This week, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver sat down for a one-on-one with the best beat writer in the NBA, azcentral.com and Arizona Republic's Paul Coro.
Coro has covered the Suns throughout Sarver's tenure as owner, which reached the high highs of consecutive Western Conference Finals to the low lows of two of the franchises worst three seasons in its 48 year existence.
As the Suns finish out the worst of his seasons as owner, twelve years after taking over the team, Sarver gave several candid responses to clear, probing questions. This story is a must-read if you haven't caught it yet.
For the purposes of this story, I am focusing on Sarver's comments regarding the Suns' immediate future.
McD is back
First, he said that General Manager Ryan McDonough would "definitely" be the GM next year. This is likely a good answer, considering McDonough's draft picks are showing out as some of the best of their class this spring.
Since the All-Star break, center/forward Alex Len is one of only five players in the NBA putting up 17 points and 12 rebounds per game, in the fewest minutes (31.1). And in March, shooting guard Devin Booker is one of only six NBA players putting up 28 points and 4.3 assists per game. Booker is the only one under 25 years old. Both players have prototypical size for their position, prototypical playing styles and skill sets, and more the enough athleticism to succeed on both ends of the court for another decade or more.
McDonough now has a foundation of talent on which to build, and just needs time to do it the slow way. He's got a Top 3 pick coming this summer - the Suns' highest in more than 30 years - plus two more throughout the first round. Let McDonough work his magic on at least one more round of draft picks.
Just don't short circuit this thing again with a crazy attempt to go all in for a contender this summer.
Build through the draft
"If you look at a lot of the good teams right now," Sarver said. "They went through three, four, five, six tough years to be able to get all those young players and have that consistency to compete at a high level for an extended period of time.
"I think we're taking steps to do that but they're painful."
This sounds like an owner finally ready to suck it up and ride out a real, true rebuild. I don't mean the Sixers kind of rebuild which intentionally tanks harder than any team in history has tanked.
I mean the organic rebuild that puts the brakes on aggressive free agency moves trying to compete NOW even though it might be enticing to go after a LeBron James (who will be a free agent again), Kevin Durant or even Al Horford this summer.
Just like the Suns are spending the second half of this season building up the games (otherwise known as player development) of rookie Devin Booker and third-year center Alex Len into two of the team's core of the future, they should spend next season continuing that development with their top draft pick this summer - who will likely have more raw talent than either Booker or Len - and giving plenty of opportunities to 2014 top pick T.J. Warren too.
That should be the plan. Lay low this summer. Draft well with your three first round picks. Consider bringing over Bogdan Bogdanovic too. Give them all lots of time to show whether they can be a star in the NBA - as Booker, and even Len at times, have shown - or if they are just another rotation player (sorry Archie).
But alas, impatience is a bugaboo.
Be aggressive anyway
We cannot forget that both McDonough and Sarver have tasted the success of miraculous turnarounds in a single summer.
As assistant GM in Boston, McDonough saw Danny Ainge turn an awful team with good young talent into an NBA Champion in the blink of an eye in the summer of 2007. Ainge traded the #5 overall pick for Ray Allen and a handful of young players for Kevin Garnett. The Celtics went from 24-58 record to 66-16 and the championship.
As a new owner, Sarver took over an awful team with good young talent in the summer of 2004. They simply signed Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks and Quentin Richardson from the Clippers, and went to 62 wins and the Western Conference Finals.
So, neither Sarver nor McDonough will ever give up on the idea of quick turnaround. In the interview with Coro, Sarver did mention being aggressive again in free agency this summer. He cited going after LeBron two years ago, and LaMarcus Aldridge last year as attempts to bring top level players back to the Valley.
Sure that's fun, in a vacuum. But it doesn't serve any good purpose this year. If you succeed in signing a top level talent, then you HAVE to win now. And player development turns into a need for immediate production. If you fail, you run the risk of pissing off the incumbents who thought THEY were the future or at least the present (Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Goran Dragic, etc.).
This year's free agent market is going to be a doozy. Teams have to find a way to commit A BILLION DOLLARS to players not already under contract for the 2016-17 season. If you don't believe me, just read this quickie article. The cap is rising from $70 million to somewhere between $89-95 million. It's crazy. Nuts. Mind bottling.
Sure, the Suns will have more than $30 million to spend, but that's paltry compared to other teams. Again, if you click this link you'll see a pretty graph of teams with spending money.
The Lakers have $65+ million (based on an $89 million cap). Philly has $62+ million, and they say they are going to spend it. Dallas has $60+, what with all their short-term deals expiring, including Dirk's.
The Suns, with a paltry $30+ million to spend, will be just another team trying to sign a middling free agent for more money than you'd ever imagine.
The FA pool is shallow
Here's the list of free agents this summer. Imagine a world where Chandler Parsons gets a big raise over his current $16 million per year. Where Harrison Barnes and Kent Bazemore get more money than Eric Bledsoe.
By mid-July, Bledsoe's and Knight's contracts will look miniscule. And they will be in demand because of it. There's only one good FA point guard out there, Mike Conley, and he's not likely leaving Memphis anyway. So the trade market will heat up as teams covet those on "good" contracts already.
Someone's going to give Eric Gordon more money than Brandon Knight got. Someone's going to see Brandon's Jennings' asking price and choke on their hot dog.
If by "aggressive", Sarver means the trade market then I'm in. McDonough has proven he knows how to close deals. Let's hope he brings his drafting and trading magic to the table this summer, without dismantling the young core of the team and extending the rebuild even further.
Len's next contract
Then, when October rolls around, we can all gnash our teeth over Alex Len's rookie extension. He's eligible this summer for an extension than begins in 2017.
What's his asking price going to be? Well, I'm sure his agent will show the Suns the 17 points and 12 rebounds he's been averaging since the All-Star break and ask for a number you won't believe. $18 million year? The full $21 million starting number that the new cap will allow?