OKC Thunder for James Harden (and Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward). The Rockets immediately inked Harden to a 5-year maximum extension for $80 million. Many people thought they were investing a bit too much in a glorified sixth man who was coming off an abysmal NBA Finals performance.

However, that deal proved to be a shrewd, calculated move on Houston's part, which finally landed the star player they had been searching for. This was possible because the Rockets used their stockpile of assets to strike when Harden became available and was undervalued on a Thunder team that already had two other young stars in Durant and Westbrook. The Rockets waited until the perfect situation presented itself, then "bought low" (relatively) on a 22 year old emerging superstar.

In a recent interview, Ryan McDonough said, "I think we're well positioned to strike if and when the next disgruntled superstar becomes available." The Suns hope to make a play for a superstar-caliber player when he becomes available and all of a sudden holds less value for his team, which will be hoping to trade him and net assets in return. The Suns are well-equipped with the assets to do just that.

Investing in Growth


In finance, "growth investing" is a strategy that seeks out assets with great future growth potential. An asset with good growth potential is expected to grow at an above-average rate relative to the overall market. One can think of the NBA as such a market and its players as assets with varying growth potentials.

Armed with a Suns team devoid of quality young talent, new GM Ryan McDonough has indeed proven to be a growth investor. Although the Suns were the worst team in the Western Conference in 2012-13, they were just about in the middle of all 30 teams in terms of average age (read more about the Suns' youth movement in Dave's article about age and leadership). Realizing that the team desperately needed an influx of youth AND talent, McDonough got to work right away with the various pieces and assets that were handed to him courtesy of Lance Blanks. He used his two first round picks to take 20 year old Alex Len and 18 year old Archie Goodwin, the youngest American player in the draft. He then traded Dudley for a promising young player in Bledsoe and dealt the oldest player on the team, Luis Scola, for two younger pieces and a 2014 first round pick.

The Suns now have several young players that will receive a bulk of the playing time this season, as well as five first round draft picks over the next two years. The Eric Bledsoe deal is the epitome of growth investing, NBA style. The Suns dealt a good asset in Jared Dudley for a better and younger one in Bledsoe, a player that they hope will be a big part of the team's future.

McDonough and his team obviously believe in Bledsoe's potential for future growth and chose to acquire him before he hopefully begins his upswing. This is also the reason that I think the Suns will try to lock him up with an extension before the season begins, although Bledsoe might prefer to play out the season in hopes of earning a lucrative contract next summer.

Let's Not Forget about Basketball


For all this talk about "assets" and "value," there is an important aspect of building an NBA team that is sometimes forgotten: the sport of basketball itself. Although the success of a franchise largely relies on good management and business decisions, all of that means nothing if the assets and talent can't be harnessed and used on the court. Time and again, rebuilding teams get stuck in several years of mediocrity due to bad drafting, bad management, bad coaching, or all of the above. As important as it is to acquire talent and build an asset base, it is equally important to establish good habits among the team's players, especially in the young ones, and instill great coaching principles.

The Phoenix Suns are still transitioning from an era in which the franchise enjoyed about as much success as a team possibly can without ever earning a trip to the NBA Finals. From 2004-2010, the Suns were a wildly successful team that boasted many All-Stars and several deep playoff runs. For the last couple years, the franchise has experienced some trouble moving from that era to an entirely different one. With no cap-crippling contracts to go with several young pieces and a plethora of future draft picks, the Suns are finally rebuilding with direction and purpose. However, all this youth will go to waste without a coaching staff and environment that teaches and grooms talent.

The Sacramento Kings are perhaps the best example of this. From about 2000 to 2004, the Kings were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, much like the Nash-era Suns. Led by the likes of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, and Dough Christie, Sacramento was considered to be one of the best teams in the league during that time but similarly to Phoenix, bad luck, injuries, and the Lakers kept them from ever earning a seat in the NBA Finals. After that stretch, the Kings attempted to stay competitive for a year or two with Ron Artest as their best player but eventually committed to a full rebuild.

Since they last made the playoffs as an 8th seed in 2006, the Kings have not had a winning season. Although their draft record since 2006 hasn't been exemplary by any means, they have capitalized on a few good picks: Jason Thompson (#12 overall) in 2008, Tyreke Evans (#4) in 2009, Demarcus Cousins (#5) in 2010. So why exactly has Sacramento only been able to post a 0.335 winning percentage in that timeframe?

Much of this is due to poor management and team-building, but a significant part of it has to do with coaching and the troubling environment that the Kings had been known to foster over the last few years. The talents of players like Tyreke Evans (who had a fantastic rookie season but has seemingly regressed since) and Demarcus Cousins (an unquestionably skilled big man with temper problems) have arguably been squandered by poor coaching and a team culture that has been described in the past as "toxic."

These are the head coaches Sacramento has employed since Rick Adelman left town in 2006: Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, and Keith Smart. Of that group, only Westphal has ever proven to be a successful NBA coach, and even that was in the 1990s. No one in that group is even currently employed by an NBA team.

The Sacramento Kings are a prime case study in how poor ownership, management, and coaching can absolutely derail a team. The franchise even came close to being forced to relocate but was saved at the last moment. Now, with a new, motivated ownership group at the helm, things seem to be looking up for the Kings.

This goes to show that a rebuilding team can acquire as many assets as it wants and can cash them in for as much youth and talent as possible, but it will only maximize its future chances of sustainable success if it promotes a healthy environment led by respectable management and coaching. At least thus far, I believe the Suns have excelled in this department as well by hiring an easy-to-respect leader in Jeff Hornacek to groom the team's young talent.

The first step is to have the mentality that we're going to work hard and that we're going to play together as a team -Jeff Hornacek

Both McDonough and Hornacek seem to realize the importance of establishing a system that fosters teamwork and effort. Hornacek recently said that as a young, rebuilding team, the Suns must first learn to compete: "The first step is to have the mentality that we're going to work hard and that we're going to play together as a team."

McDonough echoed that sentiment by stating, "I'm not going to measure our success this year in terms of wins and losses, just in terms of: Are we making progress? Are the guys buying in? Are they playing hard and playing the right way? That's what I'm looking for." As Dave discussed in yesterday's piece, successful rebuilding is a tricky process that involve growth and development despite losing. The Suns' front office realizes this and knows that it's up to them to lead this roster along that thin line. Obviously, only time will tell how much success the new front office will have with this team but it's easy to feel reassured by their recent words and actions.

After a couple years of delaying the inevitable, the Suns are finally rebuilding the right way - by acquiring young talent and stockpiling assets. To complement that, the team has also established a coaching staff that recognizes the importance of a healthy team culture, realizing that short-term success will not be measured by the team's record but by the progress that the players make.

With a GM that understand the importance of "value" and a coach that knows his role in instilling a good culture on the court and in the locker-room, the future of the Phoenix Suns franchise is finally in good hands.

After a pretty wacky trade deadline in February, the 2013 offseason likewise trended differently under the relatively new collective bargaining agreement. With teams strapped with only one or two...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]


S : Best in the game (LeBron James)

A+ : Right on heels of best player (Kevin Durant)

A : Top 5 player

A- : Top 5 at position/Potential All-NBA players

B+ : All-Stars

B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars

B- : Good starter

C+ : decent starter

C : fringe starter/bench player

C- : good bench player

D+ : average bench player

D : Fringe rotation player

D- : bad player

F : not NBA caliber

Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)

*Note: There is no specific order within each tier.

Tier 1 (A)

- Chris Paul

Chris Paul is clearly the top point guard in the game in my opinion and one of the best players in the entire league.

Tier 2 (A-)

- Russell Westbrook

- Derrick Rose

- Tony Parker

- Deron Williams

Deron Williams probably doesn't belong in this category after his years with the Nets, but I'm not giving up on him just yet.

Tier 3 (B+)

- Stephen Curry

- Kyrie Irving

- John Wall

- Rajon Rondo

With the exception of Rondo, this is a group of really talented up-and-coming point guards that are going to be total studs in their primes.

Tier 4 (B)

- Mike Conley

- Ty Lawson

- Damian Lillard

- Goran Dragic

- Kyle Lowry

- Steve Nash

- Jrue Holiday

These are really good players. Some of them are on the way up, some of them are on the way down, but they're all right on the edge between solid starter and All-Star consideration. They all have their flaws
most players do.

Tier 5 (B-)

- Ricky Rubio

- Jeff Teague

Rubio really need to become a better scorer before he makes the jump to a higher tier.

Tier 6 (C+)

- Greivis Vasquez

- George Hill

- Jeremy Lin

- Kemba Walker

Good, solid players, but nothing special.

Tier 7 (C)

- Raymond Felton

- Nate Robinson

- Jarrett Jack

- Andre Miller

- Jose Calderon

- Steve Blake

- Reggie Jackson

- Jameer Nelson

- Mario Chalmers

- Mo Williams

- Brandon Jennings

- Darren Collison

- Eric Bledsoe

- Devin Harris

- Kirk Hinrich

All these players can start if they need to, but they'd be best coming off the bench on a good team.

Tier 8 (C-)

- Isaiah Thomas

- J.J. Barea

- Ramon Sessions

- Beno Udrih

- C.J. Watson

Solid back-up point guards.

Tier 9 (D+)

- Norris Cole

- Sebastian Telfair

- D.J. Augustin

- Patrick Beverley

- Brian Roberts

- Jimmer Fredette

- Pablo Prigioni

- Cory Joseph

- Eric Maynor

Decent back-ups. They all have their strengths.

Tier 10 (D)

- Shaun Livingston

- Jamaal Tinsley

- Mike James

- Earl Watson

- Charles Jenkins

- Nando De Colo

- Daniel Gibson

- A.J. Price

These guys can fill in as a back-up depending on how the rest of your roster looks.

Tier 11 (D-)

- Derek Fisher

- Marquis Teague

- Kendall Marshall

- Tony Wroten

You probably don't want these guys playing many minutes for your team.

Tier 12 (F)

- Ronnie Price

- Nolan Smith

- Chris Duhon

- Darius Morris

Bad, bad basketball players.

And there it is. What do the Bright Siders think of my first batch of grades/rankings/tiers?

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