PHOENIX — Throughout the Nash era, the Phoenix Suns keeping the roster minimum of 13 players has been only slightly less certain than death and taxes.
However, as the team enters a new era around $8 million under the salary cap, owner Robert Sarver has green lighted the basketball operations department to keep the roster maximum of 15, and thus forward Luke Zeller and guard Diante Garrett will start their NBA careers in Phoenix.
The Suns chose Zeller and Garrett over veteran NBA big men Solomon Jones and Ike Diogu, who would be only slightly more expensive on veteran minimum contracts than the $473,604 rookie minimum Zeller and Garrett will make.
According to general manager Lance Blanks, “they really forced our hand,” but because the Suns “have a plethora of fours” he did not see where Diogu or Jones would get much playing time even with Channing Frye likely sidelined for the season.
“We had for a little while a four fetish, if you will,” Blanks said. “We didn’t want to continue that process.”
Although it would be easy to make the joke that the Suns liked Zeller because he’s another lesser brother, Blanks sees his shooting stroke as evidence he can become more than Tyler and Cody’s big bro.
“Zeller, shooter, can space the floor,” Blanks said. “I think if you take out games — don’t laugh — he’s one of the best shooters in the world. The problem is we’ve got to get it transferred to a real basketball setting in a basketball game.”
Last year for the Austin Toros of the D-League, Zeller averaged just 5.9 points and 4.3 boards while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from three. In three preseason games, Zeller is shooting 27.8 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from distance.
The Suns clearly see something in Zeller’s shot in practice that isn’t happening in the games. We shall see if they can develop him into the second coming of Frye.
Garrett is a 6-foot-4 guard from Iowa State who played last season in Europe. He averaged 17.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.7 boards per game as a senior Cyclone in 2010-11.
“Diante Garrett gives us a different dimension because he can play both point guard and off guard,” Blanks said. “He’s small, needs to get stronger, hasn’t played really in the NBA yet, but he has the potential to have a pretty decent future in this league.”
That leaves the Suns with four players who can play point guard with Garrett settling in behind Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair and Kendall Marshall. However, Blanks sees Dragic and Garrett as players who can easily play the two so he doesn’t see that as a problem.
The Suns’ GM added that unless “there’s something unforeseen, something random, I see this as our roster.”
He really likes the way the Suns’ roster is balanced with veterans like Scola and O’Neal, “young veterans” like Dragic and Dudley, young guys like Keef and Tucker and then “succession planning” in Zeller and Garrett, players who along with Marshall should see plenty of D-League action.
“It’s almost like having a farm team within your roster,” Blanks said.
The Suns are still very high on Marshall, so that’s not why they are keeping Garrett. The UNC product is learning to be more vocal on the floor, and Blanks believes he’s too intelligent not to eventually succeed in this league.
Blanks now feels good about the Suns’ roster both in terms of the diversity of experience as well as the fact that he feels all the bases are covered depth-wise with a multitude of player who can step into a different position in a pinch.
“That’s kind of the makeup of the roster in a general sense,” he said. “I think we’re on paper probably somewhere in the middle if you analyzed it before you play the games.”
- Babby on the new era: “I’ve used the analogy of turning over the hourglass, and we’ve definitely done that. It’s very, very exciting. I can’t say that we know exactly what’s in the top of the hourglass, but we know certain things already based on training camp. We know we’re going to be significantly younger. We’re going to be energetic, we’re going to be exciting.”
- As expected the Suns exercised their $2.092 million team option on Morris for 2013-14 on Thursday as the team is pleased with his progress thus far. The Suns have yet to decide on Wes Johnson’s $5.4 mil team option for 2013-14. I would be shocked if Babby and Blanks pick that up without watching him play a regular season game for them considering the cap implications, but the Suns do like him so they could always decline it and then re-sign him as a free agent if he works out this season.
- Friday’s 7:30 p.m. MST preseason finale against the Nuggets has been moved from ESPN to ESPN2. I look forward to taking a closer look at Zeller and Garrett in that one.