Suns have op­tions with No. 1 pick

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Sports - By TimReynolds

The Phoenix Suns cap­tured the first over­all pick in the 2018NBA draft and have more than a few op­tions to choose from, in­clud­ing Marvin Ba­gley III, Dean­dre Ay­ton, or Luka Don­cic.

CHICAGO » Dean­dre Ay­ton might be go­ing back to Ari­zona after all. The same can be true for Marvin Ba­gley III. Or maybe Luka Don­cic gets to re­unite with his past coach.

The Phoenix Suns have a trio of fine can­di­dates for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

In var­i­ous ways, the team al­ready has an el­e­ment of fa­mil­iar­ity with each one of them.

Ay­ton played his col­lege ball at Ari­zona. Ba­gley, the Duke fresh­man star this past sea­son, is an Ari­zona na­tive. And Don­cic, the Slove­nian teen who has been tabbed a can’t-miss NBA prospect, won a ti­tle with new Suns coach Igor Kokoskov last sum­mer— when they helped give the tiny na­tion its big­gest sportswin, a goldmedal at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships.

Th­ese are good days for the Suns, who have gone through three dread­ful sea­sons and eight con­sec­u­tive play­off-less cam­paigns. But they have a new­coach in­Kokoskov, a promis­ing young core and after win­ning the draft lot­tery on Tues­day night, a chance to pick No. 1 over­all at the draft in New York next month.

“It’s not a race,” said Josh Jack­son, who just com­pleted his rookie sea­son­with Phoenix and is part of that young group that the Suns be­lieve will get them back into the play­off mix be­fore long. “We’re go­ing to progress at our pace. Any pro­gres­sion is good pro­gres­sion, in my opin­ion. So wher­ever we are, hope­fully we keep tak­ing steps for­ward.”

This draft could be a big step for­ward.

Start with Ay­ton, who av­er­aged 20.1 points and 11.6 re­bounds in his one col­lege sea­son at Ari­zona. He came to the U.S. from the Ba­hamas, hop­ing for great things but never ex­pect­ing this would be the cards he was dealt.

“It’s God’s plan,” Ay­ton said.

Ba­gley was the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence player and rookie of the year, lead­ing the league in scor­ing (21.0 per game) and re­bound­ing (11.1 per game). Un­like Ay­ton, he’s ex­pected to work at the draft com­bine that com­mences in earnest in­Chicago on Thurs­day, and he will be on the Suns’ radar.

He said he would ob­vi­ously wel­come the chance to go back to Ari­zona, where he was born and raised.

“It would mean a lot if it were to hap­pen that way,” Ba­gley said.

Don­cic will get plenty of sup­port from Kokoskov, and oth­ers who know his game well— like Mi­ami guardGo­ran Dragic — in­sist that he has the abil­ity and in­tel­lect to make a quick im­pact in the NBA.

“It’s been a good­month for us, a good­week in­par­tic­u­lar,” Suns gen­eral man­ager Ryan McDonough said. “We tar­geted a three-year re­build­ing win­dow and I know it’s been a little bit con­tro­ver­sial in some­ways. ... If you’re se­ri­ous about win­ning a cham­pi­onship some­day in the NBA, it’s re­ally hard to build through the mid­dle, so to speak.”

So three years ago, when they couldn’t con­vince LaMar­cus Aldridge to come to Phoenix, the Suns de­cided it was time to push the re­set but­ton.

The re­sults: They got bud­ding stars in Devin Booker and Jack­son, wound up cre­at­ing some cap space to spend on vet­er­ans this sum­mer, and will not only have the No. 1 pick but also two oth­ers in the top 31 se­lec­tions in this draft.

“The future’s bright,” McDonough said. “And our hope an­dour­goal is tobe a lot better next year.”

McDonough left the lot­tery hold­ing a plac­ard with a big red “1” on it, and Jack­son left with the one bear­ing the Suns logo that NBA deputy commissioner Mark Ta­tum dis­played when an­nounc­ing that Phoenix won the right to pick first.

The Suns aren’thold­ing all the cards.

They’re just hold­ing the most im­por­tant ones.

MATT YORK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov speaks to the me­dia Mon­day in Phoenix. Kokoskov will over­see a vastly im­proved team after they com­piled the worst record in the NBA last sea­son.

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