Season Preview: Phoenix Suns

The big move for the Suns in the offseason was the acquisition of young point guard Eric Bledsoe in exchange for solid role player Jared Dudley. While Dudley is a fine player, he is more of a D and three guy than someone who can carry a team (for any period of time) so it was nice to see him liberated from the desert. Bledsoe has some work to do in transitioning from bench spark plug to legitimate starter, but he was easily the best available point guard and is a very exciting young asset for a team in need of both assets and excitement. Bringing him on board also signals that the team is throwing in the towel on Kendall Marshall, who looks to be a backup at best at this point.

Last season Phoenix finished at the bottom of the Western Conference thanks to coming at 29th in offensive efficiency. Their defensive ranking wasn’t exactly anything to write home about (they landed 24th), but for a team featuring Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic, and several young players in prominent roles, defense would seem to be the obvious weak spot. A solid year from Jermaine O’Neal and good contributions from Dudley and surprise contributor P.J. Tucker helped keep the defense merely bad instead of putrid.

It was offense where the team struggled to get anything going, with Dragic being the most consistent contributor and disgruntled center Marcin Gortat seeing his production tail off to league average levels. Having Beasley around to jack up long 2’s and 3’s (shots he converted collectively at a 33.4% rate) didn’t help.

In the offseason Phoenix and new general manager Ryan McDonough have begun the process of digging the team out of the cellar, with the most important move thus far being the addition of Bledsoe. In the trade for Bledsoe the Suns took back Caron Butler from the Clippers, who was then flipped to Milwaukee for Ishmael Smith and Slava Kravstov. Luis Scola was sent to the Pacers in return for two more bench players and a protected 2014 1st round pick. Beasley was released outright and is probably on his way out of the league.

That is really the strategy this season, as Phoenix is one of about five or six teams that is trying to tank mercilessly in anticipation of the vaunted 2014 draft. Along those lines, expect Gortat, and possibly Dragic, to be shopped heavily to acquire more young assets and draft picks, but also to prevent the team from winning too much. Another possibility to be traded will be Channing Frye, who is owed $6.8 million this season and has a player option for the same amount next year. He is coming off heart surgery which kept him out all of last season, but he could still be valuable as a stretch big, or simply as salary ballast in a trade.

Though the team is eyeing next year’s draft, they did have a top-5 selection this year. They used it to make the curious selection of Alex Len, who they selected even with Nerlens Noel still on the board. It would be one thing if management simply didn’t want to deal with a player with Noel’s injury history, but Len is coming off surgery on his ankle and doesn’t exactly have the best cleanest bill of health. Having Noel sit out part of the season as he recovers from ACL surgery would have also helped with the broader goal of losing a bunch of games.

Once they actually take the court, the Suns stand to be somewhere between bad and abysmal this season. The roster, as mentioned above, is likely to undergo changes mid-season, and the guys who are left don’t have the talent or experience to even sniff a playoff spot.

Bledsoe and Dragic make for an odd backcourt pairing, with neither having a solid outside shot. Dragic will also be stretched defending shooting guards, which may force the even more undersized Bledsoe into that role. Bledsoe was manic on defense off the bench in L.A., but he will be hard-pressed to maintain that intensity as he takes on more minutes and a greater offensive role. Shannon Brown is a solid backup to both, but he too is undersized.

Up front, Gortat is unlikely to show any more vigor than he did last season, and Len will take his lumps as a rookie big. The Morris twins are still trying to find their place in the rotation, but Markieff showed some promise in April, and Marcus has a league average – and potentially improving – three point shot. Neither is likely to move the needle next year.

At small forward newly acquired Gerald Green and Tucker will provide new coach Jeff Hornacek with the unenviable task of choosing between a player who won’t play defense and one without an offensive role. Expect Tucker to get more time than his skill warrants if he continues to hustle and generally care as much as he did last season.

This figures to be another long season in the desert, but it could result in some very good things next offseason thanks to cap space and draft picks.

Predicted Finish: 19-63 | 5th place in Southwest Division | 15th place in Western Conference