This is it. The future of the Phoenix Suns starts right here.
Forget for the moment that last year's Draft for the Suns was largely uneventful, that the fireworks turned into depth charges throughout July, coming without warning and nearly non-existent fanfare.
This is the vaunted, much anticipated 2014 NBA Draft, tonight at 4:30 AZ Time. The Suns need to make a splash, but it won't be easy.
"There's a lot coming at you," Suns GM Ryan McDonough told me last week. "The misconception might be that 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."
Hornacek echoed McDonough's sentiments.
"There's a lot of calls," he said. "The [other team's] GM will throw out doing 'this' for this'. They got their thoughts, and they throw it out to us to see what we think. It's a fun night."
Those trade offers are rarely win-win. You need to be careful not to make a mistake in the heat of the battle.
"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," McDonough said. "Because if they offer you a veteran player for the pick 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 but there is a lot of intrigue and uncertainty."
The Green Room
There's a record 21 guys invited to the Green Room tonight, more than ever before. I can only imagine that one or two guys who inevitably fall to the last picks of the first round or all the way into the second.
The NBA is trying to match the MFL for intrigue and eyeballs I guess.
McD's Draft Profile
With Boston, McD spent a lot of time picking in the mid-to-late first round, rather than at the top.
"It's less chaotic the farther away from your pick that you are," McD told me. "There is some benefit to seeing how it plays out in front of you. 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."
What we know of our young GM Ryan McDonough to date is that he can pick out an undervalued guard prospect like nobody's business. Boston traded into the first round for Rajon Rondo. Phoenix traded up for Archie Goodwin. Combo guards that have great athleticism and intangibles, but couldn't shoot in college and so dropped on Draft night.
"It got a little crazy because we saw Archie, we saw his potential," coach Jeff Hornacek said of last year's draft. "Ryan was really working to try and get him a lot earlier. We were afraid the teams in the late 20s were going to grab him. Ryan was trying to switch some positions, do this and that. That's the fun part of it."
McDonough eventually traded up one pick, from 30 to 29, to get Archie. When you've got a guy targeted, every pick ahead of you can be excruciating.
His track record of picking big men is still an unknown, but the recent picks of Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo (2012 in Boston, as assistant GM) and Alex Len (2013) shows that he looks at big men through a different prism. McDonough's big men aren't great athletes, but they know how to play the game and (most) have a great work ethic.
It would be departure for McDonough to take guard who lacks athleticism or a big man loaded with it. Also, he likes youth. Rarely has he (Boston/Phoenix) successfully drafted a player over 20 years old that truly panned out. I'm curious if he breaks his pattern tonight.
But if he continues down that path, the Suns top targets (at #14, #18 and #27) are likely Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Elfrid Payton and James Young at guard, with Jusuf Nurkic, Mitch McGary and Walter Tavares as the top big men.
"When you get later in the draft," coach Hornacek said, "There's several ways things can happen. There's going to be 3, 4, 5 guys we like in that 14-18 range and some of them are going to be gone. But hopefully one or two of them will still be there."
If the Suns can't jump all the way into the Top 8, don't be surprised to see the Suns do a minor trade up one or slots just to make sure they get one or both of their targets.
McD's Trade Profile
So far, we have seen a pattern with the trades as well. McDonough and President Lon Babby have proven good at acquiring undervalued assets from other teams in exchange for wily vets.
But a year later, the Suns' stable of wily vets is quite small. Gerald Green and Goran Dragic are the only trade-eligible guys who would be considered in the same class as last year's group of Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. And even Green's inclusion in that group is questionable because he's only had 1.5 good years in the NBA (half-season with the Nets, and then last year with the Suns).
What's also different from last year is that McDonough KNOWS these guys now. A year ago, he was emotionally unencumbered. Now, he knows that Green and Dragic are key pieces to this team's success. He won't trade them for assets. He won't trade them unless it's a slam dunk deal for a better player.
Change Is Needed
What McD and Lon Babby need to do this year, for the first time, is to "trade up". I don't mean just grabbing a higher draft pick. I also mean packaging lesser talent for better individual talent.
While they have proven adept at acquiring three players/picks for one veteran, now they need to figure out how to turn that around.
It's not about asset acquisition anymore. The Suns have more draft picks than they can use. They need top-end talent. They need to acquire a proven All-Star caliber veteran for some of their assets.
And that has to start this summer.
Reminder on Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe, Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker and Emeka Okafor cannot be traded or renounced today. Their salaries are all on the books until July 1, at which time they become free agents.
On July 1, Bledsoe and Tucker are restricted free agents, while Frye and Okafor are unrestricted.
Common to all four:
- The Suns cannot trade any of these players to a team of the Suns' choosing, even after July 1
- Bledsoe and Tucker can talk to other teams on July 1 (not beforehand)
- Bledsoe and Tucker can pick their next team by agreeing to an offer
- The Suns can either match the offer or negotiate a trade with the team of Bledsoe/Tucker's choosing
So much Bled
So any rumors you here of the Suns "trying to find a trade partner" for Bledose (or Tucker) are completely false. The Suns cannot determine the trade partner. Only Bledsoe and Tucker can pick their new team, and only after July 1.
The Suns cannot trade Bledsoe to Sacramento or anywhere else unless Bledsoe/Tucker already wants to go there and agrees to a contract with them.
The most likely Bledsoe scenario is that he finds a team he likes and agrees to salary terms. If Bledsoe really wants that new team, his agent will have to convince the Suns not to match offer but instead trade Bledsoe to that new team as a sign-and-trade. The Suns and the new team will then have to agree to compensation.
But it gets tricky. Let's say the Lakers are his preferred destination. As of July 1, the Lakers will have more than enough room under the cap to sign Bledsoe without have to negotiate a trade. At that point, the Suns will just have to decide whether to match the offer or let him go for nothing. This is like the Eric Gordon situation in 2012, just in reverse. In that case, there's a 99.9% certainty the Suns would match and keep Bledsoe. No way the Suns let him go for nothing.
So the Lakers might try to make a trade to entice the Suns not to match, but the Lakers have little to offer in return. They already owe the Suns their 2015 first rounder. Sure, the Lakers could trade the guy they draft tonight, but what if that's not anyone the Suns want?
If Bledsoe's preferred destination is a team over the cap, then the Suns have negotiating power to require compensation befitting a real trade and Bledsoe's agent will have to convince the new team it's worth doing. At this point, the Suns would be in a position of power.
In summary, it's possible that by the end of July the Suns will have acquired a top-10 pick in this draft in exchange for Bledsoe, but it will NOT happen today. Take a deep breath and wait until July.