Editor’s Note: The following column is the second in a two-part series in which the VotS staff debates 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 the trade value of its veterans. We hope you enjoy and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.
“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.”
Ryan Weisert essentially hit the nail on the head with the statement above Saturday.
Like a publicly traded company, the Phoenix Suns’ motivation in 2013-14 will be to gradually increase their value and the best way to go about doing that is to feature their young, unproven talent.
However, a word was left out between to and feature.
Ryan McDonough’s been on the job as the Suns general manager for nearly four months now and already his vision to rebuild seems logical and rather methodical.
Turn veteran assets — which are of no use to a 20 to 25-win — and flip them to contending teams in win-now mode for either draft picks, younger assets or expiring contracts.
That strategy coupled with a Draft Night trade has netted the Suns an additional first-round selection (Indiana Pacers’ pick) to go along with the two they already own in next year’s draft, Archie Goodwin, Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee, Caron Butler and Gerald Green.
But the question is: Why stop there?
Looking at Weisert’s three classes of assets, the Suns are building their stock as far draft picks and young players are concerned, but three or four starting pieces does not a rebuilding process make.
The next step in the process should essentially be to rinse and repeat.
In July 2012, the Suns claimed veteran Luis Scola off amnesty waivers for the price of a rather reasonable three-year contract for $13.5 million.
Why were the Rockets so willingly to amnesty a veteran starter? Was he getting old? Was he a problem in the locker room?
A year later the Suns turned that pick-up — one filled with many question marks — into a future first-round pick and a former first-round pick.
How did they do it?
Simple, they featured him.
Maybe not as much as Scola would have wanted — seeing as he started in a career-low 67 games — but enough to get a contending team to check all the boxes that previously had question marks.
As Weisert mentioned, even teams in win-now mode have to temper their expectations and their willingness to make moves on the open market given the state of the Miami Heat’s Big 3. He’s also right when stating that several contending teams have already parted ways with their 2014 picks and that the value of Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat might be at the lowest point in their respective careers.
Those things can’t really be disputed.
Gortat spent more time ranting and raving or sitting on the sidelines due to injury in 2012-13 than he did contributing to a team that desperately needed an anchor.
Butler, on the other hand, was a useful starter on a playoff team but deemed expendable once more versatile commodities — Jared Dudley and J.J. Reddick — were available for the taking.
However, just because the market is bear for the two veterans today, tomorrow or even at the start of the regular season, does not mean the same will be true come February?
Will the opportunities be as fruitful as the two previous deals McDonough made this offseason? Odds are, probably not.
Even if Gortat and Butler, who combine to make over $15.5 million over the final year of their contracts, produce at levels that exceed their 2012-13 totals, Weisert is correct: Why would a contending team or even a team looking to make a splash in the Summer of 2014 want to part with a young player or a pick in a draft that could be the deepest in a quarter century? The short answer is they wouldn’t.
My response, though, would be to focus on the 2015 and 2016 NBA Drafts. While there’s no guarantee the crop of talent will be as plentiful as the upcoming class, the process of making the Suns into a winning team can’t be expected to take place overnight. If the future is the ultimate goal, set your sights on assets that might not become valuable for another two to three years.
The only way to go about doing that is to play up your current assets. Short-term as they may be, they represent a potential key to a bigger picture.
What about Len?
If Caron Butler starts at small forward and averages the same 24.1 minutes per game as he did in 2012-13, will many fans around the Valley really bat an eye? I don’t think so.
Taking Michael Beasley out of the equation for the moment, Butler’s playing time doesn’t really have an effect on the team’s youth movement. Sure it might take away some minutes from a fan favorite in P.J. Tucker and a Lance Blanks’ project in Marcus Morris, but there’s no guarantee the duo is part of the long-terms plans anyways.
The real issue is Gortat.
Is he still in town because he’s an insurance policy for a No. 5 overall pick who already has had a surgery performed on both ankles or is it because there were no takers for him?
The answer probably isn’t black or white, rather more shades of gray.
What is black and white — for now at least — is that he will begin 2013-14 as the team’s starting center.
And frankly injuries aside, Alex Len isn’t ‘ready’ to be a starting center in the NBA, yet.
That’s not to say it can’t happen by season’s end or even at the start of the 2014-15 campaign, but his selection at No. 5 shouldn’t overshadow the obvious: He’s raw — very raw in fact.
Few lottery picks need training camp/preseason games more than Len. And although it’s no fault of his own, October is going to feel more like catch up for the rookie than a chance to get acclimated to both new teammates and the speed of the game. Add in the lack of Summer League experience and it seems unrealistic to expect him to be ‘ready’ to start or at the very least play notable minutes at any point during the first few months of the season.
Gortat isn’t without his flaws, but when you have an unproven rookie with notable areas of to improve on — strength in the post, footwork on the block and touch with the left hand just to name a few — coupled with not one but two ankle surgeries, slow and steady would seemingly be the best approach.
The Other Young Guys
Phoenix didn’t acquire Eric Bledsoe for him to sit behind the likes of Shannon Brown. While the seven-year veteran still holds some value as a former NBA champion and a guy who can provide instant offense off the bench (averaged double-digit scoring in each of the last two seasons), that value is limited. At best, he could yield a return similar to that of the Sebastian Telfair trade before last season’s deadline.
But that by no means is worth compromising Bledsoe’s minutes.
Arguably the most intriguing plotline surrounding the Suns right now is the potential back court of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Can they play together? Does one of them need to be shipped out next offseason? Are they versatile enough to be interchangeable parts?
These are questions that can only be answered if they are heavily featured side-by-side over the course of the regular season.
As for Archie Goodwin, there should be less of a concern about his development right away. The talent is undeniably there (see: Las Vegas Summer League), but so is the ‘raw’ factor. The 19-year-old was a first-round project pick, so to expect a trial by fire to be the best course of action seems like an err in judgment.
Kentucky learned that the hard way last season. Goodwin basically was handed the keys to the reigning National Champions and told to drive. Although he led the team in scoring, it was clear he hit a wall right around the middle of conference play and his team suffered because of it.
While thoughts of a Goodwin-Bledsoe or Goodwin-Dragic back court are fascinating in their own right, they shouldn’t necessary come at the expense of Brown, at least not right away. A new toy is always more exciting, sure, but what’s the downside of having Goodwin play 10 minutes a game to begin his first professional season as opposed to 20 to 25 minutes?
Really, the Bledsoe-Goodwin-Brown and Gortat-Len dynamics speak to the core of this discussion.
For a rebuilding team like the Suns, the best avenue to increasing value is to feature young talent. No one is really debating that. However, the question is at what cost?
Is it better to feature that talent right away and risk devaluing veteran assets or is it better to enhance the value of those veteran assets with the hopes of obtaining even more young talent to feature down the road?
There’s probably not a right or wrong answer, it’s probably somewhere in between.
Although not played out over 162 games, the NBA season in a lot of ways is a marathon not a sprint. Given that mindset, it seems feasible that Jeff Hornacek and Co. can find a balance when it comes to playing time. Maybe it’s a balance that’s struck game-to-game, maybe it’s a balance struck between the first half of the season and the second.
Point is, the Suns have three classes of assets (veterans, young guys and draft picks), the former of which still has the short-term potential to enhance the latter two groups.
It’d be a shame to let that go to waste.