PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is plotting the team’s future after an unexpectedly successfully season, and he’s confident that future includes Eric Bledsoe.
McDonough, speaking at an end-of-season news conference on Friday, said the backcourt of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic “is among the NBA’s best.'”
Bledsoe is a restricted free agent and McDonough has repeatedly said the Suns will match any offer another team may make. He says the Suns would prefer to work out a deal before free agency begins.
Bledsoe was noncommittal when asked this week if he wanted to remain with Phoenix, repeatedly saying he simply wanted to work on his game and spend time with his family.
“I think he likes being in Phoenix,” McDonough said. “I know he liked playing for Jeff (Hornacek). He and Goran really blended well and meshed.”
McDonough said he and Lon Babby, Suns president of basketball operations, are hoping to work out a contract agreement with Bledsoe before free agency.
“We’ll go to Eric and his representatives to try to work out a deal first,” McDonough said, “but I think one way or another, he’s going to be a Sun for a long time.”
Babby, a former agent, downplayed Bledsoe’s comments.
“If I were representing him he’d say the exact same thing that he said yesterday,” Babby said. “We don’t read too much into that. It’s a process. We’ll go through it with him. We have every reason to believe he likes it here. We know we like him.”
P.J. Tucker, whose hustle and defense made him the emotional heart of the team, also is a restricted free agent and the Suns want him back, too. Channing Frye has the opportunity to opt out of his contract if he wishes.
Phoenix, predicted to be among the NBA’s worst teams after going 25-57 last year, used an entertaining, up-tempo style to win a surprising 48 games, matching the most wins for a team that failed to make the postseason in the 16-team playoff era.
Babby said Hornacek should be the NBA’s coach of the year and McDonough the executive of the year.
Now the task is to improve the team by adding a player or two while not messing up the extremely good chemistry of this season’s squad.
McDonough said he didn’t see “any glaring holes” in the team’s makeup. He said he expects players, mentioning Miles Plumlee and Markieff Morris, can make another big step in improvement next season.
“We have potentially six first-rounders over the next two years,” he said. “We reach a point where we’d rather put ourselves in that elite group of contenders sooner rather than later. Coming into the year, I think we all weren’t sure how long that would take. Luckily we’ve made a lot of progress and gotten closer to that elite group.”
This year, Phoenix has three first-round draft picks — the 14th, 18th and 27th — and there’s an outside chance of another if the Suns should defy the odds and get a top three choice in the lottery. McDonough said it’s unlikely the team would bring three first-round picks to training camp, with the possibility of packaging picks in a trade for a veteran player or moving up in the draft.
He said drafting European players and leaving them there for a year or two is another option.
“If we can use our draft picks to get better, to get a veteran or use some package we think will help us take the next step, to get us from wins in the upper 40s to the 50s or ideally the 60s,” he said, “we’ll do that.”
Babby said the Suns’ success will make Phoenix a desirable destination for free agents.
“I think every player in the league wants to play for Jeff,” Babby said.
Hornacek said that he hopes he looks back on his first season as an NBA head coach and sees it was a springboard to a championship.
He said the team has plenty of room for improvement on offense and, particularly, on defense, where rotation breakdowns were a problem.
“We have to be more physical,” he said. “We’ve got to work on really being solid on rotations, not having the breakdowns. … If you win big games and beat some of the top teams, you can’t have 20 percent of the time ‘Oh, I forgot my rotation. My bad.’ It’s got to be in the 95-100 percent range.”
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