The Phoenix Suns are rebuilding. They’re six years from reaching the Western Conference Finals, led by Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire. They let the latter leave for the Knicks, in what proved to be a mistake – the club has been on the decline ever since. They finished with a 23-59 record last season, despite having experienced players such as Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler, and a disruptive Markieff Morris after the Suns traded his brother.
With little chance of truly competing with the current roster, and due to a mediocre #4 pick on a draft weak on All-Star talent and little growth from the season before, I think it’s time for Phoenix to trade away the assets that will let them win games, and look to the future.
They have young guard in Brandon Knight, age 24, and Devin Booker, age just 20 by the time the new season starts. The former averaged almost 20 points with 2.3 three pointers, and five assists despite sharing the ball with Bledsoe in the backcourt. Booker averaged almost 14 points and two and a half rebounds and steals per game, as the youngest player in the league, and has sky-high potential. They also have 2013 #5 pick Alex Len, a mobile 7’1″ center whose minutes have been stolen away once veteran center Chandler was signed last offseason.
Bledsoe and Chandler started in front of these aforementioned players last season, and that is unacceptable from a long-term point of view.
What can the Suns get for Bledsoe?
Most teams have their starting point guard in place – however, there is a suitor that can offer young assets to join Phoenix’s core. Sacramento has the #8 pick in the draft, and since they have the best center in the competiton in Demarcus Cousins reaching his prime, they should think win-now. therefore, trading the pick for Eric Bledsoe reunites Cousins with his old Kentucky teammate, and finally gives them a long-term option at guard. The Suns would also trade PJ Tucker, to shed salary and to give more minutes to 22 year old forward TJ Warren and their new draft picks.
With the #4 pick, forward Jaylen Brown is the best option (assuming that Simmons, Ingram and Bender are gone as I predict). He is difficult to stay in front of when he has the ball and has great defensive potential, at 6’7″, 220 pounds and a 7 foot wingspan at age 19. He can’t shoot consistently yet, but he can come in and defend the opponent’s top player from day one.
With the #8 pick, the Suns should go with a power forward to complete the young starting lineup. Since Len is a finesse big that can defend the rim and block shots without pushing anyone around, Phoenix needs a bruiser. Domantas Sabonis fits the bill – a 6’10” post player who averaged almost 18 points, 12 rebounds and over 2 assists per game last season for Gonzaga. If given proper minutes, he could average a double double in his first season in the NBA.
At #13, the Suns should go with a backup point guard to replace Bledsoe. Demetrius Jackson, who averaged almost 16 points and five assists for Notre Dame last season, had an insane 43.5 vertical at the recent draft combine. He reminds me of Kemba Walker – shifty with the ball, and super fast. He can play alongside Booker or Knight, as the latter has seen minutes off the ball in the past, so he can get over 20 minutes a game from day one.
To get rid of Chandler and free up minutes for Len, they need to find a team looking for a veteran rim protector and rebounder that can start. That team is Minnesota – with a young core in place, Chandler could start alongside reigning Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony Towns, doing the dirty work while Towns develops. The Suns would get Nikola Pekovic, who has a large contract but one less year than Chandler, and would provide strong minutes and mentor fellow Euro Len, and Adreian Payne, an athletic stretch four who could back up Sabonis.
To fill out the roster the 28th pick can be used on another foreign big man like center Ante Zizic, and the 34th pick on tough rebounding power forward Guerschon Yabusele. Veteran point guard Ronnie Price can be retained to help teach the young point guards, the team option on shooting guard John Jenkins can be picked up, while champion Tayshaun Prince can play 10 minutes a game while providing further veteran leadership (assuming he doesn’t retire).
Thus, the depth chart would look like this:
PG: B.Knight, D.Jackson, R.Price
SG: D.Booker, A.Goodwin, J.Jenkins
SF: J.Brown, T.Warren, T.Prince
PF: D.Sabonis, A.Payne, Yabusele.
C: A.Len, N.Pekovic, A.Zizic
This team is in tank mode, but with the starting lineup at an average age around 22, they have high upside, and will likely be bolstered by a high pick in the stacked 2017 draft.