No team in the West was worse than the Phoenix Suns last season. That could become a familiar phrase: Phoenix is quite obviously gutting the team with an eye toward a fresh rebuild. There are still pieces to lose, even after Jared Dudley was traded and Michael Beasley was waived. Marcin Gortat, for example, looms in the same position No. 5 pick Alex Len will play.
But there's one Phoenix veteran who might stick around for a while ... or might not. If point guard Goran Dragic does stay, he figures to be the best Suns player for the foreseeable future. Is that good enough for him? Is it worth Phoenix keeping him around?
The 27-year-old Slovenian had another strong season in 2012-13 despite Phoenix's overall malaise. He seems to strike the right balance between scorer and playmaker, something his countryman Beno Udrih never quite figured out. Dragic is a pretty reliable bet to offer up about 16 points and seven assists for every 36 minutes played; while his scoring has been consistent throughout his career, in the last two seasons he's really boosted those assist numbers. To have a career high in assists per minute for Phoenix last year is some kind of coup. Imagine what he could do now on a team with better shooters.
And that's exactly what new Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough will be faced with at this trade deadline, next summer, and on and on: why waste Dragic's prime on a 25-win team? The typical NBA prime, depending on how tight you want to go, encompasses a player's late 20s. Dragic will turn 30 at the end of the 2015-16 season. Dragic's contract also happens to expire then. Phoenix is not going to be remotely good in 2013-14. It is reasonable to expect the Suns will also stink, barring Andrew Wiggins, in 2014-15. There's an outside chance that Eric Bledsoe, Len, the 2014 pick, Dragic, free agents the team signs and whatnot can put together a playoff team in 2015-16. Then Dragic is a 30-year-old free agent. Is it worth it to keep him through all of that when there's a strong chance the team could pick up a decent asset by trading him sooner?
But then again, Dragic is likely to better than that asset for the next few years. If Dragic and the rest of the Suns' to-be-determined core can make the team competitive by 2016, is it worth keeping the point guard around so that he'll re-sign with Phoenix and make a couple of runs in his early 30s? Most players don't fall totally apart at age 30; they just usually stop getting better and slowly regress until they are no longer better than a replacement-level player. So in theory, Phoenix could have four years with a re-signed Dragic to try to win playoff games, depending on how the next couple of drafts work out.
In the meantime, Dragic might be the difference between 15 wins and 22 wins the next couple years. Never underestimate how awful a 15-win season truly feels.
McDonough faces a whole lot of tests early in his tenure in Phoenix. He already took a gamble by selecting Len over Nerlens Noel in June, and another by losing Dudley for Bledsoe and Caron Butler for cap space. But the Dragic question looms, and could for some time.