5 Biggest Needs for Phoenix Suns During 2014 Offseason
The Phoenix Suns were one of the most surprising teams of the 2013-14 season. While most had the Suns pegged as tankers and devoid of depth, the Suns ended up being the exact opposite, battling for a playoff spot right until the end.
While the future in Phoenix always looked incredibly bright from an assets standpoint (draft picks and cap space), the amount of young talent on the roster was heavily underestimated.
Spurred by one of the league's best young backcourt combinations in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix is in position to become a real title contender going forward if the right subsequent moves are made. There's a great foundation in place now, and more importantly, there is plenty of room for growth going forward.
With that in mind, here are five needs the Suns should address this offseason to keep the ball rolling in the right direction.
The most glaring need for the Phoenix Suns is a legitimate big man who can protect the rim. The Suns drafted Alex Len last year to eventually be that guy, but as Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote in a pre-draft profile of Len, patience needs to be exercised on that front:
Len is unlikely to be a dominating presence in the NBA from day one, as he'll need to go to a team that is willing to be patient with him as his body improves and his skill-level continues to round out. There is little doubt that he has all the tools to be an extremely valuable piece for a team down the road, though, as players with his physical attributes and talent are coveted commodities and virtually impossible to acquire outside of the draft.
While Len will need playing time to develop down the road, the Suns aren't far off from being a legitimate contender now. Miles Plumlee did a nice job starting at the 5 and averaged 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes, but he hasn't mastered the nuances of NBA rotations quite yet.
The Suns could depend on Len and Plumlee to carry the load going forward, but with just the 15th-ranked defense in terms of efficiency, there's certainly room for immediate improvement.
Maybe the Suns don't need to invest big money or a long-term deal to help shore up the interior defense, but perhaps trading one of their three first-round picks for an established defender will be an option this offseason.
Whether it's in free agency or a trade, Phoenix should find a veteran big man with a history of leading strong defenses to supplement Plumlee and Len and mentor them going forward.
Combine Assets to Trade
With valuable players like Markieff and Marcus Morris already coming off the bench, the Phoenix Suns are already pretty deep and likely won't have room for three more players to receive playing time.
Some combination of those picks should be able to bring back an extremely valuable player, and it sounds like that's been Suns GM Ryan McDonough's plan all along. Here's what he told Scott Howard-Cooper at NBA.com earlier this year:
I think one of the things that’s important for people to realize is that we may not draft four players even if we have four picks. Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available. That’s kind of generally what we’ve wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we’ve acquired.
By combining draft picks, an expiring deal like Channing Frye and possibly a young player like Archie Goodwin, the Suns can put together a package for a star that can rival anyone else's in the league.
While it may be unlikely that a player like Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge becomes available this offseason, the Suns should float plenty of offers out there in case one of the stars headed for 2015 free agency gets anxious and wants to jump ship to play with a team that has a bright future like Phoenix.
Retain Eric Bledsoe
Negotiating a deal with Eric Bledsoe should probably be a top priority even if it might be one of the last actions the Suns take.
Bledsoe is one of the most promising two-way guards in the entire league, and he will be a restricted free agent this offseason. If Phoenix can't negotiate a deal separately, Bledsoe should have no problems finding a team willing to sign him to a max offer sheet.
Would the Suns be ready to match if it came to that? Here's what general manager Ryan McDonough told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:
"Obviously we don't have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don't have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him."
Whatever it takes?
"Correct," McDonough said. "Any reasonable offer.
"We have some advantages. We're able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We're able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we're holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric's had a good experience here so far. He's played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we're doing."
Bledsoe's play next to Goran Dragic was the key factor in Phoenix's success this season, and it seems impossible that McDonough and the Suns will let him walk after trading for him this past offseason.
Bledsoe should be back, so it's just a matter of how much money and how long his contract will be. That's no small detail, though, as it will play heavily into what Phoenix will be able to accomplish from a cap perspective.
Recruit a Max Free Agent
The Suns will have max cap space to play with this offseason so long as they make offers before re-signing Eric Bledsoe.
This might be Phoenix's last chance at max room for a while, as the Morris brothers and Dragic could all be receiving new deals soon. Dragic in particular could be awfully expensive if he chooses to opt out of his modest player option in the 2015 offseason worth $7.5 million, which you would think he'll do.
While this might be Phoenix's last chance at signing a max player, Bledsoe is a franchise building block. There will be other ways to recruit premium talent while keeping him on board if no max player fits what Phoenix wants to do.
That being said, it would still make sense for the Suns to throw their name in the hat for whichever max players are out there. Part of becoming a premium destination is having the best possible players consider you, so at least going after a guy like Carmelo Anthony and creating future inroads would make sense.
As for actually signing Anthony, though? Dave King at SB Nation blog Bright Side of the Sun weighs in with his opinion:
I really, really, really hope that answer isn't Carmelo Anthony. His game is the antithesis of the current Suns. He shoots midrange shots, doesn't play team ball and doesn't play defense. I suppose the right coach can ride Anthony deep into a playoff run, as George Karl did in Denver. But it's more likely that Anthony's diva personality would drive a wedge into what Jeff Hornacek has been building here in Phoenix. Please don't, Ryan McD!
Whether Anthony would be a good fit in Phoenix is debatable, but regardless, Phoenix should ask for a seat at Anthony's table this offseason. He's an elite talent without question, and his presence next to Bledsoe and Dragic would almost certainly make Phoenix a serious contender.
There are lots of different routes Phoenix can take, but again, simply being mentioned as a top contender in free agency can pay dividends even if Phoenix has no interest in Anthony.
Extend the Morris Brothers
After the majority of work this offseason is done, the Suns may be wise to extend the Morris brothers before their stock grows even higher.
Markieff in particular has really burst onto the scene this season, as he's one of the many candidates for Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. Here's Michael Jones of SB Nation with more:
The exciting upstart Phoenix Suns have had one of the most surprising seasons of any team across the league this season due to inspiring play, both from an an individual and team standpoint. Goran Dragic may come to mind as the most-improved player, but third-year forward Markieff Morris has been an impact player off the bench.
What's been remarkable is how well he's stretched the floor and made defenders honor his diverse skill set.
Both Markieff and Marcus will be eligible for extensions this offseason coming off their rookie deals, and locking them up before they hit restricted free agency may be wise depending on what other moves are made.
As it stands, both players are worth a lot to this current team, as they allow the Suns to go small without giving up much on the other end. That floor spacing and drive-and-kick style is crucial for Dragic and Bledsoe to be at their best, and the Morris brothers are a huge part of that.
This may be more of an underrated need, but the Suns would be wise to keep most of this year's team together going forward.