Phoenix Suns 2011-12 preview capsule


Editor’s Note: This is ValleyoftheSuns’ contribution to the sixth annual “NBA Blog Previews” put on by CelticsBlog.

Team Name: Phoenix Suns
Last Year’s Record: 40-42
Key Free Agents: Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks (restricted)
Team Needs: Go-to scorer, shooting guard, point guard of the future

1. What are your team’s biggest needs this offseason?

First off, it depends on which direction the team goes. If management decides to stay the course, the Suns need a go-to scorer (or at least some additional scoring punch), likely out of the two guard spot. Some post scoring, the kind of guy you can just throw the ball down to for a bucket, would be nice as well.

If they decide to blow things up, then this offseason will be all about setting up the next offseason. That could involve dumping bad contracts to clear cap space and trying to find a way to add draft picks or impact young players. Long term the Suns’ biggest need is finding a young stud who can be their next star, but I doubt that player will be acquired this offseason.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)

Steve Nash, Steve Nash and Steve Nash. As long as a team has Nash, it has a shot at the playoffs, and aside from the decrepit ball played when Nash was hurt last season this team was good enough to sneak in with an eighth seed most of the year. By virtue of Nash, the Suns are an elite pick-and-roll team even without Amare Stoudemire, as Marcin Gortat and even Hakim Warrick picked up the slack in that regard last season, according to Synergy. Spacing and shooting threes remain a Suns strength although they don’t run as much as they used to.

Gortat withstanding, the Suns ranked 28th in defensive rebound rate last season. The Polish Hammer is excellent in this regard and a full season with him in the fold will surely make the Suns a better defensive rebounding team overall, but this is still far from a strength. Interior defense is perhaps the biggest weakness and issues with dribble penetration aren’t far behind. Post scoring is a problem as well.

3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?

Not as bad as you might think. Although this would prevent a Nash trade, Phoenix would enter the offseason with only $24 million in commitments if the team lets Two Time walk and declines to make a qualifying offer to Robin Lopez. That could put them in position to be a player in the 2012 free agency chase. Even if they can’t get a sniff from the top of the class, the market may be flooded with quality talent if the owners win the collective bargaining negotiations.

A successful 2012 rebuilding plan to me would involve a choice 2012 draft pick, but if there’s no season it’s hard to tell how the lottery will be determined. If the Suns can combine that cap space with a top 10 pick, the future might not be so dim in Phoenix.

4. If you could make one change to the NBA’s new CBA, what would it be?

I would create a hard cap but I would allow abolish the “max contract” designation. It’s kind of ridiculous that LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all max contract players on the same tier. I agree that a guy like Bosh deserves max money, but if that’s the case then LeBron deserves something like twice the max. As things currently stand, superduperstars like LeBron and studs on their rookie contract are the biggest bargains in the NBA and thus the most undervalued players in relation to what they should be making.

A hard cap would ensure that a team could not pay an astronomical figure (OK, more astronomical than what you would expect) to a max type guy and it would also cause teams to make careful decisions as to who is really worth that kind of money. The Hawks were almost forced to give Joe Johnson a ludicrous contract because it was their only way to keep a talented player like JJ. Under this system it would be smart to only pay him what he’s worth.

Such a system would move the league closer to paying players what they actually deserve. What a novel concept!

5. Should the Suns trade Steve Nash?

This is the question of the summer so far as the Suns are concerned, the domino upon which the team’s future direction rests. As I previously wrote, there are three main options: trade Nash, allow his contract to expire next summer for cap space or extend him. Thus far the Suns have steadfastly refused to envision a future without Nash and thus I feel it’s likely they will keep him for at least the 2011-12 season and then try to extend him so he retires a Suns.

Although I personally find merit in all three options, if I were GM I would look into a trade that would allow the team to clear cap space for 2012 and potentially pick up another selection in the loaded 2012 draft so the Suns could rebuild as quickly as possible.