The day started with a phone call.
“Hey, did you hear the news? The Suns are trading Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa to the 76ers for Allen Iverson.”
Thankfully, the Suns hadn’t lost their senses. It was a rumor, and a bad one at that.
Unfortunately, it was the biggest news Phoenix made all day.
The Suns dealt their two first-round selections — Nos. 21 and 27 — after they couldn’t trade up in the first round to get one of the three players they wanted — Memphis’ Rodney Carney, Washington’s Brandon Roy or Thabo Sefolosha.
Kind of takes the steam out of a draft party when the team doesn’t make a draft pick.
Of course, that’s nothing new for the Suns. This is the third straight year they’ve taken a mulligan in the first round.
Phoenix’s scouts might as well take a vacation in June.
“They’re getting paid for doing nothing,” coach and general manager Mike D’Antoni said with a smile.
Trading out of the first round — twice — normally would cause a mutiny among a team’s fans. But most of the folks at US Airways Center Wednesday went home content because they bought Phoenix’s sales pitch:
Why pay two first-round picks guaranteed money to sit on the end of the bench when those dollars would be better used to try to re-sign Tim Thomas and a second free agent, like Matt Harpring?
The Suns want to win a championship now, not later, and D’Antoni said none of the players available at No. 21 — including Connecticut point guard Marcus Williams and Kentucky point guard Rajon Rondo — would have been in the playing rotation next season.
“We’re going to try to keep this team together,” said David Griffin, vice president of basketball operations. “Every decision we make is going to be about getting a ring.”
The Suns had to know their draft might be a letdown because they did everything they could to get their fans’ minds off the proceedings. They held a raffle, giving everything away from autographed basketballs to Steve Nash jerseys. Owner Robert Sarver said that when he saw the championship trophy during the NBA Finals, “I thought how close we are to getting that thing.”
Then he introduced Amaré Stoudemire as “our firstround pick for next year.”
Phoenix even gave away $5 Jack In The Box food coupons, as if Suns’ season-ticket holders need the cash or eat a lot of 99-cent tacos.
It was a blatant misdirection play.
And it worked.
The Suns did exactly what they should have Wednesday. They tried hard to move up — offering three first-round picks (including a 2007 selection) — but resisted the temptation to break up their team. Those silly Marion rumors can take a couple of weeks off.
“I hope so,” Griffin said. “It gets old after awhile.”
Now Phoenix needs to deliver on what it promised Wednesday. It has to re-sign Thomas, or all the draft-day maneuverings — and the approximately $9 million it saved — will be fodder for critics.
I’m still wary of Thomas’ past, but as long as the Suns aren’t going to commit too many years — or too much money — go ahead and bring him back.
A backup point guard is a must, too. D’Antoni continues to profess his faith in Barbosa, but a guy like Bobby Jackson would be a nice insurance policy.
It would have been quite a story had the Suns pulled off a deal and acquired Roy or Carney. But at least they didn’t botch their draft like so many other teams.
Seattle takes Senegal center Saer Sene at No. 10? He won’t be ready to play for three years, if then. The New York Knicks select South Carolina’s Renaldo Balkman at No. 20? Why wait to fire Isiah Thomas?
The Suns didn’t do anything sexy, but they didn’t do anything stupid, either. They kept their focus where it belongs — on next season and the quest for a championship.
“I didn’t want to disappoint the fans,” D’Antoni said, “but at the same time, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed when November rolls around.”