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Using "kick the can" strategy, McDonough rebuilds the Phoenix Suns through the draft

The Phoenix Suns are one of the worst team in franchise history but have a bright future with lots of youth and upcoming draft picks. Unfortunately, that story line was true in summer 2013 and is still true in 2016.

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After a too-brief hiatus, the rebuild continues in earnest. The lowly Phoenix Suns are 14-43, riding a 12-game losing streak and showing no signs of improvement in the near future. Their current record is even worse than the wish-I-could-forget 2012-13 debacle that ushered GM Ryan McDonough through the door with fanfare.

McDonough's tenure began with unexpected success, which was proven to simply push the inevitable rebuild further down the road.

In the 12 months since the Suns began McD's tenure with a 77-59 record and on the cusp of the playoffs the entire time, Suns GM Ryan McDonough has traded three of his best players for four future picks.

McDonough and friends clearly decided that his inaugural team - which was vacillating between 8th and 10th spots in the West for a year and a half - just wasn't going to be good enough as constructed to become a sustained playoff participant. The roster had no proven All-Stars despite desperate attempts in free agency to sign one or more. Add in chemistry issues, and you've got a problem.

Kick the can

Backup point guard Isaiah Thomas was traded for the Cleveland pick in 2016 (late first round). Point guard/shooting guard/small forward Goran Dragic was traded for lightly protected picks in 2018 and 2021. And now power forward Markieff Morris has been traded for a 2016 late-lottery pick.

Since this purge began in February 2015, which also includes letting Brandan Wright and Gerald Green go as free agents, trading Marcus Morris and eventually firing the coaching staff, the Suns have gone 24-61.

It doesn't help that the injury bug has hit hard, of course. The Suns have been missing at least two and as many as seven rotation players every night for the past two months. But egregious losses are egregious losses.

Let's recap.

At the rate McDonough is turning over talent, it's no wonder the Suns players have their heads on a swivel. Since they started 29-25 last year, none of the coaches and only two of the nine players who played that 54th game are still on the team today (Tucker and Bledsoe). And Bledsoe is out for the season.

Let that sink in a bit. Take a deep breath. Alex Len (ankle), Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren were there, but did not play. If we're being generous, make it five players from that 29-25 team still around. THAT WAS JUST TWELVE MONTHS AGO.

Bright Side

There is, of course, a bright side to all of this losing.

They're giving valuable playing experience to Goodwin, Len and this year's top draft pick Devin Booker. Unfortunately, Warren is out for the season or he'd be in that group as well.

And, the Suns now own likely four of the top 35 picks in the 2016 Draft - their own, plus Washington's and Cleveland's first round picks - and three more first round picks in the two years after that.

The cream of that crop will be a likely Top-3 pick - their highest pick since Armen Gilliam, and Neal Walk before that - both drafted #2 overall by the Suns.

This June will mark the best overall set of draft picks in Ryan McDonough's tenure. In 2013, he had the 5th and 30th picks but that was widely considered a poor draft class. The #1 overall pick is already out of the league. In 2014, he had three picks but none higher than 14th. In 2015, he had only the 13th pick. His choices have been good, but not until they lucked into Devin Booker has any pick been a potential difference-maker.

Now he's finally got a chance at a top pick and he's not letting it go.

When all the Suns point guards got hurt, he didn't trade for any. He just forced the coach to slide 19- and 21-year old shooting guards into the PG position and roll from there. Need a backup? How about a 10-day contract or six for some D-League combo guards. As a result, the Suns have lost 12 in a row, and have only won two games since mid-December.

If McDonough makes all those picks this June, he will have taken NINE players in the first round over his first four years in the GM chair. So far, of the six first-round picks he's taken, the Suns still own the rights to five of them and four have started a significant number of games in their first years while the 5th is getting better and better in Euroleague.

If you include Bogdan Bogdanovic, the 23-year old two-time reigning Euroleague Rising Star and recent MVP of the Turkish Cup Championship, the Suns could bring an astounding five rookies into the fold of their rebuild next season.

This process of kicking the can down the road - trading today's players for tomorrow's draft picks - has to eventually pay off right?

Recent kick-the-can history

Let's take a look at the Suns recent history of kick-the-can trades that have impacted today's Suns roster.

In 2012 the Suns turned former MVP Steve Nash into Archie Goodwin (2013 Draft), Alex Oriakhi (2013 Draft) and Brandon Knight (2015). The Knight trade also required first round picks from 2012 and 2014: Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, respectively. Nash would hardly play again in the NBA, and Knight and Goodwin might still emerge as good players on a playoff-level team. But neither player really contributed until three years after the Nash trade, and neither will ever approach Nash in talent.

In 2013, the Suns traded starting center Marcin Gortat and 2012 first round pick Kendall Marshall for Washington's 2014 pick, which was used on Tyler Ennis - who was later traded as mentioned above.

So really, the Suns ultimately traded Nash, Gortat, Marshall, Plumlee, Ennis and a very likely Top-10 2017 pick for two players on today's roster: Goodwin and Knight. One of those has not proven to be NBA starter quality and the other has been hurt as often as not since he was acquired a year ago.

Sure, none of those guys traded away was going to lead the Suns to the playoffs either. Nash was on his last legs and barely played again. Gortat has been good, but he proved in 2012-13 he's no difference maker. Plumlee, Marshall and Ennis are marginal NBA rotation players. If you're tired of being on a treadmill, you have to keep turning over talent that doesn't make a difference.

Crossing fingers

Let's hope the Suns can do more with the picks they got for Dragic, Thomas and Morris.

Trading starters in their prime has added pressure to get good value back. Dragic is struggling in Miami when he's paired with Dwyane Wade, but played like an All-Star in Phoenix in 2013-14.  Thomas is an All-Star in the East, but would not have been a good starter in Phoenix next to Bledsoe or Dragic. And of course, we all know why Markieff Morris was traded. But he wasn't a difference maker either, even when he was in his best frame of mind.

But all three are now starters on playoff-caliber teams in the East while the Suns are a bottom-feeder in the West. This shaky rebuild that's been repeatedly sidetracked by attempts to taste the playoffs is now hurtling to the bottom. But when you're rebuilding, the lower the better.

Keep kicking that can down the road, Suns, and maybe someday you'll hit pay dirt.

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