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Phoenix GM holds lots of cards in bid to improve Suns

POSTED: Dec 19, 2013 11:11 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


GM Ryan McDonough (right) and coach Jeff Hornacek are building a winner in Phoenix.

General manager Ryan McDonough stands over the board, dice in hand, hot streak at his back, with an immediate payout in mind. He sees options that stretch across the horizon.

Cap space? The Suns could have approximately $20 million of room next offseason.

Draft picks? Maybe four first-round choices, several in the lottery, in the highly anticipated 2014 process and six in the next two drafts.

Trade possibilities? It's more than possibilities. The Suns are hoping to swing a big deal rather than wait for June -- "our preference," McDonough calls it.

Draft and stash? McDonough headed international scouting for the Celtics before he took the promotion in Phoenix. He knows his way around a passport.

Seven months into the job as a first-time GM and six months before he could have a pivotal impact on the 2014 NBA Draft in June, McDonough has a team far exceeding expectations and a lot of options to get better -- maybe even get better fast, with the glut of picks as the centerpiece of the push.

The Suns definitely own one 2014 pick, their own, and have a mortal lock on another, the Pacers' first-rounder that is top-14 protected. In addition, Phoenix has the possibility, and the ability to trade, the Washington choice that is protected through 12 and Minnesota's (guarded through 13). Whatever selections are not conveyed now and carry over to 2015, McDonough could have four chips to play with then: his own, one from the Lakers that is top-5 protected, and whatever is still owed from the Wizards and/or Timberwolves.

"I've always been a guy who just worries about what I can control and we can control with the Suns," McDonough said. "I feel like whatever's going to happen with the other teams will play itself out. That doesn't have much to do with us. I think there could be pretty significant change, especially in the Eastern Conference. It's fairly bunched up there. Teams could shoot from out of the playoff to right into the playoff mix or even home-court advantage and obviously teams could go the other way as well. We'll just kind of sit back and see what happens, try to worry about the Suns and improving us as much as we can while being consistent with our plan and, come mid-to-late April, we'll see what happens and see how many picks we end up with."

The ability to dangle 2014 picks -- mid-firsts will become unusually attractive in this class -- along with some current players plus the ability to trade into cap space soon after the Draft makes the Suns major players. They are hoping to make something happen before even knowing where the choices will land, a risky speculation game for both sides. No matter what, they have no desire to spend four No. 1s in June plus their own second-rounder, not while already transitioning a pair of top-30 picks from 2013, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, and with the possibility of two more in 2015.

Within the Suns, the ideal outcome is to package some of the six possible first-round choices the next two drafts, and part of the existing roster to land an All-Star caliber player who can take the club to the next level without waiting for rookies. If that doesn't happen, they would prefer at least one of the possible 2014 picks to roll over to split the six between 2014 and '15. At that point, there would be a strong possibility that one of the '14 selections would go toward an international player who would stay overseas, delaying that rookie learning curve.

"I'd say a balance would be good," McDonough said. "If we ended up with three in 2014 and three in 2015, that would be great. The odds are probably slim that we end up drafting six players in the first round over the next two years, and certainly bringing those guys into the Suns immediately seems unlikely, just given the fact that we have some good young players on our roster and we have two first-round picks from this past in Alex Len and Archie Goodwin on our roster now. We are trying to build and grow together, but it can be difficult to try to integrate eight guys who are all 22 or 23 and under at the same time while also trying to win and be competitive."

The bold-strike option of possibly trading away from this strong Draft has come to the forefront at a time, ironically, when the Draft is the only part of the recent flurry of moves that has not paid off big for the Suns. Getting McDonough from Boston has been a direct hit, as has his decision to hire Jeff Hornacek as a first-time coach. On the court, trading for Eric Bledsoe (as part of a three-team deal that sent Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers) and Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green (with Luis Scola going to the Pacers) have all been important aspects of the team's surprising start.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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