The competition for that No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft just got a little tighter.
The Phoenix Suns made a major deal on Friday afternoon, as well as a statement regarding the future direction of the franchise.
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Suns will send starting center Marcin Gortat, along with Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor and a protected first-round pick.
Desperate for a star, the Suns have chosen to put most of their chips into the 2014 NBA draft. They also have a few left over from the 2013 draft who, just like that, have been immediately placed into on-the-job training.
With the departure of Gortat and three guards, you should expect to see plenty of Alex Len and Archie Goodwin this year, two first-rounders who project to play significant roles on this team moving forward.
But this deal isn't about the development of players on the current roster. It's about this team positioning and ultimately rebranding itself through what projects as one of the most talented draft fields in recent memory.
Expected one-and-done freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Joel Embiid have all been dubbed potential long-term NBA centerpieces. But it doesn't stop there. This upcoming first round could be packed to the brim with explosive talent, from Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky to Glenn Robinson III of Michigan.
And all of the players mentioned above also happen to play a position of need for the Suns as well. With Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic locked up, this team will have tremendous frontcourt options to choose from.
The Suns acquired a lottery-protected pick from the Indiana Pacers earlier this summer after trading Luis Scola. They also got one a while back in a deal involving Robin Lopez and Wesley Johnson. Now with Washington's protected pick and its own, Phoenix is covering the board like an aggressive roulette player.
And given the projected first-round depth and the high ceilings these prospects possess, the Suns are in position to potentially acquire multiple franchise cornerstones. According to the Suns' official website, general manager Ryan McDonough had this to say:
We are excited to add another first-round pick in what is shaping up to be the best draft in a decade. We now have a chance to make four first-round selections in 2014. Emeka Okafor is a solid veteran center who will help solidify our front line when and if he is able to return from injury.
Based on the current roster, you can pretty much guarantee this team will be competing for that No. 1 pick. Phoenix has followed the path carved out by the Philadelphia 76ers, another team who's chosen to trade now for later.
The fact is, it's just too difficult to build teams from scratch via free agency these days. There are only so many available game-changers each summer, and chances are the superior ones will want to go to a contender.
Not only is the draft a cost-effective way to rebuild, but with a little luck and some savvy evaluating, it can be an easier way to acquire superstar talent. And if there was ever a year to go down that road, 2014 is it.
The Suns have a plan here, and it's certainly a good one. Consider it a three-year plan—with the goal being to build a competitive roster by 2016-17.
If Phoenix is able to nab that first overall pick and land another in the lotto, we could be talking about a core of Eric Bledsoe, Andrew Wiggins and Alex Len, along with another potential starter depending who else it can snag.
These are high-upside players with big-time ceilings if they can reach them.
Depending on how many picks end up in Phoenix's lap by June, there's also the possibility it puts together a package on draft night. Imagine landing Wiggins at No. 1, and then sending multiple first-rounders for an established NBA talent?
Considering the projected talent in the pool, there should be plenty of interest from outside teams looking to move up into the lottery.
The bottom line here is that this latest trade just gives the Suns even more assets and options. Gortat wasn't much of an asset, but his expiring contract was. And now this is a team with a ton of flexibility.
Young teams with no immediate-future promise should take notes. Suns fans, if you can stay patient for one more ugly season, there should be plenty of light at the end of the tunnel.