Sports teams generally try and improve year on year, carefully pushed along by progressive ownership and sound management. They have a duty to entertain their loyal fans with performances to inspire the young kids in attendance, while maintaining their older fanbase that still tell stories to their kids of the great players and teams from their time supporting the teams they love.
Suns fans can only relate to the last part, longing for the days when Phoenix had a basketball team to shout about that put smiles on faces, and posteriors on seats. A decade full of bad hires, wasteful drafting and a goat defecating in the GM’s office sums up the fortunes for the Phoenix Suns. But hope springs eternal, and yet another overhaul of players and staff gives this team the best chance at being talked about in a positive light since 2014.
Just nine days before a ball was a bounced ahead of the regular season, GM Ryan McDonough was fired by owner Robert Sarver. Patience had worn thin and his failure to land a quality point guard in the off season, coupled with iffy drafting, made Sarver pull the trigger. Former NBA player James Jones (a close friend of Lebron James), was appointed Interim GM.
The season opener against the Dallas Mavericks saw the Suns start with a convincing win with cause for optimism. This was badly misplaced however, as the wheels quickly fell off. Talk of friction between first year head coach Igor Kokoshkov and younger players surfaced, with some players appearing to check out. Josh Jackson attracted unwanted headlines off the court on numerous occasions and his minutes suffered as a result, including being arrested at a music festival and failure to show at a fan event. The losses were piling up and the team were a disaster to watch with no recognised point guard or real leadership.
Jones set about correcting the mistakes from the previous regime, beginning with releasing the walking corpse of Tyson Chandler, then trading Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza in the early part of 2019. In return the Suns got a competent guard in Tyler Johnson who stabilized the backcourt, and Kelly Oubre Jr who energised the team with his intensity and underrated offensive game. These moves brought about a positive shift and team picked up several excellent wins, most notably over the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors. Late season injures to Oubre, Johnson and Warren put an end to an extended look at this refocused group and the team finished second last in the league with 19 wins.
Igor Kokoskov was subsequently fired after only one season in charge and the lottery balls also bounced against Phoenix landing at the sixth spot.
Draft night left many bemused as TJ Warren was traded for cap space. Phoenix drafted down to pick up Dario Saric from the Minnesota Timberwolves, and made a deal for Aron Baynes from the Boston Celtics which filled two positions of need on the roster. Their main draft selection at No.11 was senior sharpshooter Cam Johnson from UNC. Many questioned selecting him while Brandon Clarke was deemed the better option still on the board. Ty Jerome was also added with the 24th pick, in a deal with Boston.
The trade to clear cap space became clear when Ricky Rubio signed on for $51 million over the next three years. This finally gave Phoenix the backcourt partner for Devin Booker, who can help defensively but also be a potent pick and roll partner for DeAndre Ayton. His experience should be a guiding hand for the big man given he’s worked with the likes of Kevin Love, Ruby Gobert and the Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau.
Kelly Oubre Jr resigned for a $30 million, two year deal which gives both the team and player flexibility. His influence on the locker room created a buzz about the players when he arrived from Washington and he played with more freedom than had been seen before. Frank Kaminsky also signed on a two year, $10 million deal.
Monty Williams has been appointed as the new Head Coach after a spell with the Sixers as an assistant. Players in the league have spoken highly of him and will need to stamp his influence on this group of players. He will be Devin Booker’s fifth coach in as many years, which shows how much instability has been around the organisation. Having to learn new schemes, and styles every season can’t be easy for young players which can also account for how many young draft picks have been wasted or even ruined in this process. Booker though has improved every season and, along with Ayton, are the two Williams has to make the focal point of his team.
This roster now resembles one with recognised NBA players along with a number of young talents all under the age of 24. A starting five of Rubio, Booker, Oubre, Saric and Ayton is better than anything Phoenix have had for six seasons, with solid reserves in Baynes, Johnson and youngsters like Mikal Bridges and Ty Jerome to complement, but still a way off the playoffs in the ridiculously stacked Western Conference. Progress for this team is around the 30 win mark and not unrealistic.
1.Make Ayton dominant
DeAndre would have been the happiest guy in Phoenix when Rubio announced he was signing. His feeds over the years to the big men he has played with have resulted in solid production and good team basketball. Not to mention getting Nikola Peković a very nice contract. But Ayton also has to listen to Williams and soak up all the knowledge he can from Aron Baynes to learn how to anchor the middle.
Dario was underused and underappreciated in Minnesota, a move that set him back from progress he made in Philadelphia as a scoring option as well as a decent passing forward. Good news for him is that Monty is his Head Coach now, and can help him rediscover his form of his spell as a Sixer where he averaged nearly 15ppg and 40% 3pt shooting. With TJ Warren gone, he will be looked at to fill the scoring gap in the frontcourt.
3.Let Book be Book
Monty Williams said the player that Booker most reminded him of was Brandon Roy who he played with, but with a higher ceiling. Roy was 22 years old when he came into the league, whilst Booker is still only 22 and some years from his prime yet. Booker showed last season he can facilitate and boosted his assist rate, efficiency and scoring. His three-point shooting saw a dip, although nagging hand injuries may have had an effect on that. He is a player that has divided media analysts (Bill Simmons against, Zach Lowe for) players (Gilbert Arenas against, Kevin Durant for) and DC members (Mike Miller against, Me for) in their opinions on the free scoring guard which hopefully fuels the player to make his team and teammates better.
Devin Booker | 26.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg ,6.8 apg
Fairly obvious this one but Booker is again the main threat for the Suns. He will carry the bulk of the offensive load, and be expected to make a further push to seal his place as one of the leagues premier scorers.
DeAndre Ayton | 16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.8 apg
Last season’s number one pick should build on a superb rookie campaign and anchor the middle, but don’t be surprised to see Monty Williams let the chains off and let him expand his range.
Ricky Rubio | 12.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.1 apg
Coming off an MVP World Cup showing, Ricky is in the best shape of his career and finally gives the team a solid floor leader to initiate the offence around him.
Kelly Oubre Jr | 18.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 spg
His focus this off season has been improving defensively and that is sorely needed on a team that has been soft and surrendered games over the past few years. Kelly is a constant pest and will look to energise this team on both ends of the floor.