Don’t look now, but the Suns have quietly put together an interesting team that could stay competitive in their first post-Nash era.
With the 13 players on the roster having an average age of 25.9 years old (not counting the 36-year-old Brad Miller, who is expected to retire), the Suns figure to be one of the younger teams in the league this season. And after an aggressive offseason, they walked away with a fan-favorite returning, a talented player with a new attitude, a scrappy post player, tons of shooters and a surprisingly deep bench.
Steve Nash meant more to his team than almost any other player in the league, but the Suns' front office moved on without the two-time MVP by building a young core that could mold into one of the more intriguing teams in the league. The Suns could find themselves playing meaningful games in April and May.
Many Suns fans have focused on what they lost this offseason and not on the young nucleus the team has put together. While losing Nash and Grant Hill looks bad on paper, they replaced both players with younger, more energetic players and added a few nice pieces in the process.
Goran Dragic is a young and exciting point guard who was under Nash’s wing for almost three years. Michael Beasley was taken in the 2008 NBA Draft right after Derrick Rose and before Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, and has an insane amount of raw talent. Luis Scola played well with Dragic in Houston and has a very good mid-range jump shot, something that is valuable in the Suns system.
Those three, combined with Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris is a team that could find themselves in a battle for one of the final two playoff spots in the West.
Dragic is somewhat of a fan-favorite player, and after scoring 23 fourth quarter points in Game 3 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals against the rival San Antonio Spurs, you can see why. But Dragic's signing was buried by news of Nash being traded to the Lakers the same day.
With that said, he is still one of the most intriguing young point guards in the league. In his final 28 games as a member of the Houston Rockets, Dragic averaged 17.8 points and 7.9 assists, including 6 double-doubles. And that was without Kevin Martin for 24 of those games, their best scorer.
With a better team around him than he had in Houston, Dragic could do his best Nash impression throughout the season and average more than 10 assists a game. And that could leave Suns fans thinking “Steve who?”
Oklahoma City’s James Harden recently said he’s open to the possibility of signing with the Suns after his contract expires this season. While the Thunder would be insane to not want to re-sign the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, it may not be possible to do so with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both signing expensive contracts.
Because of that, the Thunder will likely not be able to keep Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, and will probably have to lose one. And Harden seems to be the most likely of the three to leave.
As a restricted free agent, the Thunder have the right to match any offer Harden signs with a team, but if a team offers Harden a max-contract, it could force the Thunder to lose Harden for nothing. The Suns could use this to their advantage, and offer some of the draft picks gained in the Nash sign-and-trade with the Lakers and a player or two for Harden, who the Suns would then have the rights to re-sign during free agency next year.
The Suns proved they can be aggressive with players, offering restricted free agent Eric Gordon a max contract this offseason, so why risk missing out on Harden, a product of Arizona State University, and not just trade for him?
This might surprise some people, but it shouldn't. Beasley is an immensely talented player who has never truly found a home, partly because of a reported attitude problem. The Miami Heat chose Mario Chalmers over Michael Beasley after LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed and he was traded to Minnesota, where he averaged 19.2 points as a starter during the 2010-2011 season. His production regressed a little last season, scoring only 11.5 points a game, but he also came off the bench in all but 7 of his 47 games played last season.
Beasley predicted he will be an All-Star this season during an interview with Phoenix radio station XTRA 910, and says he’s changed his attitude, saying, “I’ve been through a lot in my past, some good and some bad... I understand, I’ve grown and I’m ready to move on.” If Beasley has matured as much as he says he has, he could be the first Sun to average 20 points since Amare Stoudemire.
Michael Beasley said that he sees himself as an All-Star this season, and if Dragic matches his potential of averaging a double-double, why couldn’t one of them make the roster?
The biggest obstacle could be the fans voting and not the performances by the players themselves. Fans haven’t always voted the most deserving players into the game (like with Allen Iverson making the 2010 All-Star team, and Yao Ming playing 5 games yet making the 2011 All-Star team), but the coach could put a Sun on the team if the fans really mess things up again.