Phoenix Suns: The Best-Case Scenario for Next Season's Roster

Ben LeibowitzCorrespondent IIIApril 20, 2012

Phoenix Suns: The Best-Case Scenario for Next Season's Roster

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    The Phoenix Suns are fighting valiantly for a spot in the playoffs. The Suns are currently tied with the Utah Jazz for the eight seed with a 33-30 record after a gritty win against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    With three games left in the season for the Suns against the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and juggernaut San Antonio Spurs, the season is truly coming down to the wire.

    The team will have to continue playing great basketball if they have any hopes of making the playoffs this season. This is especially true when you factor in the three remaining games for the Jazz.

    The Jazz will play the injury-stricken Orlando Magic, the Phoenix Suns and the tanking Portland Trail Blazers.

    Needless to say, the Suns have their work cut out for them if they plan on making the playoffs this season.

    But regardless of what happens to finish out this up-and-down year, what happens next season for the Suns?

    Steve Nash and Grant Hill are the biggest names on the team set to become free agents. Unless the Suns make vast improvements to the current roster, we may have seen the last of M-V-Steve in a Suns uniform.

    Here is the best-case scenario for the Suns if they plan on being a more competitive team next season.

Starting Point Guard: Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash is 90 percent of the reason why this Suns team is fighting for a playoff spot. Without him being a part of this year’s roster, I don’t see the Suns winning 20 games.

    His 12.6 points, 10.7 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game have been stellar even at 38 years old.

    With that said, Nash won’t return to the Suns unless there is significant improvement. Obviously in the “ideal scenario” for next season, the Suns will have made those necessary changes.

    It just feels wrong that Nash may be in a different uniform next year, but that’s the reality Suns fans may have to face.

    The rebuilding phase will have to commence at some point, but Nash obviously still has some gas left in the tank and he’s hungry to win a title. If he could win one with the Suns, I think that would be his ideal scenario.

Starting Shooting Guard: Eric Gordon

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    Enter the Suns “significant improvement.”

    Eric Gordon is a 20-point-per-game scorer who has the skills to become a franchise guy in the future. Gordon would give the Suns the ability to create his own shot as well as giving them a go-to scorer in crunch time (something the Suns haven’t had for a long time).

    After Jamal Crawford told Suns head coach Alvin Gentry that he needed to be in Phoenix next year, he seems like the obvious choice for the Suns to pursue.

    However, Crawford’s numbers have regressed in each of the past five seasons. His averages this season are below his career averages, and he’s 32 years old.

    I don’t think that bringing in Crawford would be enough to keep Nash in town. He’s simply not the player he once was.

    Gordon, on the other hand, is a more efficient, more dynamic scorer than Crawford and he’s nearly a decade younger at 23 years old. It’s a stretch to think the Suns could add a player of his caliber, but if they manage to do so, I think Nash sticks around.

Starting Small Forward: Nic Batum

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    Nic Batum is another player I think the Suns need to target in free agency. It’s a stretch to think that the Suns could go out and sign Gordon and Batum while still retaining Nash, but hey, this is the best case scenario, right?

    I think that Batum is the most intriguing option and the best fit for the Suns' system.

    While Batum is not as dynamic of a scorer as Gordon, he’s a terrific defensive stopper who can knock down open three pointers.

    One of the most important puzzle pieces in the Suns teams of old was Raja Bell. Bell was a gritty defensive player who took on all the tough assignments. While Bell wasn’t a great offensive player, he was great at knocking down three pointers and clutch shots.

    I think that a guy like Batum can fill that void.

Starting Power Forward: Channing Frye

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    We’re getting to the point where the entire state of Arizona needs to send out a search party for Channing Frye’s shot.

    Just a few years ago Frye was shooting with a confidence that we simply haven’t seen since. Frye has struggled mightily at times on offense this season, leading him to hang his head and pass up open looks.

    However, Frye has developed himself into a tremendous defensive player.

    To me, the game that truly defined Frye’s season was the March 2 matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns stifling D allowed them the opportunity to grit out a tough 81-78 win. Frye shot 2-18 in that game.

    Despite his pitiful offensive performance, Frye locked down Clippers’ star forward Blake Griffin. Griffin was visibly frustrated by the tough defense and was completely taken out of his game. He finished the game with 17 points, but shot 6-for-19 from the floor.

    Those are the performances I love from Frye.

    But for the love of God, Channing, find your shot!

Starting Center: Marcin Gortat

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    Marcin Gortat is in the running this year for the Most Improved Player award. The two man game between Gortat and Nash has been a thing of beauty at times. Gortat doesn’t finish at the rim anywhere near on the level of Amar’e Stoudemire, but he’s developing into a solid player.

    With that said, Gortat needs to develop a killer instinct. I think that even the “Polish Hammer” will admit that he needs to be more aggressive.

    Sometimes he’ll dive to the basket off pick-and-rolls and miss open layups instead of just slamming the ball home.

    On defensive switches when he’s guarded by the likes of Chris Paul or Tony Parker, Gortat sometimes doesn’t recognize the mismatch and throws up hook shots from six feet away instead of going to the hoop.

    He has the tools to become a great center, but he needs to be more aggressive when the situation calls for it.

Sixth Man: Jared Dudley (SG/SF)

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    Coming off the bench in a sixth man role would suit Jared Dudley to a T. He could instantly become the emotional leader of the Suns second unit while providing a much needed spark off the bench.

    What Dudley lacks in athletic ability, he more than makes up for in hustle. As a result, he’s become a fan favorite in Phoenix.

    Dudley’s three-point shooting seems to get better every season, and he never forces the issue on offense.

    Dudley is also a tremendous defender who outworks better athletes. Basically, he’s everything you want in an NBA sixth man.

Bench: Grant Hill (SF)

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    Even if the Suns bring back Grant Hill just for one more year, I think it's the smart move.

    The new additions of Gordon and Batum would help cut down his minutes to keep him healthy as he gets older.

    Bringing Hill back would probably also be a step in the right direction toward keeping Nash on the roster.

    Hill brings a veteran presence to the team outside of Nash, as well as mid-range shooting and great defense. Hill would be a fantastic player in spurts, playing approximately 16-20 minutes per game.

    Watching Hill defend the opposing team’s best player in every game this season has been a marvel to behold. On more than one occasion he’s lead the Suns to wins against the Los Angeles Clippers by defending Chris Paul better than the majority of other NBA stars.

    It’s a shame that he’s missed time due to injury this season because I truly believe he deserves to make the NBA All-Defensive Team this year.

Bench: Markieff Morris (PF)

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    I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the Suns made a mistake drafting Markieff Morris.

    At the time, all signs pointed to taking his brother Marcus Morris, who was that year’s Big 12 Conference Player of the Year. Thankfully the Suns went with Markieff.

    His brother Marcus, who was drafted one choice later by the Houston Rockets, has spent the majority of the season developing his game in the D-League.

    Markieff, on the other hand, has shown flashes of being a very solid player in the NBA.

    He plays good defense, doesn’t shy away from challenges and has even shown some impressive range with his three-point shot.

    Watching Morris develop his game into the future will be fun to watch moving forward.

Bench: Sebastian Telfair (PG)

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    "Bassy" Telfair has won over a lot of fans this season in Phoenix.

    At the start of the season, Telfair was competing for court time with Ronnie Price. Looking back, it's crazy to think that Telfair couldn't crack the rotation.

    Recently, Telfair has been playing his tail off and even came into Thursday night's game against the Clippers as a defensive replacement to guard Chris Paul in crunch time. He's shown that he relishes those big-game opportunities.

    Telfair has been aggressive on both ends of the court and has allowed Steve Nash the opportunity to get much-needed rest on the bench due to his solid play.

Bench: Greg Oden (C)

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    Why not sign Greg Oden?

    The Suns amazing training staff led by Aaron Nelson have proven with Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Redd that they’re the best in the NBA at rehabilitating ailing athletes.

    If the training staff could once again work their magic and add a former No. 1 overall selection like Oden, I like the Suns' chances moving forward.

    Oden would give the Suns something they also have not had in a long time: a defensive presence.

    He wouldn’t have to play 38-40 minutes a game to be effective either. Ideally, I can see Oden coming in and playing 16-18 minutes a night, altering some shots and being a true defensive center. Basically he’d fill the role that Bill Walton played with the Boston Celtics late in his career.

    With his long list of injury troubles the Suns could probably get Oden to sign on for cheap money, and if he worked out, the Suns would look like geniuses.

    Robin Lopez has a player option for next season, but his agent has already said that Lopez wants to test the waters in free agency. Lopez has had an up-and-down career thus far with the Suns and if another team offers him a big contract, I think the team would be wise to let him walk.

Bench: Hakim Warrick (PF/SF)

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    As we reach the bottom of the Suns roster, we have to make a decision regarding Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress.

    The Suns should use the amnesty clause on one of these two players because they both make a lot of money without seeing much court time.

    I have the Suns using their amnesty on Childress simply because he's making more money over more years.

    It's hard to believe how little Warrick plays given the fact that he was the team's leading scorer during preseason play. Nevertheless, he's rarely found himself used within Alvin Gentry's rotation.

    Even though he doesn't play much, Warrick is usually effective when he does find the court.

    Overall, "Hak" isn't a bad player to have as the team's 11th man for next season.

12th Man: Draft Choice

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    It's extremely difficult to project who the Suns will add via the draft given that the order has not yet been set.

    The Phoenix Suns will likely be drafting a player somewhere between No. 15 and No. 18.

    If the Suns do manage to retain Steve Nash into the future, they won't need to use their choice to draft the point guard of the future.

    Insert Kentucky standout Terrence Jones.

    Jones projects to be an NBA-ready prospect who will be drafted in about the range the Suns look to be drafting from.

    He's a strong, aggressive, left-handed small forward who could take the place of Grant Hill when he chooses to retire.

    So there you have it, the best case scenario 12-man roster for the Phoenix Suns next season.

    With a fair amount of expiring contracts, the only ones I see the Suns retaining are Nash and Hill.

    From the current roster, Robin Lopez, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and Michael Redd will be out the door from expiring contracts and Childress will be gone via the amnesty clause.

    This team is no doubt a pipe dream, but if the Suns have any hope of retaining Nash and being a championship contender, it's safe to say that something similar to this team will have to be assembled.