Ty Jerome

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Suns improve, but to what end?

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

While coaching Marist, Jeff Bower hosted a middling recruit named Cameron Johnson. Bower was ahead of the curve. Bringing Johnson to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference would’ve been a coup. Bigger programs eventually realized Johnson’s ability, and he bypassed Marist for the ACC (Pittsburgh then North Carolina).

Bower and Johnson reunited this summer. The Bower-employing Suns drafted Johnson No. 11 overall.

Delightful coincidence or distressing signal?

Since leaving Marist, Bower got hired by the Pistons, ran day-to-day operations in Detroit’s front office the entire San Van Gundy era, got fired by the Pistons, sat out a full season and got hired by Phoenix. It has been a long time since his initial meeting with Johnson.

Put another way: Johnson is old.

At 23, he’s one of the oldest lottery picks in the last 20 years. His 23-and-over company aside from Buddy Hield (No. 6 in 2016) is uninspiring. The others: Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 in 2010), Tyler Hansbrough (No. 13 in 2009), Al Thornton (No. 14 in 2007), Rafael Araújo (No. 8 in 2004), Melvin Ely (No. 12 in 2002), Fred Jones (No. 14 in 2002), Courtney Alexander (No. 13 in 2000).

Johnson is a polished shooter. There’s a chance he could fill a rotation role for Phoenix next season. But it’ll be a limited role. His upside appears low. His injury history is troubling.

Off all the ways the Suns misplaced their priorities and operated like novices this summer, drafting Johnson stands out.

Phoenix entered the draft with the No. 6 pick then traded down for No. 11 and Dario Saric. Saric is a fine player, but not someone – one year from free agency – who justifies watching prospects like Jarrett Culver and Coby White go off the board. Then, the Suns made the shocking reach for Johnson.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, that multi-blunder process doesn’t even cover everything that went wrong this summer. In James Jones’ first year as general manager, the Suns were determined to get their desired players and improve quickly. Missions accomplished. But Phoenix’s short-term upgrades came with too little consideration for value and where the team is in its ascent.

The big addition was Ricky Rubio – a solid starting point guard on a team that had no point guard. He’ll solidify so many disparate parts around him. But h didn’t come cheap at three years, $51 million.

A pair of draft-day trade agreements with the Pacers and Celtics helped clear cap room for Rubio. But Phoenix’s return was disappointing. The Suns traded up from No. 32 to No. 24, relinquished the Bucks’ 2020 first-rounder, unloaded T.J. Warren (three years, $35.25 million remaining) and took Aron Baynes (one year, $5,453,280 remaining). I at least like using the No. 24 pick on Ty Jerome.

That didn’t open enough cap space for Rubio, though. So, the Suns had to trade Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and a second-rounder or two to the Grizzlies for Jevon Carter. None of those prospects – including 2017 No. 4 pick Jackson – are great. But Phoenix had to forfeit some upside in order to clear cap room.

The Suns used the full room exception on Frank Kaminsky (two years with a team option). Again, not great value.

Neither was re-signing Kelly Oubre for two years, $30 million. But at least that was justifiable, because Phoenix held him at a lower number and had his Bird Rights. Oubre is an interesting young player who fits the long-term vision the Suns should be prioritizing.

Phoenix didn’t completely ignore youth this summer. Cheick Diallo and undrafted Jalen Lecque have upside and signed deals that grant substantial team control. Still, they were low-priority moves.

It’s easy to see what happened in Phoenix. The Suns have missed the playoffs a franchise-worst nine straight years and got impatient. They want to win now.

Rubio will help. The other new role players will help. New coach Monty Williams will help.

But even with all its immediate improvements, Phoenix is highly unlikely to make the playoffs next season. Would going from 19 to 34 wins really feel that much better, especially considering the downgrade in lottery odds? I don’t think so.

The bigger picture hasn’t changed much. The Suns are building around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Phoenix can still grow into a winner around those two.

I doubt it happens next season. And because of this summer’s moves, the Suns will have fewer resources to use when Booker and Ayton are actually ready to win.

Offseason grade: D+

Report: Suns signing Frank Kaminsky for room exception

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Frank Kaminsky wanted a buyout from the Hornets last season. That Kaminsky thought a buyout was even feasible speaks volumes about his career. He was a former No. 9 pick in just his fourth season. Players with that pedigree don’t get bought out so early unless things have really gone south.

Charlotte didn’t acquiesce and finally put Kaminsky into the rotation late last season. Kaminsky played relatively well down the stretch.

Well enough to earn this surprisingly lucrative contract.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This looks like the room exception, which would pay Kaminsky $9,772,350 ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season).

The Suns certainly have their own way of valuing players.

General manager James Jones seems to care about shooting. First-round picks Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome and Kaminsky are good shooters. (Don’t ask how free agent Ricky Rubio fits. Phoenix just needed a point guard.) Shooting is certainly an important skill. But Phoenix might have gone overboard at the expense of other areas – like defense and rebounding.

Coby White astonished by Suns drafting Cameron Johnson No. 11 (video)

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North Carolina point guard Coby White – the Bulls’ No. 7 pick – was doing his NBA draft media session when the Suns chose North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson No. 11.

I recommend the video to see White’s emotions, but the the transcript captured his words:

Q. Cameron Johnson just went 11th. How do you react to that news?

COBY WHITE: Cam went 11th?

Q. Yeah, it’s right on the screen right there.

COBY WHITE: Wow. Wow. Wow, bro! That’s crazy. That’s so low, bro. Y’all know Cam? You don’t know how hard Cam worked. There’s a lot of people that doubt him. But wow, that’s crazy, bro. Wow, that’s so crazy. I’m so happy for him right now. Y’all don’t understand how happy I am for Cam. He proved it night in, night out that he deserves to be in the conversation for a lottery pick, man. He shot the ball like anybody I’ve never seen before in my life or played with. Wow. I’m getting chills up here.

I had a similar reaction – minus the deep happiness for Johnson, whom I’ve never met.

I was stunned.

Johnson ranked No. 27 on my board, and that wasn’t a major outlier. Johnson was a fifth-year senior who does little besides shoot. (At least he shoots very well). There are also long-term health concerns.

Suns general manager James Jones is definitely putting his stamp on the franchise. He traded T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers, traded the No. 6 pick to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, traded for No. 24 pick Ty Jerome (another upperclassman) and gave undrafted Jalen Lecque an unusually large guarantee.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Of all those moves yesterday, drafting Johnson so high was the eye-popping one.

It’s very cool White shared his joy for his teammate. That showed their bond and looked like a genuine moment.

But White also displayed a shock many of us were feeling, and that will probably be what gets remembered.

Winners and losers from 2019 NBA Draft

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Let’s just own this up front: Picking the winners and losers from a draft the night it happens is a fool’s errand. If we were doing this right, tonight we’d be picking the winners and losers of the 2016 NBA Draft, because it takes about that long to get a real sense of how teams did. (Denver with Jamal Murray, Toronto with Pascal Siakam, and the Bucks with Malcolm Brogdon nailed it; Philly did fine with Ben Simmons at No. 1, but Phoenix took Dragan Bender at No. 4 and misfired.)

That, however, is not the instant gratification world we live in.

So here are our winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Draft.

Winner:

The New Orleans Pelicans. Thanks, Captain Obvious. The Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery, so when the draft itself rolled around all they needed to do was not screw it up. They got it right and took Zion Williamson No. 1. That is a massive win. New Orleans gets the highest rated player in the draft since Anthony Davis, and the most marketable rookie probably since LeBron James. It may have been a no-brainer, it doesn’t make the night any less of a success.

As for the rest of their moves, David Griffin traded out of the No. 4 pick and turned it into the No. 8 pick (Jaxson Hayes), No. 17 pick (Nickeil Alexander-Walker), and the No. 35 pick (Marcos Louzada Silva of Brazil). There are some development projects in there, but we don’t need to see how they pan out to know the Pelicans still win because they drafted Zion Williamson.

Winner:

The Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta moved up in the draft last year to get Trae Young, and a year later that seems a wise call. This year the Hawks moved up again, this time to the No. 4 pick to get De'Andre Hunter — the highest floor player in this draft whose first name doesn’t start with “Z.” Hunter is going to be a quality wing defender who can knock down shots and make plays on the perimeter, having a Trevor Ariza kind of impact. Put that with Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter, and you’ve got something to build on in the ATL. The Hawks also snapped up Duke’s Cam Reddish at No. 10, a player with All-Star level upside who should be able to thrive in the NBA with more space on the floor (at least that’s what his supporters say, Reddish needs to prove there’s not some Andrew Wiggins in him).

The Hawks were already League Pass favorites the second half of last season, this season they will be even more show-stopping with these pick ups.

Loser:

The Phoenix Suns. They came into the draft with the No. 6 pick and a glaring need at point guard, plus they could use some more consistent wing play. Jarrett Culver was on the board at six and would have been a good fit next to Devin Booker. Coby White, the third highest rated point guard in this draft, was on the board. Instead, the Suns traded down in a deal with the Timberwolves, picking up Dario Saric — a nice stretch four but one who hits restricted free agency next summer and will be expensive to keep — and the No. 11 pick, which they used on Cameron Johnson, a good shooter out of North Carolina, but one who has hip issues and most teams had in the 20s on their boards. Earlier in the day, the Suns traded in-demand T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers for cash considerations.

So to recap: The Suns gave up Warren, didn’t take Culver, and surrendered the No. 32 pick for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric. Um… not good.

The Suns aren’t total losers because they got Ty Jerome at No. 24, a quality pickup at that spot, and maybe they get a good, veteran point guard in free agency. Still, their moves remain head scratching.

Winner:

The Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are a bad, rebuilding team. It’s understandable in the wake of a title run and LeBron leaving, but that is their reality right now. They simply need more talent on the roster. That means they had one goal in this draft: Take the best player, the guy with the highest upside, regardless of position. The Cavaliers did that. At No. 5 they took Darius Garland, a player some teams had as high as third on their draft boards — and they did it despite the fact they had Collin Sexton on the roster. That’s how you draft, take the best players and sort it out later. Then they took high upside guys late in the first round: Dylan Windler out of Belmont at No. 28 (42.9 percent from three) and trading up to get Kevin Porter Jr. at No. 30. Maybe that pans out, maybe it doesn’t, but they were good gambles at that point in the draft on guys who could be steals that late.

Loser:

Bol Bol. He was a winner in this sense: Not everybody can pull off that suit, but he did.

However, a 7’2″ skilled big man who captured the imaginations of fans — and who some teams might have taken late in the first round — fell all the way down the board to No. 44, when the Miami Heat took him. Then immediately traded him to Denver. He’s got a lot of potential, but two things scared teams off. First was the foot injury that required two screws be put in his foot — those kinds of injuries in big men scare teams. Second, and even a more significant factor, were serious concerns about his work ethic and how much he loves the game. Is he going to put in the work? Still, to see him fall and all the players taken ahead of him at the start of the second round — once the contracts are no longer guaranteed — was stunning. And awkward as he sat in the NBA’s Green Room, waiting.

Winner:

R.J. Barrett. He desperately wanted to be a Knick. Now he is, New York took him No. 3. Barrett was leaning into it and the New York crowd all night. Good for him, Barrett has the potential to be an outstanding player in the NBA. He’s got the tools.

But be careful what you wish for… New York has chewed up and spit out a lot of good players.

Report: Suns trading for No. 24 pick (Ty Jerome), Aron Baynes from Celtics

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Suns general manager James Jones said he’s prioritizing players in their prime over prospects. I figured that meant deemphasizing the draft and focusing on free agency.

Instead, Phoenix is finding veterans in the draft.

After shockingly choosing fifth-year senior Cameron Johnson with the No. 11 pick, the Suns traded back in the first round to get savvy Virginia guard Ty Jerome.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

That Bucks pick is top-seven-protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021. Milwaukee will likely push that pick into the late 20s with another strong season, but there is theoretical upside with those light protections.

The Celtics get that pick and unload Aron Baynes, as desired. Boston can now open about $26 million in cap space if renouncing everyone besides Terry Rozier. Renounce Rozier, and that climbs to about $34 million.

That spending power could help the Celtics retool after Kyrie Irving and Al Horford leave.

The Suns get Jerome, whom I like even more than Johnson.