Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The Phoenix Suns had the fourth-worst record in the NBA last season, but it really didn’t feel like an intentional tank-job. As a general rule, bad teams are bad on purpose in today’s NBA, but the Suns seemed to be confused with they wanted to be doing.
They claimed Luis Scola off of amnesty waivers and signed him to a three-year deal, and followed that up by signing talented but not-actually-good-at-basketball forward Michael Beasley to a three-year contract of his own (Beasley was recently bought out and is a free agent again). Phoenix also re-signed Shannon Brown and Robin Lopez to multi-year deals.
So it really did feel like the Suns thought they would be good. Of course, they were dead wrong, and ended up with a 25-57 record in the rough and tumble Western Conference after losing Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers.
This past May, however, the Suns front office brought in Ryan McDonough, the former Boston Celtics assistant general manager. McDonough immediately began disassembling the current roster, understanding the need to not just be a bad team, but to also accumulate assets to eventually help the on-court product improve.
The Suns’ new regime capitalized on the Los Angeles Clippers’ desire to improve their overall talent pool and spread the depth among different positions by acquiring promising point guard Eric Bledsoe for Jared Dudley and his very team-friendly contract. McDonough also sent Scola and the reasonable remaining two years on his contract to the Indiana Pacers, another contender that is looking to build up their depth. In return, they received a couple players with some limited upside in Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, in addition to a lottery-protected pick in the stacked 2014 draft.
In 2013-14, the Suns will rely on their very good pick-and-roll duo of Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat early, but will eventually be moving Gortat’s expiring contract to a contender looking for some front court help. They drafted Maryland center Alex Len to replace Gortat, and along with him, most of the rest of the team is young players on rookie contracts, save for possible trade chips like Channing Frye.
Best Case Scenario
If Bledsoe continues to build on his very promising career, he’ll have every opportunity to be a breakout star in Phoenix in 2013-14. He was very good as Chris Paul’s backup with the Clippers, but he will get tons of minutes in Phoenix, both at point guard and probably at shooting guard while sharing the backcourt with Dragic. If Bledsoe emerges as a true star, the Suns could win 27-30 games.
Worst Case Scenario
Gortat only played in 61 games last year, and if injuries plague him the Suns will struggle on the court, in addition to his trade value taking a hit. Bledsoe hasn’t been a consistent starter before, and losing Dudley will be a bigger deal than many think. Not to mention the brutal Western Conference, with at least ten or eleven teams that would make the playoffs in the much weaker East. The Suns could easily be worse in 2013-14, winning just 19-22 games.
Most Likely Outcome
Depending on when Gortat and his expiring deal are moved and if the Suns decide to try and move Dragic around the trade deadline, the Suns will probably stay right in the same neighborhood as they were last year. Count me as a believer in Bledsoe, and as long as his shot selection remains reasonable (no easy task for a good player on a bad team), he could breakout, helping to marginalize the loss of Dudley. Put them down for 23-26 wins, and a similar outcome as last season. Of course, the path and new trajectory that they’re on is much, much improved.
Philadelphia 76ers (30)
Utah Jazz (29)
Phoenix Suns (28)