One of the hottest, and still unresolved, topics around the Phoenix Suns offseason is what to do with Brandon Knight. While Eric Bledsoe commits to team leadership and Devin Booker emerges as a potential franchise cornerstone, incumbent shooting guard Brandon Knight faces a future bench role just as he himself is about to enter his prime.
Coming off successive off seasons filled with uncommitted players leaking unhappy thoughts about their situation with the franchise, Knight just expressed some serious optimism about his future role with the Phoenix Suns.
Knight is in Manila with former NBA player Dee Brown for NBA FIT Week. He and Brown are training elite Filipino athletes in an event sponsored by Gatorade.
"Something special is really happening in Phoenix," he said this weekend at the NBA Store in Manila, Phillipines. "And that's how we're gonna make it work, just by being brothers off the court, and on the court, we'll find a way to make it work."
You'll recall the Bledsoe-led group hug for three days in San Diego last month. Knight was right there alongside his direct competition in Booker and Bledsoe. Knight also joined an even larger host of veterans last weekend in Las Vegas to support Booker and the rookies on the SL team.
With his starting job in jeopardy, it's notable that Knight is so present during these off season team building activities while others like Archie Goodwin, Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker are making their own memories this summer.
Knight has spent prior off seasons in at home in Florida, including hosting basketball camps and rehabbing whatever injury he's rehabbing. So he had plenty of reason to bow out of these activities and wouldn't have been questioned in the least. But here he is, committed to the cause.
"If you guys really bond together - which we do, not just the guards but our entire team, we're forming a great bond," he said. "That's kind of the thing that we have going on right now - we bond and get to know each other."
It's nothing new for a player to use the off season to clear his head and express optimism about the next season. There's not a player in the league that doesn't think his team can be better next season. It's the nature of competition. And there's not a player in the league who thinks they will cause any trouble, or that the team will hold them back if they just remain professional about it.
Two off seasons ago, Isaiah Thomas expressed similar mid-summer optimism, but his comments were made in the afterglow of signing the biggest contract of his career while one of the starters ahead of him was unsigned. Thomas quickly began to show his frustration with the backup role once Eric Bledsoe agreed to his own long-term contract.
But Thomas' situation was not the same as the one facing Brandon Knight.
Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, his primary competition for starter minutes next season, are both under contract for at least three more seasons and have been for the past year. Bledsoe posts similar numbers to Knight (19 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) but brings much better defense to the point guard position. Booker is more prototypically sized for the shooting guard role and appears to have a bright future as franchise face on top of eventually being a better player.
If healthy - which is a big 'if' with Bledsoe and Knight - there truly are three starting caliber guards just entering their prime on the Suns roster. One of them will be the odd man out.
You'd think that odd man out would be the 19-year old Booker. But the Booker that's been around summer league this past week, and is about to learn even more how to project himself as a star with the US Select Team over this next week, is not a guy you pin to the bench even in November.
I just can't see Booker coming off the bench once the regular season games start. Coach Watson talks of Knight, Booker and Bledsoe all earning their roles in training camp and preseason, but he also talks about Knight being a prototypical Sixth Man as combo guard off the bench.
Knight, however, is still just 24 years old himself, and he's started 96% of his games in the NBA. A year ago, when he signed his 5-year, $70 million contract he said he was just scratching the surface of his potential as player and leader. He knew at the time he'd be sharing point guard duties with Bledsoe, but couldn't have had any idea that Booker would be so good so quickly. Can Knight really be okay just a year later being a bench guy for the foreseeable future?
Yet here he is, talking openly and excitedly about the Suns offseason moves as if he is a part of it.
"It's gonna be great," Knight said of the addition of Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley. "We have a young team, and with such a young team, you need a veteran presence. You have that with Tyson (Chandler), we have that in Barbosa and Jared Dudley. To have the voice of guys who have done it, so younger guys will have something to look to, an example to look to, somebody who will show them how it's supposed to be done, how to win a championship, what it's like to build championship habits... To have those guys is gonna be very important for us."
Of course, Knight talks optimistically about the Suns win-loss totals next season, just as any red-blooded competitive player should.
"Every team has its own challenges. Now, with Phoenix, we're a young team again. We had a lot of injuries last year. We're trying to find a way to stabilize ourselves and build with the roster that we have."
He followed that quickly with...
"Our goal is to be one of the best teams in the West. That's what we're trying to do right now."
As Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Bledsoe said early in the season two years ago when faced with sharing two starting spots, Knight's optimism is likely couched in the hope of winning basketball games. It's a lot easier to sacrifice your game for a losing team.
But Knight's position is different than either of Dragic's or Thomas'. Dragic was looking to earn the biggest contract of his life, and faced a season of diminished role which could have cost him significant free agent money. Thomas was looking forward to getting that elusive full-time starting spot he'd never been given in Sacramento despite posting incredibly efficient scoring and assist numbers.
Knight, on the other hand, has four more guaranteed contract years in his back pocket no matter how many minutes he plays and already knows what it's like to be the unquestioned starter for bad teams. And Knight won't have to change positions like Dragic did. If someone moves to small forward to get all three on the court together, it will be the 6'7" Booker who moves over a slot.
Yet some similarities are there as well. Knight and Dragic both were the incumbents watching new acquisition after acquisition brought in to compete for minutes. Even this summer, Knight must be looking at Tyler Ulis and seeing his own point guard minutes declining while also seeing the maturation of Booker at the same time.
But Knight hasn't cracked yet. In fact, he sounds more optimistic than I ever expected him to sound after three months to think about it.
"If you do what it takes to win and you sacrifice," he said in Manila. "You leave it all on the court, and if you guys really bond together - which we do, not just the guards but our entire team, we're forming a great bond."
I have a lot of respect for folks who make the best of their situation, rather than looking for the easiest way out. It's a big boon for the Suns to have a player like Knight who is actually remaining professional and wanting to make this work as opposed to resorting to knee-jerk social media reactions and sense of entitlement.