Ryan McDonough Rumors

Keeping Brandon Knight is priority for Suns

The Suns were in this situation with Bledsoe a year ago and it dragged out the entire summer before he signed a five-year, $70 million deal. The Suns will be more proactive and are working with a more communicative client. “He’s a guy who made a good impression on us,” McDonough said of Knight. “He didn’t play as much as we’d like because of the injury but, at 23 years old, it’s amazing how young he is given he’s been in the league four years and was a borderline All-Star last year for Milwaukee. He’s certainly one of our top priorities, if not the top priority. We want a quick process with all of our guys, him included. We’ve got good vibes from him about his time in Phoenix. I imagine he will be one of the first guys we call, if not the first.”
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The Suns are not permitted to comment on free agents but Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough, in keeping with an approach he laid out upon his 2013 introduction, said the team would pursue top talent by free agency or trade. “We’re going to be aggressive and target the best players,” McDonough said. “I think you’ll see us go after the top guys. We hope to get meetings with some of the top free agents and sell them on all Phoenix has to offer. You win big in this league with elite players. We had some success over the past couple years, not as much as we’d like this past year, but we’re going to be aggressive. There’s a great history and tradition here. You saw how a player like Steve Nash transforms an organization when he arrives. We’d be doing a disservice to ourselves and our fans if we didn’t go after the top guys.”
They have to determine quickly whether they are in the mix. Free agency scenarios move fast. If there is no realistic chance at the top players, the Suns do not want their time taken or cap space frozen while other targets move on. The Suns have needs to fill with the frontcourt, shooting and a third point guard. “We’ll ask them to be honest with us about our chances,” McDonough said. “Some of it is a gut feel and a gut call about how much of a chance you have and how realistic it is to be picked by a player.”
Babby’s second contract as Suns president of basketball operations will expire at the end of July but he will remain a part-time senior adviser. Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough takes over as head of basketball operations. Babby, 64, never intended to stay past his first three-year contract but he is smitten with Phoenix, where he will stay involved in Suns contract negotiations and salary-cap management. The change will not be a major shake-up with McDonough, after two years in Phoenix, already leading much of the operation and Babby hesitating to even cut back to half as much work.
A playoff spectator can’t be picky about who could make the team better. The Suns held their first draft workout Tuesday, although there was not a candidate for the 13th pick in the six-player bunch. The daily workouts in the coming days will include lottery-range prospects in a draft that Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said has a talent drop-off after their No. 13 spot. “As a non-playoff team, I think you need help everywhere,” McDonough said. “So we’ll take the best player, even if that goes against what some people think we should do in terms of conventional wisdom. I think, unless you’re a championship-level team, you always take the best available player. Our philosophy is if he’s better than the guys who are on your current roster, maybe he beats him out and you move one of the guys on your current roster. I think some mistakes, in the history of the draft, are made drafting for saying, ‘Oh, we need this. Let’s do the best player who does whatever.’ When you draft that guy, you tend to reach sometimes.”
The Suns also have the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, 22, a Serbian guard who has won the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy the past two years and has a NBA out in his contract for next summer. The prevalence in youth makes trading out of the first round a possibility for the Suns. “At some point, there is a saturation point for young players as you try to put together a team that is capable of competing and making the playoffs in the Western Conference,” McDonough said after making five first-round picks in two years. “I think it (trading the pick) is something we’re more open to than in the past but, at the same time, we like the players that we think will be there at 13.”
“Usually teams do one or the other. You try to compete, and that involves getting rid of young players, maybe bringing in some more veteran players, trading draft picks for vets. Or you rebuild, and that means trading away veteran players, really only focusing on picks and young players. The challenge is to do both. I think the really good organizations can do it, but it’s tricky. I think when you’re with an organization like the Celtics or the Suns that have great history and tradition, it’s not really acceptable or certainly not desirable to bottom out. You don’t want to bottom out and hope for luck in the lottery. “I admire the way the Celtics have done it,” he said. “They’ve done a tremendous job. They’ve got all the future picks in the queue that are coming down the line. They have some good young players. Obviously they have excellent management and coaching. The fans will see over time how things will work out.”
Another local guy now running an NBA team, Hingham’s Ryan McDonough, GM of the Suns, mentioned the Celts’ ability to avoid going deep into the tank while rebuilding. “I think they’ve done a terrific job of not only gathering assets but also remaining competitive while they do it,” said McDonough, formerly the assistant GM under Ainge. “It’s not an easy thing to do. We’ve tried to do a similar thing in Phoenix.
The Suns exceeded expectations two seasons ago and failed to meet them this season. McDonough said the truth lies in between. “If we’re realistic with ourselves, a lot of guys had career years last year,” McDonough said. “For whatever reason, a lot of players who stayed or who left in free agency or who we traded weren’t able to sustain that same level. We all share responsibility in how this season has gone. It’s been a challenge. The team last year probably wasn’t as good, in terms of potential, upside and growth to take it to the next level, as a lot of people thought. Where we are now, despite the struggles and factoring in injuries and youth, we’re probably not as bad as people are making it out to be.”
Five in-season trades and 23 roster players were not in the plan. McDonough said the Suns’ failure to take advantage of an easier early schedule set the path. By mid-December, the Suns were 12-14 with five home losses to teams now with losing records. “We’ve tried to do something that’s not easy to do,” McDonough said. “We tried to turn over the roster with talented, young players who have some potential but probably aren’t ready to win yet at the highest levels. But we also tried to stay competitive in a brutal Western Conference. Usually, teams try to do one or the other. They load up on veteran guys and trade draft picks and go all in or they completely blow up and gut the team and try to acquire and play a bunch of young guys.”
The Suns are 2½ games behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot with a Thursday home matchup with the Thunder, in what could be considered the most important game of the season. The upheaval has to subside soon for Phoenix to fulfill expectations. “We just have to start winning,” McDonough said. “Despite all the changes and the turmoil, we’re two games out of the eighth spot right now. We’re going to see what we can do. Since we made the moves, the vibe around our team is better. The players have more energy. I feel good about our direction.”
“Heading into the All-Star break, we didn’t love the vibe around our team,” McDonough said. “I feel like there was a little more selfishness than there was last year. I think there’s some guys probably more concerned about their stats or individual contract status than team success. That’s one thing we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to build a culture, trying to find the core guys, the key guys to build around. I feel like we’re getting closer.’’ “Sometimes the players look at it and the agents look at it and say ‘What’s best for my client?’ As a player, ‘What benefits me the most?’ That was a bit disappointing. [The three-guard offense] certainly didn’t succeed. It certainly didn’t fail but we’re fine with that.”
The Suns employ an unorthodox front office in which the business and basketball sides of the organization share analytics resources, as overseen by Zaheer Benjamin, VP for business planning and basketball analytics. According to sources, that structure has led to tension and miscommunication between the two groups. But a source familiar with the Phoenix front office says the organization has begun to work through the issue, with more dedicated analysts available to basketball operations. Suns GM Ryan McDonough comes from a scouting background, but his formative experience with the Boston Celtics has given him an appreciation for statistical analysis, and assistant GM Trevor Buckstein gets high marks for his understanding of analytics.
He called Knight “the best player in the trade coming or going” and ,of criticism that the Suns traded their best player, McDonough said, “My response would be that Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris still are in Phoenix Suns uniforms.” Knight, McDonough said, has excellent character and “has excelled in everything he has done his entire life.” “He’s one of the top 3-point shooters in the league,” McDonough said. “He’s a big-game player. He’s a late-game player. He’s a game closer.”
McDonough said he never saw the reported list of Dragic’s preferred destinations. “Maybe it was written in vanishing ink,” McDonough said. “I guess my perspective is it wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on. … Once he told us he didn’t want to be here and the manner in which he and his agent handled the situation, we really didn’t care if there was a list or not.”
Also keep in mind that the Suns general manager is Ryan McDonough, a former assistant GM in Boston. And McDonough has already done a pair of deals with the Celtics this season. In January, the Celtics traded Brandan Wright to Phoenix, and later that month Boston, as part of a three-team deal that included the Suns, sent Austin Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers to play for ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers . . . who is also Austin’s father.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told local Phoenix radio on Wednesday that he feels his team is “a little too backcourt heavy” and “at some point we’ll need to balance that out, try to get a little more size, a little more frontcourt scoring and rebounding.” Finding that roster balance could come this week in the way of a Dragic trade, but it would be tough to deal one of your best assets in the midst of a highly competitive playoff race.