The Phoenix Suns have a major decision to make this offseason, which is to whether to go in full bore rebuild mode or retool their roster through shrewd trades and hoping free agents will navigate to the Valley of the Sun.
Phoenix is coming off a tumultuous season that involved in-house fighting, injuries to several key players and head coach Jeff Hornacek being fired. The Suns finished the season with the second worst record in franchise history at 23-59 and an incredible 50 games behind Pacific division winner Golden State.
Phoenix enters the offseason with a new coach in Earl Watson, who was given the full-time job after serving as interim coach following Hornacek’s dismissal. The Suns went 9-24 after Watson took over the first seat. Phoenix had the ninth youngest team in the NBA last season.
Phoenix has plenty of cap space this summer, some talented youngsters and four draft picks. The Suns also have several holes to fill, so the most likely scenario is the Suns go the rebuild route while adding a young veteran or two.
One such young veteran that would fit the Suns pretty well is restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Barnes has been the most consistent performer in the NBA Finals for the Golden State Warriors. Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe made a pitch to Barnes, who the Warriors are said to be committed to re-sign, via twitter before quickly deleting it.
Phoenix currently has nearly $40 million to spend this offseason, per Basketball Insiders. The Suns have $52.5 million already committed to eight players though that number could jump a little based on the team’s decisions before the end of the month. P.J. Tucker, John Jenkins and Alan Williams own non-guaranteed contracts.
The Suns must make a decision whether to fully guarantee Tucker’s $5.3 million contract by June 30. Tucker, who is owed $1.3 million regardless, may return as he was one of the team’s best defensive players. The 31-year-old struggled on the offensive end, however, averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 41.1 percent from the field along with 33.0 percent from beyond the arc. He registered seven double-doubles but also fouled out three times.
Jenkins shot the ball the best of his career after coming over from the Dallas Mavericks late in the season. The 25-year-old averaged 5.0 points and shot 46.7 percent from the field as well as 40.6 percent from beyond the arc in 13.0 minutes of action over his 22-game stint with Phoenix. Jenkins’ $1.1 million contract guarantees on July 7.
Williams is a cheap option at $874,636. The 23-year-old, who went undrafted out of UC Santa Barbara, is a bit undersized for a center at 6-foot-8. He saw limited time last year with the Suns, appearing in just 10 games, but did produce a double-double in the final game of the season – registering 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price, Chase Buddinger and Jon Leuer are the Suns’ unrestricted free agents. Teletovic, who had a career-season last year, and Leuer made strong cases to return to the Suns with their performances.
The Arizona Republic reported back in March that the team wanted to bring over 2014 first round draft pick Bogdan Bogdanovic to the States this year. However, the team is waiting for the Turkish League playoffs to finish up before talking to the 6-foot-6 shooting guard. Bogdanovic and his Fenerbahce club team are currently up 3-1 in the best-of-seven Finals series.
Bogdanovic, the No. 27 overall selection in that year’s draft, has had a fantastic season. The 23-year-old is averaging 12.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 26 minutes of action per game over all competitions. He is shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Since being drafted, Bogdanovic has been named the Euroleague Rising Star two times and led Fenerbahce in scoring this season. More importantly, he picked up his production when the stakes were higher – producing 17 points a game during the Euro League Championship playoffs.
If Bogdanovic does sign with the Suns this year, he would have to battle for playing time with Devin Booker and Archie Goodwin for time off the bench unless Bledsoe or Brandon Knight are traded. Shooting, scoring and three-point shooting are definitely areas that the Suns need to improve.
Speaking of being traded, Fansided believes Devin Booker, Bledsoe, Alex Len and T.J. Warren are the least likely to be dealt. So, that leaves Knight and Tucker as the most logical choices though the Suns may also look to trade their draft choices. Phoenix owns three first round selections and the No. 34 overall pick in the second round. The first round picks are No. 28, No. 13 and No. 4.
Phoenix, as most other teams, has been working out numerous prospects. The consensus seems to be that the Suns will take a Big with the No. 4 pick, which is the one draft selection that the team won’t likely trade.
Dejounte Murray, Brice Johnson, Damion Lee, Malaachai Richardson, Skal Labissierre, Jakob Poeltl, Henry Ellenson, Sterling Gibbs, Jaylen Brown, Josh Adams, Gerry Blakes, Petr Cornelie, Juan Hernangomez, Mamadou Ndiaye and Georgios Papagiannis. Cornelie, Hernangomez, Ndiaye and Papagiannis are international players.
The Suns reportedly sees a fit with Brown though Chad Ford of ESPN projects them to take either Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss.
Brown averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in his lone season at California. He struggled down the stretch, where he concluded his season by fouling out in 17 minutes in an NCAA first round tournament game against Hawaii. Brown also tallied just four points and turned the ball over seven times.
Brown is long and athletic and an NBA ready body. The 6-foot-7 small forward is known for his power and slashing game. Brown also is an excellent defender and possesses a high-motor. He does need to improve his handle and jump shot.
Bender is versatile with the ability to play both forward spots as well as center. The 18-year-old Croatian is an excellent ball-handler and good rebounder. He does need to add strength and a more consistent jump shot.
Bender averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 43.5 percent from the floor in 12.9 minutes a game.
Chriss averaged 13.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in his only season at Washington. The 6-foot-10 forward also shot 53.0 percent from the floor and 35.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Chriss is long and athletic but very raw. He is an good rebounder and excellent shot-blocker. Chriss is also a good three-pointer shooter, particularly from the corners.
If Phoenix does go the rebuilding route, another veteran may be added to the likely to be traded list. 34-year-old Tyson Chandler told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that while he is currently content in Phoenix that could change depending on the direction the team decides to go.
“I’m happy where I am. I feel like the Suns have a bright future if we continue to build and build the right way. It’s all about building the right way.”
[Photo by Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press]