What's at Stake for Phoenix Suns in 2014 NBA Draft Lottery?

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMay 19, 2014

Newly-appointed Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough speaks during an NBA basketball news conference, Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Phoenix.  McDonough joins the Suns after most recently serving the past three seasons as the assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics.  (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

Thanks to a savvy first year at the helm from 34-year-old general manager Ryan McDonough, the Phoenix Suns have three first-round picks in the 2014 NBA draft.

Because Phoenix missed out on postseason play in the loaded Western Conference for a fourth consecutive season, its own selection is lottery bound once again. So what exactly does that mean for an organization in the midst of a rebuild?

Statistically speaking, the Suns have a 98.2 percent chance of staying put with the 14th pick. They have a 0.5 percent chance to net the No. 1 overall slot. Short of a genuine miracle, the desert dwellers will have to wait until every other lottery team is off the clock before bringing in a new prospect.

Whether or not McDonough will decide to utilize his pick as a means of bringing in a rookie, however, remains a prominent question mark.

“I think it’s unlikely that we’ll bring in three rookies to the Suns,” McDonough said in April, per Dave King of BrightSideoftheSun.com. “Our preference would be to trade for a star.”

Since the GM’s preference is to flip assets in a blockbuster deal for an established player, that’s a good place to start.


Trading the Pick

In the current NBA landscape, there aren’t many (if any) star players on the market. Free agency could play host to guys like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—assuming all four exercise early termination options. However, it’s difficult to envision any of those guys joining Phoenix due to the allure that accompanies a “big market.”

Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was the topic of trade speculation throughout the season, but the Suns already have two All-Star-caliber players in their backcourt—Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Bringing in a third doesn’t make sense.

In the end, potential trade rumors come back to one man: Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love.

Mar 23, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) dribbles in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) at Target Center. Phoenix wins 127-120. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, the UCLA product is fed up with his situation in Minnesota. Sources say that he has no interest in signing an extension to stay with the T-Wolves, which could easily prompt the struggling franchise to trade him for assets in return.

Per Stein and Shelburne, the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks are the power forward’s desired destinations. Notice how Phoenix is noticeably absent.

ESPN addressed that by writing, “Sources say that the Phoenix Suns, armed with several draft assets to offer Minnesota, also have strong interest in trading for Love, but the 25-year-old’s interest in joining the Suns is unclear.”

The thought of watching K-Love gobble down rebounds and fire laser-like outlet passes to Bledsoe and the high-flying Gerald Green for easy transition hoops is sure to make Suns fans salivate. Unfortunately, trading for him without the promise that he’d invest in Phoenix for the long term is a fool’s errand.

Nevertheless, McDonough may be able to convince Love that he can build a contender around him. The young Suns GM did manage to turn Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Luis Scola into Bledsoe, Green, Miles Plumlee, Ish Smith and two first-rounders, after all.

Still, Love’s interest in joining the upstart Suns is a mystery. Until that murky outlook becomes clearer, this blockbuster trade will continue to fall into the “speculation” category.


Keeping the Pick

If management isn’t able to deal the lottery pick and/or other assets for another key building block, then keeping the selection is a very real possibility.

Even if the Suns simply draft a player to swap at a later point, they’ll have options.

Since the pick is all but guaranteed to land at No. 14, here’s a list of guys taken at that spot over the past decade:

NBA 14th Overall Picks by Year
2013Shabazz Muhammad
2012John Henson
2011Marcus Morris
2010Patrick Patterson
2009Earl Clark
2008Anthony Randolph
2007Al Thornton
2006Ronnie Brewer
2005Rashad McCants
2004Kris Humphries

That’s not exactly an eye-popping list.

There are certainly some respectable role players in the bunch: Marcus Morris, John Henson and Patrick Patterson. By contrast, there are some burnouts: Al Thornton, Anthony Randolph and Rashad McCants.

Granted, this all depends on scouting. Guys like Dragic (45th), Taj Gibson (26th), Serge Ibaka (24th), Rondo (21st) and Al Jefferson (15th) were all taken beyond the lottery. So there’s certainly a chance the Suns could land a difference-maker.

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 07:  James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Connecticut Huskies during the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Perhaps they’ll target Kentucky youngster James Young or 6’10” Croatian forward Dario Saric to stash overseas.


Trading Up

Let me channel my inner Captain Obvious by saying that the NBA is not the NFL. Trading up in an NBA draft is far less common than it is in commissioner Roger Goodell’s league, simply because banking additional picks for a 12-man roster isn’t as important as it is for football’s 53-man team.

Also, the drop-off in talent from the lottery to the end of the first round is rather drastic within the NBA.

Still, the Suns have three first-rounders they can offer. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a team looking to deal a lottery pick that will fall no lower than No. 9.

As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News reports, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak is open to trading L.A.’s own lottery pick.

Would the Lakers be willing to move back if it meant netting additional picks from Phoenix? Considering they only have Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre under guaranteed contracts for 2014-15, stockpiling selections makes sense in terms of filling out roster spots.

The problem for the Suns is that moving up likely won’t garner enough value to justify the trade, especially since they’re not looking to develop a rookie for two or three years down the road.

The Suns entered 2013-14 as bottom-dwellers. After finishing dead last in the Western Conference a year prior, pundits and fans expected more of the same. Instead, first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek created a system that got the best from a variety of players, and Phoenix won 48 games.

Now—instead of looking for a bona fide rookie to become the face of the franchise—Hornacek's squad needs just one more established piece to contend.

On that basis, there’s very little pressure for the Suns entering the 2014 draft, because they likely won't be targeting guys as long-term pieces.

Fans must continue to put faith in McDonough. He's put the Suns in a perfect situation for the present and future. With one more big move via trade or free agency, Phoenix will be a contender once again.


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