The Suns were one of the biggest surprise teams of the year, having sprinted out of the gate to a 19-11 record in the tough Western Conference. Then came the crushing injury to star point guard Eric Bledsoe. Now looking at life without his 18.0 PPG and 5.8 APG, the organization is at a crossroads.
Suns first-year GM Ryan McDonough says the organization isn’t panicking, writes Paul Flannery of SB nation. This is despite the fact the team has lost four of the six games it has played since losing Bledsoe for the season. Even prior to losing Bledsoe, the team didn’t have much rotation depth and that will only be highlighted more by having to fill the 33.5 MPG that the point guard averaged. Ishmael Smith and Leandro Barbosa will now be called on to contribute meaningful minutes. The Suns could possibly swing a deal, but according to McDonough, it will have to be the right one for the organization’s plans.
The team would be willing to make a trade if the right younger player comes along. As for what constitutes the right player, the GM stated they would prioritize acquiring players that would help them in both the short-term as well as long-term. Stopgap players wouldn’t appear to be an option. They don’t want to take on a veteran’s salary just to have to try and unload it at a later date. McDonough doesn’t want the team to sacrifice its financial flexibility to make a playoff run this season.
This is especially prudent considering the Suns want to retain Bledsoe, who becomes a restricted free agent after the season. McDonough expressed confidence the team would be able to retain Bledsoe, though it is unclear how large a contract the young point guard would seek. His pre-injury performance certainly set him up for a big payday, but questions about his recovery may impact the amount teams are willing to offer. Phoenix will have the right to match any offer that Bledsoe receives.
In addition to prioritizing getting Bledsoe back into the fold, the team will also have some extra cap space available to pursue other free agents. McDonough stated that he expected the Suns to be major players in the free agent market after the season.
On top of their financial flexibility, the Suns could have up to four first round picks this year. They hold their own, plus picks from the Timberwolves (top-13 protected), Wizards (top-12 protected) and Pacers (lottery protected). They also have another on the way from the Lakers in 2015 that’s top-five protected. McDonough also mentioned that it was unlikely that the Suns would use all four picks this year. They could potentially trade one or more of those picks to either move up in the draft, or possibly as a sweetener to acquire a player.
It seems like the first-year general manager has a plan and wishes to stick to it. If he can, the Suns outlook is bright. Making the playoffs this season without blowing up the future would be icing on the cake.