Underperforming Suns Players Muck Up Best Laid Plans

Underperforming really mucks. They may not be "best laid" plans, but they were plans nonetheless. And each one of them has been mucked up.

For the purpose of this article, let's not question the reasoning behind these plans anymore. That's been done to death. Let's just focus on how they got mucked up by circumstance and injury and simple underperformance, and how the Suns' front office has reacted to that.

Coming into the season, Phoenix Suns fans, coaches, players and management expected/hoped for (among others) four big things to happen:

  1. Robin Lopez would play at near all-star level (per Dudley)
  2. Josh Childress would provide defense on the wing
  3. Hedo Turkoglu would provide a quality secondary playmaker to Nash
  4. Hakim Warrick would provide more than half the lost Amare production (ie. more than 10 and 4), with no cost on the defensive end. 

Robin Lopez was supposed to provide a strong presence in the paint. In offseason rankings posts, Lopez regularly made it into the top 20 of any list of NBA centers. When healthy, he showed last season that he can score on offense in a variety of ways while providing strong post presence and deterrant to dribble-penetrating guards. Jared Dudley even went so far as to say the Suns needed Lopez to play at "near all-star level". He would never have said that if he didn't think it was possible.

Josh Childress was supposed to reprise his defensive and all-everything reputation from his Atlanta days, coupled with wisdom and BBall IQ from playing on a top-level Euro team (Olympiakos) the last two years. He was supposed to be a candidate for best offseason signing.

Neither of those two things happened. And, not surprisingly, the Suns struggled. In fact, they have struggled so much that the Suns front office could wait no longer for those necessary ingredients and acquired their replacements in December.

Strong inside presence? Enter Marcin Gortat.

Pesky wing defender who can make 3s? Enter Mikael Pietrus.

But it's not that easy, is it? To get these guys, the Suns had to give up a recent fan fave in SG Jason Richardson. Logically speaking, they traded Richardson for Carter + 3 mil (roughly equal contracts), then Hedo for Gortat and Pietrus, and Clark for nothing.

I love the trade. Gortat is healthy, and provides a great 1-2 punch with a healthy Lopez at C. Pietrus and Childress are different (maybe complementary?) players offensively, while potentially providing solid defense in tandem on the wing.

But if Lopez and Childress had lived up to their expectations, this trade would never have happened.

Lopez was clearly not producing and seems to be anchored to the floor indefinitely. Even worse, he seems mentally affected by his lack of athleticism and isn't even maxing out what he can currently offer.

Childress broke the tip of his right, middle finger on a dunk attempt in the last preseason game. This was really, really, really unfortunate because his entire game is predicated on dunks, putbacks, rebounds and steals. All things that require hands. Strong, unbroken hands. As a result, his dunks have been soft and tenuous, and he's tried and failed to develop left-handed hooks and layups.

To top it off, Childress' feet (on defense) have been much heavier than advertised or expected. In the first two months, he got regularly beat on dribble-drives, completely confounding Gentry and teammates.

It may be that Lopez and Childress, when they physically recover 100%, their "game" will recover as well. In that case, those are two great assets to have on any team.

But in the meantime, the Suns couldn't wait around.

Enter Gortat and Pietrus. So far, not so good in the W-L column. The Suns are 1-4 with these two guys getting about 50-55 minutes a night, primarily at the expense of Lopez, Childress and Hakim Warrick's time.

These two have definitely produced, but not enough to offset the reduced effectiveness of the starting SG (Carter, for Richardson) and the inexplicably poor play by many of the remaining Suns players since the trade. Grant's shot has disappeared, probably due to the banging he's enduring at the PF spot. Frye's shot has disappeared too, though his shot attempts haven't changed a whole lot.

A third hope/expectation coming out of the offseason was that Hedo Turkoglu and Steve Nash could effectively co-exist in the same lineup. We all know that flamed out. It's not because Hedo is a poor player (he's proven that in Orlando since the trade) or that Nash is prickly and selfish (of COURSE that's not true), it's just that this wasn't a marriage made in heaven.

A fourth hope/expectation coming out of the offseason was that Hakim Warrick could provide more than half of what Amare provided on offense and rebounding, and be at least comparable on defense. Warrick did the first part, but was gawdawful at the latter (defense) to the point where he stood out as the worst defensive player on the league's worst defensive squad. Ugh.

On top of that, Warrick failed to replace Amare in two other areas that had not been uttered as necessary. 

Where Amare was consistent - providing the same 21 and 8 nearly every night - Hakim Warrick is the model of inconsistency. One night, he'll get 10 points in 20 minutes. The next, 2 points in the same minutes. The net result matches his careeer average, but that's just not good enough.

The only area in which Warrick is fairly consistent? Passivity. Where Amare was aggressive and often set the tone on offense, Warrick is passive and requires an open lane to the basket in order to effectively reprise the pick-n-roll game. Otherwise, he disappears.

 

In summary

In summary, there are 4 areas where the Suns expected/hoped for a certain outcome this season to offset the losses of Lou, Amare and LB, only to watch none of them come to fruition in the first 8 weeks of the season. The first two were mostly injury-related, but still. Complete failure.

The Suns' front office, to their credit, hit the reset button. They acquired 2 pieces to effectively fill the gaps of expectations/hopes #1 and #2, while jettisoning expectation/hope #3 entirely. The cost? A marginally less effective (yet much more hated) starting SG. Not bad, really.

So, guess what's next on the Suns' front office agenda?

Likely to find someone to fill expectation/hope #4. We all know they are floundering at PF. Maybe Warrick gets another shot someday. The Suns would certainly prefer not to make another trade if they could avoid it. Warrick has the tools to be effective enough, and in the right scheme can be downright good. But if he wants another shot, and he wants to stick in the lineup, he's gonna have to be consistent night in, night out. And he needs to be aggressive night in, night out.

Or, maybe the front office hits the reset button again. The Suns cannot afford to ride out the season without a new answer at the PF position, and they've already shown a willingness to find answers.

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