Where Do the Phoenix Suns Go with Their Roster from Here?

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIFebruary 25, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 24:  Goran Dragic #1 (C) of the Phoenix Suns stands with teammates (L-R) Luis Scola #14, Marcin Gortat #4, Jared Dudley #3 and P.J. Tucker #17 during the NBA game at US Airways Center on January 24, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Clippers 93-88.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Now that the NBA trade deadline has passed, the Phoenix Suns won't be making any major adjustments to the roster for the remainder of the season.

However, now that the Suns sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with an 18-39 record, it's safe to say that this current roster is only temporary, and that a lot of changes will  be coming this summer.

The Suns had an opportunity to make a blockbuster trade last week, but they chose not to. Instead, the Suns made a couple of smaller deals, acquiring Marcus Morris, Hamed Haddadi and a future second-round pick while trading a future second-round pick of their own as well as point guard Sebastian Telfair.

These were both great deals for the Suns, but they certainly could have done more. 

For one, the team could have tried harder to deal Marcin Gortat to another team. There were rumors about Gortat going to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins and Jeremy Lamb, and the Suns could have tried to ship the center to a team for some future draft picks and young, promising prospects for the future.

At the same time, the Suns could have also focused their attention on acquiring star power forward Josh Smith. At one point, it appeared as if the Suns were the front-runners to acquire Smith, but luckily no deal was made.

Although Smith could be the third best player on a contending team, he is not a superstar or a player worthy of a max contract, and there's no point in trading for a player who can easily be signed in free agency without having to give anything to another team in return.

However, the fact that Gortat remains on the team for the rest of the season will only cause more rumors to be spread over the summer. Now, the Suns will have plenty of roster issues to deal with in just a few months. 

Here are just three of the biggest questions the Suns will need to address while assembling an improved roster this offseason.

Who Stays, Who Goes?

The Suns have several players who could potentially enter free agency, but in most of those cases the decision of whether to keep that player is not so simple.

Perhaps the only easy decision this summer will be to keep P.J. Tucker. The 27-year-old wing quickly became an everyday starter for the Suns and has proven to be the team's greatest lockdown defender.

He only averages 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, but he hustles more than anyone else on the court, and signing him to a long-term deal should not be a problem.

However, there are several other names who have a more uncertain future. Jermaine O'Neal, the 34-year-old veteran center, is one of those players.

O'Neal has had somewhat of a comeback season in Phoenix, putting up averages of 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play per game, but it is unknown if he will return next season.

There were reports of O'Neal being shopped at the deadline, but since no trade was made, Phoenix may plan on re-signing him to a new one-year deal.

Shannon Brown is another name who may or may not be back in Phoenix next season. Brown is averaging 11.2 points per game off the bench this season, and he really is the team's only natural shooting guard.

However, Brown is also incredibly inefficient, shooting just 42 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point range. This has led to sharp decrease in playing time, and Brown has not seen any action in either of the past two games. 

If the Suns really want to dump Brown, they can release him and use the "stretch provision" rule. This will allow the team to dump Brown, and rather than having to pay his full salary for the season, Brown's contract will be "stretched", allowing the Suns to pay him for one year of salary over three years time.

That could be the difference in saving a couple million dollars in cap space, which goes a long way toward signing free agents. 

One more player the Suns will need to make a decision on is Luis Scola. The Argentinean power forward was picked up by the team in July after he was amnestied by the Rockets, and for that reason Scola could not be traded at this year's deadline. Any player acquired from the amnesty waiver wire cannot be traded until one full year has passed since the acquisition of that player. 

So, although Scola creates a logjam at power forward and has no real purpose on a rebuilding team, he will continue to start for the remainder of the season. But before next season starts, expect Scola to be gone.

He is on a cheap contract and averages 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, so it shouldn't be hard for the Suns to find a team willing to surrender a future first-round pick at the very least.

If the Suns want to create more playing time for their younger players, they will have to trade Scola. Keep an eye out for those rumors over the summer. 

What To Do With Marcin Gortat?

The Suns avoided a Josh Smith blockbuster trade at the deadline, and that is wonderful. However, it doesn't solve their problem, as the Suns will still need to deal with center Marcin Gortat over the summer.

This season, it has become clear that Marcin Gortat is not the player many Suns fans believed him to be. Gortat posted averages of 15.4 points and 10.0 rebounds a game with Steve Nash running the point, but this season has been much different, and Gortat no longer seems interested in remaining in Phoenix longer than he has to.

With Goran Dragic as the point guard, Gortat simply isn't fed the ball in the post anymore. His shot attempts per game are down from 11.7 last season to 9.2 this year, and his usage rate is down from 20.8 percent to just 17.2 percent. As a result, Gortat's scoring numbers have dropped to just 11.2 points per game.

However, scoring isn't the only problem. Just watching Marcin Gortat play, he doesn't put as much effort into his game as he did last season. He doesn't seem interested or engaged on the court, and other than Michael Beasley or possibly Shannon Brown, it's hard to point to another Phoenix Sun that has given less effort this season.

To be fair, Gortat is frustrated. That can be expected, as he is no longer considered a major offensive weapon and the team is having a dismal season at the same time. So if it appears that Gortat would bolt for free agency at the end of next season, the Suns would be foolish to not trade him over the summer.

Realistically, the Suns probably shouldn't expect the same deal in July that they could have gotten a week ago. After all, Gortat's trade value has dropped since being paired with Nash, and he will also be entering the final year of his contract.

Even so, he is an above-average center who could bring some quality young talent to this team. If Phoenix can find a deal that includes a future first-round pick and a young promising talent already in the NBA, they should jump on the deal immediately. That's really the best way this team can rebuild, even if it means talented players are forced to leave.

Who is the Next Go-To Scorer of the Phoenix Suns?

If there is one area that absolutely needs fixing immediately, it's scoring. The Suns have a severe void in their roster, as they have not yet found a primary scoring option who can be relied on in the fourth quarter of close games.

Naturally, the easiest place to find a new superstar would be the draft. The Suns desperately need a shooting guard, and the 2013 draft includes two potential superstar guards in Shabazz Muhammad and Ben McLemore.

Either of those players would be celebrated in Phoenix, but there is one potential problem. If the draft were today, the Suns would have the fourth overall pick, and most current mock drafts (such as this one) have both McLemore and Muhammad going in the top five. 

Right now that doesn't appear to be a problem, but the Suns are only a couple wins away from being the seventh or eighth seed again, and one bad stroke of luck in the NBA draft lottery could also easily move them down a few spots. For this reason, the Suns need to have a backup plan.

There are other shooting-guard prospects the Suns could take, but they would be risky picks. Victor Olapido is a high riser in this year's draft and is considered by many to be the best perimeter defender in college basketball, but taking him with a top five or top 10 pick could be a stretch.

The same applies to Archie Goodwin, a talented freshman from Kentucky who has seen his stock fall since the beginning of the season.

Those two could be great players to select with a draft pick from the Lakers in the late lottery, but taking them just because Muhammad and McLemore are off the board isn't necessarily a great idea. The Suns need a go-to scorer or future superstar, and those two don't fit the profile.

That being said, the Suns may need to look into free agency if they want to find a go-to scorer for next season. There are no superstars available, but the team does require a backup plan. 

One possible name to look out for is Tyreke Evans, the 23-year-old shooting guard for the Sacramento Kings. Ever since his rookie year in which he scored 20 points per game, Evans' scoring numbers have dropped each season, and he now scores just 15.3 points per game.

The Kings don't really seem to know what position Evans is best suited for, as he has spent time at point guard, shooting guard and small forward during his career. However, should he come to Phoenix, he would most likely be the team's starting shooting guard.

One encouraging sign from Evans is that he is posting career-high shooting numbers. He is not a sharpshooter, but his three-point shot is falling consistently and he's also shooting 47 percent from the field, the type of efficiency the Suns need from a go-to scorer.

Evans is a restricted free agent, but he's the type of player who would really benefit from a change of scenery. It's another Beasley-esque risky signing, but Evans might be able to finally blossom into one of the better shooting guards in the NBA given the right situation.

Another player the Suns may target is explosive shooting guard Monta Ellis. He has an early termination option, but the Boston Globe reports that he plans to turn down his $11 million option for next season and become a free agent.

Ellis can drop 40 points on any given night, but he just isn't the same player he was for the Warriors, which is quite worrisome. Just two seasons ago, Ellis averaged 24 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. Now, he has been reduced to shooting 40 percent from the field and an awful 23 percent from deep.

Is it because Ellis is frustrated and shares a backcourt with Brandon Jennings? Possibly, but Ellis shared a backcourt with Stephen Curry too, so that doesn't quite explain the season he is having.

The truth is, Ellis is extremely inconsistent, and we can't be sure of which Monta Ellis would show up in Phoenix next season. He could be the go-to scorer this team needs, but at the same time, he could just be another Shannon Brown or Michael Beasley.

The Suns have some tough decisions ahead of them, and this will be a long offseason of drafting, free agency and constant trade rumors. The Suns may not be able to build a contending team in this upcoming offseason alone, but making smart moves this summer could set the foundation of a contending team for years to come. 


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