I title this column ‘The Zach LaVine Question" because your answer to that question gives me an outlook on where you see the Suns franchise currently. We all know the fortunate position they find themselves in with draft picks and cap space for the next two seasons. The most pleasant part of all of this though has to be the massively improved and overachieving roster, which had basically zero overall disappointments (unless you had big dreams about Kravtsov) at the end of the season. That’s the biggest change in the overall big picture for the Suns and vastly changes their "narrative" looking forward.
The defining time will be the offseason in 2015, as players like Markieff Morris, Channing Frye (presuming he takes that player option), Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, and god help us all if this happens, but Goran Dragic has a player option for the following season he can decline if he wants a pay raise and/or a new team. The way the Suns front office sees those five players signings panning out, as well as how they can lock in Eric Bledsoe will define their free agency and draft decisions. AKA, we have no idea.
The biggest overlying theme of this roster is that they were so close to the playoffs last season, and surely will be expected to make the playoffs this following season. With that in mind, when is the Suns window? Are they rebuilding still, or is now the time to go? Do you try to fill every immediate need right now, or grab the guy with the most potential? To answer those questions, we have to delve a little deeper into the roster first.
It doesn’t matter where you are seated on the Miles Plumlee train, we can all agree that he is an absolute bargain at $1.1 million next season and $2 million the following season (team option). The Alex Len development will still be taking place as well, so we can all agree that center is the last place this team needs to add a body.
Power forward is interesting. Channing Frye and Goran Dragic were the best pick and pop combo in the NBA until Frye’s shooting slumped through the last two and half months of the season. He will be 32 when his deal runs out (assuming he accepts the player option this year) and Markieff Morris is right behind him. Morris is another stretch 4 like Frye, but once again, those 2015 questions unlock the key. We can all agree as well that one of the weaknesses of the Suns is rebounding/interior defense. They really need a banger inside to go along with Plumlee, which had me salivating at Montrezl Harrell all season at Louisville before he decided college was fun and that he wanted to stay another year. See you next year with the Lakers pick Montrezl! Anyway, the Suns could use a guy of that moniker who is willing to bang bodies inside, disrupt shots, and grab boards. This is much easier said than done of course, as you also need to respect the spacing those stretch 4’s bring for the slashing dynamo of DragonBlade. It’s a weird conundrum.
At small forward, we all love that man PJ Tucker. He’s still only 29 despite his pedigree of getting to this spot in his career. The hole behind Tucker is notable, as the effectiveness in Marcus Morris was a roller-coaster, and at his best Mook can give you some additional scoring, something that Gerald Green is already far capable of with the other two star guards on the roster. The Suns could use another player similar to Tucker in a "do it all" fashion on the floor. Just going to flat out say it, an upgrade over Mook is welcomed.
At guard, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe should be running the show for quite some time. Dragic is fresh off of a third team All-NBA selection, and most people would say that Bledsoe could have been an All-Star had he not gotten hurt. Dragic is 28 while just now entering his prime, and Bledsoe is still somehow only 24. Behind these two is the scoring monstrosity of Gerald Green, who as I highlighted previously, in my opinion is gone for the big $$$ in 2015. This makes a Green replacement a necessity, as Green’s ability off the bench to swing games is so important, and having a go to guy off the bench in general is as well. With a long-term future of Keef starting at PF possibly, you now lose your two best bench players. Perhaps, are you willing to bet that this can be Archie Goodwin by that time? This is another really important question to answer, but I’m not willing to let it go by without labeling it a need. Behind DragonBlade at point gets fishy. Ish Smith is a rich man’s 3rd point guard on the roster, so the Suns could use a backup point guard as well.
With the selections at #14 and #18, the Suns will likely have a combo guard available who could be that bench hero or your point. So, we now arrive at the point. Zach LaVine? The question on LaVine is how long are you willing to wait on him. LaVine is blessed with sublime athleticism that beats everyone not named Aaron Gordon or Andrew Wiggins in this year’s draft class. I don’t know what it is, but I’m in on his weird shooting release and he shot it at 37.5% from deep last season despite a massive slump at the end of the year. LaVine’s athletic package and the way he approaches the floor (transition, threes) make me see him as more of an explosive scoring sixth man than a point guard. More so on the point guard end, LaVine has a complete lack of basketball IQ and awareness for the floor. If you wanted to see him develop fully there, you might be waiting for the rest of your life. LaVine was much more intrigued by jacking up 28 footers than setting up the offense. As that athleticism claim suggests, LaVine could be a great defender. That still adds another "could" and "if" to his resume though. Even still, LaVine has some humongous potential and he might be worth waiting around for.
This prognosis and the way draft boards are lined up have the Suns range of options at #14 and #18 being quite extensive. A lot of point guards and combo guards are ranked around this part of the draft and here in lies the point. Do the Suns want to reach for the stars with LaVine? Do they grab the more "ready" clear-cut shooting guard with far less potential in PJ Hairston? How about the crafty lefty who can shoot the lights out, Rodney Hood? What about the wings like the offensive James Young and the defensive KJ McDaniels? What about another high potential/development guy, Jerami Grant? How about some seniors like Adreian Payne and Cleanthony Early? Or, do you just disregard all your needs and grab the guy who might be the best player on the board at that time in Elfrid Payton?
I’m still not sure and that’s what makes this process so fascinating. Selections like LaVine and Grant could be a godsend in three years or leave the Suns right back where they started. We loop around the track again though, because what’s to stop the likes of Hairston, Young, Hood, McDaniels, Payne, and Early from being busts (I will never even draw Elfird Payton anywhere close to the term bust. That man is the truth)? It’s a never-ending game of speculation, which is what makes this process so tantalizing to observe and take part in discussing. And of course there’s trading the picks, which would make us all laugh at the amount of time we spent perusing all these prospects. The Suns have their range of options like I said, which is what ultimately makes this process so fun. This is why we all be glued to our screens on June 26.
So. Zach LaVine?