Hey, Ryan McDonough. Good luck.
As far as rebuilding jobs go, McDonough could have found worse for his first general manager job. Well, maybe he couldn’t have. The Phoenix Suns are an unmitigated mess, coming off a disaster season and owned by a man who has yet to prove he can competently lead an NBA franchise. If McDonough can turn around that situation, he is every bit the expert player evaluator and talent analyst most observers think he is.
All indications are that McDonough knows what he is doing, which is why the 33-year-old’s hire was almost universally applauded when the Suns made the announcement on Tuesday. In a decade with the Celtics, McDonough rose from a video scout to assistant general manager, receiving credit for his role in adding players like Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley through the draft. Now he hopes to recapture the former glory of a team he helped fleece in a draft-day trade for Rondo in 2006.
This will not be easy. Independent of the managerial issues during Robert Sarver‘s stewardship — for a more detailed explanation of Sarver’s misdeeds, Google him — the Suns’ roster is a long way from looking like a viable NBA squad. They are a young team that is not really young, a veteran team without much postseason experience and an up-tempo team without any elite finishers. They had the worst record in the Western Conference this season, and every bit of that awful record was deserved.
The trouble for McDonough is, there is no easy out. The Suns do not have a bevy of expiring contracts or enticing, movable trade chips. The failure to move Jared Dudley in February was one of the more surprising non-moves of the trade deadline. Now they are left with a median age of 27, right at the average age of an NBA player, meaning they are not the young, up-and-coming group their marketing department would have their fans believe.
To borrow a few business terms, the roster is littered with redundancies and obsolescence. Goran Dragic, the point guard of the present, is signed for three more years, just one year less than Kendall Marshall, the point guard of the future. Dudley and Luis Scola, two heady players who could be very useful on the right team, will both be around through at least 2015.
The Suns can buy out Michael Beasley‘s contract after next season, and common sense dictates they absolutely will. Then again, common sense would also have said not to sign him to the three-year, $18-million deal the Suns gave him last summer. (While McDonough will surely support exercising the buyout, he may have to wrestle with Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby, who oversaw that deal with since-fired G.M. Lance Blanks.)
Although the Suns’ payroll is not irreparably bloated, with close to $16 million coming off the books between now and the start of the 2014-15 season, their best option appears to be working through the draft. In that, at least, the Suns have finally made a wise decision in hiring McDonough. The draft is what McDonough lives for. He helped find Rondo and Bradley outside the lottery, and with Phoenix holding two picks in the first round of this year’s draft, he must feel like Bill Belichick going into day two of the NFL draft with three second-round picks.
Based on their record, the Suns would pick fourth, where they can target a wing scorer like Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or a versatile forward like UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, and 30th. That second pick, slated to be the final selection of the first round, is more intriguing than it might seem. You may have heard that this is a “weak” draft. That is an oversimplification. Dissenting opinions insist that this draft, while not top-heavy with stars, could be deep with rotational players. If so, McDonough will find one at No. 30.
Rebuilding jobs are seldom simple, and one in Phoenix might be more complicated than most. Yet without that challenge, McDonough probably would not have been afforded this opportunity. No matter where his first G.M. job ended up being, it was unlikely to be a place where he would inherit multiple All-Stars and a future Hall of Fame coach. The crisis in Phoenix has forced the Suns to be more daring with a younger, less expensive alternative to the G.M. retreads that get handed around the league’s front offices.
McDonough has his shot. Now it is up to him to show what he can do.