Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.
Everyone has an opinion on Earl Watson, his performance as head coach so far and what we would like to see from him in the future. This week I've asked the Fantable four questions about Coach Watson and one more about Ryan McDonough's contract extension and the hiring of James Jones as VP of Basketball Ops. Interesting stuff!
Now on to our Fantable questions and answers.
1. What is your general opinion of Earl Watson's performance as the Suns head coach?
GuarGuar: I have had mixed feelings about Watson for a while. On one hand, I love what he has done with the culture of this team and who Earl is as a person. To have a 24 win team be this close of a unit and have such good chemistry speaks volumes about his leadership skills. On the other hand, his X's and O's and completely bizarre rotations made me go insane last season. I think there were at least 12 times he let the Knight/Barbosa duo run extreme minutes while benching Bledsoe and Booker. It made me so frustrated.
Sun-Arc: I feel pretty mixed about Earl at this point. He's obviously good at motivating young players to give their all. He seems to have created a strong culture with the players that kept them involved during a season in which we ended up with the 2nd worst record in the league. That cannot be easy. He also motivated Kieff to get the hell out of town, which also wasn't easy. He has the team spending a lot of time together (outside of Knight), which is great. They seem to really care for each other.
But at the same time, I didn't get the feeling there was much of a game plan outside of this culture of being "tough." The team was #1 in pace but also #1 in fouls committed, which he basically said was part of the plan (something about how eventually the refs will respect the players more). As much as the team was motivated on offense, they were totally uninterested in defense outside of PJ until the trade deadline, and then marginally interested in it afterwards when they all tried to pick up the slack from PJ's departure. And I'll get to the lack of schemes in the next question.
Interestingly, it seemed like the team started getting better just before the trade deadline. They started winning a couple of games. Then PJ gets traded. Then they come back faltering at first and then start winning again. Then Eric sits. Then the young guys start playing even harder. If that means that they will be a better team this next season and able to win more games, then great. Ultimately it will come down to improvements in the number of wins. Right now I'm hopeful and skeptical simultaneously, which makes about as much sense as what we saw on the court last season. It was a season with low expectations, so I'm withholding judgement for now.
SDKyle: Oh boy. Hmm. Earl is a real enigma for me. In the spirit of disclosure, I didn't want the Suns to make him the head coach. I was perfectly ok with him as the interim, but I thought the front office rushed to remove the interim tag before we even had a chance to see who else was on the market.
He's done a good job keeping the team together through tough times, and appears to be a master at the fine art of soothing egos. That said, he's still 33-82 as a head coach. Ultimately, I give Watson a passing grade because I'm not convinced we would have a meaningfully better record no matter who our coach was, because our level of talent has been legitimately bottom five in the NBA over the past two seasons. But at some point he needs to start getting some wins, and if the Suns are still under 30 wins this coming season with no good explanation as to why (such as Bledsoe or Booker missing most of the season), I'd drop him to a failing grade.
SouthernSun: I'm not sure we can really form an opinion on him yet. Our roster has one near all star caliber player in his near prime. The rest of the team are wet behind the ear rookies and 2nd year players, and over the hill vets. After a few months of apparently trying to win games last season, they went into full on tank mode and actively tried to lose games. So I don't think we can make an informed decision on him before watching him actually try and win games for an entire season.
2. A lot of people think that Earl Watson did a poor job with putting together offensive and defensive schemes for the team this past season. Do you think that he was incapable of doing a better job or did the players just do a poor job of executing his schemes... or was it maybe a bit of both?
GuarGuar: X's and O's wise it was more defensively that made me frustrated with him. I remember a game against the Warriors it took him the entire first quarter before telling guys to not go under on screens with STEPH CURRY (he had 5 threes in that quarter). It was things like this that really concerned me. The offensive sets (Horns, Zipper screens, pin downs, Fist, etc) were there but their timing and execution was very hit or miss throughout the season. I would like to see more off ball action getting Booker a good look at a spot up three next season. I am confident Earl will improve and things will start to come together.
Sun-Arc: I thought it was a combo of both. But after seeing all of Yusef's amazing analytic articles, it has me wondering if the schemes were more present than I thought. I've kind of come to the conclusion Yusuf is really good at ferreting out the few cohesive plays that occurred within each game. But I've come to the wrong conclusions before, so who knows?
What I do know is that the defense was atrocious. They fouled WAY too much, which was due largely to laziness by many of the players. The offense was stagnant and almost completely dependent on having dynamics guards getting their own shots off of halfhearted screens. We were bottom 3, I believe, in assists per game- and it showed. The offensive sets were mostly not creative and open shots were hard to come by. Seemingly, the blame for this has to rest at least somewhat on the players and coaches both.
I have no idea if Watson & co are capable of doing better as coaches. Triano ran some interesting sets in Portland and utilized more big-man passing, which I expected to see more of. Which brings me to my half-joking conspiracy theory of Watson & co not putting cohesive schemes together for a purpose. I'm not clear on what that purpose would be. Maybe like Shakespeare's Henry IV, he wanted to play the fool so he can look great when there is some success next season. Maybe he just wanted the team bond through mutual commiseration. Maybe he feels by showing them how ineffective isolated hero-ball and fouling are, they'll be more motivated to play as a team in the future.
Luckily I do feel the young players are capable of improvement. And with another year of development from TJ, Booker, Ulis, Bender, and Chriss they'll be a much better team. And Watson will "flip the switch" on his coaching. Could happen, right?
SDKyle: I'd say it's definitely a bit of both. BrightSide writers have done some good video breakdowns of how you can often see that the Suns were trying to execute a plan, but as often as not the scheme turned out to be ineffective because our players lost track of themselves or just proved incapable of doing what they needed to. But at the same time, there were definitely many times during this past season where the team seemed to have only vague directives to operate under, especially on defense.
SouthernSun: I think it's a little bit of both. He's as much of a rookie at being a head coach as these guys are at being NBA players. Perhaps he'll show a little bit more ability this season. One thing that lends some credibility to the idea that it was the players fault more than anything is that he had veteran head coaches on the sidelines with him as his assistants. One of them always known for being a coach who really values defense, and another a guy who apparently had a hand in creating the offensive attack used by the Blazers. They have no shortage of intelligent basketball minds on the coaching staff. They should be able to come up with something.
3. Watson seems to be a great motivator and the Suns' players all seem to have bought in on him as head coach. How long do you think this will last if the team doesn't start putting more Ws in the win/loss column?
GuarGuar: I truly believe Watson has a great personal connection with his players. I remember him talking during the rookie presser how Quese Facetimes him at Target at midnight to just talk about life. I truly believe the relationships are genuine and regardless of winning or losing they will always be close. However, a lot of losing can cause some rifts so we must start winning eventually for this to work out.
Sun-Arc: I think it could last another season. Doubtful two more. And the question is... how many more wins will it take for player and fan buy-in? For me it has to approach 34 wins (an improvement of 10). Maybe the players can handle less wins since they bond with the coaches more. I don't get to bond with the players all summer like Earl does. I just bond with them over a few beers in front of the TV 82 times a season.
SDKyle: Not that much longer. I really do give Watson credit for getting the team to buy in, but frustrations are going to start boiling over if the on-court results don't start reflecting the positive locker room vibes. Honestly, though, a little bit of frustration might be good. We don't want this team becoming complacent or accepting losing as the natural order of things. Watson's job this season will be to keep them buying in while also encouraging them to want more and not accept mediocrity.
SouthernSun: I love the way he's gotten guys to buy him. His ability to get guys to do that is an asset, especially when your team is awful and not winning many games. But the sense of camaraderie is palpable. They all seem to legitimately enjoy playing with each other, being around each other, and you get sense that they really support one another as well. There didn't really seem to be one malcontent in the bunch that entire long, grueling, horrendous excuse for a season of basketball. Even Brandon Knight, who in the span of 2 years went from borderline all star out east who signed a big contract with the Suns to start in a backcourt with Bledsoe for years to come, and ended up losing his starting spot to a 19 year old, didn't make a peep about his unhappiness (which he deserves an enormous amount of credit for, whether you like him or not). Vets were smiling right along with the young guys, even after being shut down for the season in hopes of getting a better player in the draft who may take their place at some point. It won't last more than another season or so. If we get to midway through the 2018/19 season and the team is still below .500, the smiles will stop, the grumbling will start, and no amount of "love" will keep Earl's job safe.
4. What do you need to see from the Suns this season to give you more confidence in Watson as the team's head coach moving forward?
GuarGuar: There's a lot Earl can show me to make me more confident in him as an NBA head coach and not just a motivational leader. Consistency in our performance/execution offensively and defensively would do that. Stable rotations that don't have fans baffled would be nice too. I really expect a much better season from Watson.
Sun-Arc: Better overall team play in general. But specifically: More passing, assists, team-defense, successful schemes (if not always apparent to me), and at least 32 wins. I want to see more accountability on defense by the players and less fouling. I'd also like to see all the young guys make some improvement over last season. Doesn't have to be huge, but something. I'd also have to see continued buy-in by the players with no drama (outside of Knight) and for the players to give full effort in 90% of the games. Is that too much to ask?
SDKyle: I want to see this team be more competitive more consistently when playing good teams, and win the majority of the games they play against the leagues worst 5 or 6 teams. For me, this is the season where Watson needs to at least BEGIN to show that his team building and feel-good rhetoric can translate to improved results for the Suns franchise. In my opinion his seat will be warm in 2018/2019 otherwise.
SouthernSun: Next season I need to see legitimate improvement. I will need to see an actual construable offense being run, and actual defense being played. The addition of Jackson, and Bender getting increased minutes should help with both of those things. Basically, I need to see a few more wins than last yer. 30 or more would be a great start to build on. I'm shooting for 35, but I know that with all the improvements teams in the West made, that number will probably be pretty hard to reach. Here's hoping some stars move from the West to the East next summer.
Bonus Question: How do you feel about Ryan McDonough's contract extension and James Jones being hired as VP of Basketball Ops?
GuarGuar: The McDonough extension is great for #TheTimeline. He can breathe now and not be forced into making moves to expedite the winning process and hurt our long term upside. He made a lot of mistakes as a GM but he has grown a lot and has put a solid young core as a foundation for this team. James Jones was a terrific signing. His expertise will be invaluable for this franchise and I am extremely excited he has joined. When the time comes to go after a big free agent he can be a big part in the recruiting process.
Sun-Arc: I'm a fan of what Ryan has done. I applaud the extension. From what I could find, it is a three year extension, which I think he's earned. I know some here feel he hasn't done a great job, but after seeing what Sarver's last hire for GM (Lance Blanks) did to the franchise, I'll friggin take it. I actually think McD has done a lot of good for the team. I've never seen this many young guys on the team with promise. Marion, Stat, and JJ were the last time we were loaded with youth. But now we have at least 7 very good prospects on the team (TJ, Book, Ulis, Bender, Chriss, Reed, and Josh Jackson). That's really amazing- almost an entire team just of guys that are 23 or younger. Plus lots of cap flexibility and more first round picks in our pocket that will allow us to continue to improve from within or snag a star in a trade.
Gone are the days of drafting Kendall Marshall and a Morris twin; or acquiring Josh Childress, Michael Beasley, and Hedo Turkoglu on horrid contracts; or trading for Vince Carter. Sure- it all has to translate into wins, but I do think that is coming soon.
As for Jones... not sure what to think. He does have a good resume including as an executive within the player's association and 7x in the finals. Those final appearances were all with LBJ, who insisted to Miami and Cleveland that Jones had to be a part of the team in each of those consecutive 7 seasons. That would point to good reasons for this hire. Maybe its a way to get lure LBJ here? LoL
SDKyle: I feel good about the McD extension, because I generally like what he's done despite the setbacks and losses. In my opinion it would make little sense for the Suns to make a change before giving McD’s vision a chance to take shape over the next couple of seasons and see what it can do.
SouthernSun: I am actually pretty happy that McDonough was extended. I think he has made some boneheaded moves while in charge, but his good ones have overshadowed his bad ones. The Knight trade is one that everybody seems to point to as his worst move, but it honestly wasn't a bad move at the time. We had just lost Dragic due to his trade demand. Knew we had to move him. There was no way a backcourt of Bled and I.T. would work. Then we moved I.T. We needed a replacement. Knight was in the middle of a season that garnered him all star consideration out east, averaging 18ppg and 5apg shooting 40% from 3 on 5 attempts per game. McDonough made the move. Then that summer, he drafted Booker assuming Booker would be their backup SG for quite some time. But Booker turned out to be this future superstar, so Knight was delegated to bench duty, where his stats plummeted, and here we are today. Had Booker never turned out like he did, Knight would still be starting next to Bledsoe and averaging his 18 and 5, and the trade wouldn't be looked at as being so awful. Also keep in mind that at the time the trade was made, many assumed the Lakers would improve that summer and that the pick would end up only being a late lottery pick. One thing McDonough has done ever since he got here is try and shoot for the moon. He chased LeBron. He chased Aldridge. He missed out on LeBron and got I.T. He attempted to make a 3 headed scoring monster of Bled, Dragic, and I.T. He keeps trying to hit it out of the park. And I definitely respect that. I think he's a good GM. He's made some mistakes, but he's learning. He's one of the savviest GMs in the league, I'd say, and as he continues to get older, he'll keep improving at it. We'll see how the next couple seasons play out. I expect them to be interesting.
Jones was a great hire. As many have said before, he simply knows what it takes to win. He knows how to make superstars happy. He knows what they look for in a franchise. He knows how to get them, and how to keep them,. I hope that he brings that expertise to the valley and helps turn this into an organization that the greats really want to be. I remember the news that Blake had mentioned Phoenix on that podcast as being one of his top 4 favorite NBA cities. That felt so good to hear, even if it was about the area and not even necessarily the team. I want Jones to really help make this a destination franchise again. Help us get back to the glory days. Also, he should be a big help in relations between the front office and players. We can't afford any more Dragic style departures.
Once again many thanks to our Fantable... GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and SouthernSun! I really appreciate these guys for taking the time and putting in the extra effort to contribute their thoughts, opinions and insights every week.
I'm also looking forward to reading the opinions of everyone who contributes in the comments section too.
Phoenix Suns' Top 20 Plays of the 2016-2017 NBA Season
Quote of the Week
“I’ve learned through some things that went well and learned through some of my mistakes and right now I just think I have a clear vision of what we want to do and how we want to get there.” - Robert Sarver
News & Notes
Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe: I love Phoenix but 'at the same time, I want to win'. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports
ESPN’s Pelton: Suns adding Jones may open door for future LeBron meeting. Arizona Sports
Devin Booker NBA 2K18 Rating Revealed. Suns.com
Suns owner Robert Sarver addresses the team's arena situation, possible joint venue with Coyotes. ABC15 Arizona
The Phoenix Suns Need a True Point Guard. 16 Wins A Ring
Suns History in Video
Kevin Johnson: 46 Points Vs Houston (1995 Playoffs Game 7)
Kevin Johnson ranks 3rd in the list of all-time leading scorers for the Suns with 12,747 points. He ranks 2nd in assists (6,518), 4th in steals (1,022), 15th in rebounds (2,332) and 26th in blocks (159). KJ also ranks 1st in career playoff games played (105) and appearances in the playoffs for the Suns with 11 in 12 seasons.
Statistics courtesy of Land of Basketball.com.
Previewing the Weeks/Months Ahead
August 31 - Last day teams may waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2017/18 salaries.
September 5 - Deadline to sign second-round draft picks (picks become free agents if not given a required tender)
Late September (specific dates TBA) — Training camps open.
October 17 - Day One of the 2017-18 NBA Season!
Last Week's Poll Results
The question was, "Who should start for the Suns at small forward at the beginning of the season?" The results were:
39% - TJ Warren. It's his job until Jackson proves he's better.
41% - Josh Jackson. He's the Suns' SF of the future so put him in the starting lineup ASAP.
19% - It's too early to say. I'll wait until after watching them both in the pre-season games to decide.
There were a total of 548 votes cast.
This week's poll is...
What is your opinion of Earl Watson as the Suns head coach?
This poll is closed
I like him. He should be given at least a couple of years to grow with the team.
I'm on the fence about him. He needs to improve his coaching this season.
He's a good motivator but I don't think he's the long term answer as the Suns head coach.