The 2012 offseason was extremely important for the Phoenix Suns, who made a couple of trades and brought in several free agents in an attempt to change the team's identity and focus on the future.
For the most part, the front office made very smart moves. However, as always, some mistakes were made when there were much better players on the market that the team could have potentially signed.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and this is not necessarily a critique of the front office, but sometimes you can't help kicking yourself seeing a player thrive with a new team and knowing he could have been yours. Similarly, sometimes it's important to admit that a disastrous signing was a mistake.
Now, with the regular season winding down, each signing will be evaluated once again, with the good sorted from the bad and with realistic alternatives being provided for the few mistakes that were made this past offseason.
To be fair, Kendall Marshall has not been awful since Lindsey Hunter took over as head coach. Marshall is now the team's backup point guard, and he does not look like a complete bust.
However, Marshall still only averages 2.2 points and 1.8 assists in 11.5 minutes a game. There wasn't much depth in the 2012 draft, but one player the Suns could have taken with the 13th overall pick was John Henson.
Henson was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 14th pick, but he has also barely seen playing time, mainly because Milwaukee has so many forwards on the roster already.
Still, the 6'11" forward-center has enough potential to be a future starter in the NBA, and he would have been a great pick for the Suns. Henson only plays 12 minutes per game, but he averages 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. He doesn't have much range, but he's a good defender and a great rebounder who shows a lot of promise.
Would Henson be a future starter in Phoenix? That's hard to say. He would have to fight with other young players such as the Morris twins for playing time, and he might not be capable of being a full-time starting center in the NBA. Even so, Henson would at least provide valuable minutes off the bench, and he would give fans another reason to be excited for the future.
It was time for Steve Nash to leave Phoenix.
Perhaps he didn't intend to leave originally, but the team had to go in a new direction. Nash will retire within the next couple seasons, and having him on the roster would have only prevented the team from truly starting its rebuilding process.
That being said, the Suns got a great package for Nash. They received four future picks from the Los Angeles Lakers, two first-rounders and two second-rounders. The first-round pick this year could potentially be a lottery pick, and by 2015 Nash, Kobe and Gasol may all be either retired or on their last set of legs, so that pick could potentially be in the lottery as well.
Saying goodbye to arguably the team's all-time greatest player was difficult. But, simply put, it was time to move on. Nash could never lead the Suns back to the playoffs, and that's a cold reality that both the fans and front office realized.
Now, at least the team received four extra opportunities to find its next Steve Nash in the draft.
Shannon Brown has fallen out of the Suns' rotation completely for the past several games, and he has been having a very poor season since the team re-signed him to a two-year deal in July.
Right now, Brown averages 11.2 points per game. However, he is shooting 42 percent from the field along with a career-low 27 percent from three-point range.
Brown was mostly productive in his first season with the Suns, but he was always known to take ill-advised shots; he would lose just as many games with poor shot selection as he won with clutch shooting.
But after saving cap space by cutting Brown lose, the Suns would have to pick up another point guard, especially after missing out on Kendall Marshall in the draft. Sebastian Telfair is a decent backup, but there were much better bargains available.
With the emergence of Nando De Colo, Patty Mills has not received much playing time this season. In fact, he's only playing 10 minutes a game. But he is only in his fourth season, and after his performance last year in San Antonio, it looks like he does have the potential to be a great backup point guard.
Mills only played 16 games for the Spurs last season, but he was fantastic. He remained a free agent until late March of 2012, but then averaged 10.3 points and 2.4 assists in just 16.3 minutes per game for the rest of the season. That is 22.8 points per 36 minutes. Mills also shot 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep.
Sixteen games is a very small sample, and Mills was only decent in his two years with the Portland Trail Blazers. But even so, the 55th overall pick of the 2009 draft has talent. He's an above-average defender, he has shot 38 percent from behind the arc for his career and he is one of the fastest players in the NBA despite only being a reserve.
He isn't a great playmaker, but Mills could instantly make an impact for the Suns as a spark plug off the bench. With a little bit of luck, maybe he could even develop into a great player.
One might argue that Scola shouldn't have been signed because the veteran 32-year-old has no place on a rebuilding team, but he has given Suns fans no real reason to complain this season, and there was nothing to lose by signing him.
Scola is averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds, but he is also receiving less playing time because of a logjam at power forward—as well as the new "youth movement" philosophy. If you compare his per 36 minute stats year by year, Scola has actually been just as productive this season as he was last year with the Houston Rockets.
Scola is making less than $5 million in each of his three seasons in Phoenix, which is a bargain for his production. We can also hope that he has taught some of the younger prospects a few lessons and has acted as a locker-room mentor in his time with the team.
In the worst-case scenario, Scola can be traded in the upcoming offseason if the team desperately wants to get rid of him. Surely some team would trade for a starting-caliber power forward making $4.5 million a year, right? Even if the return isn't spectacular, Scola is expendable, and he can be moved if that is best for the future of the team.
But for the time being, Scola has done nothing but have a positive impact on the Suns this season.
This is obvious, as Goran Dragic has now become the centerpiece of the current Phoenix Suns.
Currently, Dragic is averaging 14.2 points, 6.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from downtown. He isn't spectacular in any particular category, but he has a great work ethic and always works hard—even with the bumps and bruises he has received as obstacles this season.
Dragic is not an elite point guard, but he is definitely the long-term point guard for Phoenix. He is a great all-around player and a great leader, and although he may not be an elite player, he will surely be kept in Phoenix while the team rebuilds.
Again, Dragic is no superstar player. The team still needs a go-to scorer, and it still has a lot of issues to address before Phoenix can contend with Goran Dragic as the starting point guard. But Dragic has played his heart out all season long, and that signing was clearly the best decision the front office made over the summer.
At this point in the season, it's safe to call the Michael Beasley signing a failure.
Beasley was brought in on a three-year contract with hopes that he could be a go-to scorer and replicate the success he found in Minnesota two seasons ago. Instead, Beasley is having the worst year of his career, and Phoenix might have been his last chance to be a starter in the NBA.
Beasley is averaging 10 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range, and after using their amnesty clause to get rid of Josh Childress, the Suns may be stuck with Beasley for the length of his contract.
On the other hand, O.J Mayo was a struggling player who is thriving in a new setting. After spending two seasons on the bench in Memphis, the 3rd pick of the 2008 draft went to Dallas, and he has been one of its best scorers this season.
Mayo has cooled down since an incredibly hot start, but he still averages 17.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He is also shooting a career-high 46 percent from the field, and he's knocking down more than 40 percent of his threes for the first time in his career.
Mayo is only being paid $4 million this season, so it's a shame Phoenix couldn't sign him. After missing out on Eric Gordon, Mayo could have been a perfect fit with this team. He may not be a superstar, but signing a player who can score almost 20 points per game for just $4 million is a rarity in today's NBA.
Last season, Hakim Warrick and Robin Lopez made a combined $6.8 million in salary. However, neither played more than 15 minutes per game, and the Suns were eager to get rid of both.
For Phoenix, this was the perfect deal. The team had given up on trying to craft Lopez into a starting center, and Warrick was paid $4 million to play just 35 games all season. But somehow, the Suns managed to turn that into a future first-round pick, which is always great news for a rebuilding team.
Best of all, Wesley Johnson is starting to play much better, and he has been a major contributor to each of the Suns' past three wins. Johnson averaged 8.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game over his last eight outings, and he clearly has the potential to be a great role player in the right setting, if not eventually a starter. After all, Johnson clearly has talent, or else he wouldn't have been drafted fourth overall in 2010.
It is a little infuriating to see Robin Lopez succeed in New Orleans, but Suns fans have to be happy with this trade. Phoenix turned its bench warmers into two great pieces for the future.
Before this season, I'm not sure any Suns fans knew who P.J Tucker was. The Tucker signing wasn't given a huge amount of media attention, as he was just another player trying to transition to the NBA after spending years abroad.
But somehow, a guy who last played for the Toronto Raptors in 2007 found a roster spot in Phoenix, and nobody really knew what to expect of him.
Now, it's safe to say that the acquisition of Tucker has been one of the smartest moves by the front office in recent memory. Tucker has gone from being a bench warmer to a solid rotation player, and now he has even started 29 games for the Suns this season.
Tucker's stats aren't eye-popping, and you most likely wouldn't be impressed if you haven't seen him play. He averages 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, which is solid for just 22.8 minutes per outing but isn't even close to being fantastic. What really makes Tucker such a hidden gem is his outstanding defense, as he has quickly become known as the team's greatest lockdown perimeter defender.
The Suns could not have possibly asked for more from Tucker when they signed him, and hopefully he has found a more permanent home in Phoenix. This has been a very disappointing season, but Suns fans can point to Tucker as one of the bright spots.
Nobody expected much of Jermaine O'Neal when he was signed to a one-year deal by the Suns. In fact, most Boston Celtics fans just shook their heads in disapproval, believing that the Suns made a huge mistake.
While O'Neal hasn't been spectacular, he's definitely been a bargain deal and a great signing overall.
When the veteran center came to Phoenix, he looked washed up. He had spent the past two seasons of his career with Boston, playing just 49 games and averaging about five points a game.
O'Neal isn't back to playing at an All-Star level, but he's making a bit of a comeback in Phoenix. He has played 44 games this season, and he's averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 17.4 minutes while shooting 51 percent from the field. He sat out a few games because of an irregular heartbeat, but otherwise he has been able to stay healthy.
What the Suns plan to do with O'Neal in the future is unknown, but the veteran 34-year-old may be re-signed by the team; he was not traded at the deadline and O'Neal did not ask for a buyout.
He's been a nice player, and he has had some fantastic performances recently, even outperforming starter Marcin Gortat in many cases, but he also isn't a great fit for a rebuilding team that needs to make room for younger players to play.
Still, give credit to O'Neal for shaking off a couple of bad seasons and making the most of his bench role. He is working hard, and it's definitely showing.