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The Suns’ future is about a lot more than who they take with the #1 pick

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So much more has to happen to make the Suns a viable, respectable team.

We here at BSotS and all over Phoenix Suns fan country have spent the last few weeks agonizing, arguing, capitulating, arguing more, and then arguing yet again over whether the team should draft the 7’1” super-athletic guy who could put up a 20-10 line as early as his rookie year or the 6’8” supernatural facilitator who could average a triple-double one day.

What we have not spent enough time tearing each other apart over is what happens next.

What happens AFTER the Suns draft yet another guy who will struggle to carry the Phoenix Suns to any meaningful wins in 2018-19?

Whoever the Suns draft will ideally be paired with Devin Booker for the next decade or more.

But let’s stop talking about that for a moment. Within the context of this article and its accompanying comment section, let’s try to avoid debating exactly which name will be called at #1 overall.

Let’s talk about what happens NEXT.

When that named is called, the Suns will still have the youngest roster in the NBA. That player will join a Suns lineup of fellow 22-and-unders for the 2018-19 season in Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Not to mention recent second round picks Tyler Ulis, Davon Reed and Alec Peters coming off the bench.

That group posted the ultimate trifecta with the worst record, worst offense and worst defense in the entire league this past season.

Will yet another pick, no matter how talented, really change that dynamic much? No.

Will a rookie head coach, no matter how skilled, really change that dynamic much? No.

It’s all about what the Suns do AFTER the pick is called.

Coach Igor needs to supplement this young core with players who are long-term NBA professionals that know how to properly execute an NBA offensive and defensive scheme 10 out of 10 times.

The Suns will follow up the #1 pick with a series of moves with the following assets at their disposal:

  • $9 million in players with non-guaranteed salaries for next season (Alan Williams, Shaquille Harrison, Davon Reed, Tyler Ulis), who could be released for immediate salary savings
  • $26 million in players with expiring contracts, who will be free agents next summer (Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels)
  • Another $8 million in potentially expiring contracts, depending on whether a team picks up their 4th year options (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss)
  • $11 million per year in a player on a solid, long-term deal who can be a great sixth man or fringe starter for several years (T.J. Warren)
  • $15 million per year for 2 years for a backup combo guard or fringe starter (Brandon Knight)
  • Former #4 pick, 2017 Draft, who can grow into one of the best two-way small forwards in the league (Josh Jackson)
  • #16 pick in the 2018 Draft (Miami’s pick for Dragic)
  • Possible late lottery pick in 2019 (Milwaukee’s pick for Bledsoe)
  • Unprotected 2021 pick (Miami’s other pick for Dragic)
  • Likely mid-to-high lottery picks in 2019, 2020 and so on (Suns own picks)

None of those assets include Devin Booker or the #1 pick from this draft, which happen to be the only two real long-term roster players.

Sure, you can make the case that the Suns could trade either or both of those players too, but if you’re doing that you should be named Jackson Pollock.

Of course, depending on WHO the Suns pick at the top of the draft to pair with Booker, the rest of their roster must be built to maximize the positive impact of that duo.

There are 14 million other ways for this offseason to go, and likely only one that ends up with a playoff run.

Let’s hope the Suns luck themselves into that one scenario.

For now, I will discuss two of the 14 million scenarios.

Scenario 1: Suns select Deandre Ayton, and then...

Biggest needs after that selection: creative passing, perimeter and front court defense

Now, the Suns have their shooting guard and center of the future. Ayton is very likely to approach 20 points and 10 rebounds per game next season, taking a great deal of pressure off the returning players to find ways to score enough to make Booker’s life easier.

Around them are a (supposedly) good two-way small forward in Josh Jackson and a shit-sandwich at point guard and power forward.

The most likely outcome of an Ayton, Booker, Jackson, Knight and Chriss/Bender starting lineup is a minor improvement on offense (maybe 18th?) but another disaster on defense (probably still 30th; maybe as high as 20th if everything goes perfectly well).

To be interesting, fun and competitive, the Suns would need a major upgrade at point guard. To be a marked improvement over Brandon Knight, who is pretty darn good creating points for himself, the point guard would need to be a better creator and/or defender.

Free agent starting-caliber point guards: Chris Paul (lol no way he comes to Phoenix), Isaiah Thomas (haha) and... ranked third by Hoopshype... Elfrid Payton.

Ugh. Never mind on that front.

Potentially available starting-caliber point guards via trade, because their teams had a crappy ending to their season and front offices sometimes overreact: Mike Conley (Grizzlies), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), John Wall (Wizards), Kemba Walker (Hornets), Goran Dragic (Heat).

Unfortunately, all of Conley, Lowry, Wall and Walker (a year from now) will have exhorbitant salaries that will make it difficult to add high-caliber veteran talent at any other position in the reasonable future.

That leaves one real option at starting-caliber point guard: Goran Dragic.

It also helps that Dragic won a Eurocup Gold Medal with Igor as his coach last summer, surrounded by surprise 18 year old and a bunch of Euro roster-players who collectively were picked to finish around 9th.

Recent rumors have the Heat looking to move Dragic if the offer is right, and one outlet says that’s salary relief and a second round pick or two. The Heat have overloaded their roster with lots of PGPs (pretty good players) and are now stuck in salary cap hell with few draft picks at their disposal.

I’d give the Heat their immediate salary relief, some of that in non-guaranteed contracts and some in expiring contracts, freeing up Dragic’s entire salary within the year. As far as draft pick compensation, the Suns can offer the best second round picks of anyone: #31 this year and likely one of the highest in 2019.

If competition gets heated, I’d give them the Bucks pick (acquired in the Bledsoe trade). Wouldn’t that be poetic if Dragic was traded to make room for Bledsoe, but then later swapped out for Bledsoe?

The Suns would still need to improve their defense around Booker, Dragic, Jackson and Ayton.

I’d spend any remaining cap space on Derrick Favors. Favors, one of the best front court defenders in the league, could play a lot of minutes next to Ayton as well as back him up.

25-minute-per-night players in 2018-19: Ayton, Booker, Jackson, Dragic and Favors

You could also then consider swapping Jackson for a proven two-way small forward if one becomes available, but by then you’re locking yourself into this core long term.

Likely outcome: could win 40+ games and sneak into playoffs

Scenario 2: Suns select Luka Doncic, and then...

Biggest needs after that selection: front court scoring, perimeter and front court defense

Now, the Suns have their shooting guard and playmaking wing of the future. Doncic is likely to become the Suns most frequent ball handler and could put up numbers in the range of Lonzo Ball with a better jumper, posting something like 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game if given 30 minutes a night.

Around them are a (supposedly) good two-way small forward in Josh Jackson and a shit-sandwich at point guard, power forward and center.

The most likely outcome of a Doncic, Booker, Jackson, Knight and Chriss/Bender starting lineup is a minor improvement on offense (maybe 18th?) but another disaster on defense (probably still 30th; maybe as high as 20th if everything goes perfectly well).

In other words, not a whole lot different than if they selected Ayton.

With Doncic on board, we would see Jackson play a lot of power forward offensively while defending the opposing point guard on defense. Chriss and Bender would share the center duties on both ends in a five-out type offense.

Unfortunately, this five-out offense is saddled with awful outside shooting success and almost zero front court scoring proficiency.

To be interesting, fun and competitive, the Suns would need to add an outside shooter or three, and someone who can play defense against anyone taller than 6’8”.

My primary target would of course be Clint Capela of the Rockets. Capela is a restricted free agent and could likely be had if the Suns made a $25 million-per-year offer sheet. However, it’s just as likely the Rockets match the deal than not. And that’s assuming Capela would even sign a Suns offer sheet in the first place.

Outside of Capela, my next free agent target in this scenario would be Derrick Favors (who would likely sign for the $12-18 million per year range). Favors — as long as you keep him healthy — is actually fairly talented offensively, inside 15 feet anyway, and is one of the league’s best defenders in that area as well. his minutes and opportunities have been held back throughout his career by the likes of multiple annoying injuries as well as Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert.

Capela or Favors could provide a 10/10 stat line while healthy, and help the Suns defense go from league-worst to something closer to the middle-third when he’s on the court.

25-minute-per-night players in 2018-19: Doncic, Booker, Jackson and Capela/Favors

And just like in the other scenario, you could also then consider swapping Jackson for a proven two-way small forward if one becomes available, but by then you’re locking yourself into this core long term.

Likely outcome: might not reach 40 wins with your primary playmakers being 19 and 21 years old.

So that’s two scenarios.

Have fun coming up with the other 14 million.