Group 3: the Interchangeable Sure-Fire Lottery Teams
I.Last Season in Review
The Suns did, well, Suns things. In traditional fashion, Phoenix was an elite offensive team, because any team with Nash on the roster is going to be an elite offensive team, even if the team is largely comprised of scrubs. Phoenix finished top 10 in both offensive efficiency and shooting, an incredible feet considering Nash was the only individual on the team capable of creating his own offense. Outside of Nash effect however, Phoenix was their typical porous self defensively and on the glass. Ultimately, one man can only get you so far, especially when that one man is 38, thus the Suns ended up lottery fodder (and not in a good way).
In: Goran Dragic (FA), Michael Beasley (FA), Jermaine O’Neal (FA), Luis Scola (Waivers), Wesley Johnson (Trade), Kendall Marshall (Draft)
Out: Steve Nash (LAL), Grant Hill (LAC), Robin Lopez (NO), Hakim Warrick (NO), Josh Childress (Brk), Ronnie Price (Por)
Now comes the funs part
Everyone wants to rip Phoenix for dealing Nash to the Lakers. And from the vantage point of Suns fans, that definitely has some merit. However, I’d argue it could have been worse.
At least the Suns got some compensation in the sign and trade. Granted, two likely low first rounders in 2013 and 2015 is no great shakes, but it’s better than nothing, which is what they would have gotten if Nash just walked to Toronto for free, and significantly better than having to pay Landry Fields $6M a year to facilitate a trade with New York (Phoenix was never getting Shumpert). From a basketball perspective, this is probably the best case scenario that could have transpired once Phoenix pinned themselves in a corner decided to go in another direction. From a Suns fans perspective or just simply based on principle, maybe not so much.
I’m actually a fan of roughly 50% of Phoenix’s post-Nash moves this offseason. In essence, all non T-Wolves oriented moves. Offering Gordon the max was a strong move, and he certainly wanted to relocate. Unfortunately, Gordon, like many others, don’t grasp the concept of restricted free agency, and that if you truly want to relocate you have to sign a 1 year qualifying offer to shed the RFA status (which no one ever does or should do). But alas, despite Gordon’s irrelevant ********, NO wasn’t having it. Still though, the move maybe offered a shred of confidence that Phoenix knows what they’re doing. Maybe? No?
I can’t argue the Dragic signing either. $7.5M a year for a bona fide top 15 point guard is entirely reasonable. For comparison sake, he got less money than George Hill received from Indiana and is a significantly better player. Of course, it all sounds a lot less sexy if you look back and discover the Suns actually dealt Dragic and a first rounder for Aaron Brooks a few years back. Welp.
I’d also give the Suns kudos for shedding Hakim Warrick and avoiding re-signing Robin Lopez for the return of a first round pick if they hadn’t also taken back Wes Johnson. Johnson was arguably the worst rotation player in the NBA last year. Essentially, he’s a spot up shooter (over 40% of his shots were spot ups last year) who can’t shoot (he shot 33% in those situations), and really does nothing else. He was miscast as a shooting guard in Minnesota, but all the same, he was egregious. Still, any team that deals away Warrick is at least a pseudo default winner.
In the Dragic category of signings you can’t argue with, claiming Scola off amnesty waivers for appox $4.5M a year is a bargain, and has since seen increased value after Frye was shut down with an enlarged heart condition. Scola’s game has regressed, especially in the rebounding and defensive departments (though he was never a great defender), but offensively he can still score in the post and shoot pick and pop jumpers effectively. This signing begs the question though: what exactly is Phoenix trying to accomplish? They profess entering a post-Nash rebuild, yet sign an aging power forward on the wrong side of 30 to play significant minutes and take minutes away from a young guy like Morris. At least Scola can be flipped eventually on that favorable contract, which might have been the intention all along (or maybe I’m giving Phoenix’s front office too much credit. Yea, that).
That’s really everything good I can say about Phoenix’s offseason, and it was a surprising amount of good. It would have been all good if not for the Beasley poison pill. Why on earth would the Suns give Beasley $6M a year? Who exactly was vying for his services? This was a clear **** up and example of a team bidding against itself. There just isn’t a justification for paying Beasley that much. He fills a scoring need on the perimeter, sure, but $6M for a guy you couldn’t pay a majority of teams to take?
I guess I’m obligated to mention Jermaine O’Neal and his one foot in the grave. He is still a decent interior defender and shot blocker. That’s all I got. And I’d be remised if I didn’t point out Phoenix amnestying Josh Childress. Or maybe Suns fans would rather forget that signing happened in the first place.
Grade: C+. They should have traded Nash two years ago, but Sarver wanted to keep the benjamins flowing in. Had to deduct signficantly for that, but considering they already pinned themselves in a corner, Phoenix made out better than expected, sans the Beasley sighting.
B.Draft: Kendall Marshall
Marshall was a completely justifiable pick at the time of the draft, when there was a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Nash and the only point guard under contract was Sebastian Telfair. In hindsight after the Dragic signing, it’s easy to blow this up, but that’s not true to the situation. As for Marshall as a player, if you consider him a backup point guard, I like the pick. If you ever expect him to be a starter I don’t. He just doesn’t have the athleticism or shooting ability to thrive on this level. He’s drawn comparisons to Andre Miller, but he doesn’t have Miller’s size, strength, or post ability, which makes Andre Miller Andre Miller. Starting NBA guards will eat this kid up off the dribble, and will be able to sag off him defensively, throwing a Rondo like wrench into whatever offense Marshall mans (and Marshall is nowhere near the athlete or penetator Rondo is, so he can’t overcompensate the same way). Marshall does have special court vision though, and if protected by a legitimate shot-blocker could be one of the better backup point guards in the league. He’s actually a nice fit and change of pace backup behind Dragic.
Grade: B. Considering Ross and Lamb were off the board and the positional need at the time Marshall was a solid pick.
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: Michael Beasley
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Shannon Brown
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Jemaine O’Neal
IV.Cap Situation: $51M
The Suns will almost always have cap space, because Sarver will sell his sole to save a nickel. But if Phoenix ever decides to spend, they only have $41M guaranteed on the books moving forward if they don’t pick up Wes Johnson’s contract and don’t guarantee Shannon Brown’s deal, which if they don’t do both then Suns fans can officially start scoping out the tallest buildings to end their agony.
Dragic and Gortat are the two impact players you want, and in that order. Dragic could potentially swing 20 and 8 with solid threes, steals, and percentages. He’s a third or fourth round pick. Gortat will likely take a hit in the efficiency department without Nash, but he’s a great rebounder and his FG% will still be elite. Dudley is a decent flier if you need threes or steals.
I’d say more stereotypical Suns basketball, just now without Nash, if that made even the slightest bit of sense, but it doesn’t. Without Nash, this team is doomed. Comprised of mostly spot up shooters, only Dragic and Beasley can create their own offense, and the latter isn’t efficient at doing so (not to mention a total black hole). It will basically be Dragic pick and roll offensively with an abundance of floor spacers identical to last year, except Dragic isn’t the passer Steve is. The Dragon can score though, and will have to do plenty of that to keep games competitive.
Gortat was the 10th best offensive pick and roll big in the league last year (1.23 PPP), the question is how much of that was the Nash effect. As Phoenix’s undisputed second best player, the Polish Hammer needs to be a force, and seeing how he is the last line of defense on a team void of defense, he carries the Suns collective hope to stop and rebound on his shoulders.
Rounding out the roster, there are few bright spots. Morris showed stretch four ability last year in knocking down 40% of his spot-up threes. It looks like he’s completely abandoned any sort of paint game in the process though unfortunately. Dudley is really the Suns only competent two-way wing. He’s a great shooter and solid defender (held opposing small forwards to a 12.6 PER), despite not being able to clear a phone book on a good day. Shannon Brown and the aforementioned Johnson should never see the court. Like ever.
Overall, the additions of Dragic, Scola and Beasley will likely do just enough to keep Phoenix out of Bobcats/Magic territory, but not enough to give the Suns any kind of playoff hope. Until further notice, the Suns are stuck in the dreaded middle, barring some lottery good fortune, with a cheap owner and quietly one of the best untapped markets in the NBA. A damn shame.
VII.Projection: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific)
The good news: Seth and Bryan will be hand in hand singing this by the end of the season. RELEASE THE DRAGON