Does Alex Len Have Long-Term Future with Phoenix Suns?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2014

USA Today

The Phoenix Suns didn't draft Alex Len to present them with a short-term solution. They did it with the intention of developing him into their long-term starting center. 

Len hasn't made much of a contribution through roughly 10 weeks on the job. The guy has only played in eight games all year, never logging more than 13 minutes in any of them. 

If you've already jumped off the bandwagon, the only justifiable card you can play is the one that reads, "I want no part in big men with foot problems." It's tough to argue against that one. Len underwent major surgery on one ankle and minor surgery on the other in the offseason. And soreness has limited him through the first half of his rookie year. 

But even at 100 percent, Len just isn't NBA-ready. He only scored 20 points twice in two years at Maryland. Quite frankly, he should probably be a junior there as we speak. 

At this stage, he's not physically, mentally or fundamentally prepared. Len played a laughable few stretches against the Detroit Pistons recently where he finished with five fouls in seven minutes—a seemingly impossible feat. 

Still, his early struggles on the floor, as well as his inability to simply stay on it, shouldn't reflect heavily on his long-term outlook. You wouldn't take cookies out the oven before they're finished baking and then whine when they start falling apart. Len has played just 61 NBA minutes so far. He needs reps—likely years of them.

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 7:  Alex Len #21 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball against Maccabi Haifa on October 7, 2013 at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Pho
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

However, there is one side effect that results from such an underwhelming start. This is all just speculation, but whether you're a believer or not, "untouchable" doesn't sound like a word that will be attached to Len's name during trade seasons (pre-deadline in February and summer time). 

Phoenix could have up to four picks in this year's first round, and general manager Ryan McDonough has already expressed interest in potentially putting together a package. 

McDonough told Scott Howard-Cooper of

I think one of the things that’s important for people to realize is that we may not draft four players even if we have four picks. Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available. That’s kind of generally what we've wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we've acquired.

When looking to acquire established stars, chances are the teams Phoenix will be dealing with will want more than just draft picks, which technically don't offer much certainty. Potential trade partners are likely to demand some type of mixture of picks and untapped young talent.

Do the Suns include Len in a deal if it means acquiring a star they so desperately covet? I'd say yes. Outside of Phoenix's starting backcourt, I'd like to think of everyone else on the roster as movable assets. 

It doesn't mean McDonough will actively look to deal Len, but it won't hurt to find out what he's worth when paired with some picks. 

I'd imagine Phoenix's No. 1 goal is to follow through with its initial plan: develop Len into the franchise's long-term starting center. Finding a fixture at the 5 position is tough to come by these days, and despite Len's shaky start and creaky ankles, his upside remains intact. 

At 7'1'', he's got the size, athleticism and skill set to be a major factor at both ends of the floor. He's just got no idea how to use any of it at this stage in his development. 

When Phoenix traded Marcin Gortat this summer, it was thought to have opened the door for Len. But nobody expected the Suns to be competing for a playoff spot. All of the sudden in win-now mode, there's less time to experiment with him on the floor.  

The goods news for Len is that Miles Plumlee is the only other center Phoenix is committed to after the year. Len should have the opportunity to eventually earn the role McDonough intended him to win.

But if he shows nothing from now until June, I wouldn't be shocked to see McDonough offer him up in a package, even though the Suns weren't expecting immediate results in the first place. One year with no production isn't terribly alarming, but two years of no production can absolutely destroy a player's value. And McDonough might want to make a move before taking the chance Len struggles as an NBA sophomore.

Again, dealing him probably isn't part of the plan, but given how unconvincing he's been, along with the team's success, Len might actually hold more value to Phoenix as a trade chip than as a long-term prospect.