Suns Phoenix has the 36th and last pick in the 1998 Usenet Draft.   Phoenix sent their first round pick to Denver as part of the McDyess trade.   Their GM is Mike Rosenberg.  In the real draft, Phoenix does not have a pick.

Mike selects: DeMarco Johnson, PF, 6-8, UNC-Charlotte


I: TEAM NEEDS/HISTORY:

Phoenix was one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA last season. Danny Ainge molded a collection of tweeners and undersized power players into a high-scoring squad who played up to four guards at once. Their season came to a grinding halt in the first round of the playoffs this year at the hands of San Antonio. In the words of Ainge, "They had too much size and we didn't have the offensive weapons to counter it." In other words, while small-ball looks good during the regular season, the grind of the playoffs exposes the weaknesses, which seem to be similar year in and year out.

The major weakness is rebounding and post play. Even when Phoenix had Charles Barkley, they were a mediocre rebounding team at best, and they consistently get pounded on the boards -- relying on a Doug-Moe-with-a-half-court-trap style to try to cover their weaknesses.Rebounding is an area they'll likely try to address in the offseason.

Ainge and Jerry Colangelo are trying to build a winner in the desert, and this offseason will be an interesting one. The Suns currently only have three players under contract for next season.They're looking to get a real boost through free agency. Until they start signing the free agents, it's difficult to see the specific strengths. But we can examine:

Who they still have:

  • Jason Kidd -- PG -- The future of the franchise. Probably will be one of the top few PG's in the league next season.
  • Steve Nash -- PG -- Kidd's backcourt backup. A very solid player, who will likely sign an extension when the labor dispute clears up.
  • Danny Manning -- PF/SF -- How many more knee surgeries can this guy take. Manning has already said that he's going to be ready by next season, and he's under contract until ‘01.

Colangelo rewards loyalty, and unless he's unable to perform, look for him on the roster next year.

Who they'll likely resign:

  • Rex Chapman -- SG -- The leading scorer. He's been playing for less than his value for a couple of years, and if the Bird exemption remains, he'll sign a pretty hefty contract. He and Kidd are a potent backcourt tandem.
  • Antonio McDyess -- PF -- Really adapted nicely to the system in Phoenix, and put up decent numbers. Still needs to become more aggressive on the boards and develop a consistent midrange game, but surely a keeper.
  • Mark Bryant -- PF/C -- The Suns will keep one of their two true post players
  • Hot Rod Williams -- makes 2 million more, so they'll probably keep the Seton Hall product for cap purposes.
  • Marko Milic -- SF -- They're intrigued at his potential, although he didn't play enough to make much of an impact.

Who they'll likely cut:

  • Clifford Robinson, SF/PF -- another playoff disappointment.
  • Dennis Scott, SF -- cap decision
  • Kevin Johnson, PG -- already gone
  • George McCloud, SF -- a tossup. They might keep him, since he's a lower-cost version of D.Scott, but he's expendable.
  • Mike Brown -- PF -- his time has come.

So, where does this leave the Suns? They have a skeleton crew of players and a slew of cap room to go after some top-flight free agents. Lots of players have been mentioned as possibly heading to Phoenix, and a couple of major signings could throw the Suns into the race in the West. Some of the names bandied about by the press as possibly heading to Phoenix are:

  • Scottie Pippen, SF, Chicago Bulls
  • Ike Austin, PF/C, L.A. Clippers
  • Arvydas Sabonis, C, Portland Trailblazers
  • Vlade Divac/Matt Geiger, C, Charlotte Hornets

II. WHO THEY ARE CONSIDERING

At #36, it's hard to see the Suns getting someone who's going to step in and really turn things around. They'll likely go for the best rebounding big man still around at this slot and hope for the best -- or as a stretch, a shooting guard if a steal falls that far. With that in mind (and considering who will likely be on the board at this point), the Suns will likely look at the likes of:

III. MY SELECTION:

DeMarco Johnson, PF, 6-8, 245 -- University of North Carolina-Charlotte When I was looking at who was left on the board at this point, I tried to look for someone that could provide some inside bulk and glass-cleaning. Unfortunately, the true centers that I was considering -- Stepanija, Skinner, and Nesterovic -- were all off the board by this time. Koul would make an intriguing pick, but I'm really not that high on him, to be honest. Jerome James from FAMU certainly has the size, but I don't like his conditioning, or his ability to handle players that aren't six inches shorter than he is. Which brings us to the power forward types.

I considered Zendon Hamilton for a moment, but that quickly went bye-bye when I figured he didn't really have the strength to mix it up inside. Torraye Braggs and Norman Nolan were also in the running. Braggs was a little lighter than I'd like, although I think he might be able to surprise some folks at the next level. Nolan would have been an intriguing pick to be sure, but I question his stamina when he's not playing the walk-and-balk UVa style. Through the process of elimination, that leads me to the horse from UNCC.

I really like DeMarco Johnson. He's an animal on the boards with a nice low-post game. Unlike Jarvis Lang, the previous UNCC forward with whom many people compare him -- he's got a little more range on his jumper, and a nicer stroke at the line. He's the kind of player who can provide some needed help on the boards, and some scoring punch from the blocks. I don't see him as a superstar by any stretch of the imagination -- by I can see him, if he applies himself, working himself into a Buck Williams-type -- one of those 12/8 guys who hangs out in the league for 10 years and makes a good career for himself. He's not going to be the sole answer for the Suns on the boards, but I think his addition (along with the work ethic which he'd bring -- and Ainge would love) would be a good one in Phoenix.

IV: WHAT THEY'LL LIKELY DO IN THE OFFSEASON

I expect them to draft along those lines -- going for size and rebounding over a smaller player, unless they can get a steal of a really solid SG falling this far (Perhaps Miles Simon -- a local product, who would sell some tickets to UA alums).

The big news will be in the free agency acquisitions. It's no secret that Colangelo salivates at the thought of bringing in Pippen, and if Jerry Krause is as good as his word -- expect to see Pip in a Suns uni next year. They'll probably also gun for a big man, and Ike Austin is as much of a choice as any, especially considering he played at ASU. If they can get Austin in the fold, then all the guys they've had playing the post can return to their more natural positions, which would be a huge help. They might also go looking for another PF/C type that they can fit under the cap (think Gary Trent, Jason Caffey, or Kurt Thomas) Look for them to re-ink Chapman and sign McDyess to as long-term a deal as they can afford.

V: OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE

Unclear but promising. Ainge proved this season that he's a pretty decent coach, and players like going to Phoenix, since management there seems to reward player loyalty. Depending on how the labor strife works out, I could see some players (a la Chapman) coming to Phoenix on short-term deals so they could be resigned to longer-term free agent contracts. If Phoenix can continue to build a team comfortable with that style of play (who wouldn't want to play with PG's like Kidd and Nash?) -- and if they can improve on the blocks, they'll have a pretty potent team for the next several years.


Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner



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