The offseason has begun for the Phoenix Suns.
Obviously, no one wants to hear this. We want to talk playoffs. We want to talk about home court advantage. We want to talk about the Suns being on national television twice in one week. No matter how fun the present is, this season is about the future.
The start of the offseason began immediately after the trade deadline. Once the Suns decided to do nothing, they weren't saying the Suns were a finished product. It was simply an announcement that there were no deals available that helped short-term and long-term at the same time. Championship teams should sacrifice long-term for a chance at a championship. Teams that fail are the ones that continually change the plan or the model in the middle --- like trading for Shaq.
We all want the Suns to go as far as they can in the playoffs, but it doesn't change the fact that this season is more about answering questions. The major question has been answered, which is the front office. Robert Sarver has the correct people in place with Lon Babby, Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek running the franchise. Here are the most important questions that need to be answered based on the results of the rest of the season.
5) WILL ALEX LEN PRODUCE?
I don't care how much it hurts, Len must play. I'm not talking to him. If he's hurt, of course he shouldn't play. I'm talking to the Suns. Even if Len is hurting you on the court in one game, he still plays the next game. There is no reasonable goal that can be achieved this year that trumps Len receiving playing time. The Suns need Len to play this year, play well in the summer league and be a strong contributor next year. A top 5 pick in the NBA Draft needs to be starting by the 2nd All-Star game following his rookie season, regardless of injury.
4) IS GORAN DRAGIC THE STAR YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?
It's easy for us to say the Suns just need a LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but guess what? There are only two of those. Almost every championship team is based on two formulas: one legendary player and two good ones or three all-stars.
We've all loved watching Dragic grow up, however, are we taking him granted? You would think that his hometown crowd would be the one that loves him the most, but in our desire to find a star, we might be missing a protostar in our midst. Dragic needs to work on his free throw shooting and become more consistent during crunch time (inside the last minute of a game). If Dragic embraces being the go-to guy, he's a lot closer to being the big name player the band wagon Suns fan is screaming for.
3) HAS PLUMLEE HIT THE WALL OR IS HE A BENCH PIECE?
Miles Plumlee has a place on the Phoenix Suns. Every championship team has the hustle and energy guy. Plumlee took the world by storm to start the year. He has seriously regressed since the start of the New Year. He was averaging seven double-figure points games per month in the first three months. He has one in February. 2013 ended with eight double-doubles in points and rebounds. Plumlee has two in 2014.
Since Plumlee played more games in November of 2013 than he did in his entire first year in the league, he could easily have hit the wall. If his downturn in production is due to the opponents taking the Suns more seriously, he's a solid front-court sub and should only be played in spurts for a championship team.
2) WHO IS THE REAL MARKIEFF MORRIS?
For 2.5 years, Markieff Morris was going through the motions. He played lazy basketball. Morris settled for jumpers instead of taking the ball to the hole. He seemed shocked at the banging and energy it took to rebound in the NBA. Morris played like he was coddled and entitled.
Jeff Hornacek was in charge of scouting the Suns last year for the Jazz. He was put in charge of the Suns this year. He has seen Morris' roller coaster career. After a road trip that put all of Morris' issues of inconsistent effort on display, Hornacek had a talk with Morris. How well was that received?
From the start of season up to the game he was ejected in New York, Morris averaged 9.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg.
From the first game after the conversation until Sunday's Rockets game, Morris is up 6.4 ppg and has added an extra rebound. It's not just the numbers; Morris now fights for the ball. He doesn't check out mentally for long stretches while on the court.
It appeared Morris was a guy who saps energy from the team and teases with a great performance every four games. It also appears Morris is the 6th Man of the Year and an important building block to a championship contender.
1) WHERE DOES BLEDSOE FIT?
If Eric Bledsoe plays like he did before the surgery and stays healthy, the Suns have their starting backcourt set for the next three years. This is not an average backcourt. If you believe in the sample size, the Suns could actually have two All-Star guards starting for them.
The problem with the last paragraph: "IF and IF!" What do we really know about Bledsoe? In the first year of Bledsoe as a starter in the NBA, he's played in only 24 games. His recovery has been slower than expected. Is he worried about his knee or his contract? Does winning drive him or security? If he's playing for a contract, don't give it to him because players like that will always let you down. If he's truly pushing himself to return, the last month of the season will tell us everything we need to know.
It's impossible for us on the outside to know the answer to all these questions. If Ryan McDonough uses the information he gains from the remainder of the season and gets these questions exactly right, the Suns are a lot closer to a championship team than we are giving them credit.