Making the case for youth development

Posted by on August 24th, 11:06 am

Editor’s Note: The following column is the first in a two-part series in which the VotS staff will debate the ideal course of action for the Suns’ upcoming season. Today, Ryan Weisert argues that the Suns must make the development of their young players their top priority right from the outset. Tomorrow, Dave Dulberg will make the case that Phoenix should focus on building up the trade value of its veterans. We hope you enjoy and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.

For the next 1000 words or so, let’s pretend the Phoenix Suns are a publicly traded company instead of a professional basketball team. This shouldn’t be that hard. Professional basketball teams are in the business of winning games. No one in the Valley of the Sun wants or expects the Suns to do much of that this season. A public company, on the other hand, exists to increase shareholder wealth by steadily gaining value. That’s what the Suns will aim to do over the course of the 2013-14 season, gradually increase in value.

Even if we aren’t thinking about the Suns as a basketball team, they’re still in the basketball business. And like every business, they can only increase in value by acquiring assets and building up the value of the assets they already have. Right now, the Suns have three classes of assets: veterans, young players, and draft picks. The best way for Phoenix to increase their value, in the hopes of one day becoming a winning team, is to increase the value of their young players by giving them all the playing time they can handle.

Young Guys

Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, and Eric Bledsoe are the future of the Suns’ franchise. No one knows how good they will be and how high they can push Phoenix’s ceiling. Len has yet to get on the court after offseason surgery. Goodwin showed incredible flashes at the Las Vegas Summer League, but then again, so did Markieff Morris two summers ago. Bledsoe leads the NBA by a wide margin in potential, but there’s no guarantee he’ll ever reach it. The point is that although the Suns have drafted and acquired a great young core, the uncertainty of youth and potential still looms over these players and the franchise. The faster Len, Goodwin, and Bledsoe are brought along, the sooner the Suns will know exactly what they have in these guys and how good the team can be with them.

Now to be rational, I’m not advocating that the team rush Len back from rehab or overload Goodwin or Bledsoe with playing time right away. Health is the key to good player development. There will be an adjustment period for both young guards. Bledsoe has been a fill-in starter before, but he’s never been a starter for a full season. I expect him to have some of the same struggles Goran Dragic had last year. Goodwin is only a year removed from playing high school basketball. There’s no doubt he’ll hit the rookie wall at some point. There’s no way to avoid these pitfalls, so both guards might as well go through them sooner rather than later. The benefit to this approach is that the confidence Goodwin and Bledsoe, in addition to Alex Len, will gain from playing a lot and earning the trust of the team will help them reach their potential and appreciate as assets.

Speaking of Alex Len, the history of big men with foot problems in the NBA is long and tragic. He will have to be handled with kid gloves, but there’s no more trustworthy training staff in the world than Phoenix’s. What I’m advocating for Len is that when he’s ready, he should play over Gortat. The Suns have nothing to gain from Gortat taking minutes away from the development of the #5 pick in the draft.

Bear Market for Veterans

Some of the underrated values on the Suns’ roster are the veterans they have on reasonable and/or expiring contracts. While the Michael Beasley contract may be a sunk cost at this point, the contracts of Marcin Gortat and Caron Butler could be valuable to potential trade partners from both a financial and basketball perspective. Let’s address the basketball perspective first.

After last season, Marcin Gortat’s trade value is the lowest its ever been. He was unhappy all year and far less productive than expected. He complained about playing time and coaching, and he got injured. In order to entice a team to acquire Gortat for basketball reasons, the Suns would have to play him a ton and make him one of the go-to options on offense. This focus would come at the expense of developing the younger big men like Len and Plumlee. I don’t think it’s a worthwhile investment. Even if Gortat exceeded his 2011-12 per game averages by 10% – which seems like the ceiling of his production – I doubt any team with a draft pick or young asset would be willing to trade for him, especially with the quality of the upcoming draft class. Plus he would only be a rental for the acquiring team since his contract expires at the end of the year. Butler is in the same boat. His trade value is low considering his age and the fact that the Clippers were willing to part with him. Though the Suns have expressed some sentiment that Butler could be a valuable part of their future, around the league he is viewed as the tax Phoenix paid to obtain Bledsoe. Unless the Suns are serious about keeping Butler, I don’t think he or Gortat should play over the younger players who need time to develop and realize their potential. The potential market for these two veterans is simply not robust enough to warrant impeding the youth development.

The story is different on the financial side, but it still comes to the same conclusion. Expiring contracts are great acquisitions for teams trying to free up cap room. Butler and Gortat are Phoenix’s highest paid players at $8 million and $7+ million respectively. Both of their contracts could create valuable cap space for teams looking to make a splash next offseason. But in order to make a deal, a team with those aspirations would have to send Phoenix a draft pick or a player whose contract has at least a year or two left on it after this season. 2014 draft picks, even those outside the lottery, are going at a premium because of the incredible depth of this class. Phoenix already pulled off a deal for a pick when they sent Luis Scola to the Pacers. It would be a miracle if another team was willing to part with a pick for Butler or Gortat, considering how low their respective trade values are right now. The only scenario I can think of that would make such a trade feasible is if a contender had a key injury to wing or center midway through the year, and was convinced that Butler or Gortat rental was all that stood between them and a title. But that scenario seems really unlikely. Many contenders have already given up their 2014 picks. And the Heat still have the Big 3, so all championship aspirations are tempered in light of the possibility of a Miami 3-peat.

The other option is that the team acquiring one of the Suns’ expiring contracts would send a player back to Phoenix, but what team is going to part with a player whom Ryan McDonough would want to have on a multi-year deal? I can’t think of one. McDonough has been very active yet very shrewd in his short tenure in the desert. I suspect he will keep his ear to the ground for any potential deal to be had, but I don’t think dealing a veteran player for a piece or pick is his priority or the team’s at this time. Subsequently, I expect the front office and the new coaching staff not to showcase the veterans at the expense of the young guys.

Draft Picks

The Suns own two 2014 first round picks: their own and Indiana’s. The Pacers’ pick is going to fall somewhere in the 24-30 range most likely. But the Suns’ pick should be high in the lottery. Phoenix will increase the likelihood of their pick being very high by playing the young players a great deal and losing plenty of games. I’m not advocating for outright tanking. I’m just saying that Bledsoe, Len, Goodwin, and the rest of the Suns on rookie deals have to work their kinks out at some point, so why shouldn’t they do that this season when the team’s reward could be a Top 3 pick? If the team decided to develop their veterans instead of their youth, the Suns would still be bad, but would likely win more games and have a worse draft pick. If the Suns’ goal is for their assets to increase in value and their “stock price” to rise, then lots of playing time for the young guys is by far the best way to do it.

You can now return to thinking about the Suns as a basketball team.

Ryan Weisert

Ryan Weisert is a staff writer for ValleyoftheSuns. You can also find him at his sports and pop culture blog Spectavius.com.

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Tags: Alex Len · Archie Goodwin · Caron Butler · Eric Bledsoe · Marcin Gortat · Phoenix Suns

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 haremoor // Aug 24, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Phoenix also has Minnesota’s top 13 protected pick.

    Also, Why would Gortat or Butler have to return a 2014 pick? Why not one farther out? While 2014 first round picks are at a premium, some of those guys next year are going to stay in college (or overseas) another year, so why not get some more 2015 or 16 picks?

  • 2 Scott // Aug 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I agree with haremoor. There are other picks to be had aside from 2014 picks, and there IS that pick from Minnie.

    Also, isn’t the most likely scenario one incorporating both the positions of Ryan and Dave? Like last season, where the vets played heavy minutes in the beginning of the season, only to be replaced by younger players to a fair extent as the season wore on.

    A scenario like that gives the Suns the opportunity to showcase veterans for trade by the deadline, and opportunity to play the juniors for increased minutes as the season wanes.

    At this point I can see three possible roster moves coming. One is the waiving of Beasley somewhere around Sept 1. Another is the possible medical retirement of Frye. Third is the possible waiving of Lee, who has been plagued by injuries and may simply not have anything left.

    McD might be looking to see if any of these moves can be linked to a trade, or contemplating what to do with the roster space that might open up once the cuts are made.

    Who could the Suns take on if they waive players?

    At present OKC has too many players to take on 2nd round draft pick Grant Jerrett. If they aren’t planning on a trade or some waiving, and if he doesn’t decide to play in Europe, he could be cut loose. If the Suns lose Frye, Jerrett might be a reasonable sub as he can spread the floor. Certainly the price is right.

    The GSW are curiously shorthanded right now. They have 2 spots open if you count the press report that Seth Curry is only on the roster for training camp.

    Sacramento has a lopsided roster, with 5 players listed at PF and 4 listed at PG. They might want to make some moves.

  • 3 Ty-Sun // Aug 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Unless some of the younger guys just really shine in training camp and/or preseason games, the Suns should START the season off with the vets getting the most minutes. As the season goes on, the younger guys should get more and more playing time. The younger players need the experience but the vets also need time to prove themselves. I think that Suns can accomplish both by gradually cutting the vets’ minutes as the season progresses and giving those mins to the younger guys.

    I agree that the trade value of Gortat and Butler would be best to a contending team that needs one of them to fill in for another injured player which may very well happen. But that’s a “maybe” situation and not a sure thing. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t be too upset if they both spent the entire season with the Suns and then left as free agents. But I do think that Butler has a great attitude and could be an asset for the Suns as a good veteran leader this season.

  • 4 Scott // Aug 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Based on the idea of using Frye’s medical retirement (or possibly Beasley’s buy out), here’s a trade involving PHX, SAC, and GSW.

    To Suns: Salmons, Nedovic, McCallum

    To GSW: Frye (Beasley?), Brown, Patterson, Hayes, Fredette

    To Kings: Lee, Green, Bazemore

    Yes, this makes the Suns deeper at PG, and SF Salmons would probably be bought out. But it rids the Suns of Frye’s (or Beasley’s) buy out, Brown’s final year, and Green’s 2 years. So it does save money, while bringing in 2 rookies.

    For GSW, this trade is intended to replace David Lee with cheaper contracts. Patterson can hit the 3, which GSW wants from their PF spot. Hayes brings a veteran presence and can play as a PF or small C, making a mismatch for opponents of GS. Fredette and Brown would be backup combo guards. Frye would be bought out.

    For the Kings, they trade away two of their PFs for a single, quality PF/C, improving their backup for Cousins. They shed the useless contract of Salmons, and gain Green at SF instead. They lose two of their guards (Fredette and McCallum), but they get the tough-minded Bazemore instead.

    A trade like this seems to me to move all the teams in the directions they want to go. The Suns swap veterans for young talent. The Kings smooth out their roster kinks, and the Warriors clear out future salary obligations while adding depth.

  • 5 frenchysunsfan // Aug 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    @Ty-Sun:

    I completely agree with you concerning Butler, I think he’s a great player, we would have won the title in 2009-10 if he was playing for the Suns. He should be part of the Suns’ future, we need vets like him and I hope he will be our next Grant Hill, especially if we get Wiggins next summer.

    Concerning Gortat, I think he will be traded during the season, he could be a great asset for any title contender. The Suns should acquire a young PF in exchange for Gortat because the PF spot is currently our main weakness. Frye might never play again and I don’t know what to think about Markieff Morris, he showed that he can play but he is not constant enough for the moment.

    On the other hand, I think we will have one of the best backcourts in the league in a few years, Bledsoe is our next franchise player, Goodwin has the biggest potential of last draft, Dragic is a very good player.
    Marshall and Brown will go this season or next summer, I’d like to see the Suns get Jimmer Fredette
    to replace them.
    Concerning the frontcourt, Len and Plumlee must play a lot next season to get experience and improve. Plumlee may be a steal, his athletic qualities could help the Suns in the future.

    To sum up, I think the Suns will improve a lot next year and will be a contender sooner than expected.

  • 6 Michael C // Aug 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I don’t see – while I’ve always liked Caron Butler – why you think he would have been the difference in 2010? He wasn’t at his offensive peak at that point, and Grant Hill was a good defender to throw at Kobe. If anything, I think having a big man (remember they started Jarron Collins vs Portland) would have extremely helped. Also would have helped if Artest didn’t make that damn layup!

    Anyways, somewhat in relation to this post, I was playing around with espn’s trade machine last night because, if Frye is still healthy, I think he’d be a great pick and pop big to pair with Dwight in Houston and was thinking of a way to trade Asik since he’s too redundant with Dwight. Let me know what you think (and remember, it’s just an idea – I don’t 100% love everything about the trade or think it’ll suddenly catapult Phx to a championship).

    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=m47f3ps

    Totally horrible trade for the Kings, but let’s pretend they’re incompetent enough to agree.

  • 7 Scott // Aug 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    ^^ I think the Rockets want Asik to play behind Howard so their defense at C is always good. Also, they want a credible backup in case something goes awry with Howard’s back or shoulder.

  • 8 Ty-Sun // Aug 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    @frenchysunsfan – Unless Butler wants to move on to a possible contender, I’d love to have him around as a veteran leader for the Suns. Although he was injured and couldn’t play during the last half of the season in Dallas’ championship year, Butler was always on the sideline cheering that team on and offering encouragement and advice. And he worked his ass off to try and rehab in time to play in those playoffs even though he couldn’t make it back in time.

    And I think he will play better with the Suns than he did with the Clippers. He just didn’t fit well with the Clippers. They needed a guy like Dudley more than Butler. Butler is pretty good at driving to the basket and finishing but the Clips really only needed someone who could hit the 3 and stretch the opposing team’s D. Griffin and Jordan are only dangerous inside so opposing defenses could sag in on them and offer help on anyone else driving to the hoop. With the Suns Butler will get more chances to drive which will improve his game.

  • 9 SHAZAM // Aug 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    i love channing frye but if his heart still has issues it helps the suns..this team doesnt need him taking minutes and insurance pays him off..the money doesnt come out of suns war chest

  • 10 Pix // Aug 24, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Tried the trade machine for the first time on a trade I’ve wanted for a while, and it worked.. Gortat and Marshall for Perkins for PJ3. I just think PJ3 would look great as our future PF.. Have to take on Perkins for 2 years, but probably good for his experience(and lowering the win total).

  • 11 Making the case for building up veterans' trade value // Aug 25, 2013 at 11:10 am

    […] the ideal course of action for the Suns’ upcoming season. Saturday, Ryan Weisert argued that the Suns must make the development of their young players their top priority right from the outset. Sunday, Dave Dulberg makes the case that Phoenix should focus on building up […]

  • 12 Azbballfan // Aug 28, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Beasley can be cut and stretched and Fryes contract wil be paid in insurance if he has to retire, which would be sad

    So i dont know how any of those two have value right now

    but i am all for trading Gortat, and keeping Butler unless a good trade for us comes along

    atleast this team will be more exciting than last years team

    its not so much that they didnt win games, its also that the team was also un athletic as heck

    people will watch bad teams if they are exciting

    i applaud what Mcdonough is doing for the Suns, we can only be on a upward path from here

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