SportsPulse: In stunning fashion, the Pelicans land the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and likely Zion Williamson. USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down how the new lottery system devalued tanking for at least one year
If the last decade or so has taught Suns fans anything, it’s to expect the worst. That way, they can only be pleasantly surprised.
It’s an easier concept to write about than to practice, as was evident Tuesday night at one of the team’s draft lottery parties at Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers in Glendale. There were groans and cries of pain when it was announced the Suns had the sixth pick in the June draft.
That’s no consolation for a 19-63 season, the worst in franchise history since its first year of existence.
“That was rough,” said Jared Rooks of Peoria, who arrived for the draft party nearly two hours early in order to save a table for friends.
Wearing a Steve Nash jersey, 12-year-old adidas shoes in Suns colors and a Suns hat, Rooks was hopeful when he arrived at the party.
The Suns, Cavaliers and Knicks had the best chance at the No. 1 pick, each with a 14 percent probability. It was impossible not to imagine power forward Zion Williamson, regarded as the sure-fire top choice in this draft, in a Suns uniform. Or point guard Ja Morant, who is the consensus second choice. Or even forward RJ Barrett, supposedly the third best player.
“I’m not expecting it,” Rooks said of the Suns getting the No. 1 pick, “but if it happens, you’re going to see something none of these kids have seen before. It’s been almost 10 years, we haven’t been in the playoffs. We’ve probably lost confidence as a fan base. And we’re looking for that.
“This is a Suns town and we want it back.”
Tuesday night brought the Suns no closer to that reclamation.
The NBA changed the rules for the lottery this year, decreasing the odds that the worst handful of teams would end up with the highest picks. It worked, which league executives hope will discourage teams from “tanking” in hopes of improving their draft status.
Per the rules, the Suns could pick no lower than seventh, so Tuesday’s lottery turned out almost as poorly for them as it could.
This draft is not as deep as last year’s, according to experts, and there supposedly is a steep decline in talent after the first three players. Selecting among the remaining players sounds as difficult as discerning differences in popcorn kernels.
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So where are the Suns today?
Still looking for a point guard, first and foremost.
Morant could have filled that need, at least a few years down the road. Now, the Suns have to figure out a way to bring in an experienced one.
The Grizzlies are expected to take Morant with the second overall pick, and their current point guard, Mike Conley, was on the trade market last season.
But Conley turns 32 next fall and is due to make more than $32 million in each of the next two years.
Trading up to No. 2 to draft Morant will carry a heavy price tag, even if the Grizzlies are willing consider.
To acquire a free agent, Suns General Manager James Jones and coach Monty Williams will have to do the sales job of the century. Point guards such as Kemba Walker of the Hornets, Patrick Beverley of the Clippers and Terry Rozier of the Celtics will have options other than signing with the Suns, who have won 40 games the past two seasons.
The Suns are not without hope, provided owner Robert Sarver fulfills promises to let Jones and Williams do their jobs without the owner’s breath on their necks.
Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre, Jr. form a talented, young nucleus.
But as much as they tried not to, it was hard for Suns fans not to imagine Williamson, or Morant, with that group.
It was probably greedy, even for a fantasy, because just a year ago the Suns won the lottery and drafted Ayton first overall. It was the first time the Suns had ever drafted first.
“It only happened once in 50 years,” Larry Bowers of Glendale said an hour or so before the lottery. “It’s not going to happen twice in 51 years.”
That didn’t stop many in the crowd from hoping. But after watching the Suns get the sixth pick, it seem their main interest became rooting for the Lakers not getting the first overall pick.
The loudest cheer of the night came when it was announced the Lakers would pick fourth.
That was only a brief consolation, however.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do at six,” Rooks said. “It’s so hard.”
Hear Somers every Monday between 4 and 4:30 p.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.