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Phoenix Suns, Gentry ready for changes: as many as four new starters

Tired of watching the starting lineup create deficit after deficit, Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry has seen enough and is ready to make wholesale changes. Hard-working Goran Dragic may be the only safe starter.

Tucker and O'Neal would make solid lineup additions
Tucker and O'Neal would make solid lineup additions
Christian Petersen

Alvin Gentry sees what we see. He sees the starting lineup of the Suns play with inconsistent effort and execution, too often resulting in double-digit deficits with them manning the ship.

"We have got to stop having the starts that we are having," Alvin Gentry said after losing to the HEAT on Saturday night.

"The only way to do that is to change the lineup. Probably the next game we play it won't be the same lineup."

The starting lineup for the Suns (4-7) have found themselves in no less than a 10-point deficit in a whopping 10 their first 11 games so far this young season.

Let that sink in for a moment. Only once this season has the Suns starting unit played well enough to avoid a 10+ point hole at some point in the game (Detroit Pistons, game two). Teams that dig holes this big this often with their starting lineup are typically terrible, often racing to set to league records for ineptitude like the 7-59 Charlotte Hornets (2011-12) or the 12-70 New Jersey Nets (2009-10).

But this isn't your typically terrible team. Of those 10 deficits of 10+ points, the Suns have come back to win three and even the score late in the game in four others. Only the early road losses to the Magic and HEAT were blowouts.

The Suns second unit - Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Jermaine O'Neal - has made it a habit to overcome those deficits and hand a winnable game back over to the "starters".

"I thought the guys fought like crazy to get back in the game," said Gentry. "I see those guys like Telfair digging in and competing. I thought Tucker did a great job on LeBron. I thought Jermaine O'Neal did a good job and I thought Markieff did a great job. We just got to get everybody on the same page and the same goals."

Who's not on the same page?

"It's just the overall atmostphere of how we are approaching it," Gentry said, in reference to the starting unit of Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. "We just got to be much more gritty and much more resilient at the start of games."

Goran Dragic has all the grit anyone can have. When the Suns found themselves in a 9-0 hole after missing a handful of point-blank shots off nice ball movement, Dragic felt it was time to take over. He got three steals and breakaway layups in short order, personally leading the starting unit on a 21-9 charge before losing steam.

This Phoenix Suns team has the tools to compete night in and night out, and will spend the rest of the season doing just that.

But having to scrap and claw out of one big hole after another is a recipe for disaster.

"We can't keep getting down 9-0 then start the third quarter 13-4," Gentry said. "And then we put in another group of guys and they fight their way back. We can't play like that."

Expect changes in the starting lineup as a result. The third quarter was a killer for them as well, turning a 52-52 tie into a 75-60 deficit in a matter of minutes. Turnovers killed them, as did lack of effort and execution.

For the second game in a row, Michael Beasley started strong in the first half and disappeared in the second. Over the last two games combined, Beasley has made only one field goal in the second half despite playing heavy minutes at the expense of sparkplug P.J. Tucker. And this is after the debacle in overtime of the Chicago Bulls game.

Tucker, after sitting the entire first half, got his chance when the Suns got down by 15 in the third. He was immediately glued to LeBron and held the King to ZERO field goals (0-4) the rest of the way. LeBron's only scores were in transition (two) and against Gortat on a drive after a defender screened off Tucker on the perimeter.

Changes are coming. Per Gentry, it could be as many as four new starters.

"We can't keep playing like this," he lamented. "One, two, three four guys out of the lineup - we're gonna do something."

The problems are not lost on the players. They know change is coming, and that it's very much needed.

"Our second unit and first unit play a different style," Shannon Brown said after the HEAT loss. "often the second unit comes in with a big deficit."

About a potential change in the lineup: "We don't know who he's going to move. We have to know what each player's going to do so it ain't all over the place."

Certainly, expect one or both of Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley to start the game on the bench. They don't seem to play well together. Neither is a defensive dynamo or an offensive catalyst, and neither scraps and claws to make things happen.

The problem with removing both from the lineup at the same time, though, just moves the problem to the second unit. Despite what some reactionary fans think, it is too early to remove a Michael Beasley completely from the rotation. Starting or coming off the bench, the Suns still need to find out what they have in Beasley.

To avoid playing Beasley and Dudley together for long stretches, the Suns should move either Shannon Brown or P.J. Tucker to the starting lineup.

Brown has done it before, so that's the easiest move to make. He started in place of Grant Hill last spring and averaged 16 points per game. We all remember that as dawn of the "good" Brown that has remained through the early part of this season.

"I don't know if its mental," Brown said, when asked about the difference between the starters and the second unit. "Can't really be the game plan. We got to go out there and play with pride and energy."

But if you just replace Dudley with Brown, you end up with a pairing of Beasley and Brown that does not make me warm and fuzzy inside. Both are offense-oriented and defense-challenged. I would avoid any lineup that has Brown and Beasley on the floor at the same time.

The stronger move would be to start P.J. Tucker at off guard (I purposely didn't say 'shooting guard' because Tucker cannot shoot) next to wannabe shooting guard Beasley. That way, the Suns have an offense/defense pairing that just might work.

Memphis has used something like this recently by pairing all-offense Rudy Gay with all-defense Tony Allen - who got the reputation in Boston as the worst offensive player in the league.

Putting Tucker in the lineup with Beasley, Dragic and Scola would balance out the offense/defense needs.

Other than that, the only change I think makes sense is to send a message to Marcin Gortat by sitting him in favor of Jermaine O'Neal for a few games. O'Neal cannot be expected to hold up for 30+ starter minutes every night, but he could bring a tenacity that's been missing from Gortat for the last few games and set the tone for when Gortat subs in.

Marcin is a proud guy who somehow seems to have lost his edge since the Utah game. He admitted to spending a lot of time thinking about the egg he laid at the end of last year against them, but proceeded to lay another one last week. Since then, he's been mediocre at best.

At power forward and point guard, Dragic and Scola have been playing well enough and exerting enough effort to keep their spots. These two are most definitely not the problem.

So I see one or two lineup changes: Tucker for Dudley, and maybe O'Neal for Gortat. Neither may be long-term, but both are very much needed at the moment.

What about you? What lineup changes do you want to see?

Let's close with another quote from Alvin:

"I don't like it. That's why I think we got to make changes."

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