With a new management in place, the Phoenix Suns underwent quite a roster overhaul this past summer.
Several players from last year's squad—a team that suffered a dismal season and had few promising young assets—were either traded or released for the sake of acquiring young players, draft picks and cap flexibility. The list of those leaving includes Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and, now most recently, Michael Beasley.
In Dudley's and Scola's cases, the Suns simply had no need for those veterans and wished to acquire younger assets.
But releasing Michael Beasley was much different, the Suns knew he would be a project from day one. As a former starter who once scored 19.2 points per game, they figured he was worth the money and the risk when they signed him in free agency. Unfortunately, after the worst season of his NBA career—where he lost his starting spot after 20 games—Beasley was finally released a few weeks ago.
The Suns are now in a much better position to rebuild for the future. However, that doesn't mean they are necessarily done trading or releasing members of the 2012-13 Suns. There isn't a single player from that team who is untouchable, though some (like Goran Dragic) would be much more difficult for opposing teams to acquire than others.
But the point is, everyone is technically available. And considering the amount of work GM Ryan McDonough has already done in just a few months, it wouldn't be surprising to see another trade or two happen in February.
So, who are the most likely candidates from last year's roster to leave next?
This is far from the first time that Marcin Gortat's name has been used as a likely trade candidate for Phoenix. At this point, most Suns fans are aware that Gortat has a high chance of leaving the desert, whether it be in a couple of weeks, closer to the trade deadline or in a sign-and-trade next summer.
When Gortat was first acquired by Phoenix in December of the 2010-11 season, he immediately thrived in a new setting. Despite making just 12 starts for the Suns in 55 games, he still managed to average 13.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
The next season was even better. Gortat became the team's leading scorer, rebounder and blocker. He had averages of 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Steve Nash and Gortat became an efficient and effective pick-and-roll duo, and Gortat emerged as one of the better centers in the NBA.
But the following season, his production declined significantly. In 2011-12, he had 12 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds; the following season, he had just two.
Gortat saw all of his averages drop across the board, and he was no longer a dominant center. Both his PER and win shares dropped back to the levels they were at when he was Dwight Howard's backup. The graph below documents Gortat's win shares and PER by season. His rookie season, in which he logged just 41 minutes, was not accounted for.
The graph shows that after peaking in both categories in 2011-12, Gortat's numbers in both advanced statistics plummeted. The fact that he contributed the same number of win shares to the 2012-13 Suns as he did to the 09-10 Magic—despite the fact that he played almost twice as many minutes in his role for Phoenix (1,876 compared to 1,088 minutes logged)—is truly telling of the situation.
However, this drop in production can not all be blamed on Gortat. There are several other factors involved, and perhaps the largest was Steve Nash's absence. Goran Dragic actually proved to be a pretty good replacement for Nash last season (though the two do not have completely similar styles of play), but it is impossible to replicate Nash's combined shooting and court vision.
There were other factors, as well. Two years ago, Gortat appeared to be the dominant post presence for Phoenix. But with the arrival of both Luis Scola and Jermaine O'Neal last year, Gortat suddenly received fewer touches down low and had to share with the other power forwards and centers of the team. This undoubtedly hurt his production even more.
Also, one could theorize that Channing Frye's absence from the team had something to do with Gortat's poor season. How would Frye affect Gortat? Well, Frye led the 2011-12 Suns with 91 threes for the season, and Phoenix shot 34.3 percent from downtown as a team. This wasn't good, but solid enough to finish 17th in the NBA.
When Scola replaced Frye as the starting power forward, the Suns lacked the floor spacing they had earlier and the lane became crowded. In Frye's absence, the Suns shot 33 percent from downtown. 1.3 percent may not seem like a large difference between the two years, but that brought the Suns from 17th to 28th in the league ranking for three-point field-goal percentage.
So, there were some factors that were out of Gortat's control. On the other hand, he continued to be thoroughly unimpressive with his performance in Eurobasket 2013 for his native country Poland.
His team went just 1-4, and Gortat averaged just 10.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field—certainly more was expected from an NBA starting center.
So, was Gortat's poor season a fluke, or is there a real reason to be concerned? In reality, it was probably a mixture of both.
But most importantly, last season proved that Gortat is not the dominant center we may have once thought him to be, and he certainly isn't self-sufficient on the court. Now, at 29 years old and on the last year of his contract, the Suns would benefit from trading "The Polish Hammer" for as many future assets as they can before he leaves in free agency.
Point guard Kendall Marshall had a fairly poor season himself last year, and much more was expected of the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He finished the season with 36 minute averages of 7.3 points and 7.3 assists per game and 1.1 steals per game. He showed great court vision (averaging 12.3 assists per game in his three starts), but not much else.
In fact, Marshall's shooting numbers were unsightly to say the least. He shot 37 percent from the field, 32 percent from three-point range and 57 percent on free throws (he only averaged 0.3 free-throw attempts per game). The only reason you could argue that Marshall made so many three-pointers is because he would only take those shots when he was left wide open and the defense didn't perceive him as a threat.
His advanced stats aren't pretty, either. Marshall posted a PER or 7.8, an offensive rating of 92, a defensive rating of 119 and contributed -0.2 win shares (technically making him more of a liability than an asset).
But Marshall is still just a prospect, right? Isn't part of rebuilding having the patience to develop your young players over a long period of time and not just give up on them after one year?
This is usually found to be true. However, Marshall is available simply because there are so many players on the team's depth chart right now that could play point guard. The Suns do not need Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Kendall Marshall, Ishmael Smith and Dionte Christmas all sharing point guard duties. This crowded backcourt is exactly what makes Marshall expendable.
But what should the Suns look to receive in return for Marshall? Well, they could attempt to package him with Gortat, or trade him in a separate deal entirely. However, trading a prospect for a veteran certainly should not be the plan of this team right now. Perhaps the Suns should simply aim to swap their point guard prospect for a small forward/power forward prospect, two positions where they are much weaker.
There are plenty of SF or PF prospects from the 2012 draft that show promise but didn't have fantastic rookie seasons—such as Terrence Jones, John Henson, Perry Jones III, Arnett Moultrie, Draymond Green, Quincy Acy, Jeffery Taylor, Jae Crowder or Andrew Nicholson.
And then there are still prospects from 2011 and 2012 draft classes.
Some of these players might be acquired by simply trading Marshall, but most probably involve more. That could mean including something like a Morris twin or a future first-round pick, but depending on the prospect, it might be worth it.
There is no guarantee that Marshall will be traded this season. But with so many guards on the roster, you have to think that McDonough will at least be least thinking about it.
Author's Note: All advanced statistics taken from basketball-reference.com.