After the third true season of this rebuild, which included hype along the way from general manager Ryan McDonough himself via radio interviews, expect plenty of aggressive moves this summer for the Suns to immediately improve.
Whether it is swinging on trades, free agency or the draft, expect Phoenix to exhaust all possible options as they also expect to sign Devin Booker to his 5-year, $157 million extension right when July 1 arrives.
Even with that being said, I think it’s as good a time as ever to rehash McDonough’s comments from right after he selected Josh Jackson in the 2017 Draft.
“We obviously studied what Golden State did and Josh talked a little bit about that and how they built their team. We studied what Oklahoma City did, Earl (Watson) was there when the group was young and not winning a whole lot of games, helped turn it,” McDonough said back in June of last year. “So, we’ve looked at all of that. Obviously, it starts with the caliber of the player, in terms of the talent, in terms of their approach.”
Over 9 months later, how have these Suns fared compared to those expectations? Well, not good at all. Not only was Watson fired after only three games, but the Suns are on pace to finish with their worst win-loss total with McDonough leading the way.
Obviously, upon further examination, this seems like it was designed to go this way with the lack of moves to improve the roster. Not only did Phoenix sit out free agency outside of re-signing Alan Williams, but they backed out of the Kyrie Irving trade on draft night right beforehand.
Outside of Devin Booker, Jackson and even their own 2018 first-round pick, the rest of this current roster seems movable in the right offer anytime between now and August.
Comparing the current situation Phoenix is nestled into other rebuilds the past few years, this one by far is the one lagging most behind. Let's break down those locations and how they went from bottom feeder to contender in three years time.
Will the same be said about the Suns this time next season? That could be the deciding factor to whether McDonough still has a job heading into next offseason.
This offseason will be one we likely look back upon down the line due to how significant it actually is. If all goes well, this could be the crowning jewel moment for this regime or vice versa.
Below, I ran through three rebuilds that paid off while comparing another one taking place currently alongside Phoenix. Let's see how the Suns stack up because the 2018-2019 roster is likely to look completely different.
20-62, 23-59, 50-32
Before owner Clay Bennett uprooted the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City and renamed them the Thunder, Kevin Durant donned the green and gold his rookie season. Russell Westbrook even threw on a Sonics hat one last time before they announced a week later of their intentions.
Anyways, how the Thunder went about their rebuild is similar in many ways how others on this list achieved a quick turnaround: pure luck.
Not only did OKC select Durant and Westbrook but they capped off their rebuild by selecting James Harden. Almost overnight, the inclusion of Harden and Serge Ibaka, plus a veteran signing of center Kendrick Perkins to fairly cheap, led the Thunder towards a 27-win improvement.
Oklahoma City did have a similar draft model like the Suns are currently deploying. They were able to secure multiple first-round picks (2010, 2013, 2014) during the initial push from Durant and Westbrook — even after they shipped away Harden foolishly a few seasons later due to future salary cap concerns — and flourished up until its sudden conclusion.
Without the additions of Harden, Ibaka, Steven Adams and other key role players, the Durant-Westbrook combo might not have led them to a Western Conference Finals before KD dipped to Golden State a few months later.
36-46, 23-43, 47-35
The Warriors as we all know are a cheat code already due to its historic firepower, but general manager Bob Myers should be applauded for his efforts crafting this masterpiece. Somehow, he was lucky enough to snag three future Hall of Famers in three consecutive drafts rolling into one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.
Somehow, the Big 3 of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green wasn’t enough because they were able to convince Durant to leave his own chapter in Oklahoma City. It was like putting propane on an already lit fire.
On the verge of four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, the Warriors were helped in the beginning by having multiple 1s in 2012. Before selecting Green in the early second round, the Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. Those two ended being key cogs in their initial runs to the final series against Cleveland.
As you can tell by the record tally above, Golden State only saw one year where they fell off the map in the first year of Steph and Klay. Right after, it was a quick 24-game turnaround once those three were added in alongside their historic player rises.
Golden State is an extreme example of how this can spark into a dynasty, but as we already know, the Suns are on the opposite end of the spectrum right now.
18-64, 10-72, 28-54, 48-30*
Unfortunately for the Sixers, their rebuild was delayed mightily by bad luck. Not only did Joel Embiid encounter injuries through his first three seasons, but Ben Simmons didn’t play a single game last season.
However, I will always applaud Sam Hinkie for being the innovator of this tanking movement. Without this occurring, the Sixers are not where they are right now. Nowhere close.
The trend of multiple first rounders showed itself again as Hinkie capitalized on his opportunities.
He swindled then Magic general manager Rob Hennigan into moving up for Elfrid Payton. This allowed the Sixers to move two spots down to obtain an ideal fit next to Embiid with Dario Saric.
Also, Hinkie had a slew of second rounders he assembled. Some missed, but some hit as well. Names such as Furkan Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabaroot have turned into ideal rotation pieces locked on cheap deals.
With the delays due to poor draft picks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor as well as injury, which even hit Markelle Fultz (Noel and Okafor were later traded due to Embiid’s meteoric rise and poor fit with them), Philadelphia couldn’t make an impact earlier but they are definitely here now. Behind Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers are easily set up to be a long-term contender for nearly a decade.
Also, it should be noted that the free agency signings were a critical factor here. J.J. Redick helped boost this young core forward, much like it was for the Warriors when they nabbed Andre Iguodala in a similar fashion.
Phoenix did not aggressively tank like Hinkie did to the tune of 10 wins one season, but this back half of the season has been miserable. After losing 15 straight, the Suns finally snapped that victory drought but it’s been an enlighting year-in-review as talent hasn’t progressed as far as hoped outside of Booker and Jackson.
Similar current rebuild to Phoenix = Los Angeles Lakers
17-65, 26-56, 34-44*
It’s fair to throw the Lakers in this category because of them going through a similar rock bottom two years earlier.
Los Angeles bottomed out with 17 wins but only ended up with D’Angelo Russell at No. 3 in the process. In the last two drafts though, they have selected Brandon Ingram plus Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.
Interestingly enough, even though this sifts through two regimes (Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took control last summer), in 2015 and 2017 they had multiple picks in the top 30. As we all know, they were able to pick Kuzma at No. 27 due to the dump of former #3 pick Russell trade allowing them to switch over to Magic’s preference of Ball running his new “Showtime” offense under Luke Walton.
So far, LA has only improved by nearly 10 wins after this overhaul but how have they escaped out of that? Well, with a young core spearheaded by Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma they have enough assets to build around them with ample cap space.
That, I imagine, is something McDonough wants to recreate heading into the summer of 2019 when Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley’s contracts wash off their books.
If the Suns are able to walk into next summer with Booker, Jackson, and either Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, they are set up to attract some big name if they develop as expected over an 82-game sample size.
It will be interesting to follow the division rival over the years because these cores will be judged side by side when they both reach the playoffs at some point.
23-59, 24-58, 20-59*
I didn’t realize this until now but McDonough has incredibly had four out of six drafts, including this upcoming one, where he will own multiple first round picks. That could also signal something, because outside of Warren with Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss being the most recent instance of this, it hasn’t gone well for other choices.
Alex Len is expected to leave this summer. His other first-round pick, Archie Goodwin, washed out after three seasons. In 2014, Tyler Ennis and Bogdan Bogdanovic were selected after Warren. As we know, only Warren made it out safely in that draft class. Then, most recently, McDonough aggressively moved up to nab two modern-day bigs in Bender and Chriss.
If we classify one of Bender or Chriss as misses, it means McDonough hit at a 28.6% success rate with those groups of prospects. That’s not good at all.
This upcoming summer is one of near do-or-die circumstances in terms of reshaping this underperforming roster around Booker and Jackson’s strengths. Also, how will a top-four pick fit into the fold?
These are questions McDonough and his staff will have to not only answer correctly but hit home runs on.
When glancing back over the record improvements from the major three teams mentioned in this exercise, sans Los Angeles for a moment, alongside Phoenix, all experienced 20 win jumps in their third seasons of the rebuild.
Currently, the Suns have regressed in that all-important third year. They will have to aggressively catch up to those other similar teams they studied staying on track, hoping their top pick alongside moves via trades and free agency lead to a +20 improvement. Realistically, I would aim for around +15 or so, but that latter goal should be their target.
Do you believe the Suns could hit 35-40 wins next season? Based on other historical trends, that has to be the measuring point or McDonough has failed on his already five-year assignment.
It’s time to accelerate this rebuild for this current ensemble of talent to reach its ambitious goals multiple years down the line. Phoenix, you’re on the clock.