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Are the Phoenix Suns "Stealth Tanking" this Year?

What is Ryan McDonough’s plan?

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns were terrible last year. A lot of that was blamed on the plague of injuries that hit the team... but the Suns weren't playing very well even before the big injuries hit. The Suns were only 12-19 before Bledsoe went down for the season and then they just kept getting worse as the injuries piled up.

If you do the math, the Suns were headed toward a 31-51 season without the injuries and I think that Ryan McDonough can do math. The Suns made out very well in the draft bringing in youngsters Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis but then did virtually nothing to strengthen the Suns in the free agent market. McD let go of all of the Suns' free agents and the biggest names that he brought to the team were former fan favorites Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa, both who were better known for being great locker room guys than players at this point in their respective careers.

Then there's the hiring of the very inexperienced Earl Watson as head coach. Watson's only obvious strength seemed to be in motivation and building team chemistry, things that the Suns really needed but no one knew whether he could handle the X's and O's part of coaching. So far, it doesn't look good in that respect but maybe McD expected that.

No matter what you think of McD, I doubt that he had any illusions (delusions?) that this year's team was going to get close enough to sniff the playoffs. Some of the Suns players said that they thought that they could make the playoffs this year but I don't remember Ryan ever saying anything like that. Back in August, before training camp opened, he said this: “We think we’ve upgraded our talent. We think we have a good blend of veteran guys who have winning experience like Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley… and then we have some talented younger guys who are probably more in the developmental stages, but I think they showed some flashes in (Summer League) of what they can do.”

That was a positive statement but also very noncommittal about what he expected this season.

My point is that McDonough had to know that the odds favored this team being pretty bad this season.

And maybe that was what he was hoping for.

McDonough made little effort to bring in free agents that would improve this team. McDonough made no effort to search for a more experienced head coach. All indications are that this is going to be a very strong draft year.

To me that sounds as if McDonough might have put this year's team together expecting a bad season to get a high pick in this year's loaded draft... without deliberately tanking.

It might sound like it's tanking but I disagree because McD didn't have a fire sale on the team's vets for draft picks and bring in a lot of D-league level players to replace them during the off-season. He had to know that the vets that the Suns kept could bring in more value in trade after the season started than during the off-season just as he had to know that the Suns would be a bad team overall this season.

If my suspicion is correct, then I expect to see some trades - perhaps many trades - before the trade deadline this year that will mostly involve shipping out vets to teams with playoff hopes that think that a certain vet on our team could make a difference for them this year. I expect to get draft picks and/or young talent back for them... and maybe even a bad contract or two as well.

I know that taking on bad contract players seems like a bad thing to do but the Suns are far below the salary cap this season and can definitely afford to take back a bad contract or two to get cheaper rookie scale contract players and future draft picks back and then just waive the bad contract players. They aren't going to be in the running for any big name free agents for probably the next 2-3 years and if they can trade away the contracts of Knight, Chandler and Bledsoe for draft picks and/or younger/cheaper players with some future potential then they can afford to absorb some moderately bad contracts as well as long as they don't extend beyond that 2-3 year period.

If this is "the plan" then I think it may be a good one for the future of the Suns.

If not, Ryan McDonough may be gone very soon.

The previous is all conjecture on my part. It's all based on my assumption that Ryan McDonough is a very smart guy and that Robert Sarver has given his blessing to the "plan" that I've postulated may exist.