PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns’ top front office people reacted with indignation to Goran Dragic’s parting shot at them and elation at their ability to replace him with Brandon Knight in the team’s trading deadline frenzy.
The Suns pulled off three trades, sending five players away in what was characterized as a move to reduce selfishness and improve the team’s lagging chemistry.
“This is a team sport and we’re looking for team-first guys,” Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough said at a news conference Friday. “This isn’t singles tennis, so the guys who will be here are the guys that buy in and play the right way and those that don’t will be gone.”
Phoenix sent Dragic and his brother, Zoran, to Miami, Isaiah Thomas to Boston and Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis to Milwaukee.
The Suns’ biggest prize from the deals is Knight, Milwaukee’s leading scorer and the catalyst of the Bucks’ big turnaround this season.
Knight, at 23 five years younger than Dragic, will team with fellow former Kentucky player Eric Bledsoe in what still will be a two point guard lineup.
Knight will join an extremely young starting unit that includes the 25-year-old Bledsoe, 21-year-old Alex Len and 25-year-old Markieff Morris. The only old-timer in the group is P.J. Tucker, 29.
“We have a lot of young players that are just starting to scratch the surface of their potential,” McDonough said.
The Suns also got well-traveled guard Marcus Thornton and three first-round draft picks, the first Cleveland’s pick, top-10 protected, in 2016. Phoenix gave Philadelphia the Los Angeles Lakers’ top-five protected first-round pick for this year in the three-team deal to acquire Knight.
Dragic clearly upset the Suns brass when, on Wednesday, he told reporters “I don’t trust them anymore,” that promises had been broken and that he would not re-sign with Phoenix if he was not traded.
Lon Babby, team president of basketball operations, called the remarks “unfair and I think unwarranted.”
“It has always been my view that I will operate at the highest level of professionalism and integrity and the people that work with me will operate in the same fashion,” Babby said, “and I’m confident that we do that.”
Dragic also was dissatisfied with his role, which often saw him on the wing with fewer touches than he had been used to getting. He said he wanted to be a true point guard again.
“In the last year and a half we’ve made remarkable progress,” Babby responded. “That doesn’t happen without bold and hard moves and if some of those ruffle Goran’s feathers, so be it.”
McDonough said he never saw the reported list of Dragic’s preferred destinations.
“Maybe it was written in vanishing ink,” McDonough said. “I guess my perspective is it wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on. … Once he told us he didn’t want to be here and the manner in which he and his agent handled the situation, we really didn’t care if there was a list or not.”
Miami was reportedly one of Dragic’s picks.
McDonough had two other comments that appeared to be aimed at Dragic.
He called Knight “the best player in the trade coming or going” and ,of criticism that the Suns traded their best player, McDonough said, “My response would be that Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris still are in Phoenix Suns uniforms.”
Knight, McDonough said, has excellent character and “has excelled in everything he has done his entire life.”
“He’s one of the top 3-point shooters in the league,” McDonough said. “He’s a big-game player. He’s a late-game player. He’s a game closer.”
McDonough said no when asked if the offseason acquisition of Thomas as a third point guard was a mistake. But he said Thomas saw himself as a starter and would get that chance in Boston.
Without naming names, McDonough said some players worry about themselves more than the team.
“Every move we make is with the goal of getting the Phoenix Suns to a championship level,” he said. “Sometimes players view that as a good thing. But sometimes players get a little selfish and are worried more about ‘I, me, my’ than ‘us, our and we.’ We’re trying to get to that championship level and because of that some players have to have roles that are reduced or not what they want.”
Phoenix lost 111-109 at Minnesota on Friday night, its sixth loss in seven games. The Suns (29-26) are ninth in the Western Conference, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot.
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