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The first thing the Suns did after letting Steve Nash go was to bring back an old friend. Will Goran Dragic's second Suns tenure work out better than his first?
The Phoenix Suns are officially rebuilding, and they are going about that process in an interesting way. Once Steve Nash departed for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Suns could have held their cap space, built around young talent and adopted the Oklahoma City model of stinking for several years and eventually building their way up with high draft picks. Instead, it appears the Suns have adopted a hybrid rebuilding model, signing a number of young veterans and sprinkling in some older ones at a reasonable cost.
At the centerpiece of this rebuild: a former player who was tossed aside recently, only to prosper in a new environment. Will the second act be better for Goran Dragic? We consider that move and all of the Suns' offseason decisions below.
GORAN DRAGIC RETURNS
The Suns' first rebuilding move was to sign Nash's former backup to a four-year, $34 million contract just one and a half years after giving up on him and dealing him to the Houston Rockets. On the surface, the combination of moves is curious. Why trade away Dragic when he was on a cheap rookie deal, then sign him to a large long-term deal with the same coaching staff and front office in place? That's a gross oversimplification of the situation, of course, because the coaching staff had always been behind Dragic, but it does seem like an odd turn of events.
Setting all that aside, though, the operative question is whether the Suns are getting the Dragic that starred for the Rockets last year or the Dragic that struggled so much for the Suns before that. Dragic has always had the ability to be the kind of player he showed last season, but some combination of confidence, work ethic and fitness held him back in the past. Last year, Dragic rededicated himself and found a coach in Kevin McHale that believed in him and let him control the offense. As a result, Dragic was able to put his creativity on display and had a breakout year.
The good news for the Suns is that their roster is suited to Dragic's strengths. Dragic is almost a mini-Nash in that he fares best when the other players on the floor are spot-up shooters rather than creators. He spends a lot of time dribble-probing, uses his excellent jump shot to make defenders pay for going under ball screens, and does very well in transition. He's not the kind of point guard that fares especially well when he's playing without the ball, which is why he and Kyle Lowry struggled to mesh after Lowry's return from illness last year. The Suns don't really have any secondary ball-handlers on their roster, though, so Dragic will have plenty of chances to do all of those things. As long as Phoenix can live with Dragic's turnovers -- he coughed it up on nearly 19 percent of his team's possessions last year -- they can get the most out of him.
But there's also a hefty risk involved for Phoenix. Dragic has struggled to sustain any success he's had in the league ... and now he has an $8.5 million/year contract for the next four years. The Suns mitigated this risk somewhat by drafting Kendall Marshall, but for a team that is rebuilding, $8.5 million is a lot if Dragic takes a step back like he did during his last tenure in Phoenix.
All in all, this feels like a risk worth taking ... unlike the next move on this list.
The Suns would argue that the 15-percent chance that Beasley turns it around and becomes the star everyone expected is worth the risk of giving him a three-year contract, but that strikes me as way too cavalier an attitude. This is the same Beasley that was tossed aside by two future Hall of Fame coaches in Pat Riley and Rick Adelman, and this is the same Beasley that still can't figure out how to blend his talents into any sort of remedial team setting. Three years and $18 million doesn't seem like a lot, but it's the kind of pointless mid-level contract that isn't really as tradeable as teams realize.
I'm also not sure how Beasley fits into the Suns' style. With Dragic in tow, the Suns will probably run a free-flowing, pick-and-roll-heavy offense that emphasizes spacing and spot-up shooting. To get the most out of Beasley, I think you need to have an offense with far more structure. He would fare better in a system with more set plays, because it's become clear that his on-court instincts are not very good. I think he's going to get lost with the Suns, especially if he plays more small forward.
From a big-picture standpoint, you could argue fit doesn't matter. If it works, great. If it doesn't, the risk was still worth taking. However, by placing a risk in a system that doesn't suit him well, you're undermining the chance of that risk working out.
I don't think the Suns ever thought they would be able to claim a player like Scola off amnesty waivers for just three years and $13.5 million, but when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer. Scola is declining a bit, but he's still a reliable low-post scorer, excellent perimeter shooter and intelligent floor-spacer. The Suns also were very weak inside, so Scola will provide immediate relief there.
Even if it wasn't part of the original offseason plan, the Suns should be credited for jumping on that opportunity.
I remain skeptical that Marshall has enough foot speed and scoring ability to make it in this league, but if it's going to work out for him, it'll happen in a place like Phoenix, with this kind of team around him.
Trading Robin Lopez and getting back Johnson and a mid-first round pick seems like an odd move for a team that lacks size. Johnson has been a massive disappointment thus far in his career and I'm skeptical that he'll ever turn it around. At the very least, though, he can shoot and defend a little bit, making him a decent fit in the Suns' scheme.
I doubt that O'Neal has anything left, but maybe the Suns' pristine training staff can make him feel younger again. If so, O'Neal will back up Marcin Gortat. If not, it's not like the Suns took on a huge risk in signing him.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C+