The 2012-13 season was perhaps the worst in Phoenix Suns history since the team's inception in 1969, and fans watched as a team with no sense of identity or direction struggled, game after game.
But this season marks a new era of Phoenix Suns basketball—one that comes with a renewed sense of hope and optimism about the team's future.
The Suns enter the season with a new general manager in Ryan McDonough and a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek. No longer interested in wins and losses or tangible goals such as playoff berths, Phoenix is now all about developing its youth and acquiring even more assets that could hopefully create a dynasty several years down the road.
Over the summer, the Suns drafted a couple of promising rookies, made a few trades for young players and cap flexibility and also added even more future draft picks from other teams. And now, this season will be all about displaying up-tempo basketball and showcasing potential.
Before looking ahead to the new season, here is a quick recap of how the Suns fared last year:
- 25-57 record (.305)
- Fifth in Pacific Division
- 15th in Western Conference
Despite the terrible record, there were a few positives to take from last season, with Goran Dragic's emergence as the team's leader perhaps being the most notable. In his first season as a full-time starter, Dragic had a career year, putting up 16.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game after the All-Star break. Dragic also had multiple 30-point outbursts in March and April, and he should continue to be the team's leading scorer this season.
On the other hand, Dragic's stellar play was only one positive to take away from an otherwise dismal season. And the one player at the forefront of the disaster was clearly Michael Beasley.
Beasley was signed in the 2012 offseason to a three-year, $18 million deal, and management had hoped that he could shake off a rough 2011-2012 campaign and become a go-to scorer for the team.
But instead of revitalizing his career, Beasley continued to decline, losing his starting spot just 20 games into the season and finishing the year with a career-low in points per game, rebounds per game and field-goal percentage.
The Suns finally released Beasley in September, but simply mentioning the name may still evoke nightmares for most Suns fans.
This season, the Suns will be focused primarily on player development. That means veterans such as Emeka Okafor and Channing Frye will not only see their minutes decrease, but they will also be encouraged to help prospects such as Archie Goodwin, Alex Len and Miles Plumlee make the transition from college to the NBA.
A 20-win season would not be such a catastrophe for this year's Suns. When you don't set such high expectations for a team (such as claiming to aim for a playoff berth when there is clearly a lack of talent), losing is much easier to cope with.
However, a season without player development would be a wasted one. If the Suns fail to develop their young players and prospects this season, they may have to go back to the drawing board and begin the rebuilding process once again next summer.
- SG Eric Bledsoe
- SG/SF Gerald Green
- C Alex Len
The greatest addition of the offseason has to be Eric Bledsoe, who will have the opportunity to establish himself as the face of the franchise this season.
Bledsoe is clearly an unorthodox choice for a starting shooting guard. At just 6'1", he is one of the most undersized guards in the league. He also isn't an exceptional shooter by any means and shot just 4-of-22 from downtown in seven games of preseason action.
However, there's no doubt that Bledsoe is freakishly athletic. His combination of speed and vertical-leaping ability allows him to get in transition, throw down emphatic fast-break dunks and rack up steals in a hurry.
To expect an All-Star season out of Bledsoe immediately might be too optimistic. However, do expect him to be the team's leading scorer in plenty of games this season, and he could easily average about 15 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals per game. With that type of season, the Suns wouldn't hesitate to sign him to a long-term contract.
Gerald Green is another key addition who was included in the Luis Scola trade with the Indiana Pacers. Green has had an interesting NBA career, playing with seven teams in six seasons and playing fairly inconsistently.
Only two years ago, Green had a great season for the New Jersey Nets. When given the opportunity to log a significant amount of minutes for a bad team, he responded by scoring 12.9 points per game and shooting 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range.
But the 2012-13 Gerald Green who played for the Pacers struggled all season long and shot just 37 percent from the field. Suns fans should hope that he can recover this year.
If he does, Green could be a great partner in transition with Bledsoe and Dragic. Not only is he one the best dunkers in the NBA, but he is also a career 35-percent shooter from downtown.
And of course, 2013 No. 5 overall pick Alex Len should be considered a key addition as well. Len did not look very promising in the preseason (averaging 2.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game), but with Miles Plumlee, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Emeka Okafor and Channing Frye all capable of playing at center, he will not be expected to contribute too much immediately.
Len is only 20 years old, and developing his game will be a slow process. He may have the most tantalizing potential out of any rookie in this draft class, so expect to see plenty of fantastic games this season as well as plenty of terrible ones.
- SF Jared Dudley (Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers)
- PF Luis Scola (Traded to Indiana Pacers)
- SF Wesley Johnson (Signed with Los Angeles Lakers)
- PF/C Jermaine O' Neal (Signed with Golden State Warriors)
Jared Dudley spent five seasons with the Suns, learning from legends such as Steve Nash and Grant Hill and playing a role in the team's 2010 playoff run.
Once Nash and Hill left after the 2011-12 season, Dudley went from being more of a prospect to a veteran. He was considered a role model for the younger prospects, and on top of that, he was also one of the best three-point shooters on the team and an integral part of the offense.
With Dudley gone, Dragic and Frye are the only players remaining from the 2009-10 season.
Dudley's presence will no longer be felt in the locker room when the Suns need it most. And for a team that that finished 28th in the league in three-point field-goal percentage last season, Dudley's sweet stroke will surely be missed.
Luis Scola is another important loss, though it is clear that trading him this summer was a smart decision. Scola, a 33-year-old power forward, seemed out of place on a rebuilding team, and now he gets to play for a contending Pacers team while the Suns were able to collect prospects and draft picks from the trade.
Scola averaged 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last year, and although he has started to decline, he is still a valuable asset and a starting-caliber power forward.
Wesley Johnson and Jermaine O'Neal were nice role players who both signed with other teams, but neither one was particularly special. They will be remembered in Phoenix Suns history as players who spent one season in the desert on a particularly terrible team.
Will Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe Be Able to Work Together in the Backcourt?
Goran Dragic is coming off the best season of his NBA career, and Eric Bledsoe is expected by many analysts to be a top candidate for Most Improved Player this season. If both of them perform well, they could create one of the most athletic, explosive young backcourt duos in the league.
However, they're undersized, neither one is a fantastic long-range shooter, and they will have to figure out exactly how to share the ball on offense. Of course, there will be plenty of offensive opportunities for both players, and locker room drama isn't anticipated.
Even so, if Bledsoe fails to live up to expectations and appears to be out of his element at shooting guard, the Suns may have to give up on the prospect of him being a franchise cornerstone. Then, once again, they'll have to start an entirely new search for young, promising players to pair with Dragic in the backcourt.
Are the Suns Officially Tanking?
The Suns are clearly one of the worst teams in the NBA, meaning that they have a decent shot at obtaining the first overall pick in what is expected to be one of the strongest drafts of the past decade.
However, will the Suns be competing for more lottery balls simply because they happen to be bad, or are they perhaps tanking intentionally?
The team would obviously deny any allegations of tanking, but it could very well be a part of the plan for this season. If they are intentionally giving prospects more minutes than their veterans near the end of the year, they may in fact be competing with other teams such as the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in the draft. And in these situations, "focusing on player development" usually seems like a pleasant way of saying the word "tanking."
Besides their own first-round pick, pay attention to the three other first-rounders that the Suns own for 2014. If the Minnesota Timberwolves are able to sneak into the playoffs, the Suns would receive another first-round draft pick, and the Pacers are expected to give Phoenix yet another pick in the 20-30 overall range at the end of the first round. Also, after acquiring Emeka Okafor recently, Suns fans should also watch the top-12 protected pick from the Washington Wizards. If the Wizards make the playoffs in the East, that gives Phoenix another pick.
|2013-14 Depth Chart|
|PG||Goran Dragic||Dionte Christmas||Ish Smith|
|SG||Eric Bledsoe||Archie Goodwin|
|SF||P.J Tucker||Gerald Green||Marcus Morris|
|PF||Markieff Morris||Channing Frye|
|C||Emeka Okafor||Alex Len||Miles Plumlee||Viacheslav Kravtsov|
Point Guard: B
The Suns have plenty of depth at point guard, as both Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe will likely take turns bringing the ball up the court and running the offense. And after those two, Ish Smith and Dionte Christmas will both fight for some minutes off the bench.
Between Bledsoe and Dragic, the Suns' point guards have enough athleticism and quickness to go around. And with Dragic, they have a great passer as well.
However, three-point shooting is still a problem. Dragic and Smith both shot under 32 percent from three-point range last season, and while Bledsoe managed to shoot 40 percent from downtown, it was in a very small sample size (78 attempts). In the preseason, his shooting stroke didn't look nearly as efficient.
Shooting Guard: B-
Formally, this is where Eric Bledsoe will be starting. However, as previously mentioned, expect Dragic to play the 2 occasionally, as the both Bledsoe and Dragic will share backcourt duties.
Now that Shannon Brown is gone, Archie Goodwin will be the backup shooting guard. Goodwin, while athletic, is not a particularly great shooter. He is also only 19 years old, so to expect a lot out of him in his rookie season would be unreasonable.
Once again, these guys will struggle with long-range shooting. Goodwin shot just 27 percent from deep at Kentucky, and Bledsoe has shot 31 percent for his career from three-point range.
But on the other hand, Bledsoe and Goodwin both have exceptional leaping ability. These two will have no problem running on the fast break in coach Hornacek's system.
Small Forward: C
Perhaps this is a little bit harsh, as Gerald Green, P.J Tucker and Marcus Morris are all valuable players, albeit each with a different role on this team.
However, the truth is that none of those three would be starting on other NBA teams. The Suns are simply desperate.
On the bright side, small forward may be the most balanced position this team has. For example, Gerald Green and Marcus Morris can both provide three-point shooting on the wing or in the corner. Green is also a fantastic dunker who can run the floor well, and P.J. Tucker is known for his defense, hustle and rebounding. All three can be used in different situations.
But when the 2014 offseason comes along, expect Phoenix to look for some answers at small forward through either the draft or free agency, because it would be very hard to build a contender with Tucker or Green in the starting lineup.
Power Forward: C+
The other forward position isn't much better. Markieff Morris will receive a chance to start at power forward this year, while Channing Frye, who is recovering from heart surgery, will be a role player off the bench. Marcus Morris will also likely see action at power forward in smaller lineups.
Both Frye and the Morris twins are capable of making threes, which will be great for the floor spacing of the offense. And with players such as Bledsoe and Tucker struggling from outside, the team needs their stretch-4s to be consistent with their shooting.
Unfortunately, "consistent" is about the last word you might use to describe Markieff and Marcus. For example, in his worst month last season, Markieff Morris shot 5-of-27 (19 percent) from downtown. But in other months, such as April, he was fantastic, shooting 13-for-20 (65 percent).
Another flaw with these three is that they all play a similar style of basketball. They may have range, but the Suns don't have any great rebounders, post defenders or post-up players at power forward. The position as a whole is somewhat one-dimensional.
Emeka Okafor, when he is healthy, could be considered one of the top players on this team. However, Okafor is still out with a neck injury and may not return for a few months.
But the center position also has plenty of depth this season. Not only is there rookie Alex Len, but sophomore prospect Miles Plumlee has impressed coaches with his play in training camp and the preseason this year. He averaged 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in the preseason and could potentially steal minutes away from Len, Kravtsov, Frye and Okafor.
And Viacheslav Kravtsov is great for a fourth-string center. The 7'0" Ukrainian played his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons last year and played surprisingly well in very limited minutes. But now, he has almost no chance of seeing playing time on such a deep roster.
Overall, the Suns' centers can play defense, block shots, grab rebounds and run the floor. They have no real glaring flaws—though while Emeka Okafor is out, a center position run by prospects such as Len and Plumlee looks very weak.
For more insight into the individual players, a complete power ranking can be found here.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: Eric Bledsoe
Miles Plumlee may have a breakout season as well, but Bledsoe has the opportunity to win the NBA's Most Improved Player award this season if he plays well.
Last year Bledsoe played just 20 minutes per game behind CP3, but this season he will be the star of the team, able to shoot as he pleases.
Considering that jump in playing time and responsibility, there is no reason why Bledsoe can't average 15 points per game or more. He certainly won't be an All-Star (there is just too much guard depth in the West), but Bledsoe could receive recognition for his play in other ways, such as winning the MIP award or receiving a lucrative contract extension.
Team MVP: Goran Dragic
Despite Bledsoe's presence, Goran Dragic is still clearly the leader of this team. His fantastic preseason performance is only one example of that.
In just 20.7 minutes per game this preseason, Dragic managed to put up 11.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 58 percent from the field.
Adjusted to per-36 minute numbers, that comes out to 20 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
We saw how well Dragic played late last season, and if his preseason play this year is any indication, perhaps he could continue to dominate his opposition going into 2014.
The key for him is to simply be aggressive. Dragic does not have to be a pass-first point guard and let Eric Bledsoe take care of the scoring; that isn't the point of pairing these two together. Instead, Dragic has to be aggressive on offense by attacking the basket, driving the lane and looking for open three-point shots.
As he draws in the opposing defense, other players will be open and the assists will come.
Most Disappointing Player: Alex Len
Alex Len was drafted fifth overall by the Suns on the basis that the 7'1" Ukrainian center will be a strong rebounder and defender later on in his career. It was a move that made sense, considering that the Suns needed a center to take over for Gortat in the future.
Last season, Len produced very good numbers for Maryland. He led the ACC in blocks, he was second in offensive rebounds, fifth in defensive rebounds and sixth in PER.
But despite those numbers, Len did not appear on any of the All-ACC teams. In fact, he received no awards at all for his college play.
Then, this summer, the NBA held its annual rookie survey. Rookies were asked questions about how other players would fare in the NBA. Len was completely snubbed by his peers, receiving not even a single vote on any of the questions.
Receiving zero recognition for any of his play as a fifth overall pick is a troubling sign. Already, many people are writing Len off as the bust of the year.
And in the preseason, he didn't do much to disprove those claims. Alex Len averaged just 2.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.
This doesn't mean that Alex Len will be a huge bust, but he may not provide the type of production you would like to see out of the fifth pick of the draft. Don't be surprised if he starts losing playing time to Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov this year.
Player Most Likely To Be Traded: Goran Dragic
Now that Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown and Kendall Marshall have all been traded away, it is unlikely that the Suns make any more major moves this season. However, if general manager Ryan McDonough were to make one more big transaction, it would probably involve trading Goran Dragic.
Goran Dragic has been fantastic in his two separate stints with the Suns, and I doubt many fans would be glad to see him go. However, Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin are already considered by some to be the future backcourt of the Phoenix Suns, and in the meantime, Goran Dragic is already 27 and in his prime.
This isn't to say that Dragic will definitely be put on the trade block and shipped to a different team for the sake of tanking and rebuilding. However, if the Suns receive an offer that they cannot resist, and they are confident in a Bledsoe/Goodwin backcourt of the future, Dragic may be traded by this franchise for the second time in his career.
Biggest Rivalry: Suns/Lakers
The Suns and Lakers have always been intense rivals, fighting each other again and again during the playoffs in the 90s and 2000s.
Now that neither team is competing for a playoff spot, the games between these two teams are sure to be less interesting. However, that doesn't mean the Suns aren't trying to increase the intensity.
In fact, they even purchased the domain "beat.la" over the summer in an attempt to express their hatred for Lakers basketball.
The Suns may not win many games in total this season, but a couple wins against the Lakers would mean a lot to fans.
Some fans may cheer if the Suns win 10 games, only because the consolation prize is a top pick in a strong 2014 draft class. But here, I'm going to say that more wins is a better scenario.
In an almost perfect season, Dragic and Bledsoe will show great chemistry working together, Markieff Morris will have a breakout year, and Alex Len and Archie Goodwin both play significant minutes and end up being strong candidates for ROY.
Channing Frye will also show great resilience in coming back from a heart condition, and prospects such as Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee will all find a way to improve coming off the bench.
In a best-case scenario, the Suns will surprise almost everyone and finish 34-48, but they still won't even come close to earning a playoff spot.
Bledsoe will be incapable of proving that he can be anything more than a spark off the bench.
Alex Len will not silence the critics who said that drafting him was a mistake, and he will suffer through a disappointing season.
The Morris twins will show little improvement or development, and Gerald Green, although athletic, simply take away from the offense by shooting inefficiently.
Additionally, newly acquired Emeka Okafor struggles after recovering from an injury, and he ultimately walks at the end of the season after having played only a handful of games in a Suns uniform.
In the end, the Suns finish 13-69, last in the West and in the midst of a close race with the Philadelphia 76ers for the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
22-60, 15th in West
Don't expect these guys to make the playoffs in 2014. If that's your goal for the Suns, lower your expectations.
But this losing season doesn't mean the Suns should have fewer fans in the stands or at home watching their games. Suns fans still have so many reasons to watch this team.
If you ignore the wins and losses for a second and look at the potential the team has with guys like Dragic, Bledsoe, Len and Goodwin, you may realize that this team really is heading in the right direction for the future. With that attitude, it is easy to enjoy watching games, whether the Suns are winning or not.
Plus, with all of the fast-break plays and transition dunks we'll see from Goodwin, Bledsoe and Green, you won't want to miss any of the on-court action.