While currently recovering from a left ankle surgery that had him in a boot, Alex Len’s routine medical exam showed the Phoenix Suns’ medical staff the “very beginnings” of a...

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Well now, this is a surprise. But if any part of the Suns organization has earned our faith it's the training staff. Here's how the Suns explained the news.

"As a precautionary measure, our medical staff determined that it would be prudent to perform surgery on Alex Len's right ankle at this time," said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. "That surgery was successfully completed this morning. As part of a routine evaluation, our medical team identified the very beginnings of a stress fracture in Alex's right ankle even though Alex was entirely asymptomatic. We expect him to be available to begin the season."

It's VERY MUCH WORTH NOTING that it was his left ankle that had a stress fracture coming into the draft. This surgery is on his right ankle. If you are keeping score, that's surgeries on BOTH ankles for stress fractures.

Alex Len to miss all pre-draft workouts after surgery - ESPN
Maryland sophomore and likely lottery pick Alex Len will be shelved for all pre-draft workouts because of surgery on his left ankle. Len had surgery to "stabilize" the partial stress fracture in his left ankle, Sports International Group's Michael Lelchitski said in a news release Friday. Recovery time is projected to be four to six months.

So, are you worried?

In other Suns draft pick news, the team announced they signed Archie Goodwin to his rookie deal. This barely constitutes "news" but there you go. It happened and the team announced it with a press release.

PHOENIX — Caron Butler played the part of the savvy 11-year veteran to perfection Thursday at his introductory press conference. The new Phoenix Suns small forward, who was officially acquired...

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How many franchise players are out there, how do teams ensnare them and do they really get to keep them? I have chosen my own arbitrary criteria for the sake of this analysis so I can gumby the direction of the story to suit my needs so my conclusions are by no means infallible. Draw your own conclusions.

A franchise player is like sipping a mug of hot cocoa while soaking in the warmth radiating from the lambent flames rising from a log in a fireplace. Stretching out on a cozy rug in front of the hearth and reading the latest news and analysis on the Phoenix Suns via laptop or mobile device a person is confident that no matter how ferociously the blizzard outside wails that the tranquil scene inside will provide the protection of a third little pig brick house.

Perhaps a bad analogy due to the parching summer heat here in the desert... Maybe this instead.

A franchise player is like a frosty mug filled with ice cold beer with rivulets of condensation trickling down the sides. Relaxing in a cool leather recliner under a ceiling fan while listening to the mellifluous hum of the air conditioner motor chilling the air so that arctic breezes can be propelled through the air vents one knows that the scorching heat emanating from the cruel sun will be kept at bay. Readers under 21 please insert your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. We do not promote underage drinking here on the Brightside (or run on sentences, but whatevs).

Hopefully that works better for you. Now that I'm done with the fluffy intro (which unfortunately likely comprises the most interesting part of the article) on to my completely subjective method of defining a franchise player. The table below depicts all of the All-NBA players from the last nine years. Why nine? Well, 2004-05 was the first year a player drafted in the 21st century made an All-NBA team. This analysis only looks at players drafted 2000 or later. I think this sample size provides a a fairly comprehensive look at the current (and even former) franchise players in the league. My arbitrary definition of a franchise player - someone who has made at least three All-NBA teams in his career.


All of the highlighted players fit my criteria.

Drafted 2000 or later and selected for at least three All-NBA teams. Note that many of the players on these lists were drafted prior to the 2000 draft. So here's our list - most selections to least.

1. Lebron James - 9..................#1 overall in 2003
2. Dwyane Wade - 8.................#5 overall in 2003
3. Dwight Howard - 7.................#1 overall in 2004
4. Carmelo Anthony - 6.............#3 overall in 2003
5. Chris Paul - 5.......................#4 overall in 2005
6. Amar'e Stoudemire - 4..........#9 overall in 2002
7. Yao Ming - 4........................#1 overall in 2002
8. Kevin Durant - 4...................#2 overall in 2007
9. Pau Gasol - 3.....................#3 overall in 2001
10. Russell Westbrook - 3........#4 overall in 2008
11. Tony Parker - 3..................#28 overall in 2001

That's it. 11 guys.

Let's look at the 2000-08 period, since Westbrook is the last person to make this list. 529 players were drafted in those nine years. 11 franchise players. That's 1.2 per year.

Some other young players project to make this list eventually, e.g. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.

Choosing All-NBA selections as line of demarcation may be limiting, as there is an exclusionary aspect due to the quantity (15) of yearly selections. With many players perennially topping these lists it reduces the chances of other very good players. Conversely, though, is an argument that many people will feel not all of these 11 players should qualify as franchise players.

I think most reasonable people would concede franchise status to James, Wade, Paul, Durant and Howard. But even some of these guys have deficiencies, like Howard, that make people doubt their overall pedigree. The we get to the other six.

Anthony is a black hole who plays hero ball, scores inefficiently and doesn't make his teammates better. Stoudemire's career has been truncated by injuries and he doesn't defend or rebound at an elite level. Yao only had four healthy seasons before his career ended due to injuries. Gasol is soft and has never proven to be an alpha on a team. Westbrook is selfish and plays out of control. Parker lacks flash and has been the second best player on his team for the majority of his career.

Even if we keep the number at 11, the chance (based on 529 selections) of drafting a franchise player is 2.1%. Only two of these players were taken #6 or later. That would be 0.4%. Drafting in the top five, though, has given a team a 20% chance of landing a player of this caliber. If we chose to adjust this to include Kevin Love and Derrick Rose (2008) the chances would increase to 24.4%. Still not all that encouraging.

Now that we've moved past the diminutive chances of securing one of the NBA's pantheon let's look at another distressing topic.

Once you get one of these players can you keep them?

I'll consider players that stayed with their original team through their prime OR won a championship with their original team. That should give a couple opportunities for players to qualify. Prime will be defined as 26-30. After that point a team is well within reason to dump said player on his ass for a new shiny one like a guy who dumps his wife (after she gives him the best years of her life) and runs off with a 20-something. See, the NBA is just as cutthroat as real life relationships. Championship will be defined as championship. Once again I get to paint in broad strokes using my brush and paint. Not yours.

So who did teams manage to tiger pit?

James - no
Wade - yes
Howard - no
Anthony - no
Paul - no
Stoudemire - no
Yao - yes
Durant - TBD
Gasol - no
Westbrook - TBD
Parker - yes

So out of nine players that meet my criteria, only three stayed on their teams. Durant and Westbrook still haven't hit their prime, but if they don't win a title in the next three years I can easily see one or both of them gone. Of those three, two won NBA titles. Still, that's only a 33% chance of keeping one of these guys. Going back to the magical 529 number, there's a 0.4% chance of drafting a player that will ultimately be on that same team and win a championship. The odds of drafting role players that will be around for championships is much higher... but those guys aren't the primary reason for those titles.

How important is it to have a franchise player in order to win a championship?

Let's look at the teams that have won titles since the first year of my analysis (2004-05).

2005 - Spurs - Parker, Duncan
2006 - Heat - Wade, Shaq
2007 - Spurs - Parker, Duncan
2008 - Celtics - Garnett, Pierce
2009 - Lakers - Gasol, Bryant
2010 - Lakers - Gasol, Bryant
2011 - Mavericks - Nowitzki
2012 - Heat - James, Wade
2013 - Heat - James, Wade

All of these teams had at least two players with three All-NBA selections except the Mavericks. So a team that wants to win a championship is required to get one of these types of players. Even the "starless" Pistons team that won the title in 2004 had Chauncey Billups... who made three All-NBA teams and therefore fits my criteria.

Here's another angle to dissect these findings. Some drafts are better than others.

2001 - Parker, Gasol
2002 - Stoudemire, Yao
2003 - James, Wade, Anthony
2004 - Howard
2005 - Paul
2006 - crickets
2007 - Durant
2008 - Westbrook

Top five picks just aren't as valuable some years. The 2013 draft has the potential, of lack thereof, to be similar to the 2006 draft. Let's hope the Suns did better with their pick than Shelden Williams, who went fifth overall in 2006. Ascending from the nadir to the zenith, the 2014 draft has been touted to be the strongest since 2003. It has been propounded that a top five pick carries the likelihood of drafting a franchise type player. At the top of the heap is Andrew Wiggins who is considered a consensus can't miss pick.

So what are the implications for the Suns? Well, if the Suns manage to improve enough to fall out of the top of the lottery they will seriously reduce their odds of landing a transformative, transcendent player. For a team bereft of young talent comparative to many of the other struggling teams in the league missing out on an impact player could be injurious for years to come.

Lots of times things that suck ass short term end up paying long term dividends. Today's homework sucks, but an education is invaluable. Saving money sucks compared to going to the movies, but having a down payment for a new house is quite satisfying.

So how important is the Suns' 2014 lottery pick?

Very. Quite possibly the single most important component of this entire rebuild process. Ryan McDonough knows this. He's not stupid. Don't expect the team to put this in jeopardy by amassing Pyrrhic victories. Instead of a self-defeating instant gratification approach, look forward to a top five pick and the opportunity for the Suns to land their next great player.


While the Suns are talking about playing faster, and dreaming of a two-headed point guard pushing the ball down the court with ferocity, it's vitally important to have guys who can take and make the 3-pointer or jumper in the lane when the defense collapses on the ball handler.

In fact, the best fast break attacks are those that legitimately threaten the kick out 3, forcing the defense to hesitate before collapsing on the guy driving to the hoop.

Enter Caron Butler, who made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts last season in a late-career renaissance as his own speed and agility decline after 11 years in the NBA.

"I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities," Hornacek said at the press conference yesterday. "Caron's knocking down 3s and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket."

Butler's best shooting percentages last season were from the corner 3 and elbow/wing 3, with his highest conversion rate earliest in the shot clock (55% when shooting in the first 10 seconds). With Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe handling the ball, Butler was used primarily as a catch-and-shoot guy by the Clippers. More than 80% of his shots were assisted.

In the half-court, Butler also provides an ability to take and make jumpers late in the clock, as his 54% conversion rate in the last 3 seconds of a shot clock attests (per 82games.com). The Suns really missed Grant Hill's ability to make a shot when the offense broke down last season, and now Butler can provide some semblance of that.

"When I was with the Celtics," McDonough said. "We had our good runs in the playoffs and he was a guy we were constantly trying to acquire. He made the All-Star team a few times and he's a great example for the young players in terms of how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself. So we're thrilled to have him as part of the Suns."

But before you get your hopes up too high, a 27 year old two-time All-Star isn't walking through that door. Butler is 32 years old now and showing his age. His lateral movement is dissipating, making him a turnstile on man-to-man defense. So Butler has adjusted.

Where Eric Bledsoe is a great on-ball defender who sometimes gets lost in team defensive concepts, Butler has made himself into a quality team defender who helps the overall results more than any individual accomplishments. The Clippers were nearly five points (per 100 possessions) better defensively with Butler on the floor last season.

As well, Butler's offense is declining as the years pile up. He is no longer a 20 ppg scorer who can fill it up from anywhere, fitting better as a 10-15 supplemental jump shooter these days. My brain wants to compare him to Vince Carter (the Mavs' Carter, not the Suns'), who provides veteran presence and occasional scoring outbursts for a Mavericks team that needed it.

What the Suns want from Butler is his leadership, and setting an example for the young kids. With the exodus of veterans Jermaine O'Neal and Jared Dudley already and the potential loss of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola as well, the 2013-14 Suns might be in need of a good locker room presence.

"I'll just continue to do what I always have been doing throughout my career," Butler said of his expectations this season with the Suns. "Setting an example on and off the court - arriving to practice early and leaving late, talking to guys about basketball, life, family, everything, and just keeping the guys determined and dedicated and disciplined throughout the process. Just being a big brother and a shoulder that they can lean on.

"It's kind of being an extension of Coach in the locker room, being a guy that guys can come to and just vent out to and just help the process in the transition of changing this whole thing to a winning culture around here."

There was a great rift in last year's team that hindered any kind of development the front office hoped to see through a myriad of changes. The veteran leaders did not lead. They did not demand the attention of the youngsters, who appeared to believe they'd already arrived and didn't need to learn about how to be a pro.

"They taught me how to conduct myself on and off the court," Butler said of veterans he had around him when he was young. "They taught me about being a professional at all times and every time you walk out in this world, every day is a job interview. A good name is better than any silver or gold and that's something that I have."

Hopefully Butler's leadership, along with that of Hornacek's staff, will be more effective this season. He certainly knows how to crack a joke at the right moment.

"It was rather flattering to find out that the guy had a man-crush on me for so many years," Butler said of McDonough's long history of following Butler's game. "So once I found that out, I was extremely excited. Just coming here, he told me he had been following me for many years and what he expected out of me and I was definitely ready for that challenge."

Butler, for his part, doesn't simply want to be a locker room leader and coach. He is on the last year of his deal paying $8 million per year, and wants to earn another multi-year NBA contract that's becoming more and more elusive for declining players.

"I train hard in the offseason and there are certain things I want to be able to show and display out on the court," he said. "So I'll definitely have that opportunity here."

Even at his age, Butler is still better than 10 points per game for a team that needs his offense. And really, 32 is not that old. Jermaine O'Neal revived his career in Phoenix at age 34. Grant Hill and Steve Nash played at a high level through their late 30s. Recently re-signed and promoted Aaron Nelson needed a new challenge, and now he has one in Butler.

So while the press conference itself was a little subdued in terms of energy, I got the impression that both Butler and Bledsoe were excited to join the Suns, provided the culture is receptive to a winning mentality.

"We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization," Butler said. "And I'm really excited about this challenge ahead of us."

With every non-playoff Western team improving this offseason (Blazers, Kings, Pelicans) or at least trying to tread water (Lakers, Mavericks), the Suns have little hope for a vast improvement in wins next season. But that's not the primary goal. The primary goal is fixing the culture and attitude among all the players, setting them in the right direction and developing the kids into real NBA players.

Butler can only help in that regard.

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