PHOENIX (AP) — A year ago, general manager Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek were barely on the job.
And the task ahead was challenging — rebuilding a tattered Phoenix Suns franchise that had the worst record in the Western Conference in 2012-13.
This week, the tone couldn’t be more different. A huge turnaround season will do that.
The Suns were one of the NBA’s biggest surprises, going 48-34 and barely missing the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. They did it with a highly entertaining up-tempo style that made them the top fast-break team in the league.
Now buoyed by the kind of success that should have taken years to develop, the Suns have three first-round picks in Thursday’s draft — 14th, 18th and 27th.
There is a good possibility that one or two of those picks will disappear because of trades.
McDonough has said he doesn’t expect to bring three rookie first-round picks to training camp, because the roster is crowded as it is and the team already has two youngsters in the development stage — last year’s first-round picks Alex Len and Archie Goodwin.
One or more of this year’s picks could be used in a trade for the Suns to move up in the draft, although it would probably be no more than a few spots.
“I think we could get up to a certain extent,” McDonough said. “I’m not sure how far.”
The danger there, he said, is you give up draft picks to move up and discover the player you moved up to get would have been available at No. 14.
Phoenix is dealing with other significant personnel issues.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe becomes a restricted free agent. McDonough has repeatedly said the Suns would match anything another team offers, but they’d much rather sign him to a new deal in a hurry. Forward P.J. Tucker, the heart of the Suns’ energetic team last season and its best defender, also is a restricted free agent, and it’s unclear just how far the team is willing to go to keep him.
Then there’s forward Channing Frye, who opted out of the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. There is real concern in the Suns front office that Phoenix won’t be able to compete with some of the multi-year offers Frye might get elsewhere.
But this week, it’s the draft, and the Suns are worlds away from their mess of a year ago.
Predicting who will be selected in the 13 picks ahead of the Suns is impossible. The injury to center Joel Embiid has shaken up the upper reaches of the lottery picks.
Whether that means someone trickles down to the Suns remains to be seen.
Phoenix had 72 players in for workouts. One who didn’t come was Nik Stauskas of Michigan. McDonough said his agent decided the player wasn’t going to go as low as 14, so there was no need for a workout. However, there are some scenarios that would have him slide that far.
The draft is loaded with shooting guards. The Suns can score, but they can always use another shooter.
They probably would love to have Creighton’s Doug McDermott, but he probably will be gone.
A check of 14 mock drafts showed Phoenix taking 10 different players.
One mentioned is young UCLA shooting guard Zach LaVine. Other possibilities are small forward Rodney Hood of Duke, guard James Young of Kentucky and guard-forward Gary Harris of Michigan State.
Yet another candidate is 6-11 power forward Adreian Payne, a sharpshooter from Michigan State who could develop into a Frye-type player.
“Adreian’s a very good shooter for his size,” McDonough said. “He’s gotten progressively better every year at Michigan State. He also moves on his feet pretty well defensively. Guys like that that can shoot the ball and can move their feet and guard the pick and roll are valuable.”
But Payne is a 23-year-old senior, an old man among boys in today’s draft, where one-and-done freshmen are the dominant factors.
His age could work against him if teams believe younger players have better potential.
“For immediate help, the older guys are better,” Hornacek said. “Three or four years down the line, these young guys could possibly be better.”
The Suns don’t want to break up the chemistry that was such a big part of their surprising success. That means not much tinkering with the roster.
“Coming off a good year, we’d rather get fewer good (rookie) players or a veteran who can help,” McDonough said, “or spread picks out where we can maybe have more firsts in the future.”
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