Few NBA teams struggle developing young talent more than the Phoenix Suns.
Aside from Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, not many players come to Phoenix as a rookie and grow into an All-Star.
It’s not that the Suns don’t find the right talent, but when they do draft that diamond in the rough, they sell him off before he comes into his own as a pro.
Goran Dragic is Phoenix’s latest botched project.
There’s no question Dragic was regressing in his third season after exploding in last year’s playoffs.
But this is a guy that fans were comfortable labeling as the heir to Nash’s throne. And rightfully so.
After battling confidence demons early on, Dragic showed the skill-set to run the Suns’ offense effectively, while showcasing the playmaking ability that made him a fan favorite.
Between his 23-point fourth quarter in Game 3 against the Spurs and his Slovenian showdown with Sasha Vujacic in the Western Conference Finals, Dragic answered all of the questions about his ability to take over when Nash calls it quits.
But after 48 regular season games — he also missed seven with a foot laceration — Lon Babby and Lance Blanks decided he wasn’t “point guard of the future” material?
Sure he lacked consistency, turned the ball over too often and struggled getting the Suns into their offense at times, but those 48 games were enough to make the front office forget about his playoff heroics? Enough to disregard how far he’d come since arriving in Phoenix as a timid, scrawny 22-year-old kid?
For a team lacking a young nucleus to build around, trading one of its cornerstones was undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction. He’s still 24 years old and it clearly wasn’t time to give up on him — especially for a slightly better player with nowhere near the ceiling.
And it’s not like Dragic’s skills diminished this season. In one of his two starts on the year he went for 17 and 10 against the Bobcats. In the four games that he played 30 minutes or more this season, Dragic averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 assists, which aren’t bad numbers for your point guard of the future in his third year.
He simply struggled with consistency, which is clearly a problem that comes with lack of experience and usually works itself out with age. Babby and Blanks explained that they dealt Dragic for Brooks so that they could make a late-season push toward the playoffs. But a backup point guard isn’t the difference in making the playoffs or not, especially for a team lacking interior scoring.
The Suns simply gave up on another young before he had a chance to hit his prime, while handing over a draft pick to boot. But this isn’t the first time Phoenix has done this.
Everyone remembers handing out guys like Rajon Rondo and Luol Deng. And most recently, the Suns gave up on Earl Clark and his massive potential. He clearly wasn’t cutting it in Phoenix, but when the Suns drafted him they knew he was going to be a long-term project, but for whatever reason they couldn’t wait.
After Phoenix shipped Clark off to Orlando, I wanted to write a post about how the Suns gave up on the multi-talented big man a little too soon, but I never did. Clark’s currently writing that story for me with his play, as he’s a regular rotation player with the Magic, showing flashes of what he could have been in Phoenix.
He’s playing just over 12 minutes a game while averaging 4.9 points per contest, and Stan Van Gundy recently said that Clark has “unlimited” potential defensively. The Suns had — and always have had — the young pieces to build a team around, they just lack the patience to do so.
Sarver seemingly thinks the Suns are his fantasy team, and trades like it’s the stock market. Only five players — Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez and Jared Dudley — remain from the Suns’ 2009-10 Western Conference Finals team.
Some players simply had to go, but dealing the youth of your organization as you watch the face of your franchise get older and older isn’t the best way to build a team. Although Aaron Brooks could go off for the occasional 20 points, the Suns once again shot themselves in the foot, bailing on a young prospect before he has his chance to shine.
Tags: Goran Dragic