Tuesday’s lottery had to break the right way for the Suns to come away from the offseason in position to finally move on from their tired, played-out rebuild. Now, with No. 1 in hand, the Suns can begin to devise a plan for the next step in this critical offseason -- the draft.
The Suns will have picks Nos. 1, 16, 31 and 59 come June 21, giving them flexibility to target and acquire up to four rookies. It’s a flexibility well-earned in this fifth year of Ryan McDonough’s tenure -- the product of hundreds of losses and mostly savvy asset management that should allow the Suns to control the flow of the draft, including their choice of can’t-miss prospects at the very top.
“It’s very unlikely that we trade [the pick],” McDonough explained to gathered media Tuesday night. “The only scenario in which I could envision us trading the pick is if we traded it for an established, young star… probably on a multi-year contract or with multiple years of control.”
So that’s one option -- if a miraculous deal comes together to get one of the very best young stars in the league, the Suns now hold a massive trade chip that only one team gets. That could happen on draft night or at any point during the offseason.
Looking around a league that is tired of failing at the hands of LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors, a few situations are already simmering. One could easily imagine Kawhi Leonard (just one year left), Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, DeMar DeRozan or John Wall becoming available. Having the No. 1 pick is an incredible bargaining chip in the event a great young player becomes available.
Many are already predicting a crazy NBA summer, as teams pivot once again in an attempt to break up the annual Warriors-Cavaliers championship bout. The Suns are in position to pounce, should things go sideways for some desperate, spent franchise.
With so much talent at the top of this year’s draft, however, the Suns have an opportunity to finally grab the franchise-defining talent they hope will lead them toward a championship.
“I just assume that we have what we have and we keep what we have,” said James Jones, the team’s vice president of basketball operations, indicating that any movement will be up to McDonough and the rest of the front office.
We all know the two names at the top of this year’s draft, Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton, but there are players at 16 and 31 who could help the team as well. The talent in the back half of the first round could give the Suns another exciting prospect -- someone like Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV, Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith, SMU’s Shake Milton or Wichita State’s Landry Shamet -- as they continue to try and build a versatile, modern team.
McDonough also left open the door to trade up into the lottery and strike again, like the franchise did when it drafted Marquese Chriss at No. 8 in 2016.
“We’re not planning on having a roster that’s quite as young next year,” McDonough said. “We’re open to moving [the later picks] for a player to help us move forward, or even to move up in the draft into the late lottery or earlier in the teens.”
That means that the Suns could dip back in if a player complements their top pick well and they can find a trade partner near that range to get a deal done. McDonough and his staff also have the 2021 Miami Heat first-rounder at their disposal, as well as their own pick and a future Milwaukee Bucks first-rounder.
If the Suns take Doncic first, perhaps a big man like Wendell Carter Jr. stands out to them to fill out their frontcourt. A team like the Clippers, in the first year of a reset, might be willing to trade one of their back-to-back picks at 12 and 13 to add a future asset.
If the Suns take Ayton first, a guard like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might appeal to them. There are plenty of possibilities when you get into trade what-ifs, with the Suns able to offer so much.
“I think it’s very unlikely we bring three or four rookies to training camp next year,” McDonough added.
One final option that is available to the Suns based on their desire to move their chips toward the middle of the table this summer is to stash a player they draft. There are guys at every slot who could play another season or two overseas before joining the Suns’ roster. Get familiar with Bosnian wing Dzanan Musa, French guard Elie Okobo, German playmaker Isaac Bonga and Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs. There are attractive draft-and-stash options throughout this year’s class that would reinforce the Suns’ roster at some point in their more competitive future.
Getting the first pick was important, but executing on draft night will be vital for the Suns to craft a flexible and competitive team moving forward.