Even though the Phoenix Suns finished their season 19-63, with the top odds to land the No. 1 pick once more, who would’ve imagined all of the crazy turns it has taken? From starting off with a victory in blowout fashion over Dallas to having a franchise-worst 17-game losing streak sandwiched between the two highest points of the season, there’s been many peaks and valleys throughout the 82-game rigor for Phoenix.
Along the way, the trades for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson sparked a new energy into the locker room before injuries zapped them of their late momentum. The talented 2018 rookie class featuring Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo all showed flashes of promise. Devin Booker even looked like he’s about to take the bonafide leap to true superstardom once he’s surrounded by more win-now pieces, as he averaged 31 points and 7 assists after the All-Star break.
However, there also were multiple reports framing the Suns in a chaotic state. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Kevin Arnovitz both wrote damning pieces related to dysfunction within the Suns’ shorthanded front office following Ryan McDonough’s bizarre firing in early October. It led to James Jones and Trevor Bukstein sharing Co-Interim GM tags throughout the season, but their two biggest moves in-season ultimately paid off with Oubre Jr. and Johnson.
Now, with Jeff Bower about to join Jones and Bukstein in a Senior VP of Basketball Operations role, the front office reshuffling seems to be finished with plenty of work still ahead for an all-in type of summer where franchise-defining decisions might need to be made.
In the meantime, we heard from almost every member of the Suns on Wednesday for their exit interviews. Unlike traditional one-on-one interviews, head coach Igor Kokoskov spoke to the whole team as a group before they were made available to the local media.
The Suns’ 22-year-old combo guard is about to enter his $158 million max extension this offseason. But during this season, he found some bright spots within the turmoil of losing. Booker mentioned that the culture here has finally been changed. They are ready to take this up another level heading into 2019-20.
Booker said he saw plenty of growth throughout the roster, especially from Ayton. Month-by-month, the star of the team saw his big man progress at rapid rates.
Expect Ayton to add in some elements from Giannis Antetokounmpo into his game. One area is bringing the ball up the court after grabbing the rebound, simultaneously initiating the offense. Ayton put plenty of amazing sequences on display, which led to him becoming the most efficient rookie center in NBA history with his amount of production: 16 points and 10 rebounds on a 60 true shooting percentage in Year 1 isn’t normal.
Like other No. 1 picks, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, Ayton was taken on a slower development path as a rookie for his own good. As we saw in their sophomore seasons, Davis and Towns really broke out onto the season. Phoenix expects that switch to flip for the 7-foot Bahamian, so don’t be surprised if he’s closer to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game on the same level of efficiency.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oubre Jr. has limitless swag in his arsenal. To begin his interview, being asked how he felt, he pulled out his sunglasses then answered. The confidence oozes out of Oubre Jr., and it definitely had an impact on the Suns’ young roster this season. Before being sidelined with a thumb injury, Oubre Jr. was posting career-best numbers across the board.
The man also known as “Tsunami Papi” also confirmed that he has officially trademarked Valley Boyz. As I mentioned earlier this week, I don’t think you do that if you plan on leaving anytime soon. It seems like a resolution with Oubre Jr.’s restricted free agency could wrap up quickly in July, similar to what happened with another Bill Duffy client, Aaron Gordon, in Orlando.
If there was one player who really stood out to me, as far as consistency and high-level impact, Bridges checks plenty of those boxes. As a rookie, Bridges was putting the clamps on superstars around the league. And it wasn’t ignored because he was voted already a top 15 defender by his peers on The Athletic.
Bridges is a diligent worker, and he plans to add even more to his bag of tricks this offseason. As the season progressed, Bridges began to experiment more and more offensively. I would be very excited about Year 2 from Bridges, if I were you.
Following the historic outing from Jamal Crawford in the season finale, Tyler Johnson paid homage to him wearing his jersey to his final media availability. From the sound of it, Johnson is giddy about next season in Phoenix.
Johnson played a pivotal role in helping turn the season around for the Suns, which began with him being honest about how the rest of the league viewed his new teammates. He let them know they were viewed as a team that couldn’t close, because they would ultimately fold late in games. That seemed to eventually help spark the late season turnaround before that aforementioned injury bug ravaged almost the entire roster, which included Johnson’s arthroscopic knee surgery.
If the Suns add another point guard this offseason via the draft or free agency, don’t be surprised that Johnson stays on in a role off the bench. As a $19 million expiring contract, that could be even more valuable closer to next year’s trade deadline, and be a valuable mentor in the short-term for someone like Murray State’s Ja Morant.
What a way to end the 2018-19 season for the elder statesman of the Suns’ roster. The 39-year-old Crawford dazzled in Dallas on his way to 51 points, besting Dirk Nowitzki’s 30 points in his final NBA game. Crawford proved in the final three games that he has way more left in the tank, and he confirmed today he’ll be back for his 20th season.
The 19-year vet mentioned he doesn’t like moving around and enjoyed his tenure with Phoenix, so if the opportunity presents itself he would like to stay. From the outside looking in, I can’t remember a player having as big of an impact Crawford did from a locker room standpoint. Literally every player glowingly spoke about him, as did all levels of the organization.
Multiple teammates credited Crawford for helping change the longstanding culture in Phoenix, a welcome sight to behold.