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

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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.