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Center of the Sun: Suns virtually out of the playoff race before the NBA All-Star break

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Hopefully they have no more injuries this week and return almost fully healthy after the break.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

Phoenix Suns @ Brooklyn Nets L (119-97) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns @ Detroit Pistons L (116-108) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets W (127-91) Full Recap

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets L (117-108) Full Recap

With just 29 games left to play and the Suns 6 games behind in the battle for 8th place in the West, it’s time for Suns fans to once again start looking forward to next season. Yes, they still have a mathematical chance at getting into post-season play but the math just isn’t on the Suns’ side.

Memphis is in the driver’s seat to get that 8th seed and Phoenix also has Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans and - sigh - even Sacramento now between them and the prize. The likelihood that the Suns will play well enough and that they all will play bad enough that the Suns can pass them all is microscopic.

James Jones passing on making any sort of a trade at the deadline angered many fans but the playoffs were already pretty much out of reach by then. Some fans wanted him to make a big splash (D’Angelo Russell, Kevin Love, etc.) while others wanted some less flashy but still substantial moves to bolster the Suns’ anemic bench.

Neither happen and neither group of fans were pleased.

I can see some merit in his contention that making no moves at the deadline might actually be good for the Suns though.

With Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension after opening night, all of the Suns’ preseason plans were thrown out the window. No Ayton led to Aron Baynes starting at center with Frank Kaminsky backing him up instead of backing up Dario Saric as had been intended. It also led to relying on rookie Cameron Johnson more than they had intended early on as he, Mikal Bridges or Kelly Oubre Jr. were having to cover the backup minutes at PF when Saric rested... as well as cover the SF minutes.

It all started out much better than expected (7-4) but it couldn’t be maintained, especially through mounting injuries, and that brings me back to Jones not making any trades at the deadline.

Except for opening night (a 124-95 win over the Kings), we haven’t seen what this team can do with all of it’s pieces playing their intended roles and the possibility exists that we could finally get a chance to see that following the All-Star break. Everyone who is currently injured - except for Kaminsky - could be healed up and ready to play by then. The Suns first game following the break is on Feb. 21 which will give everyone except Ayton (who will play in the Rising Stars Challenge game on Friday) at least 9 full days to recuperate after the Suns play Golden State this Wednesday.

There’s no doubt that the Suns will need to get better than they are now but it would still be nice to see how good they actually could be with all of - or at least most of - the team healthy for a change.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Hopefully, after the All-Star break everyone (except Kaminsky) will be healed up. Is there any chance that James Jones’ decision to do nothing at the deadline might seem more reasonable if the Suns play well then?

GuarGuar: It definitely could seem more reasonable if everyone gets healthy quickly and we go on a run. It just looks really unlikely that guys are going to be back soon. We are running our starters 40+ minutes a night right now. I don’t like that at all. Playing Booker, Ayton, and Oubre 41 minutes in consecutive games makes me uneasy. We need depth. But yea, if guys come back soon and we really click to end the season, his decision will look better.

Sun-Arc: If the team plays well after the break it definitely will be a lot better looking than if they continue to play horribly even if healthy. No doubt about that. I think the real test of standing pat at the deadline has more to do with what happens over the summer during the draft and free agency- and ultimately with how the team plays next year. Patience has grown very thin with the fan base, so next season the team better knock it out of the park.

SDKyle: Of course the Suns winning more games would certainly make his decision to stand pat look more reasonable, but not by much. It’s hard to get too enthused about the team “gelling” or whatever when you realize there are probably going to be 4 or 5 new guys next season regardless.

As I write this after the Nuggets loss, the Suns are closer to being caught by Minnesota and falling into 14th place than they are to catching the Grizzlies for 8th place. That tells me the team needs a serious talent upgrade, not more time to coalesce. Jones should have done something to help facilitate that happening either now or later.

SouthernSun: If the Suns play well after the all star break, say they go .500, then it may put a bit of a bandaid over that wound of a trade deadline, but it doesn’t change the fact that getting a scoring guard off the bench (at least) would have helped them play even better. They probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be a complete impossibility like it is now.

Alex S: I don’t even know if you can considered James Jones’ lack of involvement at the deadline “unreasonable”. Sure, the Suns need help with their bench badly but whose to say there were deals out there that made sense? The Kennard trade would’ve been optimal and it sucks that the deal fell through due to protections on the pick, but if you look around the rest of the league most of the deals were for rental players with draft capital being thrown around.

The Suns need guys that were on 2+ year deals as this is an organization focusing on continuity and stability. Hopefully the bench pieces we have do get healthy and they can get back to playing better ball but although it’s not fun to sit pat during a deadline, I’m not mad about it.

Q2 - Several players that were involved in other team’s trades have been waived and are now looking for new teams. The Suns could just waive (or buy out) a player to create an open roster spot to sign one of them to a 10-day contract or to a rest of the year deal. Who do you think is the most likely player on their roster to go if they decide to do this?

(Author’s Note: I asked this question before Tyler Johnson was waived yesterday. I decided to leave it in the article even though the question has already been answered by the Suns.)

GuarGuar: I think Carter would be the guy that goes unfortunately. I would want it to be Okobo, but the team views him in a much better light than I do. I can’t see Diallo or Jerome getting cut. Maybe if Frank’s injury is that bad we release him, because his contract isn’t guaranteed for next season. James Jones didn’t sign anybody when Ayton was out so I highly doubt he will do so anytime soon.

Sun-Arc: By the sounds of it, and depending on the player they are after, I might think Saric - given what Gambo said. But could alternatively be Kaminsky I suppose.

SDKyle: I’m honestly not sure. Cheick Diallo seems a likely candidate as he makes less than $2 million and doesn’t get much burn. Kaminsky seems another possibility for the same reasons except he makes a bit more. Neither guy seems like he’s got a future here so I can imagine the Suns deciding to just cut ties now and see who else is out there.

SouthernSun: I can’t see the Suns doing that. Elie Okobo has been just productive enough for me to assume that the team won’t cut him in favor of a slight upgrade. It definitely wouldn’t be Carter or Diallo, so Elie seems like the one who it would need to be. It would be great to pick up Burke or I.T., but it won’t happen. If I.T. goes anywhere it will be a contender. Same for Burke.

Alex S: I think Okobo might be the most likely if the Suns were to pursue a bought out player. This FO and staff never really have seemed like they’ve been a fan of his, but his main competition to be released as well would be Jevon Carter. I think Monty likes Jevon enough to where they’d go with Okobo instead and then James Jones would go after a recently released guard.

Q3 - Do you believe that Devin Booker will want to leave Phoenix now that his best friends, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, will be playing together in Minnesota?

GuarGuar: I have mixed feelings about this situation. I think he does eventually want to play with DLo and KAT. I also believe he wants to remain in Phoenix for a very long time and establish a winner here. The problem is, we are 5 years in and we haven’t won anything. Can he trust our front office when they have failed him for the past few years. Him not being selected to the All-Star game just makes it that much worse in my opinion. Because he’s not even getting the individual recognition. I’m sure it’s very frustrating for him. He puts in 100% to this franchise and barely has anything to show for it. If we are in a similar spot next season I think it’s possible we hear rumblings.

Sun-Arc: It doesn’t help that two of the three are now together. Its hard to gauge how much Booker really wants to make things work in PHX. He seems very committed. But I imagine he’ll give it another season here before asking out.

SDKyle: No and yes. No, in that Booker must realize the chances of the Wolves swinging an appealing offer to the Suns that would unite the trinity in Minneapolis are slim. They just don’t have the pieces to do so.

But yes, in that he must feel envious and that has to stir some longing in him. His pals are together, presumably having fun, and he’s visibly not.

For the record I think we’re still at least six months from the Booker force-out, if it happens at all. He’ll want to see how next year’s team is shaping up.

SouthernSun: That’s a tough question. I think he would very much like to play with his friends, but that he wants that to happen in Phoenix. Also, Minnesota is a barren frozen wasteland. Booker wants to win, and he wants to do it in Phoenix. That being said, if the Suns don’t look like they’re making the playoffs next season by the trade deadline, I’d be getting a little nervous. I just wouldn’t be nervous about Minnesota, specifically. But a good team in a place that isn’t Minnesota, yeah maybe.

Alex S: I don’t think this changes much at all.

For starters, Devin is an overly competitive-type personality. He grew up idolizing Kobe…he’s often stated how he wants to play here his whole career and be a legendary figure in the franchise. Some guys are just wired like that! Furthermore, the Wolves roster still stinks currently and there’s no guarantee these guys gel. Obviously having KAT and D’Lo together will make it easy for them to try to recruit Devin, but the likelihood has always been those guys will team up when their current extensions are up.

I can’t for the life of me seeing Devin specify he wants to go to Minnesota. Phoenix is flat out a better place to be during the season. They have a plan to improve and have shown signs already. It’s paramount the FO makes a big move this summer to get this franchise to the next step - a true playoff level team.

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


Key Stats

81.7 points per game

That’s how many points the Suns starters average for the season and it’s the 4th highest total for all NBA teams. The Suns’ starters have also averaged the 6th highest per game minutes (31.4) this season. In their last 15 games, their points per game average has gone up to 86 (3rd) and their minutes per game average has gone up to 33 (1st).

While the Suns bench production has been weak this season, part of that can be attributed to injuries and/or bench players being forced into starting roles due to injuries and Ayton’s suspension. Between Aron Baynes (11.5 ppg), Darion Saric (9.6 ppg) and Frank Kaminsky (11.0 ppg), the Suns have 32.1 points per game sitting on the bench injured. For the season, the bench has averaged 30.9 ppg (25th) but just 24.6 ppg (30th) over their last 15 games.

If those three guys can get healthy over the All-Star break (Kaminsky likely won’t but he is due back about 10 days afterward), the bench scoring should increase and become more stable.

Random Stats: Last week the Suns’ bench averaged just 18.3 ppg and 14.4 minutes per game. Both were dead last in the NBA for that period. The Suns’ starters averaged 34.6 mpg and 91.8 ppg, both 1st in the NBA for that period. The Suns starters also shot 50.6% (3rd) from the field and 43.8% (4th) from three last week. The bench shot 42.6% (23rd) from the field and 26.9% (28th) from three during that period.

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


Game Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Brooklyn Nets - Full Game Highlights | February 3, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Detroit Pistons - Full Game Highlights | February 5, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets - Full Game Highlights | February 7, 2020

Phoenix Suns vs Denver Nuggets - Full Game Highlights | February 8, 2020


Quotes of the Week

”I’m just focused on this team. I think everybody knows that. There’s always gonna be outside noise, but I’m gonna leave that to you guys.” - Devin Booker

”I like the fact that he (Devin Booker) is close with Kevin (Durant), those guys probably rub off on each other. I can see the effect Kevin’s had on him as far as working on his craft, being diligent about your footwork, and that’s the thing I didn’t know about Devin is his footwork is unmatched.” - Monty Williams


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 19.8 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.4 PF, 38.4 3PT%

This week - 19.0 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 18.2 3PT%, 2 DNP-Injured

Ty Jerome - 11.5 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.7 TO, 1.2 PF, 35.5 3PT%

This week - 6.9 mpg, 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%, 3 DNP-Injured

Jalen Lecque - 7.2 mpg, 2.7 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.7 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Tariq Owens - 5.3 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Jared Harper - 2.6 mpg, 0.7 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 0.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.0 PF, 0.0 3PT%

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


Injury Status Report

Deandre Ayton (ankle) - Game time decision (Feb. 10).

Aron Baynes (hip) - Game time decision (Feb. 10).

Dario Saric (ankle) - Expected to be out until at least February 12.

Frank Kaminsky (kneecap) - Expected to be out until at least March 1.


News & Notes

Devin Booker’s relationship with Kevin Durant is starting to pay dividends. New York Daily News

Devin Booker reacts to close friends D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns teaming up. Clutch Points

Let’s Pump The Brakes on Devin Booker Joining Towns, Russell In Minnesota. Heavy.com

Reports: Knicks to hire Devin Booker’s agent, Leon Rose, as top executive. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

ESPN’s Pelton gives 3 Suns free agent ideas after they didn’t make a trade. Logan Newman/Arizona Sports

A Quiet Trade Deadline Leads To Big Questions For Phoenix Suns. Evan Sidery/Forbes


This Week in Suns History

On February 13, 1977, the Phoenix Suns’ Paul Westphal started for the Western All-Stars in the first of his five All-Star game appearances and helped lead the West to a 125-124 win over the East. Westphal played a team leading 31 minutes for the West and was 2nd in team scoring with 20 points behind team scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 21.


Suns Trivia

Last week Devin Booker passed Raja Bell to move into 5th place in career 3-point field goals made by Phoenix Suns players. Booker now has 627 career threes. Number 4 on the list is Shawn Marion with 652.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, February 10 - Phoenix Suns @ LA Lakers, 8:30 pm AZT

Wednesday, February 12 - Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors, 7:00 pm AZT

There are just two games this week before the All-Star break arrives.

Tonight the Suns are back on the road and in LA for third game of the season against the Lakers. The Suns have lost both of the previous games, the first with Deandre Ayton out on suspension and the second with him back but only his 4th game of the season and coming off the bench behind Baynes. As well as he has been playing lately, it should make a difference in this game... but probably not enough to get the Suns a win.

On Wednesday, the new look - but still weak - Golden State Warriors come to TSRA. It will be interesting to see how they play with Andrew Wiggins as their primary scoring option but the Warriors have also traded away some of their better supporting players so I can’t see them being much of a threat to the Suns at home... unless the Suns don’t take this game seriously. I think that they will and get their 22nd win of the season before the AS break.

I’m predicting the Suns go 1-1 this week.

What’s your prediction?


Important Future Dates

February 14-19 - NBA All-Star break.

March 1 - Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

  • Players waived after this date are ineligible for the playoffs.

April 15 — Regular Season ends.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Which is more important?”

24% - Making the playoffs this season.

76% - Building for the future.

There were 154 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Which bench player will likely make the biggest difference on the court when he returns from injury?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Aron Baynes
    (115 votes)
  • 13%
    Dario Saric
    (27 votes)
  • 12%
    Frank Kaminsky
    (24 votes)
  • 17%
    None of them will make much of a difference when they return.
    (34 votes)
200 votes total Vote Now