HANG TIME WEST – It’s official: this part of the transition away from the Steve Nash–Grant Hill years in Phoenix is devoted to cleaning up the last transition.
The new general manager just acquired the new point guard of the future, 53 weeks after the previous general manager acquired the previous point guard of the future. Which came after the mangled coaching change that had to be corrected. Which came after investing $18 million over three years, not all guaranteed, to get free agent Michael Beasley, although snagging snag him away from whom has never been entirely clear around a league often not pining for Beasley (at even less money).
Change happens and change really happens when a franchise ends a long chapter by trying to find life after Nash and Hill, but the move to get Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers in the three-team deal that also delivered Caron Butler is noteworthy. What had been apparent in the days before the Draft has become a certainty early in free agency.
Ryan McDonough, hired as general manager on May 7, gave Michael Carter-Williams the long look of a second in-person workout for the No. 5 pick. He didn’t care that the Suns a year earlier, under Lance Blanks, invested a lottery choice on another point guard, Kendall Marshall. And McDonough certainly didn’t care about the roster in place when he selected center Alex Len despite the presence of veteran Marcin Gortat.
Then came news of Bledsoe and Butler to Phoenix, J.J. Redick from the Bucks in a sign-and-trade and Jared Dudley from the Suns to the Clippers, and a pair of second-round picks to Milwaukee, and it was official. McDonough had worked hard to get a new point guard, either to replace or play with Goran Dragic, but either it was someone instead of Marshall.
The Draft-night call was intriguing enough. Take Ben McLemore, arguably the best talent in the Draft, for the team that was 28th in the league in 3-point shooting and 23rd in overall field-goal percentage? Take Nerlens Noel, ditto, for the team that finished 26th in scoring defense and 25th in shooting defense? Get Len, the best true center on the board, as an overall value? Go with one of the several point guards, including Carter-Williams, who would have been reasonable choices in that range?
There was no wrong call, especially among the McLemore-Noel-Len grouping. Gortat averaged 11.1 ppg and 8.5 rpg in 30.8 minutes and was one season removed from a double-double, but it was easy to justify Len as one of the five best prospects of the Draft. It was also easy to see the chance to trade Gortat into additional assets once Len shows himself capable of the starting job. Plus, Gortat turns 30 at midseason.
Things broke right for Phoenix when, after passing on McLemore, a potential starter at shooting guard was still available at 29. Archie Goodwin was the first to say he should have gone back to Kentucky for a sophomore season, and even say it while stating he wasn’t close to NBA-ready, but remains a legit prospect. He was eight months removed from being considered a lottery possibility, before an inconsistent season that could have been simply been life as a freshman or not living up to the considerable hype of his arrival in Lexington. Goodwin still has something.
The underrated Dudley, another positive character guy for the Clippers locker room, is a loss. But Bledsoe-Dragic-Goodwin is a real future in the backcourt, with returnee Shannon Brown and whatever Marshall contributes on the court or in trade. Len is a bigger part of the long term in Phoenix than Gortat. Butler is 33, but also heading into the final season on his contract and, oh, yeah, he’s not Beasley.
The Suns are moving forward again, making a transition while trying to erase the previous transition.