Monday, October 7, 2013

2013-2014 Season Preview: Phoenix Suns

New GM. New coach. New franchise cornerstone. New outlook. Last season for the Suns was like the aftermath of a painful but mutually necessary break up; Phoenix reluctantly traded Steve Nash (about 2 or 3 years too late) and spent 82 games metaphorically not bathing, listlessly showing up to work enroute to 25 wins, eating Haagen-Dazs, turning the channel when their ex and his new, arrogant, domineering Laker franchise show up on the screen, and trying not to look at the photo albums filled with memories of exhilarating trips to conference finals and great 60+ win family times from the past 8 years with Steve Nash. Basically, they stunk.

New GM Ryan McDonough had enough. He strode into the Suns franchise, turned on the lights, opened the windows, and shoved the franchise into the shower while whipping up some coffee and eggs n' bacon. The franchise is still a long way from recuperating, but at least McDonough has the Suns open to meeting other people for coffee. Don't count on the Suns experiencing any playoff bells any time soon, but the arrival of Eric Bledsoe, the drafting of talented center Alex Len, and the talented hand of Goran Dragic are a ray of....(slips on sunglasses) SUN shine for win starved Phoenix fans.

Additions: Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Ish Smith, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Viacheslav Kavtsov

Subtractions: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Diante Garrett, Jermaine O'Neal, Hamed Haddadi

I'm sure Alvin Gentry is a fine, upstanding individual, but he has four .500 or better seasons and only two trips to the playoffs in 12 years of coaching, so arrivederci, Alvin, and hello, Jeff Hornacek. After a successful 13 year playing career and some time to be a family man,  Hornacek has been an assistant coach with Utah for the past 5 years until being hired on with the Suns. The sharpshooting Hornacek was a long time member of Jerry Sloan's fundamental, no-nonsense Jazz teams, so we can assume he'll look to infuse this young team with toughness, focus, and attention to detail. This season isn't about wins and losses (and trust me, there will be PLENTY of losses), but instilling a new culture and teaching the team to be professionals.

Alex Len

The Suns kicked off the youth movement by rolling the dice. With talented Nerlens Noel and a high scorer like Ben McLemore still on the board, Phoenix brought in the 7'0" 20 year old Ukrainian Len. He's active and showed a nice scoring touch around the bucket in college. He had off-season surgery on both ankles to correct some stress fracture issues, but since the Suns training staff is full of warlocks, I'm sure he'll be back to 100% soon. His numbers at the University of Maryland aren't eye-popping (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 53% fg, 2.1 blks/g), but watching tape, you can see the potential to be a productive NBA player.

Goran Dragic

Phoenix took a mulligan, bringing Dragic back into the fold to run the show when they shipped Nash out, and he didn't disappoint last year. Yes, they only won 25 games, but Dragic found the balance between looking to score and distributing, slapping up 14.7 points and 7.4 dimes with 1.6 steals nightly. Dragic has a nice handle and can get into the lane almost at will. His 3 point stroke needs some work; it's odd that he shot a very respectable 37.5% from 3 in his 1st 3 seasons, but shot a paltry 32% from distance last year. Suns fans are hoping that  Dragic can regain his 3 point touch and pair with newcomer Eric Bledsoe to...light up opposing backcourts (ok, I'll stop now).

Eric Bledsoe

Seeing Bledsoe come flying over to block Dwyane Wade or swoop in to stuff high flying J.R. Smith, I couldn't help but wonder what sorts of incredible feats he'd be capable of in more than the measly 20 minutes a night he got last year. His insane athleticism and strength earned the 6'1" wrecking ball the nickname "Mini-LeBron" from his Clippers' teammates, and if you watch him dart into the lane and initiate contact as he finishes at the rim, or see him contest a 3, somehow sneak in to snatch the rebound, then beat everyone down court for a lay up, it's easy to see why. Bledsoe has a ways to go to be the star I think he will be (I wrote about it here); he has to become a more consistent outside threat and work on seeing the floor a little better. EB now has no excuses- he'll get tons of minutes and opportunities to produce on a team that actually believes in him, with no pressure to "Win Now", just get better and work on his game to earn that big contract next season.

Channing Frye

He's a 7 year vet. He's already 30. He's 6'11". He missed a year with heart issues. He's a career 39.0% three point shooter. He was only a 33% 3 point shooter before coming to Phoenix and playing with Steve Nash. Frye is a quality stretch 4 who'd play a key role on a lot of contending teams; unfortunately, who really doesn't fit the youth movement going on in Arizona. Look for Frye to be moved sometime soon for the ever valuable draft picks.

Marcin Gortat

He's only 28, and he averaged 15 and 10 just a year ago. Rebuild mode is in full effect. Yeah, he's outta here.

Most Exciting Player To Watch (*Not Named Eric Bledsoe): Gerald Green

Green has had something of a disappointing career. He's a superb athlete and has one of the best looking jumpers in the NBA (notice that says "best looking"; he's a career 42% shooter, dipping to 36% last season, 31.4% from 3), but boy, that dude sure as hell can dunk.

 Prediction: 18-23 wins

This season isn't about wins and losses, it's about the Suns getting back into being a legitimate NBA franchise by clearing the decks and rebuilding from the ground up. It means being willing to struggle this season while teaching your young players the right way to do things (and let's be honest, the Suns may as well hang up "Be Wack For Wiggins 2014" banners throughout the city). They're gonna be bad, but bad for a reason. With the fleet of athletes they have running with Dragic, at least they'll have more than their share of ESPN highlights.


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