As inexplicable as it may be, the Phoenix Suns not hiring anyone else to fill their scouting department seems like foreshadowing for what’s coming next. All of the following people were fired nine days before the regular season opener against Dallas: GM Ryan McDonough, Assistant GM Pat Connelly, G-League GM Louis Lehman, director of scouting Courtney Witte, and director of international scouting Emilio Kovacic.
In their place, interim tags were slapped on James Jones, Trevor Bukstein, and Dylan DeBusk. However, Witte’s spot wasn’t filled to our knowledge. And trying to poach scouts from other staffs during preseason is a daunting task.
The only scout focused on the draft who is still on staff in Phoenix is John Shumate. Jason Hervey is an advanced scout, meaning that title focuses more on the NBA in general (ex: scouting upcoming matchups for the Suns).
Another context clue can be found from Jones when he appeared on 98.7 FM’s Burns & Gambo earlier this month speaking about the Suns’ priorities.
“We have a bunch of young players in this draft. We’ve been deep in the draft, we’ve drafted a lot of players over the years and our focus has shifted more to development of these players and looking at NBA players that we possibly can add to this team,” Jones said.
What Jones said makes a ton of sense, too. As currently constructed, Phoenix has six players U-22 on their roster who seem to be part of their long-term plans: Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, Deandre Ayton, De’Anthony Melton, and Elie Okobo.
“We shifted focus. I think in the past our primary focus — a great amount of our time was spent turning over every stone as it relates to players and college players, but college players don’t win NBA games,” Jones continued. “NBA players do, so that’s where our focus is now.”
As you will find out later this week when I release Lottery Big Board 2.0, Duke’s Zion Williamson is really starting to separate himself from any other prospect in the 2019 draft class. From a franchise-altering standpoint, Williamson is the only one who classifies as an immediate impact player who could change the fortunes of Phoenix’s rebuild. After Williamson, though, this draft really falls off.
With that being said, should the Suns want to push their chips all-in between February and July for their answer at point guard? It makes sense, but there’s no need to rush into this important decision when it isn’t warranted.
When surveying around the NBA’s landscape, there are still fluid situations elsewhere that could have an immediate impact on the Suns’ offseason plans. Whether it’s the Kawhi Leonard situation in Toronto, or Anthony Davis in New Orleans, Phoenix needs to wait for the absolute right opportunity to pounce.
Below are five names Suns fans should be monitoring between now and the summer. Odds are one, if not all, of these point guards could be on the move next year depending on what happens with their respective teams.
If Kawhi bolts Toronto, an NBA Finals contender, for the Los Angeles Clippers, then expect Raptors GM Masai Ujiri to get aggressive and retool on the fly. Before they nabbed an MVP candidate for DeMar DeRozan, all indications were Ujiri was planning to move on from both of his franchise players.
Lowry has been a snug fit next to Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s long, defensive-minded wings. However, he’s going to be 33 years old next season while entering into the final year of his contract. If Lowry shows up in the playoffs, Ujiri might be able to get a nice package in return for the 14-year veteran.
So far this season, Lowry is averaging 14.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and a career-high 10.2 assists while shooting 33 percent from deep. The Raptors’ point guard has also turned into an advanced stats darling, consistently being near the top of leader boards in RPM and VORP.
For Phoenix, Lowry might not take much at all to acquire depending on Leonard leaving and their draft position after May’s lottery. The Suns have been preserving max cap space all season, refusing to take back money stretching past 2018-19. It’s obvious they have big plans for the summer, but who will fill the void?
At the moment, it’s looking unlikely either Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker will turn down 5-year max extensions from their respective teams. That leaves names like Terry Rozier and D’Angelo Russell as possibly the top names on the market for point guards.
Realistically, a trade might be the Suns’ best bet to getting a culture-setter who helps advance their young core forward.
In the midst of chasing their first NBA championship, there’s no way Toronto trades anybody. However, that could all change depending on what happens with one of the greatest two-way players of this millennium.
Conley is along the same lines as Lowry, but it’s quite possible Memphis could decide to punt on this season depending on what happens leading up to February’s trade deadline. At the moment, Memphis sits at 16-15 but they will likely drop to .500 after playing the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The Western Conference is an absolute gauntlet this season, with 14 teams still in contention for a playoff spot almost halfway through the regular season. If Memphis falters over the next month, they could push themselves out of the playoff race.
After selecting Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 4 overall this past draft, why not push the reset button a few months early? Conley will be 32 next season, while Marc Gasol has a player option for the 2019-20 campaign.
Trading Conley while his value is at its peak might be their best shot at successfully weaving their way through a quick rebuild. They could not only end up with two lottery picks this year, if they moved Conley, but also set themselves up to get another top pick in 2020 if they bottomed out for a year around JJJ.
From Memphis’ point of view, I don’t see why they wouldn’t explore this option. It seems obvious that this core has reached its limits for competing with juggernauts in their own conference.
For Phoenix, Conley makes a lot of sense. Yes, there’s a major risk with a checkered injury past but his two-way moxie and leadership ability make him an ideal fit alongside Booker in the backcourt.
What makes the fit even more intriguing is that Conley’s contract runs through the 2020-21 season. Ayton and Bridges wouldn’t have their extensions kick in until Conley’s figures are already washed off their books.
Trotting out a lineup next season of Conley-Booker-Bridges-Warren-Ayton with Melton-Jackson-Oubre-Holmes off the bench seems like a unit that could take major steps forward with internal growth.
Depending on how Memphis fares over the next month, Phoenix should inquire near the deadline. Something along the lines of their own pick (top-1 or top-3 protected) with Ryan Anderson’s expiring and Okobo seems like a fair deal for a Memphis team in desperate need of a retooling process.
Pay close attention to the Davis situation ongoing in New Orleans right now, because this domino effect could lead to them blowing everything up simultaneously in July. Davis seems to be flirting heavily with LeBron James’ Lakers. Even if Davis doesn’t end up in Hollywood, all signs point to him declining the super max extension this summer and forcing his way out.
Davis’ latest comments via Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes should ring off alarms in the Pelicans’ front office:
“I’d take legacy over money. I want to have a legacy. All the people that look up to me, the younger kids, I want them to know about AD’s legacy. Championships, the things I do in my community, being a good teammate, playing hard. All that stuff matters the most to me.”
Well, New Orleans won’t be winning a championship anytime soon. Adios to the Davis-Pelicans relationship in less than six months time, in my opinion.
Davis will have plenty of suitors this summer if he wants out of New Orleans — don’t be surprised if the Suns inquire about him when that time comes — but Jrue Holiday’s situation becomes even more intriguing to follow.
Compared to Lowry and Conley, Holiday fits more within the Suns’ timeline. Instead of being in his early-to-mid 30s, Holiday will only be 29 at the start of next season. On top of that, Holiday’s contract runs through the 2021-2022 season where he will never be the highest paid player on Phoenix’s roster.
As the Robin to Davis’ Batman, Holiday is averaging 20.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals on 47.1/31.8/76.1 shooting splits.
Out of all the names mentioned, Holiday would fit like a glove next to Booker. Not only could Holiday bounce around from on-ball to off-ball with no problem, he did it plenty with Rajon Rondo last season, but his All-NBA defensive prowess and plus catch-and-shoot percentages show someone who could really help lock in the identity Jones is trying to build.
And if all goes well, Holiday could be inked to a new contract by the Suns at the same time Ayton and Bridges sign the dotted line on their extensions. Holiday’s current contract, like Conley or Lowry, wouldn’t interfere from this angle.
Even though Davis will get the most attention nationally, New Orleans’ point guard could really fetch them a solid trade package soon enough. Phoenix offering their 2019 1st plus Warren, Okobo, and the 2020 Bucks pick seems fair, if Davis does indeed leave them.
A lineup of Holiday-Booker-Bridges-Warren/Oubre-Ayton / Melton-Jackson-Oubre-Holmes fits the defensive-minded identity Phoenix is trying to mold around its young scoring building blocks in Booker and Ayton. Holiday fits this idea to perfection.
Terry Rozier or D’Angelo Russell
All other options mentioned previously seem to fit the timeline of summer blockbusters, unless Memphis really falls off a cliff between now and February. These two young point guard options, who will be restricted free agents this summer, could be had in the next six weeks.
Rozier is struggling mightily with less minutes, while Russell’s value is approaching its peak if Brooklyn wants to not lose him for nothing.
If we’re talking purely from #TheTimeline angle, where pursuing a guard under the age of 25 fits well within their core’s age group, both Rozier and Russell make plenty of sense.
However, neither of them qualify as players the Suns should be trading their most valuable asset for right now. Rozier continues to be a sub-40 percent shooter, while Russell’s fit next to Booker from a defensive point of view is shaky at best.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks did report today, though, that Phoenix and Orlando were mentioned as top destinations for Rozier and Russell this summer. Both teams will have plenty of cap space to pursue either one of them with no problem.
Rozier and Russell plan to fetch somewhere between $15-18 million a year on the open market. If anyone throws that offer at either of them, I don’t expect their teams to match with the current cap situations (Brooklyn wants to remain flexible with max cap space; Boston will be over the luxury tax).
I wouldn’t advocate to pursue either of these guards, if it takes a high price in February, but they might sniff around to see how attainable Rozier or Russell is.
Both of these younger options classify as more realistic options as outright free agent signings, but maybe the Suns believe they could get a leg-up on other teams if they made a move now instead of being in the middle of a bidding war in seven months.
Many are clamoring for the Suns to take action soon, but, as mentioned, they must play these next few weeks and months as smart as possible. They can’t afford to ruin the momentum they currently have going, and one bad move could have a domino effect later on.
If Phoenix plays their cards right, they could ascend up the Western Conference ladder sooner than many people expected. Any of these five names could help accomplish their long-term goals of becoming a sustainable playoff team buoyed by Booker and Ayton.
Which of these options makes the most sense for Phoenix to pursue between now and July?
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