After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
There are some years where the luck just doesn’t run your way. Some seasons that just don’t fit in with the plan. There are right years to tank, and there are wrong years to tank. Sometimes, shrewd planning and smart dealing leaves you with the second pick on the draft, which you use to acquire, say, Tyrus Thomas. Other years, for reasons you don’t quite deserve, you vault up in the lottery to select Derrick Rose. Sometimes, as was the case with the Orlando Magic last season, you’ll tank the year for little payoff – because as much as we love Victor Oladipo, he’s not the sort of franchise-altering talent that you can pen in for ten All-Star appearances.
And then some years, you tank at the exact perfect moment. As the Phoenix Suns are currently doing, for 82 wretched games that they’ll be lucky to win a quarter of.
The intent is obvious. New general manager Ryan McDonough watched from afar as the previous administration wasted years in staving off a rebuilding program following the team’s peak run to the Western Conference finals in 2010. The Suns didn’t do anything wrong in letting that team fall apart the following summer – Amar’e Stoudemire was not worth the contract he eventually signed with New York, and age was going to catch up with Steve Nash at some point anyway – but the ignorance in the face of reality was inexcusable. For three seasons the Suns bided their time while attempting to make owner Robert Sarver heaps of money with a one-and-done playoff exit, and the execution was almost insulting in a way.
Not this time. McDonough has positioned these Suns with four selections in next June’s draft, three of which will possibly be lottery looks, and one will come off of the Suns’ own “efforts” due to their impending terrible record. Tanking at the absolute right time, in advance of a fantastic 2014 NBA draft.
In the meantime, rookie coach Jeff Hornacek (McDonough’s hire) will be forced to throw tons of reps at the players that need it most – rookie center Alex Len, and unsheathed hybrid guard Eric Bledsoe. Len’s stress fracture history is a concern, but centers need to hook up with NBA speed as quickly as possible. And Bledsoe, after working off the bench in Los Angeles for three seasons, will be asked to parse out his excitable game for 36 minutes, and against starting competition.
Both have a lot to figure out, and they’ll need time. Again, this is why 2013-14 is a perfect year for Phoenix to bottom out, because neither player is ready for the go-to workload as we go to press.
In the meantime, McDonough will be afforded an extended training camp to determine which of the holdovers from the previous administration should get to stay. Personally, I can’t wait to watch fellow hybrid guard Goran Dragic work it out with Bledsoe, but that doesn’t mean that Dragic isn’t on the block. The new GM recently did away with former lottery pick Kendall Marshall, alongside free agent signee Shannon Brown; and to a lesser extent (because he can actually play) Marcin Gortat. Luis Scola was sent out for a pick and a flier on Gerald Green’s latest Last Chance, and Michael Beasley was kindly asked to leave.
The new guy didn’t like what he was given. And we don’t blame him. The last guy was terrible.
As the Suns will be this year, by design. They’ll also be an open, fluid team coached by a guy in Hornacek that knows and appreciates good spacing and guard play. The team still has coveted trading chips in Emeka Okafor, Dragic and (to a lesser extent) Channing Frye, they’ll have heaps of cap space next summer, and four draft picks in a fantastic draft.
They’ll have to be bad first. This is how this stuff works. Luckily, the Suns picked a good year for it.
Projected record: 16-66
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Suns for … empty-calories basketball you don’t have to feel guilty for consuming.
Highly regarded new Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough has made it clear this offseason that Suns fans need neither expect nor care about winning right now. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing -- the past few Suns teams that did care about winning haven’t done so hot, which is why Lance Blanks is now a former GM. Plus, by tearing Phoenix down to the studs, McDonough appears to have vaulted the Suns' ceiling, with as many as four first-round picks over the next two seasons added to Phoenix’s own through trades and a shot at four of the first 30 selections in what’s expected to be a loaded 2014 draft. The future could be bright in the valley of the sun; the tradeoff, however, is that the present profiles as dreary ...
... if you care about or expect winning. Which, again, Phoenix’s decision-making has told us we should not. Instead, then, let’s just have fun with what should be a more watchable bad team than the Suns’ fellow top-pick-pursuers in Philly.
If he stays healthy, fourth-year monster Eric Bledsoe should nearly double the minutes he played last season; this is good news if you enjoy fun. He should play many of them in a two-point-guard backcourt alongside incumbent Goran Dragic, who is also fun. The strip-mining of other veterans from the backcourt rotation all but assures minutes for rookie Archie Goodwin, who seems fun; similarly, while he’s been slowed by ankle injuries, No. 5 overall pick Alex Len should get ample opportunity to earn playing time with only preseason surprise Miles Plumlee and Viacheslav Kravtsov in front of him at center until new acquisition Emeka Okafor gets healthy.
Also, Gerald Green will be on the wing:
... which tends to be fun, especially in an up-tempo system, which is exactly what new head coach Jeff Hornacek is looking for with all these young athletes.
Phoenix won’t play many games that really count this year, save for those near the end of the season that will matter in terms of lottery positioning (and even then, only if they do not lose them). Within the context of all that consequence-less basketball, though, there will be elements of things that matter. Bledsoe blowing up an opponent’s half-court offense with ball pressure before racing out in transition to feed Green for a thunderous finish. Bledsoe and Dragic combining to stymie defenses for stretches with their speed and slickness. The first glimpses of Len and Goodwin playing inside-out. Channing Frye sinking a season-opening triple 13-plus months in the making.
These moments will be tasty -- never a well-balanced meal, but an enjoyable late-night snack as you flick through those West Coast League Pass games over on the deep end of the dial. The Suns themselves aren’t shying away from the value of that as they embark on a grand rebuild, and neither should we.
Honorable mentions: ... Nah, I think I got everything.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
Of the teams that are almost certainly going to be bad this season, the Suns hold the best chance of becoming a watchable team. That’s almost entirely because of the presence of Eric Bledsoe, the eminently exciting guard obtained via trade from the Clippers this offseason. In his three seasons in Los Angeles, Bledsoe impacted games as a sparkplug in various ways, essentially proving he had the potential to contribute all over the court without looking totally sure he’d established an identity. That was at least partially the case because many of us thought he could be a star when given the opportunity.
Although the Suns’ best talent rests in their backcourt, Bledsoe should get every opportunity to prove he’s up to that role this season. He’ll get to dominate the ball, be part of a fast-paced system, and just generally figure himself out what he is without the pressure to be part of a playoff team. After three seasons of proving he deserved a chance to shine, Bledsoe no longer has to wait.
I, for one, could not be more excited to see how he measures up. No matter how much we focus on the best teams in the league, some of the greatest pleasures of NBA basketball come in discovering what a player can do and how often he can do it. Bledsoe’s going to show us something we haven’t seen, and that makes him even more exciting than what we already know him to be.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Houston Rockets • Memphis Grizzlies • New Orleans Pelicans • San Antonio Spurs • Minnesota Timberwolves • Oklahoma City Thunder • Portland Trail Blazers • Utah Jazz • Golden State Warriors • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers