The Phoenix Suns and their 48 wins this past year were a nice story from the national perspective and even locally for fans, who hardly expected that a first-year coach and first-year general manager would be pushing their team to make the playoffs in the final week of the 2013-14 season.
The silly idea of putting Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe together proved brilliant as the duo haunted their opponents in transition for much of the year in helping the Suns become one of the most successful teams to miss the playoffs.
But internally, Suns players felt like they'd missed a perfect opportunity to make the postseason. First-year general manager Ryan McDonough said in his first week on the job that Phoenix would do everything to win now, citing his previous work with the Boston Celtics as an example. The Suns would nab as many assets as possible, gain salary flexibility and wait in the weeds to strike with trades, just as Boston did the summer it acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
McDonough has draft picks falling out of his pockets and cash to spend wisely, and it appears the Suns are ready to make big moves. They won't force it, so if bigger plans fall through, rolling with what got them to blow expectations out of the water last season isn't a bad second option.
Draft picks: No. 14, No. 18, No. 27, No. 50
Free Agents: Eric Bledsoe (RFA), P.J. Tucker (RFA), Channing Frye, Leandro Barbosa
Cap space: $35 million
Finding a low-post presence is first on the list for the Suns should their roster remain relatively unchanged. Dragic and Bledsoe were terrors in transition and went to the pick-and-roll in the half court, and it helped they had a rim-rolling big in Miles Plumlee and a stretch power forward in Channing Frye. But offensively, halfcourt play stagnated too often. Phoenix never had the ability to play inside-out with any player other than bench booster Markieff Morris, and coach Jeff Hornacek has been open about that fact. On top of it, they didn't have the big bodies to handle some of the bigger teams like the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Suns could also use a veteran presence at center. Even though Plumlee started in every game when he was healthy and center Alex Len should see increased playing time, Phoenix often had to play small ball, something that didn't help its defensive efforts.
In terms of the draft, the Suns don't need to be too picky about position and need. Dragic is likely to opt out of his contract after the 2014-15 season, and P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green could also be gone by next July. Again, the power forward slot could have a major hole if Frye leaves or if the franchise can't re-sign Morris next offseason.
Like most teams with draft picks, money to spend and talented young players, the Suns will have their place in the pursuit of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. He fits all of their biggest needs in terms of adding a low-post playmaker and scorer, and his affinity for outlet passes would obviously add to the Dragic-Bledsoe transition game if that backcourt remains intact. A trade for Love, of course, will come down to McDonough working out a deal.
The more obvious focus for Phoenix is working out Bledsoe's restricted free agency. The team has maintained it will do everything in its power to match any offers for Bledsoe in the free-agent market, where he's projected to earn a max contract. The 24-year-old point guard may have questions about his ability to run the point, and he's had two meniscus injuries to his knee in his young career. Still, it would be surprising if the Suns didn't retain him. The same could probably be said for P.J. Tucker, the leader of the team whose 3-and-D should earn him some chunk of a mid-level exception.
In the draft, it's unclear what Phoenix will do with four draft picks. McDonough has maintained that the Suns won't bring in four rookies with no roster space and the development of last year's rookies, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, to consider. The Suns will look into packaging the picks to trade up in the draft. They could also swap for a future first-round pick, draft and stash a player, or use their picks for a much bigger blockbuster.