2013-14 outlook: Phoenix Suns
What's in store for the Phoenix Suns? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and nonmoves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.
1. What grade would you give the Suns' offseason?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: B. The Suns lost their dead weight without taking back anything that might hinder their cap space in the future. There is a lot of promise on their roster, but it lacks true star power. That's fine; the front office will be able to assess what they have this year and hope their star will come in the upcoming draft.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: A-. It started with getting rid of former GM Lance Blanks and hiring Ryan McDonough, which set the table for productive deals like acquiring Eric Bledsoe for relatively cheap (Dudley and a second-round pick), flipping Scola for a first-rounder, unearthing Archie Goodwin with the 29th pick and getting rid of free agency disaster Michael Beasley . But the change at the top allowed the team to start making solid basketball decisions.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: B-. New general manager Ryan McDonough brought a much-needed change of direction, as Phoenix's repeated attempts to make the playoffs had long ago become futile. Though I like the rebuilding plan, including landing Bledsoe and getting value for the aging Scola, I think the Suns' drafting Alex Len with the No. 5 pick -- their biggest move of the summer -- was a mistake.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: B. This grade could very well be a "C," but then I'd be admitting to know more about Bledsoe's trajectory than I do. I am not sold on Bledsoe as a guard to build around, but there lies the chance he flourishes and makes All-Star teams. At least last year's most uninspiring team has a little intrigue this season.
Kevin Zimmerman, Valley Of The Suns: B+. The savvy first-year general manager Ryan McDonough displayed this summer next to the Lance Blanks era cannot be compared. Phoenix swung Jared Dudley and Scola into Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee and a first-round pick without cap restraints. Athleticism -- and no more Michael Beasley -- at least makes the Suns a bit more likeable.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Suns in 2013-14?
Chau: What to do with all the point guards? Kendall Marshall was supposed to be Steve Nash's successor. Then it was Goran Dragic (again). Now it's Bledsoe, maybe. Or maybe it's their raw athlete in Archie Goodwin. Filling the void Steve Nash left behind is a tall order, but juggling the development of all these players might not be the best answer.
Elhassan: "Do we want to invest in Bledsoe for the long haul?" The Suns have until Oct. 31 to try to extend him, or else he'll be a restricted free agent come summer time. For all the hoopla, it's still not clear whether he's any better than incumbent Goran Dragic. what is clear is Bledsoe will probably cost more. Can the two guards coexist? If not, someone has to go, and if it's Bledsoe, a huge contract extension won't make him easier to move.
Feldman: How bad can they be while still developing Dragic and Bledsoe? Phoenix is shooting for a high 2014 draft pick, but Dragic and Bledsoe are both young and have projected WARPs higher than any 76ers, Magic and Celtics players. The Suns shouldn't stifle a year of progress from their potential long-term guards, but they also shouldn't risk falling in the draft.
Strauss: Bledsoe again. How good is he? My concern is that much of his value comes from defensive pressure. Such pressure probably isn't sustainable for the 36-minutes-per-game point guard who runs your offense. Either Bledsoe runs the Suns capably, or he runs himself into an exhausted heap.
Zimmerman: Can they shoot the 3-pointer? Much will rely upon Bledsoe and Goran Dragic setting each other up on fast breaks -- they're two fine set shooters who shouldn't be jacking 3s off the dribble. After that, only Channing Frye is a reliable enough shooter to make coach Jeff Hornacek's offense effective.
3. Who is the Suns' most intriguing player?
Chau: Eric Bledsoe. It'll be thrilling to see Bledsoe open to explore the depths of his own talent after being enrolled in the "Chris Paul School of Leadership" for several seasons. Rookie center Alex Len remains a complete mystery with the team slowly bringing him along. Bledsoe is the guy who has game-changing ability right now.
Elhassan: Marcin Gortat, mainly because he's Phoenix's most intriguing trade piece. Gortat is a luxury a rebuilding team doesn't need, and with his expiring contract (reasonably priced at $7.7 million), he should be in high demand for contenders looking to add size. The Suns need to cash in on his trade value much like they did with Scola.
Feldman: Alex Len. How did Len skyrocket up draft boards after a merely solid season at Maryland? It certainly wasn't pre-draft workouts, because Len missed those due to injury. Speaking of, how much should a team rely on the athleticism of someone who keeps having ankle surgery? I don't see the huge appeal, but I'll watch to see why others do.
Strauss: The Suns are so talent deprived that every answer could be "Eric Bledsoe." I'm siding with Alex Len here, though. He's almost been declared a bust before any real game action. It's worrisome that he's averaging four fouls over his past four preseason games (in little more than 15 minutes per outing). Can the kid turn it around?
Zimmerman: Eric Bledsoe. He's already an elite defensive player with entertaining offensive skills, but it remains to be seen whether he'll turn into a star point guard. The Suns can extend his contract before Halloween, but if they don't, he could play himself into too big of a contract to match next summer. If they do, he could also disappoint.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Suns?
Chau: Bledsoe will become the first player to average three steals a game in more than two decades. Larry Hughes was just short at 2.9 steals a game in 2005, but my money is on Bledsoe to finally break through. The weights are off, the door is open. If anyone's incessant pressure can hold for 36 minutes a game, it's Bledsoe's.
Elhassan: While being an awful team, they'll actually be fun to watch (#LeaguePassAlert!). Bledsoe, Dragic, Goodwin, Gerald Green, Shannon Brown and Miles Plumlee are all above-the-rim athletes who like to get out and run, and Coach Jeff Hornacek has stressed getting out in transition, so expect a lot of fast-break theatrics.
Feldman: The Suns will wish they had traded Marcin Gortat before the season began. A good player with an expiring contract on a rebuilding team, he's a prime trade target. But he'll turn 30 before the trade deadline, he's only a so-so fit with Goran Dragic and he's an even worse fit with Eric Bledsoe. I suspect Phoenix will have to sell low.
Strauss: Marcin Gortat will be traded. OK, perhaps that's not a "bold" prediction. By so many accounts, Gortat is trade bait. Teams like size, and the Suns aren't doing much with Gortat's. His exit probably coincides with the rebuilding project.
Zimmerman: Boldness is relative in Phoenix. One Phoenix player from the past two draft classes will make the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge, and it won't be either of the team's lottery picks. Either Archie Goodwin or Miles Plumlee gets invited rather than Alex Len or Kendall Marshall.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Suns go this season?
Chau: Despite being an arid desert, I've recently learned that Arizona does indeed have a game and fish department, and there are areas around Phoenix to fish. That's great news, because those lakes just outside of town will be the first destination after the season is over. And who knows, maybe one of those fishing rods might nab an Andrew Wiggins.
Elhassan: Phoenix has not changed its address from last season: Western Conference basement. Like I said, this team will be awful (but fun to watch!).
Feldman: To a seat in the bottom row of the lottery. The NBA typically sits teams' representatives in two rows for the lottery reveal, and the five or so worst teams get the lower row. The Suns might not have the prime chair on the far left reserved for the team with the worst record, but they shouldn't have to climb to the second level.
Strauss: They will be the last-place team in the Western Conference. Also, they'll make me sad whenever those uniforms conjure up memories of last decade's best basketball viewing experience. Has a professional sports franchise ever so quickly gone from "most exciting" to "most boring"?
Zimmerman: The Suns probably won't lose as many games as is expected, simply because their offense could snowball a few times against decent teams. Still, more than 25 wins would be surprising unless Bledsoe really turns into more than an exceptional player on a bad team.