2015 Offseason Preview: Phoenix Suns

How will Brandon Knight's second year on the Suns pan out?
How will Brandon Knight’s second year on the Suns pan out?

 


Free Agents: Earl Barron (Unrestricted), Marcus Thornton (U), Gerald Green (U)


 

For a team said to be on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity, the Suns have taken quite the tumultuous path in the last few years. From the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire to the Knicks, to trading away the franchise’s face in Steve Nash, to the surprising breakouts of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and finally, the ill-fated Dragic/Bledsoe/Thomas trio that resulted in trading away Dragic and Thomas while acquiring Brandon Knight. In all this time, not once have the Suns made the playoffs. With the ever-shifting dynamics of the league, however, the upcoming year could finally break the drought for many fans in eager anticipation of a return to the big dance.

The Suns took care of business pretty quickly by re-signing Knight to a contract worth $70 million over the course of 5 years. Knight’s value has been questioned frequently over the course of his career, with several advanced statistics being cited against his favor (Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player, his subpar TS% relative to the volume of his scoring), but he had a career-best year in Milwaukee until his move to Phoenix. Although his level of play nosedived, it should be noted that Knight injured his ankle, and later had to undergo season ending arthroscopic surgery to correct his injury. With a fresh start, Knight can resume his productive play as he gets acclimated to the team, and form an athletic combo with Eric Bledsoe, who has managed to play an (almost) full season with starters’ minutes. Phoenix also signed Mavs center Tyson Chandler to a 4 year, $52 million deal. Chandler provides the interior protection that the Suns have sorely lacked for so long, and perhaps more importantly, his elite finishing at the basket and propensity to collect offensive rebounds will prove pivotal to the team. Also, the medical staff in Phoenix should keep Chandler about as healthy as he can be; in fact, Chandler’s career should be enhanced to the point where the final year on his contract shouldn’t look too awful, despite the fact that he’ll be pushing the age of 37.

In an effort to open up room to sign Aldridge, the Suns traded away Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock to the Pistons while only getting back a 2020 2nd rounder back. as a means of creating an extra $8 million worth of cap space. Granger showed nothing of his prime Indiana form on the team, and Bullock was an intriguing prospect, but the likes of TJ Warren and Archie Goodwin made him the odd man out amongst the prospects. Marcus Morris played meaningful minutes in the Suns’ pace-n-space system, but his production was ultimately replaceable. While Phoenix’s pitch was enough to make Aldridge seriously consider taking his talents there, he ultimately chose San Antonio. Now, McDonough has to focus his resources on acquiring depth for the team, and perhaps dealing away Markieff Morris, as well. The Morris twins are practically inseparable, and Markieff was very critical of the trade – which was only precipitated by their deplorable conduct over the past season (this includes possibly assaulting their former mentor, with a court case pending which could see jail time for the twins). A Morris/Ilyasova swap could take place to reunite the twins in Detroit, but it is clear that the Suns’ management feels like they owe the twins nothing, and Ilysaova was underwhelming in his return from injury.

With the 13th pick in the draft, the Suns selected shooting guard Devin Booker from Kentucky. Booker is one of the best shooters in the draft, and also one of the youngest rookies drafted. Coming off the bench in his freshman year, Booker shot 47% from the floor, shot over 40% on threes, and shot 82.8% on free throws. In just over 20 minutes a game, he was good for 10 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, half a steal, 1.5 fouls, and a turnover per game. From a glance, he sounds like reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams, but Booker is an unusually perceptive player for his age who will take the right shots and make the necessary passes. Despite his somewhat pedestrian vertical of 35 inches, Booker’s 6’6” stature (in shoes, at least) and 6’8” wingspan indicates he has the potential to develop defensive skills. Due to his average athletic ability, Booker struggles with finishing at the rim, and one should not expect him to be a playmaker right from the get-go. Booker also has subpar lateral quickness, and is prone to being beaten off the dribble when playing defense. Unless injuries strike, look for Booker to accrue limited minutes as part of some three-guard lineups as he becomes used to the NBA in general.

The Suns don’t have very many free agents remaining; only Earl Barron, Gerald Green, and Marcus Thornton are yet to be re-signed. While Barron and Thornton were mid-season acquisitions made to bolster the bench long after the season was lost, Green is only two seasons removed from being an electrifying starter who had the shots to go with the hops. Last season, he faced some regression, but was mostly kept on the bench due to the fact that coach Hornacek did not approve of his abysmal defense – this lead to some tension between the player and the coach. This late in the process, it’s entirely possible that Green could find a home elsewhere, and while his name hasn’t made very many waves, he is sure to be a good bargain for most teams in the league. What the Suns really need, however, is big man depth. Josh Smith has reasserted his value in Houston, and his strong playoffs performance could parlay a stint with the Suns. Jordan Hill provides more raw rebounding energy, even if he’s prone to questionable decision making. Darrell Arthur could be an intriguing project as he has shown many streaks of impressive play in the past few seasons, but has been hampered by his health. Finally, Dorrell Wright, while not the best defender at any position, can play at the wing and stretch to the four when the team goes small. The common denominator here is that all of these players have shown some semblance of shooting, whether it be from mid-range or from three. As options are starting to grow thin, it would be prudent for McDonough to act quickly.


Prediction: Now that they have a legit presence to anchor the paint, these Suns are looking to finally punch their ticket to the playoffs. Chandler’s veteran leadership will erase the woes the Morris twins dragged in, and if his health holds up (a pretty safe bet), he can energize the rest of the team with his hustle plays. Bledsoe will continue his mini-LeBron antics, and will be even more deadly if he can regain his outside shot. Knight will look to make yet another improvement with his level of play, like he has done every season in his career. The departure of Wright and possibly Green will sting, but this speaks to the commitment the front office has in building a stout defense. Look for the Suns to claw at that 8th seed with a renewed ferocity, and this time? I think they’re gonna make it.


 

2015 Offseason Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Dec 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and center Al Horford (15) celebrate a victory against the Washington Wizards in overtime at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Wizards 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver (26) and center Al Horford (15) celebrate a victory against the Washington Wizards in overtime at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Wizards 101-99. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents: Paul Millsap (Unrestricted), Elton Brand (U), Demarre Carroll (U), John Jenkins (U), Pero Antic (Restricted)


 

The Hawks were the darlings of the league during the regular season and the new champions of team-ball, ready to carry the torch passed from the Spurs, until they met an ignominious end at the hands of the Cavaliers in the form of an Eastern Conference Finals sweep. Now, their future is uncertain as the all-star starting five seems to breaking up, while Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver recover from surgery. During a time where their front office is in disarray after the dismissal of Danny Ferry, head-coach-turned-team-president Mike Budenholzer will certainly have his hands full in keeping his core guys. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Atlanta Hawks”

2015 Offseason Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs face a reloading period. Can LeBron take this team to a title next year?
The Cavs face a reloading period. Can LeBron take this team to a title next year?

Free Agents: Kendrick Perkins (Unrestricted), James Jones (U), Iman Shumpert (Restricted), Matthew Dellavedova (R), Tristan Thompson (R), Mike Miller (Player Option), JR Smith (PO), Kevin Love (PO), LeBron James (PO)


 

The Cavaliers have returned to elite form, and in a major way. The additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love managed to vault one of the worst teams in the league all the way to being just two wins away from an NBA championship. The scary part is, they’re probably going to be even better next season.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love managed to prove their worth on a contending team after an underwhelming 20-20 start to the season, which included an injured LeBron as well as calls for the head of rookie coach David Blatt, who made stellar adjustments later in the season, especially in the playoffs. Tristan Thompson elevated his game to another level after Love was lost to injury, and Timofey Mozgov was the defensive anchor the Cavs so desperately needed at the time they traded for him. Even Knicks castaways JR Smith and Iman Shumpert had their moments, and Dellavedova was briefly a hero. But not all is well in Cleveland, who must face the issues of trying to balance their expiring contracts.

Between LeBron, Love, Smith, and Mike Miller, only Miller exercised his player option to stay with the team next season. While James Jones is practically a lock to receive the veteran minimum (and hence be retained), the Cavs are likely going to say goodbye to Perkins and perhaps Dellavedova, who could be overpaid based on his Finals performance. They will also have to run the very minor risk of Love bolting for Los Angeles, Boston, or maybe even Portland (should Aldridge leave), among other teams. Tristan Thompson will command an eight figure salary per year after proving his enhanced proficiency at inside finishing, offensive rebounding, and providing adequate defense throughout the season. Shumpert could also receive an inflated deal due to the nature of Restricted Free Agency, especially because a variety of teams (Mavericks, Bucks, Lakers) are reported to have an interest in him. JR Smith is asking for a salary that would pay him about 8 million per year, which is actually fair market value for his services – hence, the Cavaliers are likely to strike a deal. Going back to Love, the Cavaliers are expected to offer him a max contract that deals out $110 million over the course of five years. Although this sounds steep, if Love were to take a one year contract with a player option, and opt out after next season, he would be owed significantly more money based on the spike in the salary cap. The odds that Love accepts this contract are great for the Cavaliers, seeing as how he has professed a desire to stay with the team long-term for the entirety of last season. Finally, LeBron could ask for the mega-deal he finally deserves, but is likely to stay with Cleveland on a one-year max contract with a player option. From there, this allows him to opt out after next season, and the Cavaliers could extend full Bird Rights in their next contract negotiation. A five-year max deal with the new salary cap would pay out over $200 million to LeBron, and he would make an average of $43 million per year based upon the current projections of the salary cap.

In order to free up some cap space and make subtle upgrades to their bench, the Cavaliers have made some very shrewd choices. During the draft, they traded the #24 pick (which ended up being Tyus Jones) to Minnesota in exchange for the #31 and #36 picks, which landed in the second round. This is significant because second round picks have no cap holds that count against the team, and their minimum salaries on the rookie scale are practically negligible when they are signed. The Cavaliers made the most out of their picks, too, selecting 20 year old Cedi Osman out of Turkey. Osman is a versatile point-forward who not only has size to play numerous positions (he’s 6’8”), but the athleticism to last in the NBA. According to GM David Griffin, it will probably take Osman at least two years to be freed of his contractual obligations in Turkey, but that will give him the necessary time to develop. Although Osman isn’t the most skilled shooter, he has a remarkable motor and is willing to do the all the dirty work a team needs, which fits in well with the other role players on the team. This is very similar in comparison to the 36th pick, Rakeem Christmas. Christmas is a senior out of Syracuse who was labeled with NBA-level potential, but only really came into stride in his final season at college. He is physically similar to Tristan Thompson, with both earning the label of being an undersized power forward/center who gets by on athletic ability. Christmas might have recorded an average vertical, but he also had the second longest wingspan of all measured prospects, ranking just below Robert Upshaw. Weighing in at over 240 pounds, Christmas has an NBA-ready body and could find minutes right away. It is fair, however, to question his upside; he turns 24 later this year. Also, despite making strides in his game, Christmas still shows questionable effort at times, and will have to learn an entirely new method of defense after playing four straight years defending in a 2-3 zone. It will take him some time to truly make an impact, and his ability to guard the giants who man the center position in the league are doubtful at the moment. Finally, with the 53rd pick, Cleveland selected junior Sir’Dominic Pointer out of St. John’s. Pointer is a quick player who can run the floor for easy transition baskets, and also frequently passes to teammates. However, he isn’t the best at scoring in the half-court setting, nor can he shoot from long range, which makes his value limited on that end. He shines defensively, where his aggressive brand of play allows him to guard multiple positions despite his average wingspan, and is the catalyst towards the respectable rate at which he collects defensive rebounds. Still, don’t expect Pointer to receive anything more than spot minutes in the rotation, if at all, until he learns how to fit within the offense.

 

The Cavaliers also have the contract of Brendan Haywood as a trade chip, being able to take back around $10.5 million in salary. A potential trade target is San Antonio, who could offer a combination of Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, and Boris Diaw in exchange for Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal. These players could make Cleveland a seriously deep and versatile team, and further their chances at contention. Of course, other deals could be pursued, or the Cavaliers could simply end up waiving Haywood themselves if they are unable to find any takers. For now, however, he is their true weapon for building in free agency.


Prediction: The Cavaliers will retain everyone except for Perkins,and the Haywood contract will be used to bring in new blood. With a deeper team, the core of LeBron/Kyrie/Love won’t have to be pushed as hard next season, and they can be better-rested for the playoffs. With another year to build some experience playing together, the Cavs are a very real candidate to win 60+ games, as well as the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Although Atlanta and Chicago could still pose a threat to them, I would pencil in Cleveland for a reappearance in the finals as of this moment. The question is – can they make the final push to win?


This piece is part 6 of the 30 Team Offseason Preview Series by Fazal Ahmed.

2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; D'Angelo Russell (Ohio State) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents: Carlos Boozer (Unrestricted), Ronnie Price (U), Wayne Ellington (U), Ed Davis (U), Wesley Johnson (U), Jeremy Lin (U), Vander Blue (Restricted), Jordan Hill (Team Option)


 

“We’re a young, eager group ready to restore this franchise back to where it once was. I think that kind of sums it up. These guys are ready. I’m excited to play a piece in that project. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a long road, it’s going to take a lot of work. I know the three of us are and I know the guys in the locker room are more than ready and willing to. ”

-Larry Nance Jr.

Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Lakers”

2015 Offseason Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas enters another year of Free-Agent fishing. How will the offseason pan out for the Mavs?
Dallas enters another year of Free-Agent fishing. How will the offseason pan out for the Mavs?

Free agents: Rajon Rondo (Unrestricted), JJ Barea (U), Al-Farouq Aminu (U), Monta Ellis (U), Tyson Chandler (U), Richard Jefferson (U) Amar’e Stoudemire (U), Charlie Villanueva (U), Greg Smith (U), Bernard James (Restricted)


 

By now, most people believe they have the Mavericks’ approach to team building figured out, and to some extent, they’re absolutely right. In an interview with Grantland Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Dallas Mavericks”

Post-Draft: Kristaps Porzingis

Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency
Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

 


UPDATE: Carmelo Anthony’s (alleged) reaction to Knicks’ pick of Porzingis:

“[Carmelo] feels completely hoodwinked and betrayed by Phil Jackson. He feels like he was lied to, like he was sold a bill of goods. And he’s willing to concede that he wanted his money. But he didn’t know it was going to be like this. He didn’t know it was going to be this bad. And he can’t believe that his second season under the Phil Jackson regime, he has to look forward to it being worse than even last year was.”

-Stephen A. Smith


Continue reading “Post-Draft: Kristaps Porzingis”

2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

NBAE/Getty
NBAE/Getty

Free Agents: Dahntay Jones (Unrestricted), Hedo Turkoglu (U), Glen Davis (U), Ekpe Udoh (U), Austin Rivers (U), DeAndre Jordan (U)


 

“I love this challenge. As strange as it sounds, I thought a couple of those bad years in Boston where we were trying to add players and we finally did it [helped me]. I love those years because you’re building and then when you’ve finally got it, you’re built toward a championship and try to win another one, so this is a great stretch.”

-Doc Rivers

At their peak last season, the Clippers looked like less of a dark horse and more of a real contender. Doc Rivers the coach did an admirable job for 93 games, until everything came crashing down in that incredible series loss at the hands of James Harden and the Rockets. Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Clippers”

2015 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

Image from www.sixers.com
Image from www.sixers.com

Free Agents: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Unrestricted), Jason Richardson (U), Ish Smith (U), Thomas Robinson (U), Henry Sims (Restricted), Glenn Robinson III (R)


Another season passes, and almost like clockwork, Sam Hinkie’s team has somehow managed to find yet another way to take a step back. Shipping Carter-Williams off to the Bucks was a sound decision; no one anticipated Embiid’s setback and nobody asked Dario Saric to stay in Turkey for another year The fact remains, though, that the Sixers are in a state of perpetual freefall. This is in no small part by Hinkie’s conscious efforts to reach for lottery picks and to trade away all high value assets all while operating above the cap floor.  Yes, the NBPA’s investigation into possible CBA violations on the part of “tank commander” Continue reading “2015 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia 76ers”