PHOENIX — As the Suns battled back valiantly in the second half of their loss to the Celtics Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena, it had to be a confluence of mixed emotions for Phoenix’s general manager Ryan McDonough.
The team he originally wanted and thought he could build was right in front of him, but it was with his former organization, not the one he currently works with.
McDonough tried to concoct a team constructed around Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas — a team not viewed through the prism of prototypical positions pigeonholed as “point guards.” A roster that could take advantage of the shift in the NBA’s rules pushing the game toward pick-and-roll and dribble penetration. A devastating threesome allowing a team to have two dynamic ball handlers on the court at all times — and sometimes three.
It didn’t work out for him, but it is for the Celtics.
Boston has Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner. Four “point guards” or “shooting guards” depending on how you want to make the designation.
For Boston head coach Brad Stevens it’s a pretty simple formula.
“We just try to put guys in position to soar with their strengths,” Stevens said before the game. “Some of our guys have positional versatility in that group. We haven’t played Evan (Turner) at the four a ton, but when Jae’s (Crowder) around we play him at the four quite a bit. That helps add a couple of minutes here or there.”
Each of Thomas, Bradley, Smart and Turner play between 33 and 27 minutes. Only one of them, Turner, is taller than 6-foot-4.
The Celtics are 43-30, fourth in the Eastern Conference and have the eighth-best point differential in the NBA. With a cavalcade of draft picks and salary cap space, this might not be how the Celtics are constructed long term, but they’ve found a balance between having success now and keeping an eye on the future.
This is the exact concept McDonough was trying to accomplish with the Suns, based around a similar philosophy. He’s going to chase stars, he’s going to keep salary cap space flexibility and he’s going to value draft picks but the goal was to do that while being respectable at the same time.
For whatever reason, the Celtics organization led by Danny Ainge and Stevens was able to get the players to buy in across the board — this didn’t happen in Phoenix.
Going into this offseason, the Suns are nearing a similar situation they had with Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas — the names this time are Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Bledsoe.
It’s a bit more traditional in size and stature, but much of what Phoenix wants them to produce on the offense end is similar. The Suns are going to build an offense around dribble penetration and shooting with at least two and sometimes three playmakers on the court at the same time.
If McDonough decides to keep all three on the team and isn’t able to make a big splash in free agency, these three are the focal points of the Suns next season.
Will the head coach — whether it be Earl Watson or someone else — and the organization as whole be able to sell them much like the Celtics have with their group, or will more upheaval be on the way?
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