McDonough Wastes No Time Putting Stamp on Suns

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital

The Suns’ acquisition of promising point guard Eric Bledsoe and former All-Star Caron Butler can be met – deserves to be met, even – with a pleasant reaction. Just not a pleasant surprise.

After all, Phoenix General Manager Ryan McDonough only did what he said he’d do in the first place.

“We’re also going to examine trades,” McDonough said during his own introductory press conference in May. “We’re going to be aggressive in free agency and really explore all the options that are available.”

At the very least, McDonough has proven to be a man of his word. In a remarkably short span, he and his team recognized the opportunity to acquire Bledsoe and Butler, acted quickly, and ultimately helped consummate it.

“We’re constantly coming up with ideas of potential deals we might be able to make,” McDonough said during Wednesday’s press conference that welcomed the two new additions to the team. “I don’t think they were going to trade (Bledsoe) until they knew Chris Paul was going to re-sign in L.A. Once Chris verbally committed to come back, we were very aggressive in going after these two guys. We were glad it worked out.”

“I’ll add to that,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. “I’ll say anybody looking at the trade objectively will realize the impetus of the trade came from here. Our staff came up with the idea of facilitating a trade that was predicated on a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee. We were kind of the facilitators of the entire transaction.”

Suns fans and brass alike have been encouraged by McDonough’s team-managing philosophy. Upon his arrival, he declined to cast individual players in a negative spotlight or state specific needs, stating simply, “The Suns did win 25 games last year, so the talent needs to be upgraded across the board.”

While the goal itself was never questioned, the answers to “when” and “how” were anxiously, even eagerly, awaited. Part of those answers came via the draft, when McDonough and his team made it clear that Alex Len was their man despite his healing ankle injury and the presence of other big men already on the roster.

Len was there. McDonough and newly minted Head Coach Jeff Hornacek wanted him. The Suns took him. Ditto for Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin.

The Suns could have stood pat after the draft and played it safe. McDonough didn’t. Again, that wasn’t his style. Bledsoe, a talent desired by seemingly half the league, was available in light of Chris Paul’s re-signing with the Clippers. The Suns had cap room and a player (Jared Dudley) Los Angeles wanted in return.

Dudley was difficult to give up, of course. He had developed into a three-point shooter. He was always active in the community, not to mention on Twitter, and popular among fans. Which is why Babby and McDonough made a point of acknowledging Dudley’s departure first in Wednesday’s press conference.

Yet just as he had to swallow losing players like Al Jefferson in deals made by the Celtics, McDonough was likewise forced to give up Dudley to execute the plan he had in mind. The cost was real. So was the opportunity.

Hornacek shared a candid experience during Wednesday’s press conference, shedding some light on the effort behind Babby and McDonough’s team-wide effort behind the deal for Bledsoe and Butler.

“When I walked upstairs and walked into the war room, I thought Lon was just talking to these guys,” Hornacek said. “I said, ‘What are you guys working on? Free agents?’ Everyone’s going ‘SHHH! We’re working on a deal!’”

The efficiency and aggressiveness involved was trademark McDonough, who has been involved in similarly striking deals in the past. McDonough was part of the Celtics’ management team that turned a multitude of assets into Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the foundation for Boston’s 2008 NBA Championship.

Ironically, though, he was forced to wait until his next job before finally landing Butler, a player he admitted to chasing for some time.

“I always admired his toughness and professionalism,” McDonough said. “When I was with the Celtics and we had our good runs in the playoffs, he was a guy we were always trying to acquire.”

Butler’s response was hilariously appropriate.

“It was rather flattering to find out I had a guy who had a man-crush on me for some time,” Butler laughed. “Once I found that out, I was extremely excited. He told me he’d been following me for years, the expectations and what he expected out of me. I was definitely ready for that challenge.”

Chances are McDonough will make more players feel the same way in the coming years.