Free Agents: Earl Barron (Unrestricted), Marcus Thornton (U), Gerald Green (U)
For a team said to be on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity, the Suns have taken quite the tumultuous path in the last few years. From the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire to the Knicks, to trading away the franchise’s face in Steve Nash, to the surprising breakouts of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and finally, the ill-fated Dragic/Bledsoe/Thomas trio that resulted in trading away Dragic and Thomas while acquiring Brandon Knight. In all this time, not once have the Suns made the playoffs. With the ever-shifting dynamics of the league, however, the upcoming year could finally break the drought for many fans in eager anticipation of a return to the big dance.
The Suns took care of business pretty quickly by re-signing Knight to a contract worth $70 million over the course of 5 years. Knight’s value has been questioned frequently over the course of his career, with several advanced statistics being cited against his favor (Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player, his subpar TS% relative to the volume of his scoring), but he had a career-best year in Milwaukee until his move to Phoenix. Although his level of play nosedived, it should be noted that Knight injured his ankle, and later had to undergo season ending arthroscopic surgery to correct his injury. With a fresh start, Knight can resume his productive play as he gets acclimated to the team, and form an athletic combo with Eric Bledsoe, who has managed to play an (almost) full season with starters’ minutes. Phoenix also signed Mavs center Tyson Chandler to a 4 year, $52 million deal. Chandler provides the interior protection that the Suns have sorely lacked for so long, and perhaps more importantly, his elite finishing at the basket and propensity to collect offensive rebounds will prove pivotal to the team. Also, the medical staff in Phoenix should keep Chandler about as healthy as he can be; in fact, Chandler’s career should be enhanced to the point where the final year on his contract shouldn’t look too awful, despite the fact that he’ll be pushing the age of 37.
In an effort to open up room to sign Aldridge, the Suns traded away Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock to the Pistons while only getting back a 2020 2nd rounder back. as a means of creating an extra $8 million worth of cap space. Granger showed nothing of his prime Indiana form on the team, and Bullock was an intriguing prospect, but the likes of TJ Warren and Archie Goodwin made him the odd man out amongst the prospects. Marcus Morris played meaningful minutes in the Suns’ pace-n-space system, but his production was ultimately replaceable. While Phoenix’s pitch was enough to make Aldridge seriously consider taking his talents there, he ultimately chose San Antonio. Now, McDonough has to focus his resources on acquiring depth for the team, and perhaps dealing away Markieff Morris, as well. The Morris twins are practically inseparable, and Markieff was very critical of the trade – which was only precipitated by their deplorable conduct over the past season (this includes possibly assaulting their former mentor, with a court case pending which could see jail time for the twins). A Morris/Ilyasova swap could take place to reunite the twins in Detroit, but it is clear that the Suns’ management feels like they owe the twins nothing, and Ilysaova was underwhelming in his return from injury.
With the 13th pick in the draft, the Suns selected shooting guard Devin Booker from Kentucky. Booker is one of the best shooters in the draft, and also one of the youngest rookies drafted. Coming off the bench in his freshman year, Booker shot 47% from the floor, shot over 40% on threes, and shot 82.8% on free throws. In just over 20 minutes a game, he was good for 10 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, half a steal, 1.5 fouls, and a turnover per game. From a glance, he sounds like reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams, but Booker is an unusually perceptive player for his age who will take the right shots and make the necessary passes. Despite his somewhat pedestrian vertical of 35 inches, Booker’s 6’6” stature (in shoes, at least) and 6’8” wingspan indicates he has the potential to develop defensive skills. Due to his average athletic ability, Booker struggles with finishing at the rim, and one should not expect him to be a playmaker right from the get-go. Booker also has subpar lateral quickness, and is prone to being beaten off the dribble when playing defense. Unless injuries strike, look for Booker to accrue limited minutes as part of some three-guard lineups as he becomes used to the NBA in general.
The Suns don’t have very many free agents remaining; only Earl Barron, Gerald Green, and Marcus Thornton are yet to be re-signed. While Barron and Thornton were mid-season acquisitions made to bolster the bench long after the season was lost, Green is only two seasons removed from being an electrifying starter who had the shots to go with the hops. Last season, he faced some regression, but was mostly kept on the bench due to the fact that coach Hornacek did not approve of his abysmal defense – this lead to some tension between the player and the coach. This late in the process, it’s entirely possible that Green could find a home elsewhere, and while his name hasn’t made very many waves, he is sure to be a good bargain for most teams in the league. What the Suns really need, however, is big man depth. Josh Smith has reasserted his value in Houston, and his strong playoffs performance could parlay a stint with the Suns. Jordan Hill provides more raw rebounding energy, even if he’s prone to questionable decision making. Darrell Arthur could be an intriguing project as he has shown many streaks of impressive play in the past few seasons, but has been hampered by his health. Finally, Dorrell Wright, while not the best defender at any position, can play at the wing and stretch to the four when the team goes small. The common denominator here is that all of these players have shown some semblance of shooting, whether it be from mid-range or from three. As options are starting to grow thin, it would be prudent for McDonough to act quickly.
Prediction: Now that they have a legit presence to anchor the paint, these Suns are looking to finally punch their ticket to the playoffs. Chandler’s veteran leadership will erase the woes the Morris twins dragged in, and if his health holds up (a pretty safe bet), he can energize the rest of the team with his hustle plays. Bledsoe will continue his mini-LeBron antics, and will be even more deadly if he can regain his outside shot. Knight will look to make yet another improvement with his level of play, like he has done every season in his career. The departure of Wright and possibly Green will sting, but this speaks to the commitment the front office has in building a stout defense. Look for the Suns to claw at that 8th seed with a renewed ferocity, and this time? I think they’re gonna make it.