Well, maybe. I'm continuing my series of NBA Previews, but focusing on teams that I think will surprise people. This one is actually a reader request:
I was hoping you would give a Pheonix Suns season preview on your site soon. I have a sneaky suspicion the Suns have stolen the real David Kahn and forced him to make all their roster moves. I just wanted to get your take on it. How did they aquire so many horrible NBA player so fast?
This offseason has been really weird, hasn't it? I've already speculated that Kahn is not the mastermind behind the Wolves amazing offseason. But back to the topic at hand. I don't think anyone would consider it controversial of me to say that the Suns got worse. They subtracted Steve Nash. He may be old, but he still led the league in assists (by a substantial margin) and was, as always, an amazing shooter. You cannot replace that with a Jekyll-and-Hyde player like Goran Dragic and expect to hold par (I mean...right? I don't really have my finger on the pulse of Suns fans and the realism levels of their expectations).
But, as with other teams I have covered here, it's the extremity of it that's going to catch a lot of unsuspecting fans and sports bettors by surprise. This offseason, the Suns have lost Steve Nash, but added:
Of the new players, only Dragic had an above average year last year, but during the last season that Dragic played in Phoenix, he was awful. I wonder if any of those people claiming that it's the system, not the point guard, are going to bring that up. The truth is. Dragic, like Jeremy Lin, is just an unknown factor right now. He could be great, he could be awful. We could talk about regression to the mean but we don't really know the mean with either player yet.
I've written about Beasley before; he's quite possibly the league's most selfish player (and that's quite a statement, given that Kobe hasn't retired yet), and the two things he is good at are shooting and turning the ball over (notice that I said shooting, not scoring). Wes Johnson, of course, was one of the most disappointing lottery picks in recent memory; he has no handle, no confidence, does not rebound or defend well and has no history of shooting well, and he actually got worse in his sophomore campaign.
Louis Scola is the most mystifying amnesty pickup I've seen. A simple look at his career shows that he was once above-average and has steadily declined since. There's no mysterious explanation here -- he's 32. Players usually get worse as they get older (after their prime around age 26). Why is Occam's Razor such an incredibly difficult concept for NBA decision makers to grasp? It seems perfectly plausible that Scola was once pretty good, and now he isn't because he got older. There has been no evidence to the contrary (like with players such as Nash, Garnett, Kidd, etc). Why do NBA GM's persist in believing that players past 30 who have not had a good year in a while will somehow make a comeback?
Which brings me to Jermaine O'Neal. The last above average season that Jermain O'Neal played was in 2002-03. He's had a lot of almost-average seasons and a lot of terrible seasons since then. O'Neal is now 34. I don't care if his contract is the vet's minimum, it is a colossal waste of money and roster space. All this talk of O'Neal regaining his explosiveness makes me laugh. Even if he had his 2004 knees, he wasn't very good in 2004. Bring in a young player and give him a chance instead.
Add to this mix the disappointing rookie season of Markief Morris, and the Suns are truly in for a rocky year. I thought the attempt to sign Gordon was pretty crazy to begin with (because of the knees). Given the players that were available, they did terribly this offseason by letting Childress walk and signing some bad players. This becomes even worse when you consider the players that will be available in 2014. Why sign Beasley for 3 years? Why take such a big chance on Dragic?
Once Nash left, all hopes of building a contender left as well. And unlike the folks at ESPN, I think tanking is a terrible strategy. But I am a firm believer that you can build a competitive, fights-for-the-playoff team while remaining under the cap and maintaing flexibility (something that Morey seems to do well, whatever else he may not). A team like Phoenix should have been looking to sign underappreciated players for low contracts (like, for example, the one they let go in Childress), not sign players like Beasley and Johnson to $5 and $6 million deals. I guess one could argue that Johnson was a salary dump and is an expiring, but if so, then they turned around to use the savings on Beasley. This is on par with David Kahn using all the salary cap space that McHale left him with to sign Darko Milicic on the midnight free agency opened.
Phoenix fans, I'm sorry, it's gonna be a rough season. Even if Dragic really is the player he looks like, it's going to be really rough. I expect that 30 wins is actually an optimistic result.