Every year the Phoenix Suns go through a draft and an off-season that allows them to put together a roster. Then there is a Summer League, workouts, and a Training Camp that helps with finite details of putting a team together. There are only 15 slots and a Developmental League to fill.
That Developmental League is another story and a huge asset overall, different topic for a different day. Deal?
This year the Suns drafted four players, added two more to training camp, and inserted two new free-agents to the fold. There are decisions to be made with 15 guaranteed contracts and plenty of needs for this roster. Sometimes there are stories and guys you root for to make it while others, not so much. See: Marshall, Kendall.
Who are some of those players that you deep, deep, deep down wanted to see make it with the Suns (or the NBA in general) and others that you secretly despised for whatever reason? It happens. For various reasons.
At the 2011 NBA Draft I was in New Jersey sitting with my friend and former editor of Dime Magazine, Aron Phillips, and he was vocal the entire time for his "guy" to get drafted. Every team that came up was a perfect fit for him, and then, when they passed on him they were fools for not taking him with a risk free second round pick. That player ended up going with the 60th Overall pick (last) in the draft and then signed with the Suns this summer.
That player is Isaiah Thomas.
Enough of me, let's get to what matters, the staffs takes on who were the little engines that (they hoped) could...
1. Breaking the Ice: Who is your all-time favorite "I was rooting for them and wish they would have made it" potential Suns player?
Kris Habbas: Was I a Horacio Llamas mark? No, but I always had a soft spot in my heart for the man...
Mike Lisboa: Kenny Battle, Kenny Battle, Kenny Battle!
Rollin J. Mason: Earl Barron, circa 2014.
Sean Sullivan: Scottie Reynolds, you know, from Summer League...seriously.
Geoff Allen: Ziggy Dowdell
Dave King: Maciej Lampe
2. Why was he so near and dear to your heart?
KH: When Llamas was signed by the Suns (Grand Canyon University Stand-Up) it was around the first time I was paying attention to the local team. I was never a big "local team" guy or diehard when I first started watching hoops. I was a Jason Kidd fan, a college basketball guy, and only saw national games on the old school NBC affiliate. The Suns were on there here-and-there, but so were other teams. Llamas was a Band-Aid for the Suns and earned a full season contract after a 10 day contract expired. He was not great, but he was massive. He was my favorite during the Jake Tsakalitis, Jake Voskuhl, and Llamas late 1990's (early 2000's) Suns Center Randomness. Oh, and Hot Rod Williams.
ML: I have no idea. What I do know is that I loved it every time he stepped on the court. He was an athletic dunker and energetic sub in garbage time. I was hoping that those qualities would translate to a significant role on the Suns, but they did not. They translated to a 4 year NBA career in which he played 59 games as a rookie, and then 75 more games in the ensuing 3 years. His highest NBA accolade was his participation in the 1990 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Where he finished last.
RJM: Earl was the catalyst for what is (IMO) the greatest Scott Howard piece of all time, which is either saying a lot or a little, depending on which way your boat floats. On a more personal note, I can't think of a more heart-warming story than the thought of the incomparable Earl Barron taking on the Dionte Christmas cheerleading role on this Suns bench. While Ryan McDonough and company might selfishly be more concerned with filling the roster with things like "potential" and "talent", I just wanna see ole' EBoll waving his towel and congratulating actual NBA players on their way back to the bench.
SS: Scottie Reynolds was a great point guard for Villanova who was a four-year starter. In that time, he averaged 16 points, 3.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.5 steal per game. He was an excellent court general and could score the basket from anywhere on the court. He had a great handle, knew how to get to the basket, and could also shoot well from outside. He was a first team All-American in the 2009-10 season, and the very first to go undrafted (The Suns drafted Dwayne Collins with the 60th pick that year...never forget). I thought he would be the perfect apprentice to learn from the aging Canadian...but it was never meant to be.
GA: Dowdell was a great player in college, and I really liked the energy he brought to the team, especially on defense. To be fair, it was fun to root for an underdog story on that 2010-11 Suns team; it wasn't a highlight year. Plus, I mean, come on, his nickname is Ziggy. How cool is that!
DK: It matters not that Maciej Lampe didn't have the requisite NBA skills. I remember that NY trade that netted 19 year old 7-footer Lampe as a throw-in. The Suns have always been an undersized team since the coin flip loss of Lew Alcindor. Never has a 7-footer been an All-Star in Phoenix (forget for the moment that Lampe is only 6'11"... go with me on this!). Neal Walk was okay, I wasn't old enough to be a sports fan yet. Nick Vanos was supposed to be really good, but I wasn't an NBA fan yet. RIP Nick. And then there's been a truckload of centers over the years who just haven't been quite good enough. Lampe was one of those. Let's hope I don't add Alex Len to this list one day, but he fits my lifelong profile of "god I hope he makes it!" player.
3. Who was that one player you just felt in your heart of hearts did not have it, but then, miraculously proved you soooo wrong?
KH: Maciej Lampe got 64 more games in an NBA uniform than I ever thought he would...
ML: I've always kind of thought that every Suns player was going to be the next big thing, because COME ON! Everyone else seems to get a Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade or Magic Johnson. Why can't WE?! So I've always been kind of a true believer. That said, I can't believe Robin Lopez is a starting center on a good team in the NBA. I thought he was done after he failed to come back from his back injury with a successful season.
RJM: Markieff Morris. He might not fit the bill here since he was a (late) lottery pick, but I am still vacillating between being flabbergasted and dumbfounded that he not only proved to be an NBA player, but a pretty damn decent one at that. After the 2013/14 season he had proved all on his lonesome that A) Lance Blanks could indeed uncover talent, and B) I don't know what the hell I'm talking about sometimes. I mean, he was so bad in 2012/13, and was always a "low ceiling" guy to begin with. He is now my poster-boy for reminding others and myself that sometimes all our tools of analysis can add up to precisely bupkis.
SS: Robin Lopez. As a big man myself, I've always prided myself on having a pretty good eye for other bigs, and how their games translate to the pros. I was never a fan of Robin's. He had a weird crouching posture and a completely flat non-jump-shot, and rarely attempted to go up for rebounds with both hands...All big no-no's in my book. But Robin has continued to develop and has proven to be everything that Mr. Seth Pollack once predicted he would become. I can't explain it, but whatever.
GA: I'll go with a current Sun: Shavlik Randolph. I have no idea what the Suns see in him that makes it seem worthwhile to keep him around another year. To me, he just seems like a low-talent, half-sized big man. But I guess he has convinced the only people that matter...
DK: Totally shocked by Raja Bell, I guess. He made his career on being a hard-nosed defender while teaching himself how to be an above-the-break three-point shooter to keep teams honest. I guess P.J. Tucker is the new version of Raja. Both are just a bit undertalented, but their heart and effort more than make up for it. I'm happy and surprised by Tucker's NBA career.
4. Did you ever root against someone to not make it...? Be honest.
KH: Dwyane Wade, Steve Novak, and Travis Diener.... Because, they suck. They knocked off my favorite college basketball team of all time the 2003-2004 Pittsburgh Panthers in the NCAA Tournament. Sour grapes. Oh, seriously? I got nothing. Even I was rooting for Kendall Marshall so there is that.
ML: Every Laker ever except for Cedric Ceballos.
RJM: In the same vein as Lisboa, Julius Randle. Few things would make me happier than seeing Randle flame out of the pros and end up selling off his UK memorabilia to make ends meet in 10 years. It's nothing personal Julius, aside from that hideous canary-yellow uniform you will be wearing. You represent their future, and their future must die.
SS: Allen Iverson. I really just despised him as a person (there's a story here), and although his talent in the game of basketball was undeniable, I could never enjoy watching him.
GA: I honestly cannot think of a guy who I really root against, generally speaking. Perhaps JR Smith would be the closest thing. I can't stand that guy.
DK: Does Kobe Bryant count? For Scott's sake I'll take Taylor Griffin for 200, Alex.
5. Looking at the landscape of available basketball players who would you like to see in Flagstaff for the Suns Training Camp?
KH: Jordan Bachynski would have been a nice invite. Big, skilled, and you know what he can do on the court as a shot-blocker, so despite his limitations, you get a niche player to see if he has "it" long-term.
ML: If someone says Lou Amundson, I will fight you in the Jack in the Box parking lot after school. Why not bring in Artem Klimenko for a look-see. He's probably a couple years away from being a couple years away, but mobile 7-footers don't grow on trees.
RJM: Lou Amundson.
DK: Louuuuuuuuuu. But Lou was already picked up by the Cavs, so I'll go with Alonzo Gee. We don't have enough small forwards yet, so why not add another?
SS: I would have liked to see Patric Young, but the Pelicans already signed him. So I'll steal Kris's pick and go with Bachynski as well.
GA: Choo-choo. All aboard the Hasheem Thabeet train! We have cookies! (Disclaimer: No cookies will be provided.)
BONUS: Earl Barron and Casey Prather are you excited for Training Camp yet?
KH: With 14 guaranteed contracts already there is little to no room, obviously, so it is what it is. I personally like Prather and thought he would be a breakout prospect in 2012-2013 and in 2013-2014, both of which he was not. Solid athlete on the perimeter, but not a guy that threatens T.J. Warren, Gerald Green, or Archie Goodwin.
ML: Bring on the real basketball already!
DK: I actually. I hope we can go up in a convoy to Flagstaff next Saturday for the scrimmage like last year. That's where we all first looked at each other and said "Miles Plumlee is a LOT better than I thought he was." And, seeing the two brother sets will be quite interesting. Gotta bring my good camera.
RJM: Earl Barron. His destiny must be fulfilled. We will bear witness.
SS: Actually, I kind of like Casey Prather. I honestly have no idea why Earl Barron is getting an invite...But hey, I'm going to wish him the best as well.
Bright Siders, what do you think?