Suns building upon promise of brighter future
PHOENIX -- Despite doomsday, standings-related prophecy, the Suns enter this season of low expectation with the potential for some legitimate sidebar intrigue.
And we can begin with that doomsday variable, which -- if next summer's supposedly-loaded NBA Draft is factored -- could make the standings watch relatively pleasant.
It's all a matter of perspective.
But aside from lottery anticipation and the potential for a quartet of first-round selections, the Suns do haul some compelling storylines into a campaign that begins Wednesday night at U.S. Airways Center.
When they take on the Portland Trail Blazers, the Suns will be breaking in a first-time head coach (Jeff Hornacek) who's attempting to bring fast-tempo offense back to Phoenix while insisting on defensive accountability.
No slouch on the interest list is the development of prize trade acquisition Eric Bledsoe, whose ability to move out of Chris Paul's shadow will determine what happens when his current contract expires.
Bledsoe also will co-star in an intriguing backcourt tandem with Goran Dragic, who also happens to be the Suns' top returning player … and card-carrying point guard.
The return of Channing Frye (enlarged heart) should be high on the priority-watch list, too. How ready for big minutes is the floor-stretching power forward?
"We'll find out Wednesday," Hornacek said.
Within these interesting topics, we also will study the progress of Alex Len -- the Suns' choice with last summer's fifth overall pick -- and Archie Goodwin, the kid whose selection at 29 comes attached with different levels of expectation.
While we're taking this all in, a witness with far more interest than we can muster is first-year general manager Ryan McDonough, the architectural lead.
For starters, McDonough will be looking for further evidence of that culture change we've all been hearing about. Through October, the buy-in from the uniformed employees has been impressive.
"The energy and the effort have stood out for me the most," McDonough said. "The reasons we wanted to go to Flagstaff for training camp were for team bonding and to see how these guys would push themselves at 7,000 feet."
Now that the effort has been established, the Suns will be looking at how their philosophical concepts are carried out.
"If we defend fairly well and get stops and force a decent amount of turnovers, that'll help what we're trying to do offensively with pushing the ball," McDonough said. "It'll lead to some transition baskets … it'll help us keep the pace going up and down. So that's what I'm looking at from a team level."
When asked, the general manager's first topic of interest -- from a personnel standpoint -- is the Bledsoe-Dragic partnership.
"I'm interested to see how teams defend Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe," McDonough said. "Those guys are, obviously, two of the better point guards in the league -- well, I shouldn't say obviously, but that's my opinion. I want to see how teams defend that."
As the Suns' elder statesman (along with Frye), Dragic thinks working with Bledsoe can be effective.
"We can push the ball, we can do a lot of things," Dragic said. "We just need some more time together.
"But it's not just me and Eric … if we want to have a good season, we all have to connect."
Right, and for a team that went with "All For Orange" in a promotional campaign to emphasize teamwork in the absence of stars last season, the need for (Steve Nash word alert) cohesion may be greater now.
"Even without superstars, you can do something special," Dragic said.
That approach helped George Karl win Coach of the Year after a strong regular season in Denver.
But the Suns' roster doesn't seem anywhere near what Karl had with the Nuggets, inspiring national observers to predict plenty of Ping-Pong options for the Suns next spring.
"To be honest, I'm not reading the media or Twitter," Dragic said. "I just want to be focused for my game. My only job is to be focused and to play as hard as possible.
"We're all professionals; we just have to practice hard and try to look at the future. Maybe they're going to bring some big free agent this off-season … or not. But I'm always positive."
Although cap flexibility has been lessened by picking up the options for next season on the Makieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee – and they must reconcile the future status of Bledsoe -- the Suns are hoping to become more of a destination franchise.
For that to occur, this season needs to yield a rise from Bledsoe and the realization of potential from Len and Goodwin.
"I think the thing I've been most pleased with is their work," McDonough said of his rookies. "That was one of the reasons we drafted both of those guys. We knew they'd put in the time to get better. And, obviously, we saw outstanding potential in both of them."
In Goodwin, the Suns have seen a high-level athlete making adjustments after one year of college basketball.
"He does some unique things athletically," McDonough said of Goodwin. "He still needs to keep working on his shot and he needs to cut down on his turnovers.
"I think the game is going a little quickly for him right now … as it does for most rookies."
While running, jumping and cutting are qualities that put Goodwin on the floor, movement issues have been different for Len.
"Physically, it's been frustrating for him," McDonough of Len, who's working his way back after off-season surgery on both ankles. "I've seen progress. I see him starting to get his legs back.
"He's 7-foot-1 and he's skilled. He's got a great touch and we've seen that. One of the other major strengths he has is his ability, his mobility. I've seen it in college; I know he has it in him, but he's not there yet. I think you'll see a different player at the end of the year than you'll see at the beginning of the year."
If most of the Suns' storylines progress in that manner, their fans should be more encouraged than usual at the end of another year without a postseason.
And if it can be accomplished without much of a lottery-positioning sacrifice, most fans will be thrilled.
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