2011 NBA Offseason: Phoenix Suns

Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Phoenix Suns (Last Year: 40-42)

2011 NBA Draft Team Grade:

Markieff Morris is a nice fit in Phoenix and a fairly safe pick, but I am not sure he is anything more than a rotation bench guy in the NBA. With some free agents on the wing, I would have rather saw the Suns grab someone like Kawhi Leonard, Chris Singleton or even Marcus Morris. (Team Grade: Meh)

Live 2011 NBA Draft Grades:

13. Markieff Morris, F, Kansas
I think the Suns have a bigger need on the wing but Markieff provides a physical power forward, something the Suns do not have. Plus, he can also step outside and hit jumpers. Still, I would have rather seen a wing taken here though. (Pick Grade: Meh)

*** 2011 NBA Offseason Needs and Free Agents listed below this comment box. ***

2010-11 Season Summary:
Replacing Amare Stoudemire’s production was not going to be an easy challenge for the Suns, and that proved to be the case as Phoenix missed out on the postseason for the second time in three years.

A big part of their struggles stemmed from an offseason of what can now be deemed as bad decisions. Phoenix tried to use the team concept to fill in for Amare, acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick in the offseason. Warrick played decent in his first season in Phoenix, but Turkoglu and Childress were major disappointments. That forced first-year general manager Lance Blanks to pull the trigger on a fairly significant in-season deal.

The Suns shook things up 25 games into the season by dealing Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a first-round pick. The Suns struggled after the trade was made, but quickly pulled it together and put themselves in a position for a playoff push. They fizzled down the stretch though, losing 13 of their final 20 games, finishing 10th in the Western Conference – six games back of the final playoff spot.

Phoenix also swung another deal during the season, acquiring Aaron Brooks from the Rockets in exchange for Goran Dragic and the first-round pick they got from Orlando. This deal was viewed by many as finding a potential Steve Nash replacement as the 37-year-old is entering the final year of his contract.

Amid the transition, veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill were the calming forces on the team. Nash once again ran the show and led the NBA in assists while Hill made his impact felt on both ends of the floor, showing there is still plenty of gas left in the tank. Channing Frye, who was signed to a 5-year extension prior to the season provided some versatility in the frontcourt while Gortat played surprisingly well, giving the Suns a needed physical presence in the paint. Jared Dudley has quickly turned into a fan favorite in Phoenix (partly due to his Twitter-friendliness) and brought great energy off the bench.

2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:

C: Marcin Gortat/Robin Lopez/Garrett Siler

PF: Channing Frye/Hakim Warrick/Markieff Morris/Gani Lawal

SF: ^Vince Carter/Mickael Pietrus

SG: Jared Dudley/Josh Childress

PG: Steve Nash/#Aaron Brooks

NBA Free Agents:

SF-Grant Hill (UFA)

#PG-Aaron Brooks (RFA)

^G/F-Vince Carter (TO)

G-Zabain Dowdell (UFA)

2010-11 Team Salary: Approximately $48.4 million

NBA Offseason Needs:

1. What to do with Steve Nash?: As I mentioned earlier, the 37-year-old is entering the final season of his contract and will become a free agent next summer. During the season, Nash insisted he was committed to the organization and had no interest of being traded. However, it might in the best of interest of the Suns to deal Nash this offseason and get some draft picks, expiring contracts or young talent in return to help jumpstart the rebuilding process that could take place next year if Nash changes his mind about the organization and chooses to play elsewhere.

If Nash is indeed committed to the Suns and them likewise to him, one would think a short extension could be signed this offseason to ensure he remains “the sun, the moon, and the stars” of the franchise as President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby eloquently stated during the season. Re-signing Nash would also possibly help lure some bigger-name free agents to Phoenix this offseason.

2. Wing Help: I would be absolutely floored if the Suns picked up their team option on the final year of Vince Carter’s contract which is worth $18 million. Add in his likely parting from Phoenix with the fact that Grant Hill is a free agent, and the Suns are left with Jared Dudley, Josh Childress, who was very disappointing during first season with the team, and Mikael Pietrus (assuming he does not opt out of the final year of his deal which is scheduled to pay him $5.3 million next season.)

Expect the Suns to try and re-sign Hill, but he could want to spend his final couple of years in the league playing for a contender rather than a borderline playoff team and not return to the Desert. The Suns will likely only have their mid-level exception to spend in free agency once a salary cap is set which makes finding needed talent on the wing more difficult. They do have the 13th-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and there should be young talent available who can play the two or three, but will that rookie be able to immediately contribute?

3. Defense: Due to their up-tempo style of play, the Suns remain one of the league’s worst defensive teams. Gortat’s acquisition helps the situation since he is an improvement as a rim protector to what the Suns previously had. If Hill is not re-signed though, Phoenix loses its most versatile defender. They will need to find someone to fill that role and lock up on the opposing team’s top wing scorer especially in crunch time.

4. Low-Post Scorer: Again, Gortat assisted in this area but certainly is not an offensive force on the block. With Robin Lopez regressing in his third season in the league, and Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick being more perimeter-oriented power forwards, Phoenix could look to add another physical presence in the paint, preferably one who can score with his back to the basket.

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