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Phoenix Suns Season Preview: Unique predictions for the 2019-20 season

Bright Side Emeriti answer the call to preview the new Phoenix Suns season

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Bright Side has been around for almost 15 years now, so you can imagine that we have gone through a boatload of talented staff writers to bring you their daily thoughts on the Phoenix Suns.

Ever wonder what happened to some of our best and brightest writers of days gone by?

Well, we won’t tell you that. They’re ninjas. They disappeared among us, with only a promise to answer the call of the occasional Blog Signal. You might see them in the comment sections. You might see them on twitter. Or you might not see them at all. But they’re still here. Lurking. Opining. Wringing their hands like the rest of us.

This week, I needed their help. So I climbed to the top of Bright Side Tower, flipped on the oversized flood light and blasted the dark silhouette of a Phoenix onto the nighttime clouds.

The following are the words of the Bright Side Emeriti who answered the call to tell us how THEY feel about this new iteration of the Phoenix Suns...

1) Does James Jones deserve GM of the Decade (2010s) for his one off season of work on the roster?

JIM COUGHENOUR (member since 2010): Thanks to bball-ref here for the list...

According to this, there are actually six candidates that qualify as candidates. I’m going to include Sarver, too, since he was at the helm during the black summer of 2010 after Kerr stepped aside.

Here’s how I would rank them.

  1. Jones
  2. Bukstein
  3. Kerr
  4. Babby
  5. Blanks
  6. McDonough
  7. Sarver

I would have Kerr ranked ahead of Jones for his body of work, but Kerr made one player transaction in 2010 before he left... signing Dwayne Jones. It’s ok. I don’t remember him either.

In less than a year Jones has acquired at least five real NBA players (Rubio, Baynes, Oubre, Saric, Tyler Johnson) and two other players that might contribute this season (Cam Johnson, Kaminsky). For the first time in years the team appears like it might be competitive. Bukstein gets collateral credit.

Babby was a lawyer/agent miscast as a GM. Blanks was damn near invisible. McDonough was one of the worst GM’s in league history. Sarver got the ball rolling on a decade of futility by not offering Amar’e a guaranteed contract and going after Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick as (in his mind) suitable replacements.

MIKE LISBOA (since 2008): Ryan McDonough deserves Worst GM of the Decade. James Jones succeeded in putting together a legitimate 9-man rotation in a single offseason. Ryan McDonough lowered the bar so much that we consider that an incredible accomplishment. That is the bare minimum that should be expected of an NBA general manager!

SEAN SULLIVAN / 7footer (since 2010): Hmmm...considering the only other competition includes the era of decimation by Babby & Blanks (still not sure who was really the GM) and the era of asset acquisition and subsequent mismanagement by McDonough, sure...why not? Unless we want to award it to Kerr on a technicality since he didn’t actually resign until June of 2010.

JACOB PADILLA (since 2010): If we’re talking about just the Suns here, Jones wins by default based on what Lance Blanks, Lon Babby and Ryan McDonough did during their tenures in the Valley of the Sun. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of a lot of the moves Jones made or how he executed them. But the bottom line is he cleared out as much of the roster flotsam from the McDonough era as he could and he hit reset. The Suns appear to have a team that will actually know how to play NBA basketball, which hasn’t necessarily been the case the last couple of years. Now, can Jones continue to build things up from here? That will be the more difficult part. I need to see the answer to that before I hand him any hardware.

GEOFF ALLEN (since 2012): Suns GM of the decade? I mean, sure. Not a high hurdle, really, but sure. In all seriousness, the Suns offseason was solid, but not necessarily spectacular. I think we’re kind of lulled into a weird complacency by how bad the management has been in recent years. By comparison, this offseason looks like a miracle, even if objectively it was maybe a B/B+.

DEADPOOLIO (since 2015): Gah…urgh…ulgg……..kaa! Oh man, I almost choked to death on this sandwich triangle. Come on, Dave. You can’t be asking questions like that when I’m eating. By the way, while I was choking, I saw God, and He also says no.

2) When the Suns win 45+% of their games by January, does Devin Booker become an All-Star? Or is he just another shooting guard?

Jim: If Booker is going to make it to the All-Star game it will almost surely be as a reserve. Curry and Harden are the presumptive starters barring injury. There are four openings available to him, two for reserve guards and two for wildcards. Two of those are likely locked up (Westbrook, Lillard) as well.

So here is his competition to sneak into one of the last spots.

  1. Jamal Murray - The Nuggets might end up with the best record in the conference with him as the second biggest piece.
  2. D’Angelo Russell - If he fits in and the Warriors do well he could get credit for keeping the team afloat in Klay Thompson’s absence.
  3. Chris Paul - Don’t discount the prospect of a “lifetime achievement” selection.
  4. De’Aaron Fox - My money would be on him to have a breakout year and make the team.
  5. Mike Conley - Conley has never been an All-Star and that could work in his favor. If Utah is near the top of the conference at least one of Mitchell, Conley or Gobert almost has to make it.
  6. Donovan Mitchell - Same analysis as Conley.
  7. CJ McCollum - I think he’s a long shot, but some people apparently love his game (e.g. #13 on the ESPN NBA rank list).

There is also a surfeit of talented players at the front court positions (Kawhi, LeBron, Davis, Jokic, George, Gobert, Towns, Doncic, Zion) so there’s no reason to concede the wildcard spots to back court players. It’s also possible, but not likely, that someone I didn’t mention crashes the party. Booker will probably need an other-worldly performance to distance himself from the negative connotations associated with the Suns. The talent in the field is also ridiculously deep.

My guess is that Booker will not make the team unless the Suns have a top four or five record in the conference... so sorry Book. Maybe in 2021.

Mike: What an incredibly optimistic question! He might have a chance since Klay Thompson is out for the season, but the Western Conference remains crazy deep at guard. If the Suns win 45% of their games by January, it will certainly raise his profile. But he’ll have to be putting up Durant-like numbers to make the All-Star roster.

Sean: If the Suns win 45% of their games because Devin Booker thrives both on and off the ball, and is finally supplemented with other players who can contribute without Booker having to do it all, while still continuing to score around 30 per game in a more efficient manner, it would be difficult to leave him off the list. That’s a pretty big if though.

Jacob: There are 12 players (not including Klay Thompson) currently in the Western Conference who made the All-Star team last year. There are only 13 spots. Booker is among a group including the likes of Mike Conley, Danilo Gallinari, Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, Jrue Holiday, Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan, Buddy Hield, Rudy Gobert, Jamal Murray and others trying to break through and take spots from the returning All-Stars. If the Suns somehow manage to win 40-ish games, Booker will almost assuredly have he numbers to put him in the discussion. Whether he actually makes it is hard to say, but it certainly won’t be easy.

Geoff: The first few months of the Suns schedule are ROUGH. It would be AMAZING if they win 15 games by January 1. If they have gotten to 15 wins, Booker is likely going to be in the All-Star conversation. I don’t think he’ll actually get there because the West is the West, but he’ll be in the conversation.

Deadpoolio: I can’t imagine a Western Conference guard making the All-Star team on a sub-.500 squad. If Phoenix is legitimately fighting for the 8th seed come January and Booker’s numbers are good, he probably earns a long look. However, there’s a TON of backcourt talent in the West. I know he’d love to earn that All-Star berth, though. No double teams in an All-Star game.

3) When the Suns actually only win 27% of their games again, what most likely caused another dumpster fire?

Jim: I will preface this by saying I think the Suns will win a lot more than 22 games. The obvious, and most likely, answer would be myriad and/or key injuries. I will go a different route. Assuming the team is relatively healthy, I think the stacked Western Conference might work against the Suns and depress their win total.

I wouldn’t care to wager on the order of most of the teams 9th-14th in the conference. The Pelicans might actually be pretty good if their young guys play well and Zion becomes an instant star. The Kings should be better than last season with another year under the belt for Fox and Bagley. The Mavericks season is probably dependent on Porzingis staying healthy and returning to form. There’s no reason to concede the Suns will be better than the Wolves at this point. I have no idea how the Thunder will do... I’m thinking not well, but there is still a lot of NBA talent on that roster.

Add in the heavyweights at the top of the conference and it’s entirely possible the Suns could be a much improved team that finishes 13th or 14th and struggles to get to 30 wins.

Mike: What an incredibly pessimistic question! It will be more accurate to say the dumpster fire never went out: incompetent ownership, a GM with no experience, a retread coach, and a roster whose best player hasn’t proven he can contribute to winning basketball. If the Suns have another season of failure, it will be par for the course.

Sean: I’d say the lack of defensive development from Ayton. In order for the Suns to take it to the next level, they need Ayton to be dominant in both ends of the floor. Ayton has shown flashes of offensive post dominance, but not consistently, and that will need to improve. However, the biggest concern and area of improvement is for Ayton to dominate the post defensively. Can he host a block party down low? Can he read and recognize screens and switches in time and cut off the lane? Can he box out and secure contested rebounds against other talented big men? These are my main concerns.

Jacob: Booker, Oubre, Bridges and Rubio all shooting below 34% from 3 again would go a long way towards ensuring that. Ayton failing to make progress defensively would certainly hurt this team in a big way. Phoenix also needs Dario Saric to look more like the Year Two version of himself than what we saw last year; if he doesn’t the Suns still have major issues at power forward. Obviously, a serious injury to Booker would make it very difficult for the Suns to compete.

Geoff: A Devin Booker injury that causes him to miss more than 10 games is just about the only way I see the Suns winning less than 25 games this season. The team is much deeper than in the recent past, and importantly, those pieces are much more interchangeable than in the past. Last season, for example, I don’t think our depth was awful, but a good chunk of those depth players were at their best playing with dominant scorers, and the team only had one player like that - Devin Booker.

Deadpoolio: They’ve churned through general managers, coaches, and their vaunted training staff. Either it’s time to fire the Gorilla and Al McCoy or, just perhaps, the problem is with the players. Maybe Scooby and the gang can get to the bottom of this mystery.

4) Which offseason acquisition NOT named Ricky Rubio will make the greatest positive impact on the team?

Jim: Monty Williams. Maybe this is kind of cheating since he isn’t a player, but I really think the main three areas that needed upgraded this summer were (in this order) point guard, head coach and power forward.

I know that Igor Kokoskov wasn’t dealt the best hand, but it seems pretty hard to argue that Williams isn’t a big upgrade. He’s a known commodity. I’m not speculating that Monty will be the guy that brings Phoenix its first NBA title, but I think he’s probably at least a good transition coach to get from the cellar to the playoffs.

Mike: Dario Šarić. The Suns haven’t had a decent power forward since Markieff Morris. The fact that they can roll out an entire starting five of NBA players is a giant leap forward over the last 3 years of Phoenix basketball. It’s not so much him as a player as what he represents (competence as a replacement level starter) that will make the biggest impact on the first 10 minutes of each game.

Sean: I want to say Baynes, but in preseason, I was most impressed with Kaminsky. Do rookies count? Both Johnson and Jerome showed a lot of poise and potential. If we are only counting free agents and trades, Baynes should help anchor the defense and hopefully help mentor Ayton in how to be tougher inside.

Jacob: I’m in a good mood, so I’ll say Dario Saric. He’s got his limitations, but the playmaking and shooting ability Saric can bring to the lineup could really unlock a lot of things for the offense. Booker has a legitimate pick-and-pop option and a floor spacer for when he runs pick-and-rolls with Ayton, and when Phoenix doesn’t have the ball in Booker’s hands, Saric is capable of fitting into the .5 offense with his vision. I don’t expect Phoenix to be a great defensive team, but I do think theres’s a lot of potential to make an offensive leap and Saric could play a big part in that. Baynes’ minutes will be limited behind Ayton and it’s hard to expect immediate impact from rookies, so Saric is my answer almost by default.

Geoff: Honestly, I think it might be Frank Kaminsky. For what the Suns seem to want to do, Kaminsky is an incredibly valuable player with his ability to stretch the floor and shoot off of pick and pop plays. That is going to free up the guards and wings (Kelly, Tyler, Ricky, Devin, etc.) to have more free space in getting to the basket.

Deadpoolio: Ty Jerome has looked solid as a backup point, and Cameron Johnson has that shot. But I’ll go with Aron Baynes. He brings a toughness that’s been lacking along with experience on winning teams. Tack on his rebounding, defense, and ability to stretch the floor with an improved 3-point shot, and I think he’ll contribute more than expected. There’s a reason Boston didn’t want to lose him. His dirt-worker play is exactly what winning teams need in order to…oh. Right.

5) Which season-opening rotation player gets traded first?

Jim: Since the majority of the Suns rotation players are new it will probably be after December 15th before any kind of consequential deal is made. Cam Johnson could be traded earlier, but I don’t really see that happening.

Tyler Johnson (who can be traded now), Dario Saric and Aron Baynes all fit the profile of expiring contracts who can actually play basketball a little bit. I guess I lean towards thinking Saric is most likely to go since that appears to be the weakest position on the team and in need of an upgrade. Ultimately, though, I think it’s more likely that a trade would include more than just one rotation player from the Suns leaving.

Mike: Tyler Johnson. That expiring $20M deal could facilitate getting a BIG NAME to Phoenix if the Suns start out promisingly enough. My runner up is Kelly Oubre, Jr., because he feels like less of a long term need if Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson pan out.

Sean: If the Suns struggle early on and show no promise of improving, I could see Baynes shipped off to a contender. Tyler Johnson is another obvious choice, but with that contract, even on an expiring deal, that may be a tough sell.

Jacob: This is a difficult question because if the Suns do make a midseason move of consequence I’m assuming it’ll be a big one that includes multiple key rotation players. If the Suns don’t make that big move, I could see one of Tyler Johnson or Aron Baynes shipped off to a contender prior to the trade deadline.

Geoff: Rotation player? That’s a tough one. My money would be on Baynes, because I think he’ll probably have the most value for teams, and the team can replace his minutes with Kaminsky and Diallo, who are already on the roster. But I wouldn’t even put Baynes as super likely to be traded.

Deadpoolio: Baynes. He’s a vet, on an expiring deal, and could contribute to any playoff team.

6) How many games will the Suns win this season?

Jim: I know I’m typically cast as the resident doom merchant on this site, but I’m guessing I’m more bullish on this team than most. Coach Monty will be a stabilizing force. Rubio finally gives the team an NBA starter quality floor general. Booker will be a top 30 player. Ayton will be a top five center. I’m going to guess the Suns are just a year behind the Kings... and go with a win total completely suggestive of that.

39 wins and 10th in the Western Conference. This will make for a much more entertaining season, but don’t expect it to quell the discussion over whether the Booker/Ayton duo is championship worthy.

Mike: 41. I’ve said this for the last few seasons, and I’m sticking with it. This team desperately needs a .500 season. After 2-3 seasons of having G-League talent comprise half the rotation, I think they’ve added enough firepower to make this number more than just aspirational.

Sean: 38...double from last year!

Jacob: I’ve really been struggling with this question. The Suns were the worst team in the league last year yet they have a chance to change a lot of the things that led to the 19-win season based off their offseason moves. That being said, it’s not like the Suns added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to their team. I’ll go with 32-50, which is a massive leap even if that doesn’t sound great right now before the games start, when hope springs eternal.

Geoff: 36. I’d say +/- 2 is a fair estimate of the range. I don’t see the team picking up wins late in the season, as their last five games are all going to be against teams that should be vying for playoff seeding.

Deadpoolio: I’m not picking a number. Every time I do, Phoenix treats it like a limbo bar. But they can’t win fewer than 19, right? I mean, even the 1929 stock market went back up eventually!

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