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Center of the Sun: Suns break losing streak, still miraculously hanging around the tail end of playoff contention

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If they’re going to make a real run at the playoffs, it has to start now.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets L (113-111) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors L (105-96) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Sacramento Kings W (112-110) Full Recap

We’re just two days - and one more Suns game - away from the beginning of 2020. Although the Suns’ record is only 12-20, they are still somehow hanging around at the fringe of playoff contention as they remain just 1.5 games behind Portland (14-19) and San Antonio (13-18) for that 8th seed.

The Suns aren’t the only ones eyeing that spot though as Sacramento, Memphis and Minnesota are also right there in a six-team scrum, all fighting to get their hands on that prize.

While it’s easy to point to the Suns’ poor performance over the last six weeks (5-16) and say that they have no chance to make it, none of the rest of the teams in the West’s cellar have made much of a push to separate themselves from the pack and lock anyone else out of contention. That alone has kept them in the mix... but that’s unlikely to continue because things in the NBA are about to change.

In just five weeks (plus a few days), the Feb. 6 trade deadline arrives. Some of the bubble teams in both the West and in the East are going to attempt to boost their chances at getting to the post-season while others are going to throw in the towel and look toward the future by increasing their odds in the lottery. They’re all going to be looking at making trades to hopefully alter their current trajectories.

A lot - probably most - of these trades won’t happen until shortly before the deadline arrives but then there’s always the possibility that certain teams can come to terms on a mutually beneficial trade early on. Rest assured that everyone looking to make a mid-season trade will be hoping to make it happen as soon as possible to try and reap the possible rewards as quickly as they can as the number of remaining games continues to dwindle.

James Jones has already said that he won’t be in a hurry to make any trades as he felt he needed around a “15-game sample” with Deandre Ayton back with the team to really understand the Suns’ strengths and weaknesses. That sounded reasonable when he said it back on Dec. 11 but Ayton’s playing time with the team has been almost nonexistent since his suspension was up due to an ankle injury in his first game back. The Suns now have just 19 games left before the trade deadline arrives.

Even if Ayton returns today for the game against the Blazers and he stays healthy between the trade deadline, there’s no guarantee that everyone else will also stay healthy during that time period. Getting a good look at the entire team over a 15-game stretch before considering possible trades might not be an achievable goal.

When it eventually happens, having a healthy Deandre Ayton back on the floor with a hopefully healthy rest of the team will improve the Suns. Knowing just how much it will change the team certainly needs to be known before any big trades go down but time is short and decisions will need to be made soon.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Backup point guard has been a weakness for the Suns. Should a trade for a more experienced backup PG be something that the Suns are looking into right now and who might be suitable PGs for them to target?

GuarGuar: I do not want us to trade for a backup point guard. I like what we have done the past 2 games running Point Book when Rubio is subbed out. You can put a Carter, Jerome, or Okobo next to Book as a secondary ball handler. Devin Booker has not been used enough for the majority of this season. Giving him that 5-6 minutes or so a half where he can be the primary initiator is a great way to get him more involved. He’s great in pick and rolls and knows how to counter any defense he faces. I’ve been waiting all season for us to do this so I’m glad to see it’s finally happening.

Sun-Arc: The only trades the Suns should actually go through with are the ones that provide value beyond this season. I had always viewed this season as a developmental one, not feeling good about the roster Jones had put together. Further moves have to be made. Of the two most obvious holes, backup point guard is the more complicated one.

We already have several backup guards that can play the point guard position; Tyler Johnson, Okobo, Carter, and Jerome. Of those, Okobo and Carter can hold down the spot the best, while Johnson isn’t a plus and Jerome is a total negative at the moment. But does it make sense to move pieces for a player that may hamper the growth of the young guys? Or does the team not believe in any of them and want to move on? And if that is the case, who wants them in a trade at this point?

A bigger question is whether Jones wants to make more ‘win-now’ moves or think more long-term?

If it is win-now, then, yeah- sure- go all in on filling the backup PG and one of the PF positions on the best available (more on PF in question 2). But who is really available?

  • D.J. Augustin – 32 years old, undersized, meh yet pretty solid, $7 mil expiring.

Then the guards from the Knicks

  • Elfrid Payton – been there, done that, but playing ok-ish, $16 mil over 2 seasons.
  • Frank Ntilikina- young, long, and playing pretty poorly with $11 mil over two seasons.
  • Dennis Smith Jr- fast, young, and playing horribly and getting the fewest minutes as a guard on the Knicks with $10 mil over two seasons.

And from Washington...

  • Ish Smith – done this too, and when he was younger and better, now he’s 31.5 years old and a bit on the decline - $12 mil over two seasons is a lot of cheddah.

If that resembles what is available for the position… sheesh, I might just stay with Okobo and Carter for now and see how Jerome does in the G-league for the rest of the season. The only one that interests me is Augustin, but why would Orlando part with him when they are in the playoff hunt and he’s playing well and on an expiring?

SDKyle: I think upgrading at backup PG should be a fairly high priority given the lack of consistency or NBA readiness displayed by those the Suns currently have.

I’d be interested in someone like Tomas Satoransky, who can do a decent job running the offense while being a shooting threat and not a completely sieve defensively. other guys who come to mind are Delon Wright and George Hill.

Obviously it’s easier to toss out names than it is to get a deal done. And I’m not convinced another big isn’t a bigger concern at this point. But basically if the Suns are going for a PG, I’m looking for a still-effective veteran.

SouthernSun: Yes, the Suns should absolutely be looking to trade for a better backup point guard right now. They need someone to help keep the team afloat whenever one of Rubio and Booker are sitting or injured. Some options are Tomas Satoranksy, Dennis Schroder, and Jeff Teague. Jeff Teague is rumored to be available right now, and would cost barely anything. Perhaps a second round pick and Tyler Johnson’s expiring (Teague himself is expiring as well). Schroeder and Satoranksy would probably be a little more costly, but not terribly so.

Alex S: I’ll be honest, I don’t think trading for a backup PG is incredibly urgent. I’ve advocated for prioritizing PF and will continue to do so in terms of immediate upgrades before the trade deadline. If we were to target a backup PG before the deadline, it should be a vet who has more than a year left on his deal. One guy I came up with so happens to be a former Sun… Ish Smith! I tried going through each roster to find other players that fit this criteria and didn’t necessarily come up with any other results. The next closest player I could be interested in would be a guy like Patty Mills.

Q2 - How aggressive do you think James Jones should be at the trade deadline if the Suns are still in the hunt for that 8th seed?

GuarGuar: Part of me wants to see a full season of this current group we have. Unfortunately, we will only have a month or so worth of data if Ayton comes back soon (also assuming everyone else stays healthy and urinates clean). I’d really like us to grab Danilo Gallinari if possible from OKC. He’s an expiring contract and would really give us a big offensive boost in my opinion. Imagine all the open 3s we generate for Saric but it’s Gallo taking them. Would really elevate our offense to the next level. I really hope we are in playoff contention still come the trade deadline.

Sun-Arc: First off, I don’t think the Suns will be in the hunt for the 8th seed. But, either way, I could see Jones making a move if the value is there to help make the team better. Having said that, what do we have another team wants?

Saric, Baynes, Kaminsky (non-guaranteed), and Diallo are all expiring, as is Tyler Johnson’s whopping $19.2m. Saric and Baynes are worth more than their contracts, and a team would hold their RFA status.

One trade partner I can think of is Orlando. And, hey, Augustin plays there, as does Aaron Gordon - a player rumored on trades in the past. Of course we’d have to give up big and/or take on lots of money to make it worth it to Orlando to give up Gordon.

If you take Gordon + Augustin for Johnson + Saric + Okobo works in the trade machine, yet we’d probably have to give up our FRP unprotected and maybe more. Though it does give a lot of salary relief for Orlando. They may demand Baynes as well, which still works, but leaves us pretty bare on the big and strong dudes. Orlando may also go the other direction and ask for Johnson + Okobo + Kaminsky for Gordon + Augustin + Terrence Ross (or Al-Farouq Aminu, potentially without Kaminsky) to shed more salary. Both those latter players are playing poorly and have relatively high dollar amounts attached to them, particularly Ross @ $12m/year through 2022-23. But that adds a lot of money to Orlando’s cap space next summer. Obviously, I’d prefer Aminu over Ross by FAR. But they may not go for that.

The other trade partner I can think of is the Knicks. I don’t think they part with Randle, but might want to move on from Bobby Portis. Johnson for Portis and DSJ works straight up to shed two season salaries from the rebuilding Knicks. If they did want to move on from Julius Randle, it still works and saves them $3m more each season. But what more might it take for Randle? Picks? Or would they want a player like Cam Johnson, Bridges, and/or Baynes? Are any of those guys worth moving to us for Randle? Kind of complicated, but you get the idea about whether its really worth it. With the Knicks, maaaaybe its all about clearing out money. If it is, we could use Randle (passing, rebounding) and, to a lesser degree, Portis (athletic, 3pters), especially if it just comes at a cost of a couple of pieces we don’t need.

Either of those teams do bring the potential of providing a PF and backup PG. No saviors, but those are hard to come by these days in a trade with anyone.

SDKyle: Moderately aggressive. I’d really like to make the playoffs, but I never think the Suns should get ripped-off. I’d be willing to trade almost anyone on the team for the right price, but trading away the farm for someone like Kevin Love or Blake Griffin would be a potential disaster.

If the Suns get aggressive it has to be someone under 32 and with a decent health record. We’ve all had enough of the missed games this year, haven’t we?

SouthernSun: I want James Jones not to be active at the trade deadline, but I want that to be because he made a trade way before it. I want something done right this second. The bigger the better. The more the better. If you can trade Mikal for Lauri Markannen, do it. If you can bring in a better guard to come off the bench, whether that’s a point guard like Satoransky, Teague, or Schroder, or a shooting guard like JJ Redick, do it. If you can get Jrue Holiday and trot out all three of Booker, Rubio, and Holiday for 32 mpg, do it. Do something though. Right this ship. The quicker it happens, the happier I’ll be. We had a taste of being a probable playoff team, and I need that back. It’s been so long. I’m so thirsty for wins. The team handed us a canteen of water, then snatched it back after we only had a couple of sips, and poured it into the sand. Panic trade all you want. It’s warranted.

Alex S: I don’t think the Suns record should have a big impact on the aggressiveness of Jones. This season has never been about playoff success or a ‘win-now’ type of approach. Any move made at the deadline should be about the roster next season and making their offseason easier to manage. Obvious question marks involve the PF position, backup PG and C going forward. Can James take care of one or more of these during the season? I’d like to see it.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and SouthernSun - for all their extra effort every week!


Key Stats

14.7 vs 19.3 Turnovers Per Game

That first number is how many TOs the Suns average per game this season. That ranks the Suns 11th. If it was consistent over the season, it’s a good number but it hasn’t been consistent and it’s been growing worse. 19.3 TOpg is what the Suns averaged in their three games last week. 17.9 TOpg is what they’ve averaged over the seven games during their past two weeks.

Random Stats: Since returning to the lineup after an injury to his forearm, Devin Booker’s shooting percentages have been 48.8% from the field, 9.5% from three and 87.5% from the FT line. For the season his percentages are 50.4%, 36.4% and 89.8% respectively.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and/or Basketball-Reference.com.


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets - Full Game Highlights | December 23, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors - Full Game Highlights | December 27, 2019

Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings - Full Game Highlights | December 28, 2019


Quote of the Week

”In the meat of the game, because we have the lead, we don’t understand how important possessions are.” - Monty Williams


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 21.2 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.6 PF, 40.3 3PT%

  • This week - 22.1 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.3 TO, 1.3 PF, 38.5 3PT%

Ty Jerome - 13.4 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.9 TO, 1.3 PF, 30.0 3PT%

  • This week - 5.1 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 1.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%, 2 DNP-CD

Jalen Lecque - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Jared Harper - Assigned to NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Deandre Ayton (ankle) - day-to-day.


Bright Side Night Returns!

We are proud to announce the FIFTH annual BRIGHT SIDE NIGHT, where our community sent 3,000+ deserving and underprivileged children from the Valley to a Phoenix Suns game last year!

It’s only $9 of your hard earned money for each ticket you donate.

Last year, we sent a record 3,300 kids to a game. Over four years, we’ve sent more 7,400! All from you guys. From us.

This time it’s our January 7 home game against Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings. The kids get to see Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and the crew raining threes supplemented by the return of Deandre Ayton!

And your help can earn you some neat stuff too depending upon the size of your donation! You can read more about that HERE or you can just click on the link below and donate right away.

Suns.com/Brightside


News & Notes

Who deserves a playoff spot most: Kings, Suns or Timberwolves? Brendon Kleen/The Step Back

Can the Suns Make a Surprising Push for the Postseason? Western Free Press

Slow down everyone, former Wildcat Deandre Ayton is not a bust. Zona Zealots

Monty Williams optimistic Suns can regain defensive form. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports


This Week in Suns History

On December 30, 1992, the Phoenix Suns defeated Houston 133-110 to finish December with a 14-0 record, tying for the third-best month in NBA history. The Lakers set the NBA record by going 16-0 in December of 1971.


Suns Trivia

The Suns have played in seven back-to-back’s so far this season. Oddly, their record in games on the second night of a B2B (3-4) is better than their record in games on the first night (1-6).


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, December 30 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers, 8:00 pm AZT

Wednesday, January 1 - Phoenix Suns @ LA Lakers, 7:00 pm AZT

Friday, January 3 - Phoenix Suns vs New York Knicks, 8:30 pm AZT

Sunday, January 5 - Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies, 6:00 pm AZT

The Suns have four games this week starting with two on the road followed by two at home.

Two weeks ago the Suns lost their first match against the Blazers in the last few seconds of the game, 111-110 at TSRA. The Suns were playing without Devin Booker that game as well as Deandre Ayton. Even with this game being played on their home court, I expect it to be another close game. With Booker back and Ayton possibly on the court again as well, I think that the Suns will bring home a win against a team they really need to beat if they want to claw their way back up the WC standings ladder.

On New Year’s Day the Suns will be in LA to take on the powerhouse Lakers. As much as I’d like to just have some hope of getting a win in this one, I’m just not that delusional. If the Suns all play way over their heads and the Lakers all have an off night, only then is there a chance for a Suns’ win. Don’t count on it happening though. This one is going to wind up as a loss for Phoenix.

Friday night the Suns will start a 5-game homestand against the 9-24 New York Knicks. This should be a winnable game for the Suns at home. This game also marks the beginning of a string of very winnable games over the following two weeks. The Suns have to perform well over this stretch to have any real possibility of moving up in the WC standings.

The final game of the week is against the Grizzlies. This will be the Suns’ third matchup with the Griz after going 1-1 against them previously. Devin Booker scored only 15 points in their last game - a 115-108 Memphis win - but that was also the game in which Booker injured his forearm which kept him sidelined for the next three games. The Griz are another team that the Suns really need to win against and I think they’ll do it in this game.

Hopefully, Deandre Ayton will be healthy for all the games this week. With him, I think the Suns will go 3-1. Without him, I think they’ll go 2-2.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

January 5 - First day that teams can sign players to 10-day contracts.

January 15 - Last day to sign players to Two-Way contracts.

February 6 - NBA Trade Deadline (3 pm ET).

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “The Suns’ playoff hopes are...”

12% - Still alive and kicking!

52% - On life support.

36% - Slowly swirling down the drain.

There were 176 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Between now and the trade deadline the Suns should...

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Go all out to make trades to get back to the playoffs this year.
    (33 votes)
  • 80%
    Try to improve through trades but do nothing that could hurt their future.
    (136 votes)
169 votes total Vote Now