Phoenix Suns: Improvement May Take Some Tough Moves

Mar 19, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) and guard Eric Bledsoe (2) against the New Orleans Pelicans at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) and guard Eric Bledsoe (2) against the New Orleans Pelicans at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Phoenix Suns may have a bright future, but they’re still in rebuild mode. They have talented young players, they have draft picks and they have the assets to improve on the trade market. They also have cap room and a lot more coming two seasons from now when the salary cap shoots into the atmosphere.

But in the here and now, the team is still rebuilding, with very little hope of substantially improving next season based on the current personnel.

Though the 2014-15 season was a disappointment, quite a few Suns players showed substantial individual improvement in new roles. In his first full season as a starter, Eric Bledsoe averaged 17.0 points, 6.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game, joining LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the only players to average at least a 17-6-5 stat line this season.

He had nights were he looked like the player this team needs as its leader, like when he went toe-to-toe with Westbrook in a home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder with 28 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks.

For all their trouble off the court, the Morris twins improved as well. Markieff Morris may not be the rebounder this team needs at power forward, but he’s a dynamic offensive player who can score on just about anybody once he faces up in the midrange. Marcus Morris has developed into a serviceable wing defender and three-point threat off the bench.

Alex Len, after sitting out half of his rookie season with injury problems, finally got a chance to show what he can do. He hijacked the starting center job from Miles Plumlee and never looked back, emerging as a 21-year-old shot-blocking machine. Youngsters Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren are still a little rough around the edges, but the flashes of potential were too tantalizing to ignore.

Not one of those players is older than 25, and with such a young core in place, there should be cause for optimism. But in order for the Suns to take the next step back toward contending, they’re still in need of a superstar. No offense to Bledsoe, the Morrii, Len, Goodwin or Warren, but they aren’t it, and if the Suns re-sign Brandon Knight this summer, he won’t be it either.

The Suns could play the waiting game. They would be patient with their young players and hope that Goodwin, Bledsoe or Len develop into an MVP-caliber player. They could hope the Suns develop into a rich man’s version of the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets, a Western Conference dark horse without a true star.

But most likely, that course of action would result in early playoff exits without ever yielding a championship run (you know, kind of like the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets). General manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek were brought to Phoenix to put together a title contender and bring this franchise its first championship.

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That means this team is still in need of its star player.

Take a look around at the league right now. Of the 16 teams in the playoffs, which ones do you see as legitimate title contenders? The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks probably all qualify. The common theme? They have a franchise player.

The Warriors have Stephen Curry. The Rockets have James Harden. The Clippers and Spurs have two (Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Tim Duncan and now Kawhi Leonard) and the Cavs have LeBron James. The Bulls and Hawks, who aren’t as trustworthy in this conversation, make up for their lack of a superstar with a balanced team full of great players, but no one would be surprised to see them fall short.

Take a look at the NBA championship teams over the last three decades too. How many of them didn’t have a superstar capable of stepping up and making big-time plays with the game on the line? The Detroit Pistons in the mid-2000s are one of the only teams in NBA history to win a title without a go-to star like that.

All of this to say: If the Phoenix Suns want to turn this rebuild into a legitimate title contender, they need a franchise player. Bledsoe will have his great nights, but he would be better suited as the second option on a contender, not the go-to guy. He’s not quite the leader this team needs and after watching guys like Curry, Harden and Westbrook come up with big performances in Phoenix to carry their teams, it’s obvious what the Suns are missing.

To get there, however, the Suns may need to give up one or two of these tantalizing young pieces they’re grooming. With that in mind, nobody on this roster is off-limits.

Obviously it’d be preferable to keep everyone and luck into a big free agency signing, but last summer (and the last few decades) proved that free agents aren’t exactly itching to come to Phoenix. Other than Steve Nash, the Suns really haven’t been the attractive destination they should be, and after such a tumultuous season filled with bad headlines, I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

That means the Suns need to be active on the trade market. On exit interview day, McDonough said he hopes the Suns are the first teams other teams call if they have a disgruntled star to trade. When that day comes, Phoenix might have to be prepared to give up draft picks, Goodwin, Warren, Len, or even Bledsoe.

It’s also worth noting that depending on what happens with the Morrii’s charges of felony aggravated assault, the Suns may want to move on from their embattled forwards and package them in a blockbuster deal. Right now, that’s looking like the best course of action.

Next: Phoenix Suns: 10 Worst Moments Of 2014-15

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