Knight is one of the more controversial members on the current Suns squad. It started when the Suns acquired him at the trade deadline in 2015, on the same day they dealt Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. The message was that he was a better, more valuable player than the two departed guards he replaced, and it hasn't worked out that way so far.
IT, an all-star, and Dragic outperformed him in several key measures, and the team fell hard since Knight joined the roster. But it's not as simple as blaming him for the fall. Knight has had several factors working against him since the trade to Phoenix.
First, injuries. Knight's first half season was marred by them as he played in only 11 games in 2014-15 after the trade to Phoenix, then 52 of 82 last year due to an assortment of maladies, none of them chronic. These injuries won't plague him forever, and it's reasonable to expect more consistency from Knight as he enjoys full health and matures as a player.
Then there was the state of the team: The Suns transitioned from trying to win now with Jeff Hornacek to giving in to a long rebuild with Earl Watson after a hard crash under Horny. It wasn't an ideal environment for any player to thrive amidst the dysfunction.
That rebuild plus Knight's injuries gave Devin Booker the opportunity to shine, which he did, but Booker's production wasn't in the service of winning. I love Booker as much as the next guy, yet he needs plenty of improvement before he's a starter on a winning NBA team.
But this isn't a Booker vs. Knight piece. That would be a waste of time because the Suns have them both. My point is that there's no need for the Suns in their current state to trade, drastically cut the minutes, or in any way give up on Knight.
The Suns aren't going to compete for anything other than internal player improvement and, hopefully, building a winning culture this season. Given all they surrendered to acquire Knight, why pull the plug on him now? He's a player who's flashed future stardom. If this season is about growing from within, that certainly includes Knight.
While there seems to be a perception the Knight/Eric Bledsoe combo has failed, it's not entirely true. Last year, that two man lineup finished -2.8 pts/100 possessions, which is unimpressive until you remember that last year's Suns were terrible, and the team average was -7.3 pts/100 possessions. Knight/Bledsoe were one of the better two man combinations on the squad. So before we go blaming the Suns "failed backcourt experiment", how about we see the team shore up the woeful frontcourt?
I'm sure it will be a hot competition and point of debate whether Knight or Booker wins the starting two guard spot next to Bledsoe, but I don't think it's especially important. Each player will receive plenty of minutes, and the widely repeated quote from Knight at the end of last season that he "didn't see his role changing" this season doesn't actually means he's disgruntled or will pout if Booker starts ahead of him.
Knight's prominent attendance at all the events in Earl Watson's "summer of love" chemistry building indicate Knight's heart and head are with the Suns. As he told Paul Coro recently:
"When I say same role, it’s about me being better as a player," Knight said Saturday. "Wherever that falls, that’s where it falls. I’m excited about the season. That’s the most important part. I’m excited about being healthy. I’m excited about playing with Book, Bled (Eric Bledsoe), Archie (Goodwin). I’m excited about playing with everybody and looking forward to what we can do.
He wants to make it work in Phoenix, and so should we. I, for one, will give him a clean slate, and see what he can do this season in a stable environment and with (hopefully) good health.
In case you've forgotten what Knight is capable of when he's hot, remember this game from November? This is the type of talent a starless franchise can't give up on.