After a the dust finally settled on a disappointing 2014/15 season in which the Suns collapsed under the weight of injuries and a stagnant offense down the stretch, GM Ryan McDonough identified a few key areas of need to be addressed during the following summer: Size up front, veteran leadership and perimeter shooting.
Brandan Wright played well during his short stint as a Sun, but his lithe frame and quiet demeanor left something to be desired up front. Markieff Morris had a very mixed 2014/15 campaign, but most troubling was the severe drop in production from the power forward spot when he headed to the bench. Alex Len had something of a breakout season, but his effectiveness diminished under the grind of manning the starting center spot.
In an effort to remedy these issues, the Suns replaced Wright with veteran Tyson Chandler and brought in Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer to back up Morris, whose departed brother Marcus proved ill-equipped to play amongst the big boys.
Will these moves help the Suns keep pace in the unforgiving Western Conference?
Chandler and Morris will give the Suns a starting frontcourt that is as talented as their personalities are colorful.
Both players are known to express themselves when a disagreement arises between them and the officiating crew, but hopefully Chandler can convince Morris to at least cut down on the technical fouls of the more intellectually vapid variety, such as yelling "And-1" at a referee that just called a foul in his favor.
As for actual basketball, this looks at a glance to be a classic defense/offense pairing, but don't discount the effect that the Chandler has on a team's offense. While his scoring abilities are certainly limited, he has turned rim-diving into a science over the course of his career and thus creates a gravitational pull in the paint that opens up the entire floor.
The importance of using perimeter shooting to space out the floor and create offense in the paint is well established in today's NBA, but it's more of a symbiotic relationship than many people realize -- without an inside threat there is no reason to leave shooters open in the first place.
The most important factor to the Suns' offense this season might be Morris. If he can expand his game to include better spotup shooting and dribble-drives to the rim, as he has shown glimpses of in the preseason, then the threat of Chandler's lobs and the penetration of guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight will be that much more significant. But if he reverts back to the same style of play of 2014/15, consisting of ball-stopping isolation plays that result in a scarce amount of extra points from the freethrow or three-point lines, Suns fans might be in for more of the same despite the addition of Chandler.
How the Suns utilize these two players will be a major factor this season.
Alex Len took a big step from his mulligan rookie year, winning the starting center position over a stationary Miles Plumlee in 2014/15 while putting up per-36 numbers of 10.8 rebounds 2.5 blocks and starting 44 games on the season.
While he battled through various injuries, they seemed to mostly be of the more freakish variety, such as getting torpedoed in mid-air by Robin Lopez, getting his pinky finger caught in a jersey during practice and then finally suffering a broken nose late in the season.
Still, the rigors of an 82-game season appeared to be a bit too much for Len even at a paltry 22 MPG, which made Chandler a welcome addition. Much has been made of the blossoming bromance between the two big men, but the most important long-term effect of Chandler's arrival might that it provides a means to preserve the health and future of Len, who is clearly a unique talent.
Look for a big season from the Ukranian as he feasts on reserve bigs, curbs his tendency to foul anything that twitches and hones his timing on the pick and roll.
To fill the void behind Morris, Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer are developing into an interesting subplot. Can Teletovic find his shooting stroke in time to keep Leuer from eating into his minutes? Both players can shoot the rock, and both are better rebounders than Morris (impressive, I know), but will Leuer's experience in banging with the big boys in Memphis eventually give him the inside track to become a full-time NBA backup? Or will Mirza's more natural stretch-4 capabilities make him an indispensable reserve for a Suns team that runs a system dependent on quick-fire shooting?
While Leuer was buried behind reserves in Memphis such as Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis and then combo-forward Jeff Green, Teletovic has languished in a Brooklyn Nets organization that seems to revile good basketball. In Phoenix there is a great need for one or both of these players to step up, and this is an excellent opportunity for them to make their case as they head into free agency in 2016.
In case of emergency...
Henry Sims is poised to take over the role of emergency big man from Earl Barron, and not a moment too soon. Sims played well during his stint with the 76er's, but not apparently not well enough to hold a starting spot for an organization that is always looking to give minutes to the next dude that no one has heard of. As soon as a player proves himself in Philly, he is either demoted, waived or flipped for a 2028 second-round pick.
It's great for comedic fodder, but it's a bummer for a player like Sims, who worked his way into being a decent rotation big man only to find no demand for his services once he hit free agency. Should injuries strike either Chandler or Len, which seems inevitable at some point, Sims would be a great option to sop up an extra 10-15 minutes in a pinch.
The Suns should know how important this can be after getting caught with no depth after last season's trade deadline and having to dust off Barron. A sound emergency plan can go a long way.