As the June 26 NBA draft inches ever closer, the Cleveland Cavaliers are mulling what to do with the No. 1 overall pick (their third in four years), while the Los Angeles Lakers are aiming to return to prominence after their worst campaign in more than half a century.
The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, have an arsenal of assets—draft picks (three first-rounders), young players and salary-cap space—that makes them one of the draft’s most noteworthy wild cards.
General manager Ryan McDonough has already made his stance quite clear. He doesn’t intend to stay the course with an upstart roster that shocked everyone by winning 48 games in the loaded Western Conference.
“We are not going to sit here as a team that didn’t make the playoffs and say we’re all set,” the 34-year-old GM said to reporters in April, per Craig Grialou of ArizonaSports.com.
Phoenix has the pieces necessary to orchestrate a variety of different deals, be it trading for a star within the Association or perhaps trading up in the draft to nab a more promising prospect.
In any case, the Suns have potential to be the biggest X-factor later this month. What they decide to do both prior to and during the draft could shake up the outlook of the entire first round.
Pulling off a Blockbuster?
“Our preference would be, as I said when I arrived, to trade for a star if we can do that,” McDonough said, per Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com.
That’s another significant detail brought to light by McDonough at the end of the season.
The Suns are looking to win now after a season full of promise. But can they pull off a blockbuster deal?
One player who could soon become available and fits the bill as a “star” is Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com reported in May that the three-time All-Star has “no interest” in signing an extension to remain with Minnesota. K-Love hasn’t come out publicly to deny the report, which speaks volumes about his mounting frustrations.
T-Wolves part owner, president of basketball operations and newly minted head coach Flip Saunders said recently, “We probably have 16 teams that have called us (about Love),” per the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman. It would be profoundly shocking if Phoenix wasn’t among the teams picking up the phone.
The Suns certainly have enough assets to put together a package for Love: a selection of first-round picks, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Miles Plumlee, one or both Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), etc.
While the desert dwellers can offer a variety of promising young players, that may be a moot point.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has said that he won’t trade the franchise’s best player prior to the 2014 draft, per the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda. As a result, the Suns may have to use their picks in this year’s draft to woo a different trade partner.
There aren’t many stars up for grabs, though, so the Suns don’t exactly have leverage.
Although McDonough’s inclination is to trade for a big name, don’t be surprised if he settles for another feasible plan by trading up in the draft.
With picks No. 14, 18 and 27, Phoenix could potentially vault up the draft board.
Perhaps the Lakers—who have just three players with guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season—would be interested in stockpiling more rookies to develop for the future. The aging backcourt of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant won’t be around much longer. In fact, they weren’t seen much this season (appearing in 21 games combined).
Trading back from No. 7 to land an additional pick is feasible for L.A., since it failed to luck into top-three position during the lottery.
At that spot, the Suns may be fortunate enough to hone in on Arizona product Aaron Gordon. The freshman standout is a dedicated defender, an athletic freak of nature and still just 18 years old.
As a guy who can defend multiple positions and contribute offensively through alley-oop slams, fast-break opportunities and floaters in the lane, he draws parallels to a young Shawn Marion.
Let’s just say the UNLV product had a decent career with the Suns. He ranks second in franchise history with 1,245 steals and is the organization’s all-time leader in defensive rebounds (4,927) and total win shares (93.2), according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The Suns’ biggest need right now is an established, All-Star-caliber veteran to glue the young roster together. They don’t have a huge need for more youngsters. AZ Central's Paul Coro explained that stance by writing, "With Goodwin and Alex Len turning 20 and 21, respectively, before their second seasons, the Suns do not want to overwhelm the roster with more youth that they do not have the time or ability to develop while aiming to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010."
A top-10 pick would be superior to three mid-to-late firsts on that basis.
The rumblings that Phoenix could use its assets to orchestrate a major shakeup are what makes it so captivating. The speculation and rumors merely seem like a relative calm before the storm.
What would truly shock the NBA community, though, is if the Suns decided to stand pat.
McDonough noted his desire to make changes and his preference to trade for a star talent. He also explained the sheer implausibility of keeping the picks he worked so diligently to acquire.
“I think if we do go in with the 14th, 18th and 27th pick, it’s not likely we draft three guys and bring them to the Suns,” he said, per Dulberg.
If management is unable to pull off a blockbuster, or find a suitor willing to trade back, would the Suns be forced to do just that?
Last year, McDonough selected Len at No. 5 out of Maryland and then traded up one spot to ensure he’d nab Kentucky’s Goodwin at No. 29.
Ironically, the late first-round pick showed more promise as a rookie.
Len battled injuries and notched 68 personal fouls versus 86 points. Goodwin dominated the D-League during a brief stint with the Bakersfield Jam (averaging 26.4 points through five games) and went out with a bang during Game 82. He recorded a career-high 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting to accompany four rebounds and two steals.
If Phoenix winds up stuck with its three choices, it will be interesting to see what McDonough decides to do.
Will he select the best player available at each spot as trade bait?
Will he draft for need by adding a wing scorer or additional big man beside the backcourt tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe (assuming the latter is retained via restricted free agency)?
There’s also a distinct possibility that the front office could target a European prospect to stash overseas while the roster continues to take shape—perhaps Dario Saric at No. 14.
Regardless of what happens in this scenario, it is without question the hardest to envision.
McDonough appears to be doing everything in his power to improve his team via trade. If no deals come to fruition, expect the incoming rookies to hit the trade block from the outset of their respective careers.
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