Moving forward: A bright, sunny day in Phoenix

Posted by on October 27th, 8:11 pm

PHOENIX — The past must be an awfully scary place. After all it seems just about everyone these days — from political candidates to the Suns’ front office — is ready to move forward.

That was certainly the theme Thursday, when team president of basketball operations Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks hosted a handful of media members at US Airways Center for a candid lunch.

The franchise has not made it to the postseason during the duo’s two-year tenure in Phoenix, but the organization’s two architects are admittedly anxious and excited with where the team sits just days before its season opener against Golden State on Wednesday.

Call it misguided optimism or admirable hubris, but from where they sit, things for lack of a better word are sunny heading into 2012-13.

“I am confident this group will make fans fall in love with the franchise again,” Babby said. “It’s a bright, sunny day in Phoenix.”

Finally their team

Outside of Channing Frye — who is scheduled to miss extensive time if not the entire upcoming season due to an enlarged heart — all 15 members on the Suns’ active roster were hand-picked by Babby and Blanks. With Thursday’s announcement that the organization exercised the $2.092 million dollar option on second-year forward Markieff Morris and Wednesday’s decision to keep undrafted free agents Diante Garrett and Luke Zeller, barring any unforeseen changes before Halloween night, every player wearing a Suns uniform to start the season was drafted, acquired by trade, signed or extended by Babby and Blanks.

For the first time, this team is completely the brainchild of Babby and Blanks. And trust me, the two of them are more than aware of that fact.

“I really like this group,” said Babby. “That isn’t two saying anything bad about what we’ve had here previously, but we selected these guys. However they got here it’s because this front office brought them here. We take responsibility for that.

“But the thing I found most gratifying this summer is that either in their actions or in their words, every player on this roster made it known they want to be here.”

While discussion will continue to rage on as to why the front office felt the need to hold onto the veteran contracts of Steve Nash and Grant Hill in recent years — despite the team’s apparent decline in the Western Conference — Babby and Banks emphatically said they wouldn’t have handled those situations any differently.

In fact,  both were in complete agreement that this was the perfect time for the team to gain some cap flexibility — with the departures of Nash, Hill, Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick — because it’s the first summer since the two arrived in Phoenix, that they’ve been able to dedicate the entire time to player personnel — whether it be signing free agents, making a key trade or even bolstering the development staff with the additions of Ralph Sampson and Sean Rooks.

“When you look at our roster, all of our bases are covered,” said Blanks. “We have seasoned veterans in Jermaine O’Neal and Luis Scola. We have young veterans trending upwards in Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. So, we have that middle area covered. We have even younger guys in the league who have only been around for a year or two. Guys like Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker, who are showing a lot of promise and potential. And we also have succession planning, which would be guys like Luke Zeller and Diante Garrett. Almost like having a farm team within your organization.”

While Blanks made sure to highlight the roster as it currently stands, if the perceived sense of optimism within the organization is going to be maintained from October through April, it starts and really ends with Michael Beasley.

That may be a lot to ask of a four-year veteran who has yet to really find his way after being selected No. 2 overall by Miami back in 2008. But if you want to make Babby and Blanks blush about the present and future state of this team, mention the 23-year-old forward and the two struggle to contain their emotions.

Beasley’s best shot

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Michael Beasley is an affable, intelligent young man to be around, the type of guy loaded with quick-witted humor and a smile on his face at all times.

Those words have likely never been uttered in the same sentence, because the often-misunderstood forward has been labeled quiet harshly during his previous stints in Miami and Minnesota as a “locker room cancer” or “the ultimate me-first guy.”

Babby and Blanks dismissed the notion that Beasley is exactly the man and the player his reputation makes him out to be.

“I have to be careful, and I don’t say this figuratively, but I love the guy,” Blanks said. “He is a great, great kid. I enjoy being around him. We spend random time together, going to games or doing whatever.

“I think [his move to the Suns] has gone better than expected to this point based on everything I know and everything I’ve seen. By no stretch has he been perfect, but he’s committed to wanting to be the best player and person he can be.”

While his progression on and off the court has impressed the front office since he signed a three-year deal worth $18 million back in July, Blanks cautioned that despite the lofty expectations he entered the league with, at age 23 he is still has a lot of room to grow.

“Look, he’s 23, and he’s still learning,” Blanks said. “There are so many things he can do and a ton of things he can’t do. It’s a step-by-step process. But at the end of this, I think we’ll see a different player and a different person.”

When the organization met with him in Los Angeles for the first time during free agency, Babby said he was struck by Beasley’s level of accountability and his ability to put a positive spin on his past missteps.

“When we asked him about what happened in Minnesota or Miami, there was nothing defensive about him,” said Babby. “He’s really straight-forward about what he’s feeling. He definitely sees the world through a little bit different prism than I do — obviously we come from different backgrounds — but he’s such an affable guy. The things that come out of his mouth, he’s really, really smart.”

All the praise in the world won’t make him a better passer, teammate or man-to-man defender, but the Suns’ president of basketball operations wasn’t shy in his assessment of Beasley’s latest chance. Sure, if the franchise is going to exceed expectations in 2012-13, it will rely heavily on Michael Beasley, but there’s no doubt Michael Beasley also needs Phoenix in the worst way.

“There is no better opportunity for Michael Beasley, because he has people here who want him to succeed and help him,” said Babby. “We all are invested in him, but particularly Lance is, and Alvin is as well. He knows it’s his best chance at success.”

Gentry to get a fair evaluation

Back when Alvin Gentry led an overachieving Suns squad to the Western Conference Finals in the spring of 2010, neither Babby or Blanks was with the franchise.

Since their arrival, as noted above, the team has suffered back-to-back seasons of .500 basketball or below, leading many to believe that the goodwill Gentry previously built up with the organization is but a fading memory by this point as the team transitions into a new era.

With that said, Babby and Blanks are not worried about the veteran coach’s future with the team, even if his contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

It may be a story among media members and fans, but the front office has done its best to put water, not fire, to the flames surrounding Gentry’s unknown future.

“We talked to him about it, and he’s at peace with it,” Babby said. “Our philosophy is that he has three years on his contract, and we will access the situation with him at the end of three years. This notion in sports that you always have to be one step ahead of a contract, maybe that made sense when I was an agent, but look we have a strong relationship with him. And, it’s as strong as it has been.”

While Babby spoke about his two-decade relationship with Gentry and the bond the two have built in recent years, Blanks — who has known Gentry since his days under Larry Brown in San Antonio back in 1987 — tried to dismiss the notion that the 11-year head coach was not popular among the new regime.

“I have a philosophy that in this business we are all on a one-day deal,” Blanks said. “Owners are good and intelligent, and they have tons of money. … So, I think it’s unfair for anyone outside of the situation to read too much into it. We are all trying to be successful and trying to support Alvin.”

It should also be noted that Gentry’s current three-year deal was a move made by the current regime. Back in September 2010, Babby and Blanks rewarded the coach’s success in 2009-10 with a contract extension.

One isn’t always the loneliest number

When the Suns selected Kendall Marshall out of North Carolina with the No. 13 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, they more or less thought they had found their point guard of the future.

When the team then went out an signed Goran Dragic to a big free agency contract and then followed that up by making no attempt to move veteran Sebastian Telfair, the motive behind Marshall’s selection got a little hazier.

And then to top it off, the Suns held on to Diante Garrett Thursday, creating a stable of four point guards — a true rarity around the league today.

Based on the way Gentry positioned his starting lineup and subsequent rotations over the last few preseason games, Marshall looks to be out of the mix, at least for now. He struggled to find his shot, looked uncomfortable at times in the half court and still doesn’t have a grasp of the offense to the level Telfair does.

And in all likelihood, if game or practice opportunities aren’t available for Marshall or Garrett, the two rookie point guards will see extended time with the Suns’ D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.

But for now, Blanks believes the four-man stable is a good problem to have and is far from what some might perceive as “a ridiculous fetish.” In fact, he feels it provides the team with extra bodies in practice, versatility during certain game situations and an insurance plan if Dragic or Telfair miss extended time.

“Look, Goran and Diante can play off the ball,” Blanks said. “I guess Kendall could, but I wouldn’t necessarily look at him in that situation. But the other two, 100 percent can play off the ball. So a couple of them are more like a one or a one and a half, but can also full-on play the two position depending on what we have on the floor.”

Dave Dulberg

Dave Dulberg is a ValleyoftheSuns staff writer who recently graduated from the University of Southern California. He also works as a web content writer/editor for Arizona Sports 620 KTAR.

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Tags: Lance Blanks · Lon Babby · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott // Oct 27, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    So what if Marshall doesn’t get a lot of court time in his first year? Nash didn’t either.

    Give Marshall some time to develop. Even a little time in the D-League, playing against near-NBA talent, may work wonders. We all know he’s behind in his offensive game, and as a distributor he needs to learn how to penetrate and dish. He knows it too.

    The skills he already has – being able to see the floor exceptionally well, and the ability to deliver accurate passes – suggest that he’ll be fine once he establishes himself as an offensive threat and a difficult cover.

    If Marshall spends a few months in the D-League, IMO it’s possible he might be ready for regular backup duties as early as the All-Star break.

  • 2 DBreezy // Oct 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Seems like perfect timing for this article after the Harden trade. There’s been so much talk from the front office and in the blogs about how best to rebuild and it seems that the Rockets and Suns will provide two solid contrasts. We’re not talking about a broad study including perennially losing ballclubs. We’re talking about two franchises that have enjoyed lots of success over the years, who have both just been on the outside of the postseason the last few seasons. They’ve had draft picks in the same range and both prefer to rebuild on the fly via free agency and trades . How they’ve gone about doing that has been different though and it will be interesting to see which is more successful over the long haul.

  • 3 Fan in Chi Town // Oct 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Not to nitpick, but I’m pretty sure Beasley was drafted in 2008

  • 4 silver // Oct 27, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    @DBreezy

    good point. Lets see how this plays out

  • 5 Scott // Oct 28, 2012 at 12:55 am

    In reference to that Harden trade, I’m kinda thinking OKC got the better deal, as Lamb will likely be as good as Harden, and he’ll fit their salary schedule over the next few years better than Harden.

    OKC also gets 2 firsts and a 2nd rounder, plus the expiring contract of Martin.

    OKC makes out like serious bandits on this, while the Rockets get themselves a star in Harden to go along with Lin.

    FWIW, the Trade Machine still has the Rockets with 20 players … ;)

  • 6 DBreezy // Oct 28, 2012 at 1:32 am

    For OKC it’s all about if they return to/win the finals following this trade. For a team at that level, anything else is irrelevant. The Suns trade of JJ looked great on paper too, especially after Bell and Diaw emerged. Harden may have fizzled in his first finals, but he gave DAL, LAL, and SA fits in what remains a tough conference. Martin is injury prone, doesn’t play D, and has never been a winner. Neither he nor Lamb are the creator that Harden is which was big for their 2nd unit and oftentimes their first unit, freeing up Westbrook somewhat.

    They’re going to need some big time contributions from guys who weren’t there last season for them to make it back to the finals. Some combo of Martin, Lamb, PJ3, Maynor, Thabeet have to get it done. Two are rookies, one might as well be, and one is coming off a knee injury and an even more painful memory of an ill-advised shot attempt the last time he played meaningful minutes. That locker room is going to have to rally.

  • 7 Luka // Oct 28, 2012 at 1:33 am

    In the short term, I feel this trade hurts OKC. Harden not only anchored the bench unit with his scoring, but he also served as a facilitator, and a respectable defender. Kevin Martin is merely a one-dimensional scorer who’s injury prone.

    Overall though, this was a financial move for OKC and Presti once again needs to be given credit for jumping on an opportunity.

    Anyone else think Tyreke Evans is in a Suns uniform next season?

  • 8 Scott // Oct 28, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Keep in mind, if they weren’t going to be able to re-sign Harden, what were they going to get for him?

    OKC came out all right. This is better than letting Harden walk at the end of the season, and they got a lot more in assets by trading him now than they are likely to have received in a trade this summer when Harden and whatever team he wanted to go to held all the cards.

    In that latter case, maybe all they’d have gotten was a trade exception (as was the case with the Suns and Amare).

  • 9 Lloyd I. Cadle // Oct 28, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I’m really impressed with Mr. Blanks. He reminds me of Al Davis when Davis was younger and knew what he was doing.

    Both are astute talent evaluators and take chances with high draft picks and players that have failed elsewhere, and play the last chance card to the max.

    If the late Mr. Davis was in the NBA, he too would have went for the kid Beasley!

  • 10 Luka // Oct 28, 2012 at 8:15 am

    @Lloyd I hope you’re being sarcastic. I don’t think Beasley was a bad acquisition at all, but the Suns did nothing to get better defensively.

    The Wesley Johnson trade was more a financial move than anything. He has potential yes, but he’s a question mark. Can he do enough, or anything well?

    Blanks is doing what he can on a shoestring budget thanks to a moronic team owner… Robert “The Clown” Sarver.

  • 11 Harry // Oct 28, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Scott,

    There is absolutely nothing that suggests that Marshall will be fine with the skills he has. Quite frankly, everything suggests the opposite. He took only 12 shots in 82 minutes in preseason. Totally unacceptable. He may develop into a respectable player but at this time there isn’t ANY evidence to support that.

  • 12 john // Oct 28, 2012 at 9:24 am

    As for the OKC trade, I think it was an awful move on their part. Time will tell how things will pan out, but the argument that “it’s better to get something now for Harden than to let him walk for nothing at the end of the year” is totally bogus. Teams get value for players being in their uniforms. If they didn’t get value from it, they wouldn’t pay guys to play.

    I would rather have one year of Harden and a shot at the title than the rest of Martin’s career if they never get one. I know you can’t say OKC would win it all with Harden, but I think Harden helps their chances a LOT more than Martin. This move, in my opinion, guarantees OKC a WCF exit. If that’s the case, I’d rather have Harden.

  • 13 DBreezy // Oct 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I think the Harden deal was yet another lesson for young Kevin Durant who has yet to face the same type of scrutiny from the media that Lebron has/does outside of Skip Bayless. He largely has skated by on the leadership/assertiveness issue with Westbrook and he isn’t the first star to put up gaudy numbers in a losing finals. Yet he doesn’t get the scrutiny of say an Iverson who’s team had a far lower chance of beating the in-prime Lakers dynasty than Durant’s Thunder did last season.

    That’s not to say that I think the media should be all over him, as I think they’re mostly ridiculous, just that KD is sliding. Someone is going to have to galvanize that locker room and team on the floor post-Harden, and it can’t just be Brooks and Perkins. Durant and Westbrook seemed as blindsided as everyone else on this, and you have to wonder why they didn’t get themselves more involved? This really could bring them back to the pack of the Western Conference elite. The Celts won relying heavily on young players in their rotation, but they had some serious vets on that squad and weren’t relying on as many rookies or essentially rookie types like Thabeet.

  • 14 DBreezy // Oct 28, 2012 at 10:02 am

    “Anyone else think Tyreke Evans is in a Suns uniform next season?”

    On one hand it makes sense from the standpoint of Blanks and Babby’s affinity for trying to acquire high quality talent that hasn’t put it together yet on affordable deals. That said, I can’t see him here unless he makes some serious strides this season, particularly with his shooting. He’s a terrible shooter, who still doesn’t have a position after 3 seasons. He’d probably be used as a two here, but boy is he the anthesis of the type of 2 guard they’ve desired here in recent years.

  • 15 Tony // Oct 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I’m surprised at how many posters here think the Thunder got the poor end of the deal with the Rockets. To the contrary, they got a great deal considering that they were not going to resign Harden and in fact, that Harden is not worth the max. While they will probably suffer from Harden’s absense in the short term, especially because he was the only guy on that team who could facilitate the offense, getting Lamb and Martin, in additional to 3 1st round picks is quite a gain for them. I do think they are going to miss Cook though, because of his 3-point shooting, but all in all, when considering they were not going to resign him, they got as good a deal as they likely could.

    As far as the silly theme of this article, that the Suns future is “bright,” please tell me why the Suns are in a position any different than the last two years? Sure, they added some young talent in Beasley and Dragic, but neither is likely to become a star player. Beasley has so far shown us what he has consistently done in previous seasons, have a couple games where he’s a scoring machine, followed by games where he’s a dud.

    As far as Dragic is concerned, I’m not too impressed with what I’ve seen from him so far, especially considering his stretches of passivity. He needs to act like the leader and not worry about struggling. He needs to have a little more nastiness in him. So far from what I’ve seen, which admittedly hasn’t been much, it’s foreseeable that when Dragic has a stretch of poor play, that he reverts back to the old Suns Dragic and completely loses his confidence.

  • 16 john // Oct 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Difference in philosophy. Planning for the future isn’t really something I’d be concerned with as OKC. They can win now. There’s never a guarantee for tomorrow.

    I understand OKC’s method, I just consider it madness.

  • 17 Scott // Oct 28, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I think OKC must have thought their lineup was not quite ideal for one reason or another, probably especially the costs of it going forward if they were of the opinion they needed an additional piece or two.

    If they didn’t have the right pieces, why try to keep it going for another year or two?

    So they made this trade which costs an asset, but which brings back a dynamic young player at the same spot, plus 2 more first round picks, which could help bring them more in line with where they figure they need to be to win it all.

    I don’t think Kevin Martin fits into the plan at all, except maybe as insurance / rental for the year, or maybe as a trade chit for something else down the line.

  • 18 Lloyd I. Cadle // Oct 29, 2012 at 5:00 am

    Luka -

    I think the Beasley pick up is a great gamble. I am looking forward to watching him play this year.

  • 19 JC // Jan 4, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Haha we fans are sure falling love with this team all right!

  • 20 Phoenix Suns season review: The storm after the calm // Apr 22, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    [...] Hill, team president Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks gave the typical song and dance and publicly stated that they thought the Suns would be competitive yet again in [...]

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