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After less than 20 minutes combined in the past two games, could Dario Saric’s time in Phoenix come to an end soon?

Saric has seen his playing time crater off over the past few weeks in a contract year.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Over the last seven games, Dario Saric has played a grand total of 115 minutes. And it was even more eye-opening when Saric was benched on Friday against the Knicks, logging only four minutes. Cheick Diallo doubled up Saric’s playing time in the Suns’ last outing, even with Frank Kaminsky sidelined indefinitely with a patellar stress fracture. Instead, we saw head coach Monty Williams opt for Deandre Ayton starting at the 4 with Aron Baynes as the preferred stretch big.

How does this affect Saric and his future in the Valley? Right now, it looks pretty grim.

Before Saric was pushed down into a very limited role in favor of more small-ball lineups featuring Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson alongside Kelly Oubre Jr., the Croatian big man was a focal point in Phoenix’s starting lineup during Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension. Saric averaged 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 34.6 percent on three-pointers. For a fourth or even fifth option offensively on some nights, flanking Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Oubre Jr., and Baynes, the production was solid.

However, when you dive into the advanced lineup numbers, it’s apparent why Williams decided to pull the plug on Saric as a reliable option. Since Ayton’s return on Dec. 17, the three-man lineups featuring the former No. 1 overall pick and Booker show Saric hasn’t been a smooth fit with their two primary building blocks compared to other alternatives.

3-man lineups with Booker and Ayton since Dec. 17 sorted by NetRtg:

  • Baynes = +19.5 NetRtg in 23 minutes
  • Bridges = +17.3 NetRtg in 30 minutes
  • Oubre Jr. = +6.3 NetRtg in 61 minutes
  • C. Johnson = -11.9 NetRtg in 18 minutes
  • Saric = -54.8 NetRtg in 16 minutes

If Williams and his staff are utilizing these tools to decide their rotations, then this makes sense. The Suns have to find out what works best alongside their two long-term pieces to the puzzle. Integrating Ayton in right now in the middle of the season is a huge adjustment period for everyone involved, but this trial is by fire is helping find out what actually works.

What must be said, though, is that Saric hasn’t deserved to fall completely out of the rotation. His shooting and passing ability for a stretch big has been beneficial for Phoenix at various points of the season. This is also a small sample, though the Suns’ won’t have the benefit of large samples as they integrate Ayton on the fly amid a playoff push.

However, we do know what Saric is at this point. And maybe that’s why Williams is finally fed up. When Saric is on his game, it’s hard to take him off the floor. In other instances, he’s so bad on both ends that he becomes unplayable. That’s who Saric was in Philadelphia and Minnesota, too.

This is Saric’s third team in the last calendar year, and it might soon be the end of the road for his time in Phoenix if this lack of playing time continues. Saric is an upcoming restricted free agent, so this seems like the organization is slowly fazing out the possibility he returns for the 2020-21 campaign.

It seems like we could be quickly approaching trade season for the Suns if they want to bolster their playoff hopes. Combining Tyler Johnson’s bloated expiring salary with Saric is enough for Phoenix to have compelling trade offers for someone like Danilo Gallinari or Kevin Love, both of whom Phoenix have been linked to over the past month since the trade window officially opened back up on Dec. 15.

If this trend continues for Saric, his stint in Phoenix won’t last too much longer. It’s unfortunate, but it looks like the Suns’ decision has been made over the past few weeks with his playing time falling off a cliff.