Today we had the privilege to do reciprocating interviews with Jim Coughenour of BrightSideoftheSun, SBNation's Phoenix Suns site. We both answered the same questions. You can read his thoughts below and check out mine on BSOTS when they post it in the morning. Enjoy!
What were the major moves for Phoenix this offseason?
The Suns selected Kendall Marshall with the 13th pick in the draft. His prodigious court vision and playmaking leave him uniquely suited to carry on the tradition of great point guard play in Phoenix dependent upon him stultifying his critics by ameliorating the deficiencies in his game.
Phoenix's first phone call when the free agency period began went to Michael Beasley. After their first directive had been accomplished they turned their attention to the grim task of filling the vacuous void at the point guard position left in the wake of Aaron Brooks' exit via free agency. Luckily enough, the point guard they sent down to their Texas farm system had burgeoned given the opportunity of increased playing time and Goran Dragic triumphantly returned to Phoenix to take the place at the helm of the Suns just as he had appeared to be destined to do years prior.
The serendipitous acquisition of the savvy veteran Luis Scola by way of amnesty waiver claim fortified the front line. A trade involving Robin Lopez netted the Suns Wes Johnson and a future first round pick. The Suns also secured four additional draft picks from the Lakers in a deal whose details still seem to be somewhat turbid. In what wasn't a major move, but some view as a massive blow, Channing Frye is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart.
The totality of the moves resulted in a mix of proven assets and unknown commodities. In what appears to be an ironic coincidence, the Suns acquired two players this summer (Dragic and Scola) who happen to play the same positions as the last two players they drafted. The team appears thin at the two, but wasn't able to address this need. The Suns still seem to lack a true identity or a cornerstone they can build around. After an era full of marketable and recognizable players, most of the current roster is largely alien to the average fan.
How do the early returns look after the first preseason game?
The Suns had about as many positive notes as there possibly could be after their first game considering they lost to the Kings. The starting unit of Dragic, Dudley, Beasley, Scola and Gortat led the Suns to a 30 point first quarter and all contributed with solid, if not superlative, play. Beasley led the team in assists as he flaunted both his playmaking skills and shooting stroke while having the best overall performance of the night for the Suns. Wes Johnson was active and led the team in scoring with 18 points. Markieff Morris carried over his aggressiveness from the summer league and went for 16 points and seven rebounds. A fourth quarter collapse by the second unit was less than memorable, but even on the back end of that players such as Marshall still fought down the stretch. Considering that wins and losses are probably the least important aspect of all in the preseason I would say that the first outing provided reasons for optimism.
What are you looking for from the team and/or specific players during the remainder of the preseason?
Although the Suns' starting unit is mostly set, there are still battles going on for rotation minutes. The starting shooting guard spot was said to be undecided going into training camp, but Dudley seems to have secured that spot and Brown is currently missing time with an eye injury. Markieff Morris continuing on his ascending trajectory is something fans will be obsessing over. If he can either wrestle the starting position away from Scola as the season progresses or outplay him from the bench it would adumbrate favorably as Morris stands a much better chance of being a part of the next era of Suns basketball. Marshall appears to be slated as the third string point guard to start the season, but any burn he can get against NBA level competition can only be a plus. There are still spots at the end of the roster which are being fought for by camp invitees. I personally am keeping an eye on the team's pace after repeated declarations that the team intended to get out and run this season.
Cohesiveness and chemistry are the operative words for the practices and preseason games. The Suns will have eight new players on the roster on opening night and jelling quickly so that the team doesn't struggle early is imperative. Gentry has shown a proclivity for manipulating the rotations during the season to find the right mix, so any information he can glean early on that accelerates that process would be beneficial. We disport ourselves around these parts by setting over/unders on the number of games it will take him to find the right fit. The recurring theme seems to be a slow start followed by a stretch of improved play as the team develops continuity that is ultimately derailed by some late season mishap which results in the Suns finding themselves in the familiar position of selecting #13 in the draft.
What are the goals for this year and the long term direction?
The goal for this season is simple. Make the playoffs. The Suns have missed the postseason three of the last four years, a dubious feat they hadn't accomplished since the 1980's. The fans in Phoenix aren't used to, or tolerant of, this level of mediocrity. Phoenix sports fans have a predilection for apathetic behavior with respect to underperforming sports teams. They've earned their fair weather reputation. The bottom line is that people will largely tune out the Suns if they continue with their current treadmill strategy. The dynamic that has some fans interest piqued going into the season is that this is the first time in several years that the performance of the team is lent to caprice and unpredictability. The style of play the last few seasons had become more plodding and the ceiling was modest and easily recognizable. This season provides a sense of mystery, if nothing else. While many pundits prophesy a bleak fate filled with fire and brimstone, some fans (including myself) haven't ruled out the possibility that this team might surprise people and exceed expectations.
The long term direction is more nebulous. The head coach, general manager and president of basketball operations are all entering the year on expiring deals. The team enters the season under the salary cap as part of the current front office's manifesto of patience, prudence and fiscal responsibility. The Suns have many reasonable midlevel deals and will be capable of clearing space to compete for top level free agents next summer. Veterans have been replaced by young players with promise and potential. There has been talk of using the current flexibility to take advantage of cap strapped teams in one sided trades, but so far it has been just that. Talk.
The vision of the team has been to contend while rebuilding (conbuilding), but some worry that the team has become stagnant in this process (stagbuilding). Now it remains to be seen whether the team has upgraded during this process or merely sidegraded from an old team struggling to make the playoffs to a young team struggling to make the playoffs. The last time the Suns tried to replace a star player (Stoudemire) that left in free agency with decent players on reasonable contracts it didn't work out so well. Only the future will tell if the plan this time around yields better results, but some of the powers that be in the organization might not be around to see them.