When the Suns were on the clock for the fourth pick in Thursday night's NBA Draft, Marquese Chriss had his eyes and ears tuned in. His workout in Phoenix the week before had gone well. He liked the front office staff, Head Coach Earl Watson and the idea of playing with young run-and-gun team.
When it was his name was not announced as the Suns' pick, the 18-year-old's reaction was disarmingly honest.
"When they passed on me I was like, 'Aw, man!'" he admitted.
Even as Chriss dealt with a brief bout of disappointment, the collective excitement in the Suns' front office was growing. They had selected Croatian forward Dragan Bender fourth overall, but had agonized whether passing on Chriss was the right decision for the better part of a week.
"Those two guys, we went back and forth and deliberated," said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. "It was split almost right down the middle among our staff – our front office staff, our coaching staff, ownership. We were going back and fourth for weeks now. Earlier today, we said, ‘What if we can get both of them?’"
As Chriss remained available through each successive selection, Phoenix realized it might have a golden opportunity in the form of Sacramento and the eighth overall pick. The Suns had tried to pry that selection from the Kings in previous weeks, but to no avail. When they saw their "Option 1A" was still on the board, they upped the ante.
"When Marquese went past the fifth, sixth and seventh teams, we upped our offer," McDonough said. "We were aggressive. We wanted him. Obviously we gave up some pretty good assets to get him."
They did indeed, but only too willingly. Phoenix traded the 13th and 28th picks from this year's draft, as well as a future second-round pick and the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, whom the Suns drafted 27th overall in 2014. The move ensured that Phoenix came away with the two players it wanted most in this year's draft class.
Chriss was just as thrilled to go to Phoenix as the Suns were to have him. It didn't take long for the former Washington standout to realize how badly his new team wanted to draft him.
"I respect them for [trading for me], and I’m truly grateful they went to that amount of effort to get me onto the team," Chriss said.
Like Bender, Chriss worked out with the team in the latter stages of the pre-draft process, later expressing his desire to ultimately wind up in the desert.
Chriss is widely viewed as one of the most athletic NBA prospects in recent years. He logged a 38.5-inch maxiumum vertical leap at last month's NBA Draft Combine, and his high-flying dunks were a staple among the highlights from his lone season at Washington. The 18-year-old forward averaged 13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game with the Huskies. He also showed a soft touch from the outside, shooting 35.0 percent from three-point range.
McDonough had difficulty containing his excitement over Chriss' rare physical gifts.
"Marquese Chriss, my goodness," he said. "Just an explosive athlete."
Chriss, who has drawn comparisons to former Suns All-Stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, is eager to tap into his enormous potenital on behalf of his new NBA team.
"Whatever team I go to, I want to try my best and make an impact," he said. "I think coach Earl Watson is really good at developing players and takes time in that and I think that’s gonna be very beneficial to me and my career."