For a team that has been quiet all offseason — the only move being re-signing Alan Williams to a three-year, $17 million deal with only the first season fully guaranteed — the Suns have continuously stayed in the news cycle one way or another. And for a roster littered with youth, that’s to be expected at this point of the rebuild.
After general manager Ryan McDonough tried to make a contender on the fly around Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe during his initial run, he’s now finally putting his plan into motion of taking the long road towards a championship building around the draft after receiving an extension through the 2019-2020 season.
As majority owner Robert Sarver said to the media during now Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones’ press conference last month, he’s made his share of mistakes in trying to rush the process post-7 Seconds or Less era led by Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni. With new CBA regulations put in after LeBron James and Kevin Durant departed their original squads, it gives franchises more incentive to focus on the draft and develop their own talent. Nowadays, teams have players under control through their first two contracts, usually seven seasons, before a player can bolt out of town.
Here’s what McDonough had to say then about how the Suns plan to climb the ladder towards the playoffs once again, and it seemed apparent that all levels of the organization seem fully committed to said plan.
“Doing what we’re trying to do and what I think we’re on the path to doing requires some patience, it does for sure. It’s hard to win with young players in this league, we all understand that, but Robert touched on it a little bit, building a championship team is not easy and there’s no perfect way to do it. At the end of the day, what you need are elite players in their prime, you need several of them playing well and playing together.
"To me, other things as well. You need great coaching, great role players, you need a lot of health, you need a lot of luck. So, what we’re trying to do, Robert again touched on the importance of the draft. We’re trying to primarily bring players in through the draft, not only through the draft but primarily through it and develop them together and grow the core of the team together,” McDonough said last month about their current game plan.
This brings me to the point of how Phoenix has stayed revolving around Kyrie Irving trade talks since news broke in July that he wanted to escape LeBron’s shadow.
I have stayed on the side of if the price is right for Irving -- again, the most I would offer Cleveland at this juncture is Bledsoe, Warren, and the Miami first, maybe even just Bledsoe himself with draft incentives -- the Suns should rightfully pursue him. However, with Cleveland seemingly not budging on their demands of a young star and a win-now piece (AKA including Josh Jackson from PHX’s perspective), the timing might not be right just like it wasn’t for DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, and Paul George.
Sure, an Irving-Booker would be dynamic and put Phoenix on the map nationally but sacrificing the long-term control of Jackson for possibly only two years of the Cavs’ point guard should worry the front office without an initial commitment.
If McDonough and Co. want to keep their core four of Devin Booker, Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender through this season to see progressions in their games, a trade now could backfire on them. Especially with where Chriss and Bender are currently on their developmental trajectories — many executives around the league are surprisingly low on the 19-year-old Croation already after his rookie season — it will likely help Phoenix’s case if a deal they can’t pass up becomes available and both bigs show more consistent flashes.
With that being said, though, a franchise-changing move is coming soon based on how the roster is currently constructed. Phoenix controls all of their future draft picks, including the 2018 and 2021 Miami first-round selections. The Suns already will head into the season as one of the youngest rosters in the league, and they don’t need to add four more rookies to the fold next summer.
Whether it’s moving up in the draft packaging both their own and Miami’s 2018 first to obtain one of the five can’t miss prospects at the top or mortgaging assets to speed up their process acquiring a top-notch star to add into their core, the clock has started ticking.
Looking at names who could become available within the next year, this is what I foresee as possible attempts: DeMarcus Cousins (trade deadline 2018), Anthony Davis, Irving if he’s still there into the season, and trying to pry away Giannis Antetokounmpo from Milwaukee if his relationships sour over time. (ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski previously stated in a radio interview in July that teams were already circling around trying to see how they can get Antetokounmpo from the Bucks.)
Out of those four, Davis and Antetokounmpo would be deals where it would take significant assets to get it done -- and Cousins could be had at a discount in February if New Orleans falls out of the playoff race early and commits past this season with the Suns.
However, Phoenix could still feasibly move up in the draft using their 2018 picks to get their top target while also utilizing future picks in 2019 and beyond to acquire the star that moves the needle. It might be low odds at the moment, but it’s certainly possible depending on the landscape of the league. Behind Boston’s current treasure trove of assets, I would put Phoenix second on that list of teams who have the ammunition to flip the roster switch quickly, in terms of making moves.
That’s the flexibility that McDonough has given Phoenix thus far, and puts them in a very similar situation to how the 2007 Boston Celtics ascended to elite via trades utilizing picks and young talent for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. McDonough was on the Celtics’ staff during that period, too, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on as the player movement becomes heavier and rumors begin swirling for whoever wants out of where.
“We like the core of our group. Obviously, it’s a young team, so we’ve had those opportunities come our way,” McDonough said to me at Summer League about the team’s flexibility in possible deals. “I think more will come our way. Maybe over the course of the summer, maybe even around the trade deadline or next summer.”
The Suns will continue to stay in the shadows of being a national presence unless Cleveland significantly weakens their demands for Irving, but this franchise seems on a collision course with a game-changing move whether it takes place through acquiring another top prospect or a certified star being shipped to the Valley.