It’s that time. The NBA season is upon us, and it’s already expected to be one of the most miserable but gripping in Phoenix Suns franchise history. Never before have so many NBA teams been so willing to tank, but never before have the Suns gone into a season with so few expectations.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of storylines that will encapsulate us. So here we start. As the Suns ignite the future, I went 4-on-4 with Michael Schwartz, Dave Dulberg and Ryan Weisert, asking what is to make of this 2013-14 season.
1.What’s the most intriguing storyline for this season?
Michael Schwartz: To tank or not to tank. Perhaps it’s not so much the question but the execution that’s so intriguing. By pawning off vets like Jared Dudley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat, it’s easy to say the Suns are roster tanking. But players are competing for their NBA lives, so it will be interesting to see how the underlying desire for ping pong balls fares against a young team seeking to rapidly improve.
Ryan Weisert: Can Dragic and Bledsoe be a competitive NBA backcourt duo? Both guys play at top speed every minute they’re on the floor. Both guys like to be physical and get to the rim. But can they play off one another, one controlling the ball and the other moving without it? The answer will likely determine Dragic’s future in Phoenix.
Dave Dulberg: As Jeff Hornacek referred to it as, ‘Bledic.’ In an NBA era where positions seem to matter less and less, the development and evolution of a Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe backcourt, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint, will make the 2013-14 season must-see TV. It probably won’t be pretty at all times, but charting the duo’s growth should make the 82 games bearable in and of itself.
Kevin Zimmerman: The tanking issue is league-wide and because of it, the projections of one team being absolutely terrible doesn’t add up across the NBA landscape. Phoenix, Philly, Utah and Orlando are at the bottom, but don’t forget it won’t be all that easy for them to lose every game to each other, let alone teams like Sacramento, Charlotte and Boston. Who takes the tank to the bank best?
2. If you had to choose one player to surprise, who would it be?
Schwartz: Archie Goodwin. With Shannon Brown and Kendall Marshall shipped out of town, Goodwin should get every opportunity to be the first guard off the bench. The 19-year-old will surely look like a rookie at times, but by season’s end I see him being one of the team’s most positive surprises.
Weisert: Gerald Green. He’s got all the athleticism in the world, but he’s never put it all together. Green came to Phoenix ostensibly for yet another fresh start. Maybe this time, on a team trying to find an identity in a sea of youth, Green will finally realize his limitless potential. And now there’s no Shannon Brown to steal minutes.
Dulberg: Marcus Morris. Given that the Suns picked up the option on his contract over the weekend, the former first-round pick needs to understand that this might be the best chance he has left to prove he’s worthy of being in an NBA rotation. Already traded once, I think he as a ton to prove. If Morris can provide Phoenix with something it sorely missed in 2012-13 — a consistent perimeter shooter who stretches the floor — his season will be considered a success.
Zimmerman: I flip-flop between Goodwin and Miles Plumlee, but I’ll go with Plumlee considering he comes to Phoenix with Pacers fans having been down on him from the minute Indiana drafted him.
3. Make one wild prediction about the Suns. Go out on a limb.
Schwartz: The Suns will trade Emeka Okafor. Perhaps Ryan McDonough’s propensity to deal doesn’t put this too far out on a limb, but it won’t be easy for the team to get rid of a $14.5 million expiring chip without taking on too much future salary. One way or another, I see McD securing another asset with the Okafor contract.
Weisert: The Suns will go .500 over the course of one month this season. This team is going to be a mess at the start of the year. That’s a certainty. But once all this youth gets three or four months of playing together under their belts, they will actually be competitive. Prediction: Suns go 8-8 or better in March.
Dulberg: He might not start the season as a starter, but Gerald Green will lead the team in scoring. Getting big minutes at both the two and the three, Green has an opportunity to be the type of slasher/athletic wing that benefits from running alongside Bledsoe and Dragic in an up-tempo style offense. He has only 50 career starts, however, I think he nearly doubles that total by the end of 2013-14 simply because of on-court production.
Zimmerman: Channing Frye’s comeback is so good he gets traded, or at least causes a few texts to shoot across McDonough’s cell phone. No, he’s not in shape yet, but it isn’t crazy to guess Hornacek will rely on Frye by the beginning of 2014 so much that a playoff team sees a him as a piece to the puzzle.
4. So, what’s your final prediction for this Suns team?
Schwartz: I see the Suns going 20-62 this season, which almost seems optimistic considering where the national media is pegging them. It will be an ugly year for sure, but with the Suns’ unique backcourt look and up-tempo approach I think they will sneak away with a couple wins against more talented foes.
Weisert: Final record: 25-57. The Suns have improved overall since last year, but they’ll finish with the same record because the West has gotten so strong. Phoenix will be in the cellar by November and stay there all year. The only thing to look forward to is the possibility of multiple players in the Rookie-Sophmore game at All-Star Weekend.
Dulberg: There’s no question this team will ‘Ignite the Future’ by struggling mightily in the present. With Marcin Gortat and Shannon Brown, the Suns were probably a 23-win team. The trade knocks five victories off that total, giving them a Western Conference-worst 18-64 record. Too bad it’ll only give them the second most ping pong balls in the upcoming 2014 NBA Lottery. Yes, that’s how historically bad the Sixers will be.
Zimmerman: Phoenix finishes 23-59. With Gortat, the optimist in me said it’s a better defensive team with more of an identity than last year’s randomly strewn together roster. Without Gortat, this team isn’t very good, but talent-wise it could be worse — believe it or not.