Apr. 7, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris in the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 125-105. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Say hello to the seven new players on the Phoenix Suns, the roster battles, positional issues, flexibility, and what it all means for the 2012 NBA Season.
In a sense this is Lon Babby and Lance Blanks first Suns team. Before they arrived the Suns - with no general manager - signed Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, extended Channing Frye, and created a team for them to run.
The duo finally put their fingerprints on the organization, for good or bad we do not know yet, but this is officially their roster. Six of the seven (Goran Dragic was a Sarver signing) new additions were brought in by Blanks as a talent mix he feels will help the future of the team.
This new roster with an influx of young talent has a lot to prove -- not only for themselves, but for the man who put them together.
The old guard was ushered off in unexpected fashion. Star guard Steve Nash facilitated a trade to the rival Los Angeles Lakers, Grant Hill is in the same city as a Clipper, Josh Childress was a casualty to the amnesty clause, and Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick were traded to the New Orleans Hornets.
All those moves paved the way for the Suns to have one of their most active off-season in the franchises history.
Signing a big name was not an option. Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, or Eric Gordon made decisions or had decisions made for them that landed them on other teams. Instead of blowing up the roster and building from the ground up they made the decision to build around what was available in free agency.
Financially the team did better this offseason than the one prior as none of their signings were over the top or overpaid. All of the contracts were done in a reasonable manner that will not handicap the team for years to come. The top paid player on the roster is the new face of the franchise (Dragic) and he is making a very suitable salary for a starting point guard at 7.5 million a year.
That is the stamp that Blanks has now put on this team. His guys are in the stable and if they do not get out of the blocks this season it could cost him. The talent mix on paper is interesting, but creates logjams at all positions. Outside of shooting guard and power forward, which seems to be for Shannon Brown by default and Luis Scola, there is a battle for minutes and roles everywhere else on the court.
Dragic is the starting point guard.
Separating the minutes for his back-up will be tough. Last season Sebastian Telfair really took to the system and played very well when given minutes the last 20 games of the season. Enter in 2012 first round pick Kendall Marshall and you have a battle for the back-up job. In theory it should go to Telfair, the eight year veteran knows the system and played well in the role last year. However the politics point to Marshall getting the minutes as an investment in the future going in the lottery. This will be an interesting story to see how it develops throughout training camp.
Looking at the wing there are a handful of good options, but not one player stands out as the definitive starter.
The odd man out on the wing could be Wesley (Wes) Johnson. He comes into a rotation featuring Brown (likely the starting two), Beasley, and Jared Dudley. Adding talent and athleticism on the wing was a must with the incumbent starter Dudley not being an elite athlete - the Dudley "Dunk-o-Meter" made that evident.
Signing P.J. Tucker after Summer League was to fill a hole on the roster. He is not going to effect the minutes given to Beasley, Brown, Dudley, or Johnson.
Claiming Luis Scola off of amnesty waivers was a move to add a low-post presence in the paint on offense. He is likely the penciled in starting four going into the season, but at 33 years old on opening night there is not a lot of future upside in adding Scola. Essentially he will hold down the starting position for Morris teaching him the ins and outs of being a starting power forward in the NBA, as right now Morris primarily knows the outs as in "stepping out for another three."
The paint will be crowded for the first time in what feels like forever. Scola plays in the paint, Marcin Gortat plays in the paint, and the final addition to the roster Jermaine O'Neal plays in the paint.
One thing about the Suns over the past 10-12 years is that they have not been a physically tough team. Sure, they showed resilience in 2006 and 2010 getting to the Western Conference Finals shorthanded, but overall they have been a finesse team. O'Neal is a gritty physical player that will provide, if anything else, six tough fouls a night and a presence they are not used to having. He was the last addition to the team so do not read to far into name value as he is a 16 year veteran brought in as the fifth big man on the roster.
Splitting time up for the big men will be interesting as Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, and Michael Beasley will be looking for minutes at the four and five spots along with Gortat, Scola, and O'Neal. The first three mentioned are more perimeter oriented scorers while the last three are lunch pail and hard hat workers. If there is an odd man out it could be O'Neal who is not a cog in the future like Morris and Beasley or a proven commodity over the past few years like Scola, Gortat, and Frye.
Based on the roster as it is currently constructed the starters entering the season seem to be Dragic, Brown, Scola, and Gortat with an open battle between Dudley and Beasley for the other wing position.
In this active offseason the Suns maintained financial and roster flexibility while collecting assets. This is not a championship team or even a playoff team at this point, but has the potential for growth and to really surprise some people.
The meshing of this roster will play a role in the future of this franchise and who is leading them - on the sidelines and in the boardrooms.