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Some say nine games is not a good sample size. Others feel this is enough to have a general feel for a team. The Phoenix Suns (5-4) are playing well, not doing any one thing out of the norm, and have not had to deal with debilitating injuries so far.
Does that make them good? Luck? Somewhere in-between...
In this roundtable discussion we review the season to date, nine games in, and give the hard hitting opinions that you need. Let's get it!
Twenty-Fourth Topic: Take a Stance!
1. Breaking the Ice: It is time to take a stance guys -- Is this a good team or another product of an early start?
Jim Coughenour: I like where Kris is going (behind me). On dictionary.reference.com there are 58 different definitions for the word good. It is a polysemous word and can mean anything from sufficient and satisfactory to excellent and great. Let's define good as fairly middle of the road... maybe somewhere between 13-18. I can see that as a ceiling. I can also still see them falling below that. I am still chary of buying into the early returns. Even 20 games, let alone nine, doesn't always tell the full story. This team could still easily be 10-10 and then slip into the top 10 in the lottery. So maybe not good, but definitely infinitely more watchable than last season.
Jacob Padilla: Right now, through nine games, this is a good team. They are playing together and they are playing hard. Bledsoe is playing out of his mind and he's getting plenty of help from the supporting cast. To this point they have won more than they lost and that can't be taken away from them. However, the team's current success has been a result of half the roster having career years. This could go south at any time. But for now, they are a good team.
Dave King: These Suns are a good team for three reasons: quality defense, which leads to indefensible fast-break offense, which leads to a team full of confidence that they know who they are. That last reason is the most important - a good team has an identity. No matter what, they know exactly what's expected of them on the court. Knowing who you are makes it easier to fix your problems. Last year, they didn't have an identity, so they didn't know where to start on fixing their issues. This team is good, right now. But it all hinges on their defense staying in the top 10 all season.
Kris Habbas: I said it once and I will say it again, this is a good team. Are they a championship caliber team that will contend in the Western Conference Playoffs? No, but that is an entirely different question. Good teams have a style, they have an identity, and they win games. Last year the Jazz were a "good team" and the same could be said for the Trail Blazers, the Celtics, and the Wizards. None of those teams won more than 43 games, but they were "good teams." It all depends on ones definition of "good" because this is an all or nothing society these days...
Sean Sullivan: Depends on your interpretation of good. Is this a team that can go deep in the playoffs and contend for a title? I very much doubt it. However, is this team much better than nearly everyone gave them credit for at the beginning of the season? Absolutely. I think Plumlee has been the biggest difference. Nobody thought he could replace Gortat, let alone be an improvement over him. His athleticism and instincts in the post, especially on defense, have been huge. The team as a whole is one of the most athletic in the league...Who knew that was the missing ingredient for efficient defense?
2. How would you grade Coach Hornacek for the first nine games of the season?
JP: A, Hornacek has done a phenomenal job (with the help of Ryan McDonough) turning this team around from the total dumpster fire of last year to a team currently in playoff contention (nine games in, but still). As I said in my first answer, he has this team playing together, playing well and most importantly, winning. The Suns hired the right guy.
DK: Clearly, he gets an A. He instilled an identity, and he has the players totally on the his page, on his playbook. They know exactly what he wants and when he wants it. That makes it so much easier to manage. Is he a great game-manager? No. That comes in time. He's only been "the man" for nine games. There's a lot to learn.
KH: On a curve of his peers, the other eight first time NBA head coaches, Hornacek has the Suns with a better record than all of them with the exception of the Bobcats (Steve Clifford) and the Hawks (Mike Budenholzer) who have an equal 5-4 mark so far. He has great poise, great candor, carries himself well, put together a phenomenal staff, and connects with the young players. It is just nine games, but I am 100% bought into the Hornacek stock as one of the better young coaches in the game.
SS: As a brand new head coach with a team that most thought would be one of the worst in the league? A+. This Suns' team is exceeding all expectations. They always play hard, with energy, and seem to have bought in to Hornacek's system. He deserves a lot of praise for what he's been able to do with this team.
JC: Well, it's got to be an A. I would think he should be one of the early leaders in the coach of the year race. The team is off to a surprise start and he deserves his fair share of encomiums for the success. He's getting a lot out of a roster that most consider to be stocked with misfits. They are well-prepared and playing hard. The defensive effort has been suffocating. In addition, Jeff is an affable and confident person possessed with the same aplomb as a coach that he displayed as a player.
3. Since we are forcing nicknames on people, if someone were to ask you for something to call this Suns team, what would that be?
DK: I am terrible at nicknames, but it would have to be something that describes the team clearly and concisely. This Suns team fights hard, plays hard and leaves it all out on the court. How about "Desert Storm"? Or, if that's disrespectful to the troops, "Desert Dogs"? Like I said, I suck at this.
KH: Something that is the craze with the kids recently has been made up acronyms. Things like H&H (Humble & Hungry), G2S (Grind to Shine), FOE (Family Over Anything), and other genius Twitter friendly ways to say something about yourself. So, for this years Suns, let's go with the The HD Depo. What does that mean?
The Hustle and Dunk Department. Go for it, Twitter.
SS: I like Dave's idea "Desert Storm". If I had to come up with my own though, maybe "Orange Crush", since they play with such intensity and hustle.
JC: The Jefferson St. Jammers. The McMiracles on 2nd St. The Upset Specials. The Spark Plug Factory. Run and Stun. The Feature Presentation. The Main Sequence Stars. I could (unfortunately) go on and on...
How about The Ignition System? The Suns are igniting the future and this team is the ignition system...
JP: I like the idea of tying it back to the current "Ignite the Future" tagline. This team really is the one that's getting this while rebuild moving, plus Hornack wants them to keep going faster. I'll just go with Ignition.
KH: That is a tough call. With Markieff you have him, he is yours as long as you want so long as you want him. I will take the McDonough approach here and say that if someone calls the Suns up and makes an undeniable offer for Keef you do it. If not there is no rush. Same for Bledsoe and to a lesser extent Green. If they can bring back a net worth that is equal or better then you move them. Someone is throwing a Max at Bledsoe this summer. Period. The Suns can match, but in the end is Bledsoe at 24 years old worth nearly six million more a year than Goran Dragic at 27 years old. The Suns have some tough decisions, but they are in a very amiable position of being in control of all of them.
SS: It just depends on the value. With Bledsoe, I think you try to keep him. He's shown he could become a franchise player, and those don't come around very often. As for Markieff and Green though, it all depends on what we could get back. If we can potentially make the team better in the long run by setting ourselves up for the future while trading one of these guys, then absolutely. I just don't know if their value outweighs their contributions to this team.
JC: That is a bifurcated issue. First, and most importantly, if there is an offer on the table that Ryan feels definitely makes the team better long term then he shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger... and I have no doubt he will. Secondly, this may depend on where exactly the team manages to position itself. If the Suns are still hovering in the 6-9 range, then a trade that is more of a dump with a possible greater reward may not be as enviable. If the team is safely out of it, I can see this roster being eviscerated. What I don't see happening is McMiracle mortgaging the future to help the team get rolled in the first round of the playoffs. I am already on the record saying at least one of Frye, Goran and EB will be gone by the deadline. I still stand fast to that belief.
JP: All three are playing substantially above their career level right now, while none of them have proven anything in the way of consistency. Sell high if the opportunity presents itself, but don't settle. Bledsoe in particular is probably penciled in to the Suns' future and it would take a lot to pry him away. The others, however, can be easily replaced.
DK: That's a very good question. I'm not hot to trade either Dragic or Bledsoe unless it's a clear "trade up" for an established, high-ceiling talent. Markieff Morris, on the other hand? Sure. Let's hope he has more than 3-4 good games to keep that value up.
5. Sum up the Suns in 100 words or less...
SS: Hard-working, athletic, tough, youthful, fast, aggressive, and entertaining.
JC: Blinding, grinding, spellbinding, electric, frenetic, athletic, entertaining, captivating, devastating, tenacious, vivacious, voracious, enthralling, shot calling, straight balling...
What? That's less than 100 words, isn't it?
DK: My favorite team. That's less than 100.
KH: Is this why I have a marketing degree? The 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns are young, tough, exciting, and no matter the opponent are going to do something to get you out of your seat. They may not win a title this year, but you would be hard pressed to not be entertained watching this team. Oh, and they are a Top 5 #LeaguePassAlert team already.
Bonus: We all saw what happened last week with Wiggins, Parker, and Randle. Does their potential make this positive start, a negative?
SS: Time will tell. Jabari Parker has me drooling over what he could become in the NBA. Any team will be extremely fortunate to get him. That said, the whole point of being a sports fan is to enjoy watching games, and the Suns has definitely delivered in that respect. So right now, I love what the Suns are doing. If that means it takes us out of the running for a top 5 pick, well, then I guess that's just how the ball bounces. But right now I love watching my team play.
JC: The odds are that it is negative. The goal is to win championships. To do that a team needs a transcendent talent. I don't believe the Suns have that type of player on their roster. There may be multiple players in next year's draft that achieve that level of greatness. To get one of them a team will most likely need to draft in the top five. Building through the draft isn't the only way, but I believe it is the path with the greatest chance of succeeding. I'm still not sold on this being a playoff team and I'm not a fan of Pyrrhic victories.
JP: I've decided to live in the moment. This team has been really fun so far, and I've enjoyed that. There is still plenty of time for this team to fall apart. Whatever happens is going to happen and there's no reason for me to worry about it right now. But I'd be lying if I said part of me wasn't at least a little disappointed in the Suns' record while watching the Champions Classic games.
DK: Winning is never a bad thing. But with the Suns, losing is fine too. Especially losing close games that are fun to watch. So, no. It's not a bad thing to win too many games for one of the best players to come out of college in a decade. However, wouldn't it be nice to see one of those guys on the court next year? Sure it would.
KH: I make it no secret that I cover the NBA Draft, it is what I do. This years crop of talent justifies any general manager not in contention for a Championship to say, "Alright, time to get to work tearing this team up from the ground up." That is the only way to do things. You either get lucky like Heat and land stars in free-agency or home grow your talent like the Thunder and Spurs have over the years. The Suns will still middle around .500 and will likely be a lottery team and, think of it this way, maybe they already got their Wiggins, Parker, or Randle this past summer in a trade...
Bright Siders, what do you think?
Panic time in the NBA is about to arrive, if it hasn't already knocked on that door. The Phoenix Suns, armed with sizable cap space, movable parts, draft picks and a smart GM, could facilitate trades to improve the team's long term outlook.
The Phoenix Suns are definitely in rebuilding mode, albeit with some unexpected success in the earliest stages. At 5-4, the team has shown heart and resiliency to suggest too many wins for a Top-5 pick in the upcoming draft but too few foundational parts to say that all the future pieces are in place for a championship run some day.
So what should the Suns do this season? Add veterans for a playoff push, or purge veterans for a tank job? How about neither. At this point, the Suns should only make trades that improve both the short AND long-term future of the team, with a tie-breaking eye toward the future.
The NBA is all about the best individual talent that wins games. Depth is necessary, for sure, but individual talent must be top notch to be consistently good in this league.
Now that the Suns have acquired lots of assets, including SIX first round picks in the next two drafts and a number of young players better than expected, the only trades the Suns should make would be to acquire an All-Star level talent or to improve the quality of an individual asset even further.
In fact, with those two already in the fold and point guard being so important to team success in the NBA, the only way you actively replace either is to dramatically upgrade that or another position with a Top-5 player at their respective position. Sure, you'd include Bledsoe/Dragic in a trade for Kevin Love, but it's not as simple to include either in a trade for Gordon Hayward, for example.
This point is debatable, I know. Some love Bledsoe. Some love Dragic. Some love change for change sake. But for the purposes of this discussion, let's just agree that the most valuable "keepers" at this point in time include Bledsoe and Dragic. If the Suns improve other areas and still have Dragic and Bledsoe running point in three years, those two could lead a deep playoff run. It would take a lot to pry either away from the Suns.
This position is more of a need than point guard, but with the present and future of Miles Plumlee and the future promise of the bigger Alex Len, there is no need to improve this position during the 2013-14 season unless the Suns luck into a Top-5 NBA center.
Yet even then, as we can see with the mixed results Dwight Howard bring to his teams, is it worth giving up a ton of assets to improve upon Miles Plumlee right here and now? Plumlee drops 11 points, grabs 10 rebounds, blocks 2 shots and defends the rim very well (Top 10 in opponent FG% at rim).
The Suns have the future covered as well. 25-year old Plumlee and rookie 20-year old Alex Len have the measurables and quality work ethic for a successful NBA half-decade, at least, at center.
At this point, I'd say the center and point guard position do not need an upgrade during the 2013-14 season.
Now it starts getting a little fuzzier. The Suns have bodies at the shooting guard position right now, but are they foundational pieces for the future?
One could argue that Dragic/Bledsoe IS the future at shooting guard in a two-headed point guard lineup, but that seems more like an opportunistic play based on the current roster than a master-plan based on a blueprint.
An bona-fide All-Star shooting guard would be welcomed, moving one of the PGs moving into a sixth-man role like Manu Ginobili.
But with 19-year old Archie Goodwin developing on the sidelines and flashing occasional brilliance, is it worth giving up a ton of assets for a new shooting guard to replace him? Or, should the Suns ride out the Dragic/Bledsoe experiment while Goodwin develops and Gerald Green fills in admirably?
I'd take the latter.
Players like the Knicks' Iman Shumpert, long coveted by the Suns in the past and currently available via trade, don't seem worth the assets to acquire (a strong rebounding/defending big man) or a perfect match with Phoenix. Still, even if the Knicks wanted to hand over Shumpert, do the Suns need him anymore? Isn't it better to develop Goodwin, who by next season might be equal to or better than Shumpert?
That's three positions in the books - point guard, shooting guard, center - and no real pressing needs to improve at the moment. Sure, Len and Goodwin could fizzle out and force the Suns' hand in the future, but at the moment the Suns should be content to "wait and see".
Now, we get to the meat of the Suns' needs.
Both forward positions are currently a patchwork of low-ceiling rotational potential (Morris brothers) and middle-class current production (Tucker and Frye).
Nothing against Tucker and Frye, but if you're envisioning a 2015 or 2016 championship run, these guys are best served as a team's 5th-8th best player. At the peak of their potential, you can't have both Frye and Tucker in your starting lineup and expect to reach the NBA Finals.
Let's start with small forward. Marcus Morris - the youngest of the bunch at 24 - has been playing well off the bench (44% 3-point shooting, 6.3 rebounds per 22 minutes) and 28-year old P.J. Tucker has been dynamite in the starting lineup (54% 3-point shooting, 4.3 rebounds in 32 minutes).
But are P.J. Tucker and Marcus Morris your future? Probably not. The Suns would be better served to draft or acquire a higher-ceiling talent for the future at small forward.
But here, the ceiling of that player should be really high. Like, All-Star high. Because getting a "small forward of the future" is as easy as waiting until the 2014 draft. With so many picks, small forward should be an easy fill.
Around the NBA, one intriguing name who is a restricted free agent next summer is Gordon Hayward.
Is someone like Gordon Hayward that much better than Morris or Tucker? Maybe. Maybe Hayward is a star in the making. He's putting up 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the terrible Utah Jazz in 37 minutes per game. At 6'8", he could easily play at the same time as Dragic and Bledsoe as well as alternating into the shooting guard position when one of them rests.
But Hayward is not available via trade at this time, and may never be. So, the Suns should look elsewhere.
Let's say, for a minute, that Denver is willing to trade Wilson Chandler, who once posted 20 ppg before getting lost in the Denver shuffle of too many small forwards. Is Wilson Chandler worth a handful of assets? Would he produce more than Tucker and Morris in the same minutes?
I'd say no. Sit tight, and wait for that great opportunity to drop in your lap. Tucker and Morris are a good combo for now, until an All-Star becomes available.
Finally, we reach a position that doesn't need an All-Star to improve upon it and doesn't have a crazy-young position player to groom for the future.
Markieff Morris' Western Conference Player of the Week award might beg to differ, but I just don't see a future All-Star game in Morris' future. Neither do I see one in Channing Frye's future.
If there was one position on the team in most need of an upgrade for the future, it's the power forward position. Sure, Julius Randle would be ideal in next year's draft. Wouldn't require any extra assets to get him. Except a ton of 2013-14 losses, that is. Certainly, the 2014 Draft will have a power forward available in the teens to take with Washington or Minnesota's pick no matter what the Suns do this season, but that's not a comfortable bet to be better than the Morrii.
If the Suns could acquire (a) a young player with tremendous upside or (b) a veteran with All-Star resume, THIS is the position in most need to fill.
Who is available at power forward? Nothing is certain, but you can look at the struggling teams with high expectations for a few clues. And, you can look at playoff hopefuls who have buried their young talent (a la Miles Plumlee, Tobias Harris) and might part with that talent for a proven rotation player.
Should the Suns go after Iman Shumpert for the SG position? No, unless they already want to replace Archie Goodwin's future with Iman's.
Should the Suns go after Wilson Chandler for the SF position? No. He wouldn't put up demonstrably better numbers than the current SF rotation.
What about Derrick Williams or Donatas Motejiunas? Only if the price is small, but probably not even then.
How about Kenneth Faried? No. This is a polarizing topic, but I don't see Faried bringing enough improvement to the current PF rotation to justify the cost (a high value asset), and he might negate Plumlee's value a bit.
Is Tristan Thompson an option? A deal may be tough here based on asking price and the Suns ability to fill Cleveland's needs, but if the Cavs are entertaining the notion of moving him it's at least a conversation worth having. Ultimately, the draft would be more appealing than potentially overpaying.
Should the Suns go after Gordon Hayward? Sure. But don't put all your eggs in one basket. There's LOTS of moves that should be considered before next July 1, which is the moment Hayward becomes eligible for offers.
Should the Suns wait till free agency to sign a veteran All-Star? Of course they should try this route. But you don't base an entire game plan around signing an All-Star in free agency. That's only if everything else falls through (bad draft, no great trade opportunities beforehand).
Should the Suns just sit tight and take what the draft brings? On the latter, of course that's a given. The Suns have a lot of options in next year's draft to fill holes and add more kids with potential at SF and PF, among other positions. But there's no way the Suns want FOUR rookies on next year's team, so trading a couple of assets is necessary at some point.
Something will shake loose on the trade front in the next several months. Hang on tight, Suns fans. Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby are just getting started.
News, notes, and recapping the week that was for the Phoenix Suns...
Three points. That was the difference between the Phoenix Suns (5-4) being either 6-3 or 7-2 to start the season. They witnessed three brutal game changing shots that led to losses this week and the hope is that something was gained.
The one thing to be gained in these types of emotional losses - character.
In games (or weeks) like this it is always better to come out on the winning end, but these type of losses build team unity and character. As players and coaches the feeling of these losses sting and the feeling lingers. They do not want to feel it again. That is the positive that comes out of these losses.
"The first one, yeah, they were probably upset," Coach Hornacek after the Nets loss. "Two in a row they are probably going to need a couple of days to get it out of their system. That is the way the game goes."
With three days off between games this is a week that could bring the team closer together. They are already a group that plays well together and fights for each other, but losses like this can build character. They can build a foundation. They can help a team grow-up faster than expected. And, they can make a young athletic team with everything to prove, angry.
-16.8 PPG -3.0 RPG -46.3 FG%
How do you lose that kind of a stat-line? Markieff Morris went from Player of the Week to unfortunate sidenote this week. In the two games since winning the honor he put up a paltry 12 points total on 4-17 (23.5%) shooting from the field. This was highlighted by getting a third quarter start against the Nets and producing a -16 plus/minus that loss. What will be in the cards for Markieff this week?
Quote of the Week
"They had (Brook) Lopez out there with a sprained ankle. The guys knew there was a 20 second timeout in there and to just attack him and see if you can make a play. It was a case where he wasn't moving very well." -- Coach Hornacek , candid, honest about the plan of attack in the Nets loss
Surrogate Watch is starting to look a little better as the Suns, Timberwolves, and Pacers have all moved down the standings and up the draft boards. The Suns are in the lottery (weird, but true) and if you are more of a fan of this years prospects than wins this year, this is for you.
Here is a snapshot of the four picks today:
Indiana Pacers (8-1) -- No. T-29 Overall - (Pick to Phoenix based on protections) This is a Hail Mary pick like last year. Take a swing at a guy you like with potential, like Duke sophomore wing Rodney Hood. He can shoot, he can defend, and he is a quality athlete. Think, Bryon Russell or Shandon Anderson type of glue player.
Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4) -- T-No. 22 Overall - (Pick to Phoenix based on protections) The Suns can go a lot of different directions here, but Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott would be a solid pick-up in this spot. Great shooter, craftier and more skilled than given credit for, and a very good rebounder. Think, somewhere between Kyle Korver and Peja Stojakovic.
Phoenix Suns (5-4) -- No. 14 Overall - (Pick stays in Phoenix) This pick winds up in the lottery despite being better than four eastern conference teams. On my updated mock draft this pick would be Kansas guard Wayne Selden. So far this season Selden has displayed great body control, strength, and an ability to make plays from the two. Think, Wesley Matthews.
Washington Wizards (2-7) -- T-No. 2 Overall - (Pick stays in Washington based on protections) The Wizards clearly know what they are doing. They already have John Wall, Bradley Beal, and traded away their 2014 1st Round pick for Marcin Gortat. Or did they... If the balls bounce this way the ‘Zards might have the best young core in the NBA.
Follow along with the 2014 NBA Draft as the season progresses.
Suns History Lesson
November, 23 1994 with the Utah Jazz Jeff Hornacek scored a career high 40 points (still remains his career-high) and went 8-8 from three. At that point, that was an NBA record, before Latrell Sprewell went 9-9 in a game in 2003 removing Hornacek from the record books.
He was the first to do it. He did it with flair. Coach Hornacek was once the BAMF.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
This season the Suns have had a hot and cold schedule, that against non-playoff caliber teams they were hot and against potential playoff teams they were not necessarily cold. In the four games the Suns have gone 1-3 so far with a total margin in those games of +2 because of a decidedly one sided victory against the Blazers early in the season.
Tuesday, November 19th @ Sacramento Kings (2-7)
Wednesday, November 20th vs. Sacramento Kings (2-7)
Friday, November 22nd @ Charlotte Bobcats (5-5)
Sunday, November 24th @ Orlando Magic (4-6)
With this schedule there are a few teams hovering around .500 that might pose some trouble for the Suns, but they could also have a big 4-0 week to get things back on track.
The Kings are one of four teams that are taking this upcoming draft very serious. They won the first game of the season and since then have gone 1-7 playing a fairly tough schedule early on. This week they trade venues with a home-and-home with the Suns before they hit the road for a three game east coast road trip.
This week will do one of three things: One, it will get the Suns back on track with three or four wins. Two, drop them back down to earth with three or four losses. And, three, remain a team hovering around .500 which is what this team has felt like through the first nine games of the season.