In this state of the union conversation with Ray Hrovat and Rollin Mason, the three of us go over some of the more prominent issues and moves made this summer by the Phoenix Suns such as:
Did the Suns move the needle/how did their "aggressive" approach in free agency work?
Is Tyson Chandler a good fit? Was dumping Marcus Morris a good move?
Are the Suns a playoff team?
Pending further moves, what is the current state of the Suns free agency period?
Are we/you satisfied with the direction of the team?
Jim: After the Suns stood pat in the draft I think we all expected them to be more active in free agency, especially since they professed they would be. They have delivered on that promise, but the "aggressive" approach hasn't yielded the desired results. Is it the means or the ends that are more important? I just don't see the value of moral victories.
Just like I felt the Suns kismet was to be runner up in trade scenarios for star players... I now am firmly entrenched in the belief that the Suns will be perpetual free agent bridesmaids. Yes, the Suns were apparently contenders (though some reports suggest that the Spurs always had this in hand and the Suns just had the best presentation of teams with no real chance), but other teams just always seem to hold some kind of inherent advantage the Suns can't overcome.
Maybe this will change, but I think it is dependent on the Suns making themselves more attractive. They just aren't in the position to lure a top FA. That being said, was it really "aggressive" to take the approach they did, or was it just unrealistic. Is being grounded in reality better? The Suns may have missed on other ways to improve while they were busy chasing unicorns. Are we giving grades for effort or results... because the results just aren't there.
Rollin: Does it count for nothing that the Suns' front office showed that they can separate themselves from the pack when it comes to enticing a major free agent?
Ryan McDonough apparently did a better job of convincing LaMarcus Aldridge than did Daryl Morey and Mark Cuban. Moral victories might not hold any tangible value, but this has to bode well for future scenarios, doesn't it?
Lost in the lament over the Suns winning another Second Best award is a nagging question: was maxing out LaMarcus Aldridge even a good idea in the first place?
In the past, I posited that any team with Aldridge would have to essentially structure their entire roster around a high-volume scorer that shot a ton of 2-point junpshots. I still believe that, yet I was there with everybody else, hashtagging #LMAtoPHX, because I'm that exhausted from the seemingly eternal wait for a star player.
But perhaps my first instinct was correct, and this is really a blessing in disguise. At any rate, I still look at the whole situation as a win for the franchise, because while it feels like small miracle that they were one of two finalists for the most coveted player on the market, it probably will be easier to get their foot in the door the next time around.
Ray: I wouldn't say I expected them to be more active in free agency. They made one significant acquisition in Chandler, then struck out in the swing for the fences pursuit of Aldridge. Of course, it's all about results, but there's zero chance of success if you don't try. While moral victories don't matter, there still might be intangible benefits to the LMA pursuit down the road. It shows future free agents that the Suns are seriously committed to building a contender. They received good publicity for their strong presentation to him, and I think we all realize the Suns haven't always had the best reputation as an organization.
Each situation is different. I seem to remember the Rockets spun their wheels for a while until they were able to trade for Harden, then convince Dwight Howard to join him on their roster. When it comes to the Spurs and LMA, it's extremely difficult to compete with both the Spurs track record of success AND the fact they play in Aldridge's home state. The next free agent who comes along with be different, and have his own priorities. In summary, I'm not nearly as fatalistic as what you're saying.
As I wrote above, I think this process helps make the Suns more attractive because it shows their commitment to field a winning team. Then they need to have improved success with the players already on their roster, draft choices like Len, Goodwin and Warren, to show that they're an up and coming team. Not sure how realistic the Aldridge pursuit was, but the way you portray it makes it sound like a no win situation for the Suns FO. If they were content to tinker around the edges with "realistic" targets, fans would complain about them being stuck in mediocrity. Now they make a bold attempt at a star and they're criticized for "chasing unicorns."
Jim: It seems that both of you like what the Suns did from a perception standpoint. I can concede that to a certain extent, despite my generally intransigent nature, but it also makes salient the fact that the Suns aren't quite ready for big boy basketball. Did the travelling circus from last season negatively impact this? Would the same team minus Knight plus Goran have tipped the scales in their favor? The Suns just need more to sell and I don't know that internal improvement is the answer, especially since every team in the league will have money to throw at free agents next summer...
I get that I'm putting the Suns between a sword and a wall in terms of unrealistic/realistic targets, but how about they just do their damn job and turn this thing around. I'm sick of waiting. There will always be another excuse why the team is still out of the playoffs, or missed on so and so. Let's get out of the excuse business.
As for Aldridge, I don't think the Suns are in any position to nitpick over finding the right star. While LMA isn't necessarily a superstar he's been to four straight All-Star games and is a top 15-20 type player in the league. He's a guy that can help recruit other good players (even more than the inimitable Tyson Chandler). Given that the Spurs were all in on him, it seems like he might be good enough for the Suns... just maybe.
Speaking of the Suns big free agent splash, I'm sure it won't be a surprise that I have concerns about his future on the team.
Ray: This might be the kind of "excuse business" you're talking about: There's a certain degree of luck and randomness in these free agent signings. The Cavs are reigning Eastern Conference champs because of the best player in basketball's birthplace. There are plenty of other examples; the point is that it isn't always based on merit. Also, again, every free agent situation is different. The Suns haven't found the right dance partner yet, but that doesn't mean they're doomed to standing to the side watching forever.
I do agree with you that the bottom line is the Suns need to get this fixed and bring their fans a winner. As we're only two years into McDonough/Hornacek, and the roster was a mess when they took over, I'm willing to be more patient than it sounds like you are. This is an important season to show marked improvement from the younger players they've brought in. Next year at this time is when I'll be ready to bring out the pitchforks and torches if we're having this same conversation about the team.
Rollin: Well hell, Jim. This puts us in a rather awkward position, where every reason that the Suns didn't hit a walkoff grand slam can be construed as an excuse. Hey, I can pick up what you're laying down; it's tiresome to sift through the reasons why the Suns still haven't put a contender together ... AGAIN ... but bagging a superstar player in free agency or trade is the absolute pinnacle of offseason success and it seems like an unfair place to plant the goalpost -- at least in the context of this summer.
I know the last thing anyone wants to hear after five years of spinning frantically on the hamster wheel is a lonesome violin played for the poor folks in the front office, but there are a few under-the-radar successes that were revealed over the last week. If I may offer a few points of emphasis...
Brandon Knight's free agency was handled swiftly and fairly with no unsavory narratives, and at $70 million he was actually somewhat of a bargain in this offseason rife with perplexing contracts. Reggie Jackson will make more than anyone on the Suns roster in 2015/16. McDonough has done an excellent job of locking up talent at a reasonable price before the cap explodes.
The front office was supposed to be dastardly, untrustworthy and unappealing to free agents after the Dragic meltdown. I think it's safe to say that this notion was greatly overstated in the least.
Any one of Brandon Knight, Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin, Devin Booker and yes, even Eric Bledsoe might have a breakout season in the next few years. The only worthwhile young talent that the Blanks regime acquired was Markieff Morris.
I for one feel a lot better about the direction of the franchise than I did a month ago. My biggest fear at this point is that the Suns stumble out of the gate and Tyson Chandler disengages himself like he did in 2013/14, but as long as that scenario is averted I'll be happy enough to see how the youngsters mesh and if I feel the need to nurture some fantasies about the next big transaction, it's a hell of a long way until the trade deadline.
Jim: Even if we agree to give the Suns a heartfelt pat on the back and pin a participation ribbon to their precious little chest there are still issues to address with the free agency infield single. Since Chandler failed to lure Aldridge, what is his value past being bait?
I just don't know that he's a great fit. The biggest reason being that I'm not infatuated with the notion of him wrestling playing time away from Alex Len, the Suns best young prospect. After starting for the team last season it doesn't make sense to relegate him to a reserve role at this stage of his development. 33 year old Chandler might still be a little better than 22 year old Len, but why take reps from the team's franchise center? Chandler certainly checks the veteran presence box, but I think that him playing the role of mentor for Len is overblown. The Suns needed a little bit of a culture change, but I guess I always envisioned that would come from a bench role considering where the team stands. Players on the right side of 30 could also fit the bill as better starting veterans.
If we could hit the rewind button wouldn't Brandan Wright's three year $18 million dollar deal have been a better fit?
I'm mostly fine with the Marcus dump, especially now that Danny Granger is gone and I don't have to read gibberish about him returning to a prominent role, but am a little bit puzzled why Ryan McDonough seems hell-bent on building the worst three point shooting team in the NBA. The team needs shooting... something that their main FA acquisition (Chandler) doesn't provide. Since Booker is unlikely to make a positive impact in his rookie season, the Suns might only have one plus three point shooter (Knight) on the roster.
Doesn't it seem a little bipolar that the Suns newest additions are 18 and 33 (by the start of the season)? Sure, some shooting and a veteran backup point guard could (should) still be on the way, but it seems like it will take a little creativity because the free agent pool has basically evaporated.
Rollin: As far as production goes, yes. Wright is absolutely has a better contract. However, he's also one of those wallflower types you have groused about in the past (a grousing which I fully endorse, FWIW).
Quiet, unassuming, nonthreatening ... on the other hand, Chandler has been unapologetic about holding his teammates accountable in the past, and I think that's the biggest reason he'll be wearing a Suns uniform.
Wright's personality fits better in Memphis, where they already have an established hierarchy and he can just produce.
As for Len, I agree that putting a roster roadblock in his path is a bit of a bummer -- especially after they just cleared it when they traded Plumlee. I'm curious to see what he'll have to say about the situation.
At least the roadblock is a veteran presence on the backslope of his career, rather than another young center who would threaten Len's future.
Ray: Chandler's value to a team is fairly easy to see: He's a strong defender and rebounder, plus an ultra-efficient (if limited) offensive player. Chandler's a better player than Len right now, so something like a 28-20 minutes split in Chandler's favor is fine. Signing Chandler was a confusing move for me too, but he has a track record as a game-changing defender and near star, so I don't really understand questioning his value. In a year or two, we all hope Len will improve to the point that he's clearly the better player and the minutes will split differently. That's when his value will be less clear. Len is not a "franchise center" at this point in his career.
The lack of 3 point shooting is troubling, and I hope it's addressed soon. I've written extensively on BSotS about how I embrace the new age of the NBA which features floor spacing and 3-point shooting more than ever. It's disappointing the Suns don't appear to be anywhere near the forefront in this trend. Drafting Booker is a promising move, but I don't see their other young wings Warren or Goodwin ever growing into more than adequate 3-point shooters. And what's with going low rent on a stretch big? First Anthony Tolliver for cheap, then second round pick on Alec Brown, and now trade a second round pick on Jon Leueueueueueuuur. Can't they invest a little more in such a useful role? Maybe the backup PG they bring in will be a 3-point threat, though that would seem to disqualify fan favorite Ish Smith.
One man's "bipolar" is another man's "balance". Tyson Chandler started his NBA career at age 19, the age Booker will turn early this season, and was a solid contributor by 20. The Suns drafted Booker because they think he will eventually be the best player who was available at #13 in this past draft. They signed Chandler because the team needed veteran leadership, rebounding and interior defense. Bringing in a very young rookie and a veteran creeping towards over the hill isn't the least bit unusual, or something to criticize. I think you're reaching for something to be negative about on that.
Jim: Here's where the rubber hits the road for me.
While this summer's moves don't appear to have the same catastrophic implications as last year's, they appear to be treadmillesque. While some still give the FO a little bit of a pass and preach confidence/patience (which is fair to a certain extent), this is the same group that signed Thomas to a new deal and extended the Morris brothers. These were terrible moves in retrospect. It's easy to find fault after the fact, but these guys get paid to be right.
Now the team has made moves to expunge these deals, with a Markieff trade at least somewhat possible, but the result is likely fielding a 40 something win team that will struggle to make the playoffs. Isn't that basically where they were two years ago?
I am just weary of being in the back end of the lottery and wary that this team is destined for mediocrity. The roster on opening night will likely be different than the current one, but without knowing what permutations await doesn't this feel like treading water? Maybe even more important of a question, have we really gotten to the point as fans of this team that a sixth straight season out of the playoffs is anywhere near the realm of acceptable?
Ray: When you ask, "Isn't that basically where they were two years ago?", are you suggesting you think that the franchise and roster is in no better position than the one Lance Blanks and Lindsey Hunter turned over to McDonough and Hornacek two years ago? The roster that included the Kendall Marshall and the Morris twins as its lone developmental prospects, and had just come off a 25 win season? Because if you believe that, you've really outdone yourself in pessimism this time. Since then, the Suns have both improved on the court, and added a handful of bright, young prospects. They're a young team, and not where any of us want them to be yet, but did you really expect they'd be able to turn around that 2012-13 mess into a contender in two years?
Brandon Knight, TJ Warren, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin all figure to advance as players this coming season, and Devin Booker was widely viewed as the best pure shooter in this past draft. You don't think growth is on the way much, much more than when the roster was littered with the likes of Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O'Neal, Luis Scola Shannon Brown and Hamed Haddadi? I understand focusing on the five years with no playoffs, but McDonough and Hornacek only own the last two. By my assessment, the team is clearly in better position than when they took over. It's not even close.
Jim: No, Ray. I meant the opening night roster for the 2013-14 season, not the one he took over that May.
Ray: Well, that's not fair. It's not opening night of 2015-16 yet, so we don't know the roster. It's not an apples to apples comparison. And besides, you're going to start assessing McDonough only after some of his best moves? I call shenanigans. Your selection criteria is designed to make things look as bad as possible.
Well, July 10th will be two years since the Bledsoe trade...
And shenanigans is a very serious accusation.
Ray: I'll elaborate on my case: To me, the point is to assess if McD is the right person to run the team and turn them into a contender. It makes most sense to assess his entire body of work to do that. Where the team is now compared to when he took over is the measure I find meaningful.
Jim: Fair point, but for me the entire body of work isn't quite where I'd like it to be.
Rollin: I get to watch T.J. Warren instead of Marcus Morris. I'm good.
Anything more would just be repeating myself at this point, so I'll just add this masterpiece of MS Paint artwork to commemorate the great Aldridge Wars of 2015.