A trio of rookies join a core group of budding talent in Phoenix
POSTED: Sep 22, 2016 3:28 PM ET
(From left) Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis and Dragan Bender could all key a new era for the Suns.
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record -- during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today's team: Phoenix Suns
2015-16 record: 23-59
The lowdown: After a surprising 48 wins two seasons ago, the Suns have regressed. Worse yet, they haven't been in the playoffs since 2009-10.
Two summers ago, the Suns signed a proud-but-aging free agent center in Tyson Chandler and then tried to sign the top free agent on the market, LaMarcus Aldridge. It was perhaps too ambitious of a bid to make a strong move and statement in the West. When Aldridge went to the San Antonio Spurs instead, the Suns were forced to quickly resort to Plan B by placing their trust and future to a youth movement.
That plan escalated this summer when the Suns reeled in three from the Draft: Bender, Chriss and Ulis. The first two were top-10 picks. While Ulis was a second-rounder, he has first-round talent. That was evident in the Las Vegas Summer League, when the pocket-sized point guard dazzled and was named to the Samsung All-NBA Summer League 2016 Second Team.
Add this haul to Devin Booker, who was first-team All-Rookie last season, and the Suns have four players 20-and-under that help form a foundation that might pay off in the future.
Top 10 Plays: Devin Booker
Check out the top 10 plays from Phoenix Suns' rookie Devin Booker.
It's perhaps the best and most economical way to rejuvenate the fan base and revive a franchise that not long ago was considered a destination for many players. The Suns have a proud history that includes just about everything except a championship. They're no closer to that elusive goal, yet they have the flexibility and assets to assemble a contender if GM Ryan McDonough plays his hand right in the coming years.
McDonough is due for a series a solid moves. For some reason, he previoulsy stockpiled point guards and then scrambled to reduce the load. That led him to deal both Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic at the 2015 trade deadline. Thomas, a score-first player with a team-friendly contract, went to Boston where he became an All-Star (oops). Dragic landed in Miami and, while he hasn't become an All-Star, he has been a solid piece for the Heat.
Meanwhile, the signing of Chandler perhaps limited to the growth of young center Alex Len, the Suns' top pick two years ago. Then there was the turbulent parting of the ways with the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff.
Top 10: Phoenix Suns
Check out the Phoenix Suns top 10 plays of the 2015-16 regular season.
And yet the Suns are in decent shape. The salary cap is loaded with players on their rookie contracts. Veteran guards Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe are bargains, too, when compared to the cash doled out to free agents this summer. Basically, McDonough left himself room to maneuver financially, and it'll be wise to add quality players before it's time to pay his young players.
The Suns also solidified their coaching situation in the offseason by making interim coach Earl Watson the man going forward. The Suns' young core of talent liked playing for him and, although he went 9-24 last season after the team fired Jeff Hornacek, he seems to be the right voice for the team.
Bender and Chrisss were considered perhaps the best among a weak Draft for big men. Both are teenagers and, in the case of Chriss, lacking experience against big-time competition. Chriss is a late bloomer who soared up the Draft charts based on his workouts. He's raw yet athletic and because the Suns are in a development stage, he'll have room to grow.
Ulis could be the steal of the Draft. He fell only because of size (5-foot-10) and his basketball instincts are superior. Unfortunately for him, the Suns' backcourt is loaded with Bledsoe, Knight and Booker. Don't dismiss the idea of McDonough trading Bledsoe by midseason if Ulis has a great camp and forces his way into the rotation.
The Suns needed good characters to surround and tutor this young core. They did that by adding Barbosa and Dudley, a pair of solid veteran leaders (who are also former Suns). Barbosa in particular had his best years in Phoenix, winning Kia Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2006-07. Dudley's top four seasons scoring-wise came in Phoenix and Chandler is always a stable veteran voice, too.
The immediate goal for the Suns, as with any team that chooses a youth movement, is to be patient and have lower expectations. This is the right time to let Chriss, Bender and Ulis make their mistakes. It's also the right moment to unleash Booker and give him the green light, since he has the offensive tools to become a star.
By collecting three more rookies to feed the Plan B, the Suns are slowly carving an identity for themselves. If they indeed picked wisely in the Draft, they might be worth watching, which is more than you could say for the last few years.
Coming Next: Minnesota Timberwolves
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