What the Phoenix Suns Need from Their Next GM
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The past two general managers, Steve Kerr and Lance Blanks, will both be remembered for their mistakes rather than be acknowledged for any of their successes.
And there certainly was a plethora of poor trades, draft selections and free-agent acquisitions under those two.
With Kerr, the Suns traded All-Star forward Shawn Marion for an aging Shaquille O'Neal, and that officially ended the run-and-gun Suns era. Kerr also once traded Kurt Thomas and two future first-round picks (Serge Ibaka and Quincy Pondexter) for a future second-round pick. But on draft day a couple years later, that second-round pick was sold for cash.
And then, of course, nobody will forget the fantastic decisions to draft Alando Tucker, or Robin Lopez or Earl Clark all in the first round.
Blanks also made more than his fair share of mistakes, trading Goran Dragic and a first-rounder to Houston for Aaron Brooks a couple years ago and also signing Michael Beasley to a three-year, $18- million contract this past offseason.
But these moves are all in the past, and now it is time to focus on the future. No matter who the next Phoenix GM is, it may take them several years to clean up this mess and orchestrate a contending roster.
But even if there is a lot of work to do, the Suns need to find someone they can trust who will ultimately get the job done.
This is why former players such as Charles Barkley or Grant Hill with no experience may not be the best options. Having great talent as a player does not necessarily mean you can recognize it in others, and the Suns cannot afford to spend another five years at the bottom of the Western Conference while a young GM makes costly errors in the draft and free agency.
Ideally, the Suns need their new GM to have some experience and a good history in the draft, and preferably be someone who focuses on player development as well as the use of sabermetrics and advanced technology and statistics.
First, let's start with the issue of the draft. The Suns will be relying heavily on the NBA draft over the next several seasons, which means every pick counts tremendously.
Several years ago the Suns were a contending team, so there was not as much pressure when it came to drafting prospects. If one didn't pan out, the Suns could still easily make the playoffs.
But now that is not the case, and if the Suns ever want to be a contending team again, they will need to find some all-stars using their draft picks. Unfortunately, they made some very poor choices under Blanks and Kerr, but the new GM will hopefully get the team back on track.
In the past five drafts, the Suns have often struggled and failed to find any potentially great players. In fact, many of their first-round picks have been total busts, while others have been below-average at best.
To measure the Suns' success in recent drafts, I took the total win shares of each of their first-round draft selections and compared it to the league average of all 30 first-rounders in a specific class.
The number gradually decreases over time, because each draft class has one year less experience than the class before it and has logged fewer minutes.
Also, keep in mind that the Suns did not have a first-round pick in 2010, which is why the number there is 0.
Even so, the Suns finished below the league average in every single year. Sometimes, in the case of Markieff Morris in 2011 or Robin Lopez in 2008, the selection was below the average but only slightly. Other times, like with Earl Clark in 2009, the pick could be considered a complete bust.
Also, these are just the first-round picks. The Suns have not had any more success in the second round. Since 2006, Phoenix has taken D. J. Strawberry, Malik Hairston, Dwayne Collins, Gani Lawal, Taylor Griffin and Emir Preldzic. Do any of those names ring a bell?
I thought not.
To be fair, all of those picks were 45th overall or lower. But even so, the fact that the Suns drafted six players and only two logged more than 50 career minutes in the NBA is quite concerning.
But that is also why men such as David Morway and Jeff Weltman are considered prime candidates for the job.
Weltman is the assistant GM for Milwaukee and has been there since 2008. The Bucks are not contenders, but that does not mean they have been unsuccessful in finding promising young talent.
Since Weltman became the assistant general manager, the Bucks have found two building blocks in Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders. They also turned their second-round picks—such as Luc Mbah a Moute, Jodie Meeks and Jon Leuer—into productive players, even if they aren't all still in Milwaukee.
Morway is the former GM of the Pacers, where he served from 2008 to 2012. In that time, the Pacers went from being a mediocre team to a relevant playoff threat.
Morway took Lance Stephenson and A. J. Price in the second round, and Tyler Hansbrough and Kawhi Leonard are two other former first-round picks who have found success in the NBA.
But perhaps Morway's greatest achievement was taking superstar Paul George 10th overall in 2010. In just his third NBA season, George averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game while leading a Pacers team without Danny Granger to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Morway also traded for Roy Hibbert and signed David West, two great deals that would give Indiana one of the better frontcourts in the NBA.
Both of those men are qualified, but the Suns could also try to go after more of a new-age GM, someone who hasn't played professional basketball but does recognize statistical and video analysis. Two such men are Troy Weaver and Ryan McDonough.
Either of those two could be the next Sam Presti. Weaver has literally worked with Presti, as he has been the assistant GM for the Thunder since 2008.
The Thunder have taken Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden under Presti and Weaver, and they have successfully built a dynasty that could last for a decade.
Weaver was also the head scout for the Jazz from 2004-2007. It is worth noting that during his time in Utah the Jazz took Deron Williams (third overall), as well as Paul Millsap (47th overall).
Then there is Ryan McDonough, who never even played basketball past high school. In fact, his first job with the Celtics was mainly organizing and finding video and film to analyze, way back before Synergy.
But now, 33-year-old assistant GM McDonough could be the next big thing if given the chance. He carefully scouts and analyzes players, and he quickly rose up the ranks from the video room.
McDonough said himself, "My thing was I tried to know all the players...I wanted to know everything about them, all their tendencies, all their strengths and weaknesses, all the background, biographical information. The stats weren't as advanced as they are now, but I’d study the raw stats. This isn’t a trivia contest. You’re studying the information."
The Celtics certainly have been a successful franchise in the past several years, and despite an aging duo of Pierce and Garnett, they managed to trade for a star several years ago in Rajon Rondo and also drafted Avery Bradley, who is already one of the greatest perimeter defenders in the game.
Both players were drafted in the second half of the first round, and surely these acquisitions do not hurt McDonough's resume.
Who do you think should be the next Suns General Manager?
In the end, all of these names are qualified to lead the Suns out of the dark ages. Nobody goes through a rebuilding process without making mistakes, but these are trustworthy candidates with much more GM experience than Barkley or Hill. Those two may be fan favorites, but the Suns simply need more out of their GM.
And focusing on the draft as well as player development is a great way to start.
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