When you are the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, or even the Cleveland Cavaliers you know exactly how things are going to go. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving eat first with the rest of the team falling in line to create an established "pecking order" throughout the roster. That can be said for about two thirds of the NBA next season as well.

That cannot necessarily be said about the Phoenix Suns who are coming off the franchises second worst season ever (worst if you do not count the inaugural season) and are still building towards establishing a competitive team.

Coming into this season the brain trust of Lon Babby, Ryan McDonough, and Jeff Hornacek have put together the staff and roster that will lead this team going forward.

The parts are different, but the message seems to be subtly the same as they were last year.

"At the end of the year one of the ways I will measure how we did -- not necessarily in terms of wins and losses, but did our guys play hard, did they play the right way, were they unselfish, and did they get better as the year went on. As long as the effort is there..." General Manager McDonough on team goals.

On the surface that is a simple statement that every team makes to start the season, but it is eerily similar to the message that was delivered last season.

"For us what we are going to do is play hard every single night, compete like crazy, and play unselfish basketball. If we do those things we will take the results for what it is. We are not trying to chase the Lakers right now, we are trying to reestablish what we are going to be and the culture of our team for years to come," former Head Coach Alvin Gentry at Media Day on October 1st last year.

The roster as presented is going to open up some opportunity for players to step up and be contributors, starters, and leaders for the team. Last season the team had to integrate nine new players with no leaders established coming into the season. Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Jermaine O'Neal took over the leadership roles for the team due to seniority and role on the team last year, but there was room for others to step up and be in that group all year.


This year the team could welcome as many as eight new players (nine if you count Channing Frye who missed all of last season) to the fold.

One of the new faces last year, P.J. Tucker, went from Developmental League and European League player to NBA starter for 45 games after being on a five year hiatus from NBA basketball. The way Tucker plays the game makes it easy for a coach to want him on the court as he goes after it on every possession defending, rebounding, and most important of all hustling. Tucker is nonstop hustle and energy.

When Tucker was signed it was predominantly seen as a "thank you for the effort in Summer League, here is a roster spot" type move. He wasn't going to play.

Tucker then parlayed that into those 45 starts, fifth on the team, and third most for a returning Sun this year.

"I was really impressed with P.J. Tucker in Summer League with his leadership and you know P.J. and how hard he plays, he is all out all the time, and could set an example for some of our younger guys," McDonough said in reference to Tucker being a team leader.

Looking at not only his journey and play last season, but also now his seniority, leadership ability on the defensive end, and now tenure with the team Tucker is almost a leader by default. He is the fourth oldest player on the roster and has the sixth longest tenure with the team... 79 games.

This summer the team acquired another potential leader in Caron Butler and with Dragic returning, they have a built in leader that can hopefully continue off of his strides last season. McDonough likes those there as potential leaders.

"Guys like him and Goran Dragic, those two in particular. Caron Butler is another veteran guy that has been around a long time who is very professional. There are guys there, not just those three, it could be anyone who steps up and is either a verbal leader or leads by example. Hopefully we have a few good leaders and the rest of the guys fall in line behind them."

McDonough continued, "None of this is predetermined."

"Jeff and I told our team that we really don't care where you were drafted, or what your role was here before, or how much money your making you should be in shape when you come into training camp. We will let them battle it out and see who the best guys are, those guys will play and the guys that aren't good enough probably won't."

Money does not buy you power and tenure does not necessarily buy you respect.

That is what effort is for. Between McDonough and Hornacek the team is looking to the players to step up and take control of this team.


Big men do not have a good relationship with their feet. It's not like the bones and joints on big men are any stronger than the bones and joints on a little person. They just have to hold more weight. Add in basketball-type activities and the feet are pushed to their limits.

While the Suns wait to see how 19-year old Alex Len recovers from double ankle surgery to stave off stress fractures, they also cross their fingers over Marcin Gortat healing fully from a Lisfranc injury to his own foot.

Gortat has been training with Poland while preparing for Eurobasket 2013 (hosted by Slovenia who is led by teammate Goran Dragic), and all has been going well.

But he recently announced that he is taking a three week leave from the team to get his foot checked out by Suns doctors.

"Physically, I feel better and better, the rehabilitation is going well, but I still feel the pain of the foot, even during training," the 29-year-old big man said.

"I have to make sure that I will be healthy for the whole season."

To be sure, Gortat has to be as healthy as possible during the upcoming NBA season.

"There is a huge decision to make in front of me," Gortat said in April of the upcoming Eurobasket tournament this summer. "I'm going to decide about me playing for the national team in about 2-3 months. I have to rest, see how my foot's going to feel. I'm going to consider skipping most of the preparation.

"I don't want to have the same thing I had this year, hitting the wall after 20-30 games. It's not easy, no fun at all. I'm a competitor, I want to come out and compete every night. And I just wasn't able to do that so I'm definitely going to consider my whole situation with my national team."

For now, Gortat is taking three weeks off. He plans to rejoin the team for a prep tournament in late August. As long as his foot is healthy.

A healthy season could easily get him a $10 mill/year contract next summer at the age of 29. An injury-marred season would cut that number tremendously. And if, for some reason, he misses all of 2013-14 by re-injuring the foot during Eurobasket then Gortat might just be looking at a make-good NBA contract in 2014-15 with a lot of playing time incentives.

That's a lot of cheddar on the line. Expect Gortat to take the most conservative route to health for the upcoming NBA season.


According to several reports, Phoenix Suns draftee Alex Oriakhi will play for Limoges CSP Elite, a French team that competes in French Pro A league. The Suns will retain his NBA rights as he develops his skills overseas.

As Ridiculous Upside reports, NBA teams are increasingly getting their guys some more seasoning across the pond rather than warming the very end of the bench. The old "draft and stash" method is no longer exclusive to foreign players. Teams still own the rights to the second round pick, just as they have for foreign players selected who take years to join an NBA team.

Mike Muscala decided last week to play in Greece next season and several other fellow second round picks may follow.

Oriakhi played sparingly for the Suns summer league team, losing out on minutes to fellow tank Orinze Onuaku and spending most of his time on the bench next to the Suns' last "Mr. Irrelevant" big men Dwayne Collins. The Suns were looking for a mold - big, beefy power forwards who could gobble up rebounds - and apparently concluded quickly that the 26 year old Onuaku was the most ready of the bunch.

The Suns power forward/center rotation is overflowing at the moment. Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat are the starters, with rookie Alex Len and Channing Frye as the primary backups. Marcus Morris and Michael Beasley will compete for time at both forward positions, and Miles Plumlee will compete for time at center. Even if the Suns subtract one or two players from that crowd before the season tips off, there's still no room for Oriakhi in 2013-14.

A last-second attempt to contact Suns GM Ryan McDonough for comment on Oriakhi's future has not yet been returned. Once I get that, I will update the story.

In any event, you should stop dreaming up plays for Oriakhi for next season. He won't be wearing a Suns uniform.

Goran Dragic and his native Slovenia are readying up to host the 2013 Eurobasket event, so it’s probably a good time for companies to cash in on his fame. The Suns point guard tweeted out the...

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Lip service is tough to decipher in the world of professional sports from executives, coaches, and even players. Nobody is going to step out and say anything negative about an individual that is within the organization, which is simple organizational ethics.

So far the new regime is not playing with smoke and mirrors, but rather being very transparent with how they are building the team, why they make moves, and that they are open to trying anything within the realm of reason to make this team a contender down the road. Whether that is a draft pick or a trade; after a decision has been made they have come out and explained the rationale that specific move has in terms of the short-term and long-term.

When the Phoenix Suns traded for Miles Plumlee he appeared to be a simple throw-in to make the semantics of the trade work with salaries, but may play a more significant role next year.

He is a big, athletic big man which is clearly a direction the Suns are taking this year with the way the roster is being put together. The team is looking to get younger, more athletic, and push the tempo on both sides of the floor. In order to do that there is a need for having a big man in the paint that can play at that tempo as well as rebound, defend, and be a threat on the offensive end.

"Well I have always been impressed with Miles ability to rebound," stated General Manager Ryan McDonough on Plumlee.

"That is one thing that he has done pretty consistently either at Duke where he didn't play a whole lot early in his career and I thought came on and played better senior year. Even in the NBA in short minutes. He rebounded well in the D-League in a few games down there and also in the Summer League the past couple of years."

When Plumlee went No. 25 Overall in the 2012 NBA Draft it was a bit of a shock as he was projected as a value in the mid-to-late second round. Instead he was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the first round as a compliment to their dynamic duo in the paint as a reserve. He plays a game similar to the likes of a Jeff Foster, which was the role that an Indiana scout referenced to Plumlee when they drafted him, and has more of an opportunity here with Phoenix to get on the court and play.

Plumlee had a quality showing in the 2013 Orlando Summer League, or in the eyes of McDonough, was a very impressive showing.

"I have been impressed with him and walking out of the gym in Orlando for the Summer League down there I would say of the 10 teams there and probably 100+ players between those teams he was one of the Top 5 players in my opinion in that tournament."

Being a Top 5 player in Summer League is what it is, but the little takeaways like rebounding the ball and blocking shots consistently are nice improvements to his game.

With the current Suns big man situation having a young, athletic big like Plumlee fills a void.


Right now the Suns have Alex Len, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and Markieff Morris on the roster capable of playing the five in either spot duty or full-time. Of those four three are coming off injury and one is a four that has little experience at the five while being more of a perimeter oriented player.

This year's top pick in the draft, Len, is recovering from multiple ankle surgeries as he is trying to get himself healthy for the upcoming season. After his college season ended Len made the decision to have surgery on his left ankle to repair a stress fracture that he had been playing through at Maryland for a good portion of his sophomore season. Recently he had "precautionary" surgery on his right for another stress fracture.

Ankle and leg injuries in general are not something to take lightly with big men as they put more force and weight on their legs than guards and smaller players.

A sprain in his right foot put Gortat in a cast and on crutches for the past six months, roughly. When the Suns were holding workouts with potential draft picks Gortat was around the facility and moving around with the same crutches.

Those two injuries had rehab process and time tables on a return, but Frye was given neither of those as he has been resting, not rehabbing, his heart condition. The cure for that was golf, rest, and extended time with the family. No basketball for a non-basketball injury. He may be available for the upcoming season, but with a heart condition there is no rushing a return to the court whereas with Len and Gortat they could be available for a return at the beginning of the season in October.

That brings everything back to Plumlee who was ironically traded for Luis Scola; the player that was a stop-gap center with all of the teams injuries last year.

"I think Miles will play," said McDonough on Plumlee's role next year. "I've said that is not my call that is Coach Hornacek's call, but like you said with Marcin coming off of a foot injury, Alex Len with the ankle surgery's Miles will get a chance."

As a collective unit the Suns could have used a player like Plumlee last year who, in only 55 minutes, improved the Pacers overall rebounding by 1.7% overall.

He did not get a lot of opportunity with the talented Pacers roster competing for an NBA Championship, but on a young, impressionable, rebuilding team he will have the opportunity to prove he belongs out there for more than 55 minutes in an 82 game season.


The Suns last year were 18th in total rebounding, 13th in blocked shots, and 26th overall in points allowed. They were a net -2.2 in total rebounding from the frontcourt and had a -5-5 in PER for the season. The collective unit last year was less athletic, older, and had a lot of players that were maybe not as hungry to earn playing time for a team on its way to 57 losses.

"I feel bad, as you know Kris, with the draft and how your career gets started is a product of your environment. Miles getting drafted to a team in Indiana with some All-Stars in the front line in David West and Roy Hibbert, good depth behind them, and there really wasn't a chance for Miles to play and I think he will get that chance with us."

As a ground floor scout McDonough (and his staff) have all seen Plumlee play, tracked his progress, and at 24 years old have a feel for what he can and cannot do as a player.

They are not asking him to come in and be a wrecking ball that averages 20 points 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game, although that would be great, they have perspective into his game that others do not. They have a vision for his role and did not acquire him to fill in the salary difference in the recent trade.

Plumlee was brought in to play, earn a spot, and be a part of the new look Suns as they attempt to rebuild a contender.

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