Say one thing for the 2013–14 Phoenix Suns: they’re sticking to a plan. Coming off a last place Western Conference finish last year, the Suns approached this off-season with several apparent goals: Find a new coach. Get younger and more athletic. Acquire picks and cap flexibility. Check, check and check. Former Utah Jazz sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek will replace interim head coach Lindsey Hunter (who replaced longtime Suns assistant and head coach Alvin Gentry in January), and he’ll play mentor to a raft of wet-behind-the-ears NBA neophytes—Channing Frye is the only player on the roster to have spent three decades on earth. Also, the cap situation looks phenomenal, as there isn’t a single onerous contract on the ledger.
Note that none of those apparent goals was “get better,” though. Also note: they didn’t. Without Luis Scola and Jared Dudley, this team will struggle to score even more than the Suns squad that finished last year 29th in offensive efficiency. But, let’s be honest: this season isn’t actually about this season. It’s about the future.
Additions: Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Marcus Morris, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Jeff Hornacek (coach)
Departures: Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O’Neal
Scola’s interior play will be missed, as will Dudley’s outside shooting, but both were expendable given the team’s new direction and their exits earned the Suns a valuable first-round pick and younger athletic players who can run. The main get in that latter group is Bledsoe, the highly sought-after Clipper who spent the past couple years backing up Chris Paul. He’s lightning quick with a good handle, and showed an improved shooting stroke from behind the arc last year (though he didn’t take a ton).
- A breakout star playing alongside Steve Nash in the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season, centre Marcin Gortat has good hands and feet, and he can finish on the pick-and-roll. But his stats were down across the board last year in his first season post-Nash, and he’s one of the most likely players in the NBA to be traded. He’d look great on the Thunder. Or reuniting with Nash on the Lakers, who just lost a centre, didn’t they? And either of those teams’ 2014 first-round picks would look good on the Suns.
- Bledsoe looked like a rising star last year, but questions remain as to how he’ll pair with Goran Dragic, the Suns’ incumbent point guard and the best player on last year’s team. Bledsoe is a little undersized for a full-time move to shooting guard, but his crazy athleticism will help make up the difference. And despite Bledsoe’s improvement in three-point shooting, neither is deadeye from the corner, which means defences will likely sag off whoever is playing off the ball at any given time. Then again, at 27 Dragic may be seen as more of a trade chip. This team could belong solely to Bledsoe before long.
- No, you’re not seeing double. The Suns went out this off-season and added Marcus Morris to a roster that included his twin brother, Markieff. Both are power forwards, though Marcus fancies himself a small forward. If he can play there, he’ll earn a lot of PT, because the only true three on the team is Gerald Green, who came over in the Scola trade.
- Whether you want to use the “t” word or not, this is without a doubt a rebuilding team. Expect a lot of run to go to guys who might not be ready for it, including fifth-overall pick Alex Len, who’s coming off two ankle surgeries, and former Kentucky Wildcat guard Archie Goodwin, who the Suns nabbed at the tail end of the first round. Also, expect a lot of losing.
While you’d imagine one of the many rookies (there are four on the roster, to go along with three sophomores) would be the player to watch, the guy best set up to break out is Bledsoe. His role needs defining, but in limited minutes with the Clippers last year Bledsoe brought huge athleticism and aggressiveness with him to the floor every night. When people are calling you a “mini LeBron James,” as new teammate Dragic did this summer, you know you’ve got upside.
Scale of Decency:
Indecent. It’s yet to be seen how the young Suns will look under Hornacek, though the first-year coach has said he wants to play fast. This ensures the Suns will keep up their 10-year reign among the top 10 teams in the NBA in pace factor (possessions per 48 minutes), but with the switch to a new system and the massive turnover, all that speed is unlikely to come with much efficiency.
With any luck for Suns fans, the team’s young lungs will help them run some older squads off the floor every once in a while. Then again, with the prospect of a high pick in a loaded draft hanging over this season, maybe the fans won’t even want that. Andrew Wiggins would fit in well in that hole at small forward, wouldn’t he?