After 50 years of suffering without an NBA championship, the Phoenix Suns took a significant step on Tuesday night to achieve that in the future by winning the NBA Draft Lottery.
Whether it’s Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, the final piece to its young core is finally in their possession. Now, it opens up a whole word of possibilities moving forward for Phoenix, especially if their No. 1 pick becomes a perennial All-Star alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson.
Winning the lottery had to happen for the Suns, because anything else outside of the top two would have likely been devastating from their point of view. Ayton and Doncic are the consensus top two, and having a 21-61 season resulting in the third or fourth pick would have resulted in another project or panic trade for a disgruntled superstar.
Luckily, Phoenix is able to avoid those worst-case scenarios because their plan is finally falling into place.
General manager Ryan McDonough has said on multiple occasions that three years was their limit, in terms of staying overly patient and focusing solely on internal player development during their rebuilding effort.
Now, with plans of being aggressive with their assets to build around Booker this summer, landing No. 1 is the icing on the cake to helping make Phoenix an attractive destination once more.
Building around their core of Booker, Jackson, and No. 1 pick, the Suns now have plenty of directions they can take to construct a long term contender in the Valley.
Not only does Phoenix own all of their own future picks, but they also own two from Miami (No. 16 in 2018 and unprotected in 2021) and one from Milwaukee via the Eric Bledsoe trade in November (protected pick likely to convey in 2020).
It gets even better for Phoenix because if you take a look at their cap sheet, it’s looking very promising to attract a top-notch free agent to cap off their painstaking rebuild two summers from now. Outside of T.J. Warren, who’s 5-year extension begins on July 1, there are no other players currently projected on their roster outside of the aforementioned three young pillars.
If you have been paying attention to context clues throughout this season, an overhaul has been brought up as an option ever since 2018 began when their nosedive to the bottom of the standings really kicked off. I would place heavy odds that over half of this roster is gone and more win-now, veteran pieces will surround Booker and Co. as they are ready to make their initial ascent.
Flexibility has been the name of the game for Phoenix under McDonough’s tenure, especially when they hit reboot on the Cinderella roster from 2014-2015 that barely missed the playoffs behind Goran Dragic’s incredible offensive output. Now, Phoenix is set up to be contenders in free agency over the next few years, continuously trotting out their recruiting tool of their young Big 3 (Booker, Jackson, Ayton/Doncic) and finally some stability with an innovative head coach in Igor Kokoskov.
Moments after the Suns were unveiled as the top pick, McDonough spoke to the local media over conference call about the event. And once more, he reiterated that aggressive mindset is still very much in play moving forward.
At this point, I’m expecting Phoenix to be one of the biggest movers and shakers this summer from all avenues of acquiring talent. If they move up in the draft to nab their other huge need (center or point guard) or use those assets to swing a deal for somebody like Kemba Walker, all is seemingly on the table until then.
“As you guys know, we plan to be aggressive in free agency. I mentioned before we’re not planning on having a roster quite as young next year,” McDonough said. “I think that potentially puts the later picks in play a little bit more, meaning we’re open to moving those picks for a player to help us move forward or even to move up in the draft, we can consolidate and get one guy in the late lottery or earlier in the teens. So, we’ll look at all of that but I think it’s very unlikely we bring three or four rookies into training camp so we’ll be aggressive. I think 16, 31, and 59 are in play. And I mentioned No. 1 is probably not, unless a scenario falls out of the sky that we’re not anicipating at this point.”
After Monday’s introductory press conference for Kokoskov, McDonough also mentioned that all of their players are available in the right deal, except for Booker, Jackson, and No. 1 pick. Also, as he spoke of above, they are not trading their pick for unless somebody like Anthony Davis becomes available for it.
This time around, after speaking to 12-20 candidates for their head coaching position compared to none when they re-hired Earl Watson in 2016, the Suns seemed to have learned their lesson. They are also saying all the right things after achieving possibly the biggest moment in franchise history since trading for Steve Nash in 2014 to begin the 7 Seconds or Less era.
Now, after snapping the lottery curse, Phoenix is set up to turn their entire operation around if they make the right chess moves this summer. They passed the first test by hiring Kokoskov, but every moment until McDonough’s contract expires in 2019-20 will dictate how this team is heading into the next decade.
Depending on if the Suns’ young trio is able to mimic early success like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons experienced in Philadelphia, then they are going to catch a lot of eyeballs for all the right reasons this time around.
Next summer, names like Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, and Walker could actually be intrigued by the possibility of joining Phoenix instead of spurning them or cancelling meetings last minute to help pull off leverage (see Blake Griffin and the Suns’ interactions last July). Landing just one of them could be the final piece to sending #TheTimeline into liftoff as rising contenders before McDonough’s contract expires.
It’s an obvious answer, but McDonough needed this to happen. If bad luck would have slipped into this year’s lottery, then who knows what direction the Suns would head in on draft night and in the near future without one of Ayton or Doncic in purple and orange.
All of the sudden, the fortunes of the Suns’ franchise has flipped. If they are able to hit on their first No. 1 pick ever and add the much-needed role pieces alongside their final big fish acquisition over the next two summers, then this long drawn out process would have been absolutely worth it.
With the pick in place, now it’s time to see how Phoenix maneuvers through the minefield over not only the next 5 weeks but also until 2020 where they need to meet their expectations of consistent playoff appearances throughout Booker’s second contract.
This time around, the Suns have no excuses to not build a future title contender with their main nucleus of talent already in place.