Butler, Bledsoe give Suns a new foundation
The Phoenix Suns started their rebuilding process a year ago and struggled on the court, finishing with the second-worst record in team history.
Behind a new general manager and coach, they're taking another stab at rebuilding, this time centering it on a proven veteran and an up-and-coming point guard.
With the additions of two-time All-Star Caron Butler and third-year guard Eric Bledsoe, acquired in a three-team trade announced this week, general manager Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek believe they have the foundation in place to get the Suns back to winning again.
''These two guys are a big part of our future,'' McDonough said on Thursday at the introductory news conference for Butler and Bledsoe at US Airways Center.
Phoenix overhauled its roster a year ago, trading two-time league MVP point guard Steve Nash to the rival Los Angeles Lakers and allowing forward Grant Hill, another fan favorite, to sign with the Clippers.
The new-look Suns, with nine new players, never quite meshed, faltering early and struggling most of the season to finish 25-57, their worst record since going 16-66 in their inaugural season in 1968-69.
Phoenix fired likable coach Alvin Gentry during the season and after the season replaced him with Hornacek, one of the most popular players in the team's history.
The Suns fired general manager Lance Blanks after the season and brought in McDonough, an up-and-coming executive who helped build an NBA championship team in Boston.
The two new leaders, along with president of basketball operations Lon Babby, vowed to reshape the franchise behind an analytical approach and a fast-paced style.
They started at last month's draft, using the No. 5 overall pick on 7-foot-1 Maryland center Alex Len, then picking up Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and Missouri power forward Alex Oriakhi.
The latest moves will change the roster even more drastically.
Being the aggressors instead of waiting for something to come to them, the Suns helped orchestrate the three-team trade that brought Butler and Bledsoe to the desert, sent Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers, and a pair of second-round draft picks to Milwaukee.
Parting with Dudley, one of the team's most popular players and best shooters, was tough, but the Suns believe they'll be better for it.
''This is one of those rare trades where every team benefited and got what they wanted, but we REALLY got what we wanted and are delighted by it,'' Babby said.
Butler is the proven entity in the Suns' end of the deal.
The No. 10 overall pick by Miami in the 2002 NBA draft, Butler has been a good shooter and steady player during an 11-year career with five teams. He has a 15.5-point scoring average and has been to the playoffs six times, including the past two seasons with the Clippers, giving the Suns a veteran presence to guide some of their younger players.
''It's about winning,'' Butler said. ''We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization and I'm really excited about this challenge ahead of us.''
The Suns are banking on Bledsoe's potential.
The 18th overall pick out of Kentucky in the 2010 NBA draft, he's played mostly in a backup role behind All-Star point guard Chris Paul. Bledsoe has shown flashes of brilliance - he scored 27 points against Orlando last season - and is hoping for the chance to be a regular contributor while playing in Phoenix's up-paced style alongside Goran Dragic.
''It's definitely a plus for me,'' Bledsoe said. ''Unfortunately, I couldn't play as much as I wanted (in Los Angeles) because I was playing in front of an All-Star. Now, Ryan has confidence in me and I have full confidence in myself to help Caron make good things happen here.''
That's what the Suns are counting on.