The Phoenix Suns were infamous during the 2014/15 season for their crowded backcourt that featured Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe and rookie Tyler Ennis. When the situation became untenable and Trademaggedon 2015 ensued minutes before the trade deadline, Dragic, Thomas and Ennis all headed to new teams while Brandon Knight came to Phoenix.
Suddenly, the backcourt went from cluttered to frighteningly thin, yet the small forward position -- also in need of some trimming down -- was not addressed and on the contrary might have become even more compromised.
During Ryan McDonough's exit interview with the Suns' RISE Network, he identified four specific areas of need to be addressed over the summer.
- Size on the front line
- Shooting on the wing
- Veteran leadership
We can chalk up the first two to the power forward position, where Markieff Morris desperately either needs a backup or an upgrade. The latter two ideally should receive contributions from the small forward position, and the results in 2014/15 were spotty at best.
Last year the small forward spot was fielded by a platoon of sorts that included P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and rookie T.J. Warren. Add the possibility of veteran Danny Granger receiving a role on the Suns, and what remains isn't just a logjam, but a special kind of logjam. The kind that can't be uncluttered easily.
The Good: Perimeter defense, decent corner-3 shooting (.359), boards and steals (7.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals per 36), lots of floorburns, heart and soul of the team (partly by default)
The Bad: Embarrassing off-court incidents including a Super Extreme DUI and managing to miss the bus twice, poor midrange game (shot .276 from 10-16 feet), not a good passer (7.4 AST%)
Tucker sadly might be the odd man out when the Suns look to upgrade over the summer. With a mere two years at $10.8 million left on his contract, he can easily be shipped to a contender in need of a wing stopper or packaged in a larger deal.
Tucker's impact on the image of the Phoenix Suns is quite paradoxical. He is adored by fans for his underdog persona and feisty play, but has also found his name in the wrong kind of headlines over the past year while the organization is suffering from a prolonged popularity crisis.
With all that considered, if the Suns have to part ways with Tucker in order to secure a veteran small forward that can defend and hit better than his 34.5% from 3, they aren't likely to hesitate.
The Good: Young, shifty, shot 72.5% at the rim and 52.8% overall, excellent work ethic
The Bad: Shot 5/21 from three, only 6.5 combined rebounds and assists per 36, is quiet as a churchmouse
Warren appears to have a future in the NBA as a capable scorer off the bench, but until he learns to knock down an open shot and expand his game beyond his ability to score around the paint, it's hard to see him as a starting small forward.
Look for him to hit summer league and training camp with a vengeance, as he'll once again likely be in position where he'll have to fight for his minutes. However, as McDonough showed with Tyler Ennis, just because he drafts you doesn't mean you get immunity from the trading block.
The Good: Can get hot from time to time (5 games of 20+ points), improved defense, is Markieff's twin brother
The Bad: Shooting fell of a cliff after All-Star break, screamed at coach on national TV, classic tweener, might be in prison soon
Let's go ahead out on a limb and assume that no NBA team will be interested in trading for a player who is currently awaiting trial for felony assault and will receive prison time if convicted. The Morris twins' spots on the roster will be represented by two gigantic, immovable lumps of petrified dung until their legal situations are concluded.
In the meantime, don't expect any sentimentality from the Suns. They won't hesitate to send Mook plummeting down the depth chart if they can find a suitable replacement that will stay out of trouble, assuming he is even a part of the team by October.
Here's where things really get interesting. Might it be possible that the solution to the Suns' lack of veteran leadership and perimeter shooting is already be present in the form of Granger, who has put up a 3P% of .380 during his ten year career? This is a potentially sticky situation that could possibly yield dividends for the Suns.
Granger has been training with the warlocks on the Suns' medical staff, and is already seeing results.
"I've only been here a month but I have felt a difference," Granger said. "I've been improving. I'll use the rest of the summer to keep improving. I think the guys have done a great job with correcting a lot of imbalances that I've had and I've played with for the last 10 or 11 years."
Read more here.
He has a player option of $2.1 million that he can exercise to stay with the Suns, or he can enter free agency. He has reportedly already purchased a home in the valley. There are complications, though.
For one, he happens to play a position that is already quite cumbersome in Phoenix. Suppose for a moment that he follows a similar path of Grant Hill, who experienced a resurgence with the Suns that saw him reinvent himself as a defensive ace while playing in no fewer than 70 games in a season (excluding the lockout year in 2011/12), after being notoriously plagued with injuries during his tenure in Orlando.
While Granger has never been confused for a defensive stopper, who can honestly say that the Suns couldn't use a veteran 38% 3-point shooter, especially as they continue to attempt a dual-PG system with Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe that depends greatly on floor-spacing?
Yet what assurance would Granger have to pick up his player option with Tucker and Warren theoretically ahead of him on the depth chart? On the same token, what assurance would the Suns have to knock down the minutes of Tucker and/or Warren for a guy who hasn't played more than 41 games since the 2011/12 season?
While both sides have potential pitfalls to consider, the decision is ultimately Granger's. On the Suns' side of things, they'll have a considerable amount of maneuvering to do if they want to bring in a DeMarre Carroll or even a Draymond Green into the fold.
As underwhelming as the small forward position is to the present Suns team, it is equally encumbered. Not exactly an ideal dynamic for summer trading.
So ... What Happens Next?
No easy answer here. If the Suns want to pursue a small forward via free agency or trade, which McDonough's comments allude to, they'll be faced with the unenviable task of either moving or demoting Tucker and/or Warren, one of which is the closest thing they currently have to a veteran leader and the other will be a second-year player that has shown promise.
And that's not even considering the Danny Granger angle.
Apparently this is why Ryan McDonough gets paid the proverbial big bucks, and this is only one of the urgent matters he will be trusted to resolve over the summer.
Under his tenure, we have had one magical season (as magical as 48 wins can get, anyway) and one season of pure foolishness. 2015/16 will be his tiebreaker for better or worse, and a lot will depend on what he does with the curious situation at small forward.
Best of luck to him.
And to us, of course.