The NFL is for quarterbacks. The NBA is for superstars. You don't win a championship without one.
The Suns are living the nightmare. They don't have an A-list performer. They don't have an All-Star. They have a serious shortage of likable players. They have gone five years without a playoff berth, inviting the slow-creep of apathy into their arena. Their most popular assets are the mascot, the dance team and the head coach.
Even worse, the Cardinals have stolen their reputation as the prized free-agent destination in the Valley. If you're a Suns fan, it means the wrong McDonough is currently enjoying the gravitational pull of all Arizona has to offer.
"What I'm noticing with Bruce Arians and the staff is that players are wanting to come here," said Terry McDonough, Cardinals vice president of player personnel, and brother of Suns' general manager, Ryan. "They see the success Karlos Dansby and Antonio Cromartie had. Guys know if I go there and have a big year, and I don't stay there, I can hit the lottery and go play someplace else.
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"It's all coming together: new stadium, upgraded facilities, double-digit (wins) two years in a row. The general manager and head coach have such a unique relationship, I've never seen anything like it. Nothing can break them. There's no battling for who is superior. And when it's all about winning, great things happen. Players see this facility, the stadium, the bubble, the weather. And when everything is really good about a situation, they talk."
The Suns enjoyed that status when Steve Nash was point guard, delivering the ball, improved statistics and future contracts to those that played alongside him. Nowadays?
"There are no players coming to Phoenix," Charles Barkley said last week. "They can forget that because they're not a contender and they're not close to being a contender."
That doesn't mean that you should lose faith in Ryan McDonough, who has learned some hard lessons but has made many terrific moves, like drafting T.J. Warren.
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That doesn't mean the Suns aren't a good team, either. They are. And that's the problem.
They never bottom out, so they're never in position to draft a real impact player. League rules make it financially rewarding for free agents to stay with their existing teams. They compete in the formidable Western Conference when there's never been a greater disparity between the two conferences, and at least two teams below the Suns in last year's standings will be greatly improved next season (Lakers, Timberwolves).
Consequently, Planet Orange is stuck in NBA quicksand, with no vine to grasp.
"It can be challenging to build through the middle," Ryan McDonough said. "But it's something we've studied, and something that can be done. There is a blueprint, and the Houston Rockets come to mind. They did a great job of staying competitive while looking for a star player, and suddenly, James Harden becomes available. That's what we're trying to do. That's how we're positioning ourselves."
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Of course, the waiting can be unbearable. And if this were my team, I'd trade the Morris twins, who hit for an unusual trifecta last season. One berated the coach, the other insulted the paying customers and both were charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault. They have since plead not guilty.
I'd retain Brandon Knight, but only if I can trade Eric Bledsoe. The former is a better leader, a better talker and can generate similar numbers. But in Milwaukee, he made it clear that he considers himself a point guard, not a shooting guard. And we all know how the story ends when you have a surplus of starting point guards.
If available, I'd draft former Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, who worked out for the Suns on Thursday. He's smart, funny and engaging, and very much like Diamondbacks pitcher Josh Collmenter. He has great fundamentals. He can help solve their deficiencies in shooting and Valley popularity. Otherwise, I trade the pick for a veteran player who can provide the leadership this team so badly needs.
I pursue Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge with great fervor, and hope that Barkley is wrong about the free-agent buzz.
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I exercise the option on Jeff Hornacek's contract immediately. That way, he won't carry a lame-duck perception into next season, in what could be the final year of his contract. That seems especially important for a group of players who watched Marcus Morris berate him during a game without consequence.
It also seems fairly obvious, since this was the same front office who raved about Hornacek's demeanor and teaching ability during his rookie season as head coach.
I can guarantee that Hornacek hasn't changed, and that very little of this is his fault.