During the 2012-13 campaign the outlook was gloomy as the Phoenix Suns fired Alvin Gentry during the All-Star break, were losing a lot of games and generally had a bad and older team with almost no hope for the future. It didn’t get any better in the second half of the season with interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. Gortat was sidelined with a foot injury and they lost more games. Enough for the fifth pick overall in a mediocre draft (at least compared to what is being projected for 2014).
Enter Ryan McDonough.
Coming over from the Boston Celtics, McDonough started to work his magic. He hired former player and assistant coach Jeff Hornacek that gave the team a fresh perspective along with his storied relationship with the city and the franchise that helps the fans bond with him. That was McDonough magic move number one.
Then together, McDonough, Hornacek and their staff went into the draft prepared to add some talent and youth to their roster. They sure did with first round picks Archie Goodwin (19 years old, 29th pick) and Alex Len (20 years old, 5th pick). Len was still recovering from foot surgery during the Las Vegas Summer League, but Goodwin displayed flashes of something special, especially in his ability to get to the rim.
The first of many blockbuster trades McDonough facilitated was trading Jared Dudley back home to California (and to a contender) in return for Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler from the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a three-way trade where the Milwaukee Bucks acquired a second round pick from both Phoenix and LA and the Clippers got sharpshooter J.J. Reddick. This was a time McDonough showed his brilliance because Bledsoe was being on the trading block to other teams, but McDonough actually swooped in and got the “mini-Lebron”.
About a month later McDonough shuffled the roster again by trading veteran Luis Scola to another contender in the Indiana Pacers in return for leaper Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and most importantly a protected 2014 first round pick. Another aspect of McDonough’s genius was forcing Indiana to throw in Plumlee. He has impressed everyone since he’s been in the valley of the sun.
The Suns didn’t want to keep Butler’s large salary on the books, so almost exactly a month later, Phoenix sent Butler to his hometown in Milwaukee in return for Ish Smith and Slava Kravtsov. It seemed like it was just a move to clear cap space, but the Suns had more in store.
Michael Beasley had gotten into some trouble off the court and his production during games had sorely disappointed, especially relative to his huge contract and expectations when he arrived in Phoenix. So as soon as it was advantageous, the Suns used that cap space and worked out a deal to release Beasley for less money overall that paid him faster.
A heart-warming story in Phoenix has been the re-emergence of Channing Frye. He was out with an enlarged heart, but everything looked promising for his return as he was rehabbing, and then he was cleared to play. Seeing him in preseason, he looks pretty good and isn’t even back in the routine of basketball yet.
The roster was flipped once again October 25th as McDonough traded Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee to the Washington Wizards in return for another protected 2014 draft pick and injured center Emeka Okafor. Regardless of what we get back this trade, it is beneficial for Phoenix. This is because getting rid of Gortat and Brown makes us younger and specifically gives Alex Len and Miles Plumlee (at center in place of Gortat) and Archie Goodwin (at shooting guard in place of Brown) more playing time to grown and hone their skills. Phoenix many not even play Okafor, but if they want to, the best training staff in the league will fix him up and get him ready to contribute to the team.
All of those McDonough Magic Moves give hope to the fanbase because it does things that everybody knew we needed but didn’t know how to get them. We needed defense and athleticism and now we have Bledsoe, Green, Goodwin and Plumlee, in addition to Goran Dragic. Phoenix may even lead the league in steals this year. The Suns needed to get younger and now they only have two players 30 or older (Frye and injured/maybe never playing Okafor), with P.J. Tucker at 28 years old and Dragic, Dionte Christmas, and Gerald Green tied at 27. The other eight players on the roster are 26 and under. That’s an average age of the entire roster of 25.4 years old. Who would have ever thought that possible during Nash’s last season in Phoenix!
Overall, McDonough has brought hope of the future back to the Suns. The knowledge that good decisions can be made in management and we actually can draft and trade for good players. That was lost for a while in recent years.
Going into the New Year, the Suns have the eighth-best record in the entire league at 19-11, which if you take out Miami and Indiana from the East puts Phoenix as the sixth-best team in the competitive Western Conference.
The Suns have already beat Portland twice (should have been 3 if goaltending had been called on Portland’s Nicholas Batum like it should have been) and in the space of a week blowout both LA teams.
2014 is going to be a good year form the Suns organization. They have young exciting players and are gaining national attention as ESPN have added a couple Suns games to their national TV schedule.
They could have as many as FOUR (practically unprecedented) draft picks coming up at the end of June. Even better this draft has been heralded as possibly one of the best in history.
Phoenix, with their amazing talent evaluation, can find some “diamonds in the rough” as it were in the late first round or can package these picks for a star like Kevin Love.
The future is bright in the valley of the sun, to say the least.