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Griffin: Suns building ‘a pretty formidable group,’ impressed with Suns GM

Former Suns VP David Griffin says current Suns GM Ryan McDonough had one of the best offseasons ever.

Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Recently, the general manager who built a championship supporting cast around LeBron James before getting fired for ONLY making three straight Finals dropped a bombshell opinion about the Suns on local Phoenix radio.

“I feel like there’s very few general managers that can ever say they had as good an off season as Ryan [McDonough] just had,” former Cavaliers GM David Griffin said of the Suns GM on the Bickley and Marotta Show on 98.7 FM.

ExSQUEEZE me?

What you talkin’ bout, David?

We all love us some hyperbole around here, but this is RYAN MCDONOUGH he’s talking about. The Ryan McDonough who hasn’t found a true playmaking point guard to add to the sad-sack 21-win rotation, and whose only free agent acquisition was a 33-year old small forward he expects his rookie head coach to shove into a power forward role ahead of both of his lottery picks from two years ago.

Why would Griff say this?

I’ve been trying to get David Griffin, former Suns employee and STILL a massive Suns fan, on the Solar Panel all summer, but our schedules just haven’t lined up. I’m now kicking myself for not making this happen already.

We were close to having Griff on in June, ahead of the Draft, but now I see that having him on in August might be even more important.

We all need a bit more sunshine in Phoenix, don’t we Suns fans?

Well, just take a listen to Griff for a bit, and you’ll get it.

“I’ve said this on NBA TV and the Sirius XM radio show: I think that Phoenix has had as good an offseason as anybody. They took something and really improved upon it very quickly.”

David Griffin was a Suns employee for 17 years, through the 2009-10 season, after which he and General Manager Steve Kerr left abruptly before the draft and free agency that summer.

Griff and Kerr had gotten the Suns back to one last hurrah under Steve Nash in the Western Conference Finals —their third in six seasons — before a mass exodus began with Kerr and Griff declining new contracts with the Suns and moving on.

We never heard the true story of the sudden exit, but suffice to say Griff still has tremendous fandom for the Suns franchise and will always root for the team to succeed.

Griffin went on to work for the Cavaliers, and took over the team as GM right before LeBron James came home in 2014. Griffin quickly turned a 33-win team into a Finals repeater, trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love and signing a number of key veteran free agents to support LeBron, Love and young Kyrie Irving.

Griffin was eventually let go by the Cavaliers a year ago, ostensibly for not figuring out a way to regularly beat the Warriors on the game’s biggest stage. Since then, Griffin has worked with NBATV and Sirius XM Radio.

I asked him once if he’d ever come back to the Suns, and his response was that he didn’t think the Suns would ever bring him back. I’m guessing that has as much to do with the Suns’ owner as anything else. To a man and woman, Griff is quite well-loved throughout the Suns organization.

Let’s compare Griffin’s GM record to McDonough’s:

  • Griffin’s tenure as Cavaliers GM: 3 years, 3 NBA Finals, 1 World Championship
  • McDonough’s tenure as Suns GM: 5 years and counting, 0 playoffs

Granted, Griffin had LEBRON JAMES that whole time. And while he was a high-ranking official in the Suns organization, he always had Nash to carry his team.

McDonough has not had anyone the caliber of Nash or LeBron.

But now Griffin is singing the praises of McDonough’s work this summer, especially the signing of small forward Trevor Ariza.

“The Trevor Ariza signing, you just can’t overstate how significant that is for that team,” Griffin said.

“With 19 year old kids, you’ve got to have sweat equity, and Trevor’s going to have that... He’s a veteran leader that will be part of saying and doing all of the right things, so he’ll be leading by example and by his word. And he’ll be respected and listened to. That’s really really meaningful when you have a young group of kids.”

Griffin went on about Ariza’s presence in that locker room and on the floor for the 2018-19 Suns.

“If this team is going to try to win, which looks very much like they’re going to try to do, then Trevor’s perfectly timed in the role that he’ll play in terms of his versatility defensively, his ability to be a three-and-D guy.”

Griffin talked about how unfair it was for Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler to be discounted as leaders when they weren’t allowed to play for an intentionally losing team in recent seasons. For example, in each of the last to two years, Chandler has been strategically rested after the All-Star Break to help the Suns lose more games.

Now, Griffin hopes that the intense former Defensive Player of the Year will have a positive influence on rookie No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton’s early experience in the NBA.

“I think it’s going to take [Ayton] a while to understand what it really looks like to play hard in the NBA,” Griffin said. “The defensive awareness is so poor, that I think the fact that Tyson Chandler is still there is important. I think he’s going to play meaningful minutes in meaningful games.”

Griffin’s mixed reviews of Ayton were his only biting comments of the entire interview with Bickley and Marotta.

“I’m not sure that I’m sold on Ayton and his ability to be truly transcendent or really impactful as rookie big. He’s so far away from understanding the game defensively. And I think he thinks he’s playing harder than he really is.

“I love the bravado, I love what he’s gonna provide in the locker room. I love the fact that he’s got that biggest, strongest, baddest bully mentality.”

Every top pick has question marks, and Griffin is no stranger to that. With Griffin on staff in Cleveland, the Cavaliers took Kyrie Irving No. 1 and Tristan Thompson No. 4 in 2011, Dion Waiters No. 4 in 2012, Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in 2013 and Andrew Wiggins No. 1 overall in 2014. After that, he had no use for rookies on LeBron-led teams.

Of all those picks, only Irving really lived up to the draft status, though Thompson and Wiggins definitely earned “that second NBA contract” and then some.

Where Griffin really shined brightest was in surrounding his stars with complementary players. He knew how to form a team, and use free agency and trades to get the right skill-sets at all the other positions to allow the stars to shine.

So you can take his comments on Ariza — ones that have been echoed league-wide by NBA executives — to the bank.

He’s excited about how McDonough and company have brought in guys to surround the stars — now Ayton and Devin Booker — with the right complementary skill-sets.

“Coupling [Ariza] with Mikal Bridges, who they hope will be a three-and-D guy as well (and once he gets stronger I certainly think he will be capable of that), it just starts to look like a pretty formidable group.”

Josh Jackson really played well in the second half of the year. I think they have a lot of reason to be truly ecstatic about his future.

“And Devin Booker is a legitimate, No. 1 best player on a playoff-caliber team.”

Griffin focused his interview on the Suns’ summer activity and youth around Booker, so I caution you NOT to read anything into his omission of T.J. Warren or Brandon Knight when describing the team.

He also really likes Elie Okobo, taken 31st overall.

“And we haven’t even touched on Elie Okobo, who I think is eventually going to be NBA starting-point-guard good. I liked him, just in terms of his raw talent, much more than Dennis Schroder, by way of example, coming into the NBA, and Schroder turned out to be a really productive player. Elie is going to take some time because he’s young and European, but he’s got huge upside.

Schroder was taken 17th overall in 2013 as a 20-year-old out of Europe. He did not play much as a rookie, just 13 MPG in 49 games, for a 38-win Hawks team that was trying to build a playoff team very quickly around a veteran roster that included Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

Schroder eventually got his starting job and a big second contract (4 years, $70 million), but was traded in July to Oklahoma City to make room for the Trae Young experience.

Okobo, also 20 years old, was rising on draft charts this spring much the same way Schroder did in 2013, but the 2018 draft was much deeper, and non-lottery playoff teams reportedly wanted Okobo to spend another year oversees rather than join the NBA.

Let’s hope Griff is right, and Okobo ends up being the Suns long-term answer at point guard for the cheap price of a second-round pick (signed for 4 years and $6 million).

And lastly, Griffin gave the Suns high marks for signing Igor Kokoskov as the head man, calling the move “monster” and a “great get.”

I’ll close with the opening, just because I love these words out of Griff’s mouth.

“I feel like there’s very few general managers that can ever say they had as good an off season as Ryan [McDonough] just had.”

Griff!

I have so many questions:

Who would you have taken first overall? What’s your take on Brandon Knight as the starting point guard next year? What do you see as Warren’s best role in the NBA? Is there a good NBA future for either of Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender?

How would you finish off the summer? What final moves would you make with the $4.4 million “room” exception and/or with trades, if you were the Suns GM?

Get in touch with me, and we’ll get you on the Solar Panel!