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Center of the Sun: The NBA Draft Lottery will be the key to the Suns’ offseason

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Winning the Zion Sweepstakes would immediately solve one of the Suns’ problems.

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Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that this offseason will be critical for the Suns. Before the injury bug hit full force, there were glimmers of what might be a team much better than it’s final 19-63 record implies.

This is the team that we saw on opening night:

  • PG - Isaiah Canaan
  • SG - Devin Booker
  • SF - Trevor Ariza
  • PF - Ryan Anderson
  • C - Deandre Ayton

This is the team that we saw go 6-4 early in March:

  • PG - Tyler Johnson*
  • SG - Devin Booker
  • SF - Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • PF - Dragan Bender *
  • C - Deandre Ayton

* Johnson did not play in one of those 6 wins and Bender did not start in another.

Three of the Suns’ opening night starters (Canaan, Ariza and Anderson) did not finish the season with the team. Two of the starters on the second list (Johnson and Oubre) were not on the Suns’ roster on opening night and Dragan Bender had racked up an impressive 33 DNP-CDs before T.J. Warren was sidelined with a bone bruise in late January. Perhaps all that time on the bench convinced him to make the most of the minutes he finally got as we saw an aggressiveness in him we hadn’t seen before.

Even though the opening night starters won that first game, their success quickly proved to be unsustainable and the L’s began piling up... high. It was only after a couple of mid-season trades brought in Johnson and Oubre that things finally started to click.

The “Valley Boyz” arrived.

Now that the season is over, the trick is going to be building on that new foundation. The Suns have more talent than they started the season with but they still need to bring in more this summer. As everyone knows, that starts with the draft and the lottery will determine not only where the Suns 1st round draft pick will fall in the draft order, but also their strategy for the rest of the off-season.

Without taking the draft, free agency or possible trades into account, this is how I see the Suns’ roster:

  • PG: Starter - Johnson, Backup - Melton or Okobo
  • SG: Starter - Booker, Backup - Jackson
  • SF: Starter - Oubre, Backup - Bridges
  • PF: Starter - Warren, Backup - Bender
  • C: Starter - Ayton, Backup - Holmes

Deep bench: Melton or Okobo, Crawford, Daniels, Spalding, Fredette, King.

The following are a few things that I think are likely to happen this summer regardless of what the Suns do with their pick:

  1. King (two-way contract) is not likely to be re-signed.
  2. Fredette and Spalding are on non-guaranteed contracts and are likely to be released.
  3. Crawford and Daniels are free agents and will likely not be signed to new contracts.
  4. Holmes and Bender are also free agents. Holmes will likely be signed to a new contract. Bender is a big question mark and may or may not be signed to a new contract.
  5. Oubre is a restricted free agent and will be retained by the Suns unless some team throws a crazy near-max offer sheet at him.
  6. One of Okobo/Melton is likely to be traded in the off-season.
  7. Warren is a bad fit at PF and will be shopped and likely traded in the off-season.
  8. Jackson won’t be shopped but could be traded if his inclusion in a trade that brings back a starting PG or PF is required by the other team.
  9. Johnson won’t be traded unless the Suns are trading for a better PG or can sign a better PG in free agency.

If the Suns win the lottery and get the number one pick in the draft, automatically slot Zion Williamson in as their starting power forward. It’s really a no-brainer. Take Zion. Do not even think about trading the pick. Do not even consider selecting anyone else.

If the Suns get Zion in the draft and do nothing else in the offseason (other than bringing back their free agents) they would have this as their probable starting lineup:

  • PG - Tyler Johnson
  • SG - Devin Booker
  • SF - Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • PF - Zion Williamson
  • C - Deandre Ayton

Yes, I would love a better starting point guard but I could live with that lineup... for a while. I think that the Suns would also have a very good bench with Bridges, Holmes, Jackson, Okobo/Melton and even Bender returning. That starting lineup alone could propel the Suns back into the realm of respectability on the court.

I doubt that adding Williamson would be the only change made though. A better starting PG would surely still be on the Suns’ wish list and hopefully they would be able to find an upgrade through free agency or through a trade. As Dave King’s recent article on the Suns’ salary cap situation points out, the Suns won’t have a lot cap space to work with this summer (not without some finagling) so a PG upgrade might not be as easy as we would like.

And then there’s the even more likely scenario in which the Suns do NOT get the first pick in the draft. In that case, they have to decide whether to keep or trade the pick. That decision will also depend on where it ultimately lands. Some of the players at the top of this year’s draft class might be able to contribute from year one but none of them seem to be a lock to be a real difference maker from day-one. The Suns need players that can contribute now, not a season or two from now and the further that they fall in the draft order makes it even more unlikely that anyone they select could be that type of player.

Winning the NBA Lottery on May 14 would make succeeding in this offseason soooo much easier but we can’t count on that. The Suns could fall all the way to 7th in the draft order. The only certainty is that how they plan to proceed in free agency and in pursuing trades this summer will be determined after the ping pong balls fall... but they must be fully prepared for every possible lottery outcome.


Fantable Question of the Week

1. This week I sent part of my comments above to the Fantable members and asked for their critiques. The portions I sent to them were how I see the roster now and my nine assumptions for this off-season.

GuarGuar: I agree with the pre-offseason roster construction and...

  1. Agree.
  2. Agree.
  3. Agree on Daniels not re-signing but I think the team brings back Crawford. Everybody has raves about his locker room presence.
  4. Agree.
  5. Agree. Oubre is vital to retain for the culture.
  6. Disagree, I think both could end up battling for backup point guard minutes.
  7. Agree.
  8. Agree. I want to trade JJ and TJ.
  9. I think Tyler can get traded if a certain salary relief offer comes up.

The Suns desperately need to add more NBA quality players to the roster this offseason. I think TJ is definitely the #1 guy we are looking to trade. Free agency will be tough with not having a max slot. Trades are probably the best way to drastically improve the roster.

Sun-Arc: For my part, I agree with much of what Rod believes. Particularly when it comes to what he thinks will happen in the off season. However, here is where I differ:

I do not think TJ would/should be in the starting line up. There has been too much evidence to show he is a really bad fit to be on the court next to Booker and Ayton. If the roster is as Rod posits, without draft, free agency (except holding onto existing players), or trades - I see the line ups as:

  • Johnson, Melton
  • Booker, Bridges
  • Oubre, Jackson
  • Bender, Spalding
  • Ayton, Holmes

The team played better with Bender in the lineup at PF instead of a SF filling that role. We really need to find someone better for that job, but if this is what we have, this is who I think gets minutes. Though I think Spalding might play very sparingly and Bender would probably only get 20-24 mpg, which leaves more time for the dynamic wings and guards.

In terms of the offseason...

I think there is a good chance that either Spalding is retained as a 11-15th man, especially if Bender takes a deal elsewhere. At his contract level, Spalding might turn out to be a decent bargain at $1.4m.

I also think it’s possible that Holmes signs elsewhere. It completely depends on what happens in the draft and FA (and Holmes will not be the first NBA FA signing, so there will be a bit of time), but I could see us letting him walk if someone offers him $10 m+/year, as Dave King recently wrote as his contract level. I think Oubre is a higher priority for us at that contract level. I would hope Holmes would stay too, but we may run out of money to match a high money offer.

I also think it is possible that Jamal stays another season at the vet minimum to continue to help right the ship. As I mentioned in a recent fanpost, I would welcome that move depending on who the other vets are that we bring in. Personally, I think we’ll have a hard time luring players here, so I don’t expect a bunch of better players to walk in through our door. And if I am right, James Jones could be begging for Jamal to come back.

SDKyle: I don’t strongly disagree on any of Rod’s predictions. I think it’s very unlikely that Bender gets a new deal... the relationship can’t be very good. The Suns will keep Oubre... I’d be pretty surprised if anyone is looking to sign him to a huge deal. Holmes will be back on a modest deal in the $6 million range.

SouthernSun:

  • PG: Starter - Johnson, Backup - Melton or Okobo
  • SG: Starter - Booker, Backup - Jackson
  • SF: Starter - Oubre, Backup - Bridges
  • PF: Starter - Warren, Backup - Bender
  • C: Starter - Ayton, Backup - Holmes

I’d say this is all pretty accurate for the time being. Definitely going to be different by the start of next season.

  1. King, oh he’s so gone. He barely saw the floor all season and all signs point to him being gone.
  2. I thought they already mailed Jimmer back to China? Spalding probably depends on the Rozier situation.
  3. I could actually see them bringing Crawford back on a minimum contract again. However, I’m not sure he’d be willing to unless significant roster improvement is made before he signs. He apparently really wants to get back to the playoffs. He literally tweeted that. Daniels is definitely not coming back here.
  4. Holmes is definitely back. His cap hold is nothing, and as long as the Suns are capable of getting him to just hold off on signing elsewhere by giving him a wink wink deal, they should be able to make moves before bringing him back. I’m so ready to never hear Dragan Bender’s name ever again.
  5. Yes, Oubre is definitely coming back. And I don’t even thing it’s going to cost nearly as much as some are thinking it will. I’m betting he gets re-signed at a rate of something like 12 million a year.
  6. Yes, and good riddance to either or both. Melton was so overrated here for no reason other than he had one basketball skill he was decent at while the only other point guards were an old man and a young guy with zero basketball skills he’s decent at.
  7. I think they’ll trade Warren, I’m just hoping it’s for a piece that fits better, and not some sort of draft asset, unless that draft asset is then immediately moved for a piece that fits better.
  8. I think Jackson will definitely be shopped, actually. They need to get some value for him before it becomes even more apparent that he’s a bust.
  9. Agreed. Johnson is sticking around until the Suns get a better point guard.

Alex Sylvester: I agree with practically everything except number nine where I could see Tyler Johnson being moved in a trade with an asset in order to get the relief to acquire a starting point guard whether it be in trade or free agency.

I also tend to believe Bender will be retained in a one-year prove it deal but I won’t be shocked if I’m wrong about that.

2. More Fantable Favorite Performances of the Season!

Devin Booker 2nd STRAiGHT 50 Pts Game! 2019.03.27 Suns vs Wizards

Devin Booker Full Highlights 2018.10.17 Suns vs Mavs - 35-7 | 4th Quarter EXPLOSiON!

Kelly Oubre Jr Full Highlights 2019.03.16 Suns vs Pelicans - 32 Pts, 6 Rebs!

Josh Jackson Full Highlights 2019.04.05 Suns vs Pelicans - 35 Pts, 9 Rebs, 5 Asts!

Mikal Bridges Full Highlights 2019.02.02 Hawks vs Suns - 20 Pts, 5 Threes!

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


Rest In Peace, John MacLeod


Season Highlights


Quotes of the Week

”There’s so much I have to catch up on and learn. The only thing I can possibly do is keep working hard. Just stay focused.” - Deandre Ayton

”Just got to take it, try to make sure (you’re) preparing your body so it doesn’t happen again. That’s my mindset going into next season is to just have an injury-free season. It’s been tough but it’s part of (the game).” - T.J. Warren


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Zion Williamson and Other Top 2019 Prospects. Bleacher Report

Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns have huge offseasons ahead of them. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

T.J. Warren proved a lot, but he’s still in limbo with Suns. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Empire of the Suns hands out its 2018-19 end of season awards. Arizona Sports

John MacLeod: Jerry Colangelo ‘forever grateful’ to late Phoenix Suns coach. ABC 15


This Week in Suns History

On April 22, 2000, the Suns scored only 72 points against the San Antonio Spurs in a playoff game... and won 72-70. 142 points is the lowest combined point total ever in a Phoenix Suns game. By themselves the Suns have scored more than 142 points fourteen times in their history and equaled that point total another six times.

On April 25, 1968, the nickname “Suns” was chosen as the name of the Phoenix franchise, in a contest sponsored by a local newspaper.


Suns Trivia

Five of the Suns’ 10 worst seasons have occurred in the last ten years. Their best season in the last 10 years (2009-2010) is tied for 12th best in their history. The 2013-14 team that was 48-34 (the second best record in that span of time) is tied with the 1970-71 Suns team for 22nd best. The 1970-71 team also did not qualify for the playoffs even with a 48 win season.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

April 21 - NBA Early Entry (draft) Eligibility Deadline (11:59 pm ET)

May 14 - NBA Draft Lottery 2019

May 14-19 - NBA Draft Combine 2019 (Chicago)

June 10 - NBA Draft Early Entry Entrant Withdrawal Deadline (5 pm ET)

June 20 - NBA Draft 2019

July 1 - Official start of the 2019/20 NBA league year. July moratorium begins. NBA free agency officially begins (12:01 am ET) and free agents can begin reaching verbal agreements with teams. Restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet. Teams can begin signing players to rookie scale contracts, minimum salary contracts, and two-way contracts.

July 5-15 - NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If the Suns had started the season with the roster they had after the All-Star break...”

05% - It would have changed nothing.

19% - They would have won maybe 5 more games.

42% - They would have won 5 to 10 more games.

34% - They would have won at least 10 more games.

There were 216 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

If the Suns miss out on the chance to draft Zion Williamson they should...

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Draft Ja Morant, Coby White or Darius Garland (depending on where their pick falls).
    (115 votes)
  • 25%
    Trade the pick even if it’s #2.
    (60 votes)
  • 25%
    Just draft the best player available regardless of position.
    (60 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now