You saw the Mock lottery unfold yesterday and by now you know the Suns ended up with a couple of new players. What you don't know is HOW that happened, and how many attempts to trade for this and that were rebuffed. Here you go.
For the second year in a row, the SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft was a whirlwind. The editor from each team's blog took over the role of their NBA team's General Manager with their staff taking on roles of scouts and Asst. GMs. In Bright Side's case, I had about 14 Asst. GMs who all provided some level of input throughout the draft. Thanks everyone!
This is the closest any of us is going to get to the real thing. We all know our own team extremely well, but only tangentially about everyone else's.
I was Ryan McDonough in this format, but a very poor version of him. While McD was able to convince Indiana (post-draft, mind you) to include extra assets in a deal for Luis Scola last summer, I had a hard time convincing rival GMs that Markieff Morris is an actual NBA player. Still, the trade offers flowed back and forth. From the opening bell, my phone buzzed from incoming email like morse code on a broken record.
After the draft ended, I wondered if GM Ryan McDonough could verify that draft time is crazy.
"Theres a lot coming at you," McDonough told me last Friday of Draft night. "The misconception might be that you just cross guys off the board and the phone doesn't ring.
"But the phone is ringing constantly and other teams are calling about trading picks or players for a pick, so you really have to be flexible and have an idea of not only what other teams have draft wise this year and going forward but also the players on their roster."
True that. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about other teams' assets but I quickly found out that my perception of other team's assets was very, very different than theirs. And vice versa. My role players were their garbage. Their role players were my garbage.
The top 5
Let's just get this out of the way. There was no getting into the Top 5 in this draft. None. Remember these are hardcore fans of their own team. They cover their team all day every day. They are not going to toss out their chance at a future star like rolling dice in Vegas.
Every one of those GMs decided quickly that the talent at the top of the draft is better than any package of lesser talent anyone wanted to offer for it. Not even teams in the 6-10 range could sniff the top 5.
The draft began on Tuesday, but Cleveland claimed Joel Embiid on Monday afternoon. No trade discussions. The pick was made. (more on "the Embiid effect" later)
Embiid. Then Jabari Parker, then Andrew Wiggins, then Dante Exum (slight surprise), then Julius Randle to Orlando. All touted as future stars.
The 6-10 picks
The staff and I had a general mindset going into the draft:
- Do something interesting, but...
- Don't trade Goran Dragic
- Don't break the CBA rules (ie. Channing Frye, Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker could not be traded)
- Don't take three players with 14, 18 and 27
- Do something interesting
Before the draft started, I tried to acquire Kevin Love. Swear to the highest being I can swear to. But I was unceremoniously shot down by the canishopous.com editor. Without Dragic or Bledsoe in the package, the best I could offer was a package headlined by Markieff Morris, the #14 pick this year and Top-5 protected Lakers pick next year. Other pieces were offered as well, including players and picks like 18 and 27. I might have even offered the Gorilla's kitchen sink. Still no dice.
So I needed something better than Morris or the 14 or Laker pick. I tried to acquire a pick in the 5-9 range to use THAT pick to parlay for Love along with the Laker pick and Morris. I needed that shiny diamond.
I had some conversation from the Lakers at #7 and Sacramento at #8 but soon learned why I didn't hear back from Boston.
After Utah ignored me to draft Dante Exum (by now, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle were taken as well), Kevin Love was traded to Boston for #6 (Aaron Gordon), #17 and some flotsam and jetsam that didn't even include Jared Sullinger. Minny's prize was Arizona F Aaron Gordon, who they felt was the second-best talent in the draft and the best individual talent offered for Love overall.
See that's the thing about trading for stars, especially Kevin Love and the top talent in this particular draft. It's not about adding more and more "stuff" to the gift basket. You don't get points for how hard it thumps the table when you drop it down. You get points for shiny 2-ounce diamond in the middle.
I was frustrated. The fact is the only players on your team that other bloggers know anything about are your very best starters and/or those who have spent oodles of time on national TV. My tradable assets fit neither category.
No one north of Lake Powell, east of Pinetop or west of Lake Havasu gives two shits about anyone on the Suns not named Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe. And since Bledsoe is untradeable in this mock draft format, all I had was Goran Dragic. The staff and I went round and round on Goran, and ultimately decided this wasn't the time or place to move on the Dragon. The Dragon was off the table.
The NBA is all about individual players, and Minny wanted Aaron Gordon.
"You try to prepare for every scenario," McDonough said about draft night. "Obviously its impossible to be 100% prepared. You have to be pretty flexible and active but there is a lot of intrigue and uncertainty."
So I regrouped. Noah Vonleh was still on the board and the Lakers had been rumored to want a PG. Smart was still on the board. I tried hard to grab either #7 or #8 to get F Noah Vonleh. If you can't have Love, then Noah was the next best thing out of this draft in my opinion. I like him better than Gordon and Exum and even Randle, making him the #4 overall talent in the Draft for me.
Damn it to hell. The Lakers blogger felt the same about Vonleh that I did. No matter how hard I tried, how many combinations I offered, they wouldn't bite. Again, Vonleh's individual talents trumped my gift basket of lesser assets.
At that point, once Love AND the top 7 talents were off the board, the staff and I didn't see the value in trading up anymore.
All the best power forwards were suddenly gone in the first 7 picks. Left on the Top 10 board were Dario Saric, who I didn't want to draft, and a number of guards.
*Note: at this point, Saric was still "in" but I didn't want to draft him because I just...don't. He's got a rep as an a-hole and doesn't play D. He'd actually be a more viable pick to me as a trade asset like Mirotic/Chicago going forward than a player on the Suns team.
No trade-up after #7
The team and I decided sit where we were and let the draft board fall. In our opinion, none of the remaining talent was significantly better than someone who would fall to #14, so why give up a number of assets?
I was apparently channelling McDonough right there.
"We don't want to do it (trade up) just for the sake of doing it," he said on Friday. "And give up an asset and say, 'Aw, shoot . . . that guy we moved up to get would have been there at 14 anyway,' and we could have kept the pick or the player or what have you."
Boom-dizzle. Exactly, Ryan. Exactly.
I rescinded my offer for the 8th pick. Didn't matter, because Sacramento took a different deal anyway. They found a way to acquire Taj Gibson and the #16 pick for their #8 pick. To them, that was better than Keef and #14.
In a three-team trade with Philly and Sacramento, Chicago found their Derrick Rose insurance. The Bulls surrendered Gibson, Boozer, #16 and #19 for a lone asset: #10 overall. That's a lot for #10. Wow. Philly got #8 and #19 for giving up the #10 and eating tens of millions in bad contracts (Boozer, Jason Thompson, Jason Terry, Quincy Acy).
The principals in this trade: Sacramento gets 16 and Gibson; Philly gets Dario Saric, #16 and bad contracts; Chicago gets Marcus Smart and cap space to make a run at a free agent like Melo. Winners all around.
In this mock world, the Bulls plan to play Smart and Rose together, in what in retrospect looks like a brilliant move. Not only can they play together, but Smart can take over when Rose is out (or gone). And, the Bulls now have the cap room to sign a major free agent.
Sandwiched quietly in the middle there, Charlotte took Doug McDermott at #9. And Jacob wept.
"There is some benefit to seeing how it plays out in front of you," McDonough said of draft. "That way if you're laying back especially if you have multiple picks if you see a guy falling you can jump up and get him."
So, the top 10 are gone and the Suns still see many of their favorites sitting on the board. Nik Stauskas. Gary Harris. Elfrid Payton. Adreian Payne. That was our target four, with only three picks between us and the them.
We also liked Rodney Hood and James Young, but only Kris Habbas among us had him higher than any of the four above.
The next pick off the board was Zach LaVine, and we quickly realized at least three of our top prospects in the mid-first round were STILL ON THE BOARD. And yet, none of us were comfortable that any of those top four would last to 18.
At that point, we could have sat back and said to ourselves, let's take a Clint Capela there at 18. Or see who falls among our top guys, Hood and Young. Someone will. We could have sat tight.
But this is a g#dd*mn mock draft, and we're NOT just going to sit around and take our picks. In real life, I might have sat back at this point and waited. But not in a fake draft.
Movin on up!
We decided it was time to make a move. We wanted two of our top four players, not just one.
I contacted Minnesota, owners of the 13th pick, to see what it would take to swap 18 for 13. I offered a minor player to seal the deal, but Minny came back saying only a salary dump would entice them to trade down.
"If they offer you a veteran player for the pick," McDonough said. [I'm serious. He really said these things two days after I lived it in this mock draft.] "You need to have that guy evaluated and also how they fit onto your roster how that affects your salary structure, cap going forward and depth chart as well. You try to prepare for every scenario.
"Obviously its impossible to be 100% prepared. You have to be pretty flexible and active because there is a lot of intrigue and uncertainty."
I knew the Suns had just over $5 million in cap space, enough to absorb a player as the cost to move up. Minnesota offered Corey Brewer (exactly $5 million, for two years). I countered with other combinations. Minnesota declined.
I could have held firm, stayed at 18, said no thanks to eating $10 million for the right to draft a guy I really liked. But again, this is a mock draft. I wanted to make a trade.
I thought about McDonough eating $1 million last year to move up one spot from 30 to 29. I thought about Philly eating Boozer's and Thompson's huge contracts to move up two spots to draft Dario Saric (in the mock draft right here).
I thought about taking the risk and saying no, potentially just sitting at 18 stuck with a guy I didn't really want as much as our top four.
Then Tyler Ennis was taken at #12 by Orlando and I realized that we could have any two of our top four prospects if I could just move up.
I ran the trade by the group. There were dissenters at first, but ultimately we all agreed that absorbing Corey Brewer was worth it. He would fit into the Suns scheme in case P.J. Tucker left, could run the floor and make an occasional three-pointer while playing really good defense. There are worse $5 mil/yr players out there. And besides, I figured the real McDonough could re-package Brewer any time he wanted. He dumped Luis Scola last summer for assets, for chrissakes.
We took the trade, and were the proud owners of #13 and #14 with Stauskas, Harris, Payton and Payne all still on the board.
Offers on 14
Philly offered Thad Young. They wanted to get a third pick in the lottery. We turned it down.
Detroit offered their unprotected 2015 pick. But Detroit now has Stan Van Gundy, an underachieving squad and a home in the East. #14 in this draft was likely better than Detroit's 2015 pick, protection or not. We declined.
13 and 14
After going around a bit, we settled on two new Suns players:
- Adriean Payne
- Nik Stauskas
The cleanest combination at 13/14 was a power forward and a guard.
Bring the Payne!
There was little to no conversation about NOT taking Payne with one of the picks. He was a given.
I admit here and now that I'm a Payne homer. I know he's got limited upside and likely won't be more than 28 minute-per-game player in the NBA. And he's old at 23 already. I know all that.
But when I saw that story of him befriending that terminally sick little girl, when I heard his generosity and genuineness when being interviewed I said to myself "that's a Phoenix Suns player". A better person than player.
So, lambast me for it. I'm okay with that. But I will always bring the Payne. Always.
Nik vs. Gary vs. Elfrid
This was quite the toss-up and could have gone either way. Ultimately, we went with the highest rated guard of the three, and that was Stauskas. Mocks have him going as high as #8 (Charlotte) and as low as #14 (Suns).
We took the highest rated player.
Here's the blurb I wrote for SB Nation:
Being that the Suns still want to run along the thin line of contending and building, we've decided to draft a ready-to-go player in PF Adreian Payne and a young player with high potential in SG Nick Stauskas.
Payne will fit like a glove on the Suns as a stretch four who can fill in at PF and C. And, he fills a need position since Channing Frye and Markieff Morris are both free agents by 2015.
Nick Stauskas was really high on our board. Some of us think he will be better than anyone taken after the 7th pick. He can be the tertiary playmaker in small lineups with Dragic/Bledsoe, and also acts as insurance at the SG position in case Bledsoe or Dragic leave in the next year.
The door is now open for the Suns to move out of the 27th slot. Our "youth" pool is full. Make your offers.
I would have liked to have acquired a big name player like Kevin Love for the Suns top two picks, but it just didn't happen. I would have like Noah Vonleh or any of the Top 7, but it didn't happen.
Maybe I suck as a GM. Or maybe it's just a little bit harder than we all think to get a trade done. For every winner (Celtics got Love) there has to be a loser. Maybe Gordon will pan out, maybe he won't. But that package wasn't nearly as good as the haul they gave up for Garnett seven years earlier. Maybe Marcus Smart will be the savior in Chicago, or maybe Chicago will miss Taj Gibson more than they think.
It's a tough call, but in the end the Suns have three new players - Stauskas, Payne and Brewer - without giving anything up but a little cap space.
And the 27th pick is still to come.