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Lessons of Celtics 2007 draft taught Suns GM not to tank for picks

Dec 24, 2013, 2:02 PM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

While from the outside it looked like the Suns were going bad to get good this season, they never saw it that way.

Young new GM Ryan McDonough traded for Eric Bledsoe and believed in the Goran Dragic/Bledsoe backcourt when few did. He was right.

More than that he stockpiled picks and also went and got Miles Plumlee. Most of all he found a quality coach ready for the big stage in Jeff Hornack.

McDonough came from Boston and it was his experience there that taught him the perils of tanking for a pick, as he told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. There was always a bigger plan — one that has worked out with a 17-10 record and has the Suns as the NBA’s biggest surprise this season.

When the Celtics missed on Kevin Durant and Greg Oden in the 2007 lottery with the fifth overall pick, Ainge had the assets to make deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics had cultivated young prospects and gathered picks to make the trades. McDonough was part of it all, as he had been the failed free-agent courtships to come play in those cold New England winters. For all of the Celtics’ tradition and history, Phoenix has been a far more appealing professional and lifestyle destination for players.

“To have a season where everything goes wrong and you’re just hoping for the pingpong balls to bounce your way – and then hope you draft the right guy, who then turns into a great player – that’s not something I’m comfortable doing and Jeff (Hornacek), Lon (Babby, Suns president) and ownership wanted no part of it,” McDonough told Yahoo Sports.

“We can keep drafting and adding to our talent, or we have six first-round picks over the next two years and could accelerate the process using picks and our cap space to trade for a star player.

“We have max cap space next summer and we will be chasing the top guys. But if we don’t get them, it won’t be the end of the world. Then, we will hope to draft well and put together a group that might take a little longer to get to a contending level, but will have a longer timeline together.”

Some team is going to strike lottery gold this season, maybe more than one team — and maybe not the franchise that lands the No. 1 pick, you never quite know how draft picks will pan out (see Greg Oden).

But whether you do or don’t there has to be a plan in place to build. They have that in Phoenix. It already is showing on the court, but for Suns fans the best days seem to be just a few years ahead.

  1. brianscalabrine - Dec 24, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    Can’t really disagree with what he is saying. Every year, 5 or 6 (even more this year) teams are absolutely horrible in the hope they get either the #1 or #2 pick. And, more often than not, the worst team in the league does not get the top pick. Just look at the Bobcats that past few years.

    For Phoenix, collecting those draft picks and hoping to hit a home run with the multitude of picks is a great idea, especially if they feel like they are going to be a top 8 seed in the West and will never get a top 3 pick. But, then again, maybe they swap some of those picks for another team’s future first-rounder and hope that team stinks up the joint like the Knicks are doing with the pick they traded to Denver for the 2014 draft.

    The only problem I see with this GM’s plan is keeping those stars for years 8-12 of their careers, often the mega-prime of a superstar’s career. If they trade away picks/young pieces for a star and he bolts as an UFA, then they have to start all over again. The most ideal scenario would be drafting a player that turns into a superstar that they can control for AT LEAST 7 years, or hoping to snag a free agent that will sign during his late 20’s-early 30’s part of his career.

    • pbtunpaidwriter - Dec 26, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      David Kahn disagrees with the Suns’s strategy. He was probably the worst GM ever.

      His strategy is to stockpile tons of first round picks and never trade for a proven star. Rubio is probably the most overrated PG ever (see his FG% in his first 3 seasons) and shrinks when the games close. (They haven’t won a game within 4 points ALL season.)

      I feel bad for Kevin Love. Dude might not even make the playoffs in the stacked West.

  2. glenuendo - Dec 24, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    So the Utah Jazz let Jeff Hornacek go to coach Phoenix and keep Ty Corbin? That really hurts.

  3. jadaruler - Dec 25, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    I rather do it the OKC way than the Knicks-Nets way. I would go after free agents but I would rather do trades and draft because you can control the market to a degree.

    • brunobuckeye - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      The success of Oklahoma City is the exception not the rule.

  4. 1historian - Dec 25, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    You’re courting an FA. He comes to Boston, probably with his posse, etc. You sweet-talk him until you’re blue in the face.

    Better idea – Bring him to Boston, take him to lunch at Legal Seafood, take him to the Garden, take him inside, take him to the darkened playing court, tell him to just stand there. (The posse just stands back)

    Turn on the lights so the 17 NBA Championship banners are visible along with all the retired numbers.

    Point to be made – you’re the only team that can do that. How many does Phoenix have?

  5. gofinsgoheatfloria - Dec 25, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    The FA’s mind is on the present and the near-to-middle future, where Phoenix just may be looking good to him. Later in your pitch, when the FA has a good view of what you’re doing now and will be doing and where he will fit in, the banners in the rafters should play well, but as a starting gambit – color me dubious.

    • 1historian - Dec 25, 2013 at 4:05 PM

      The FA would already have the view of what you’re doing now and where he will fit. “Look where we are now, look at the immediate future – (in the summer of 2014) – we have 7 1st round picks in the next 4 drafts.”

      THEN do the banners in the rafters.

      Have you ever had dinner at Legal Seafood? .

    • 1historian - Dec 25, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      One more thing – I appreciate your civil comment.

  6. xli2006 - Dec 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    Or the lesson of this year’s Cavs. Land the top overall pick and throw it away on Bennett who has had a near comical
    year for a #1.

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