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Center of the Sun: Suns’ season over after a great run in the Orlando Bubble

It was an epic season finish for the Suns even though they fell just short of a playoff berth.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

It was a great run which gave everyone a view of what this team is truly capable of when they’re determined and focused. For the entire season, the Suns ranked 12th on offense, 17th on defense and 14th in the combined net rating. During the bubble games, the were 2nd, 4th and first respectively!

Can they do that again all next season? Perhaps. I say “perhaps” because every team, including the Suns, will be at least a little different next season. Some might even be very different. As for the Suns, they still have some needs and whether they are better, worse or the same next season depends on this offseason.

The Suns certainly have needs but none as glaring as those they had at the end of last season. James Jones wound up doing a pretty good job of patching the holes in the Suns’ boat this year even though many questioned his moves when they were made. What has he got in store for us this year?

The Suns certainly need some quality bench depth. The last minute signing of Cameron Payne looks like a win so far but eight games is a very small sample size to use in determining who should be the Suns’ backup point guard next season. Dario Saric looked very good as the backup center but he will be a restricted free agent as of Oct. 18 who might get an offer from another team that the Suns might balk at matching. Aron Baynes will be an unrestricted free agent who will also be turning 34 at around the projected beginning of next season. How badly do the Suns want to retain him? More importantly, how badly will some other team want to lure him away from Phoenix?

Kelly Oubre Jr. should be 100% healthy before the proposed December 1 start of the 2020-21 season which would give the Suns a wickedly good wing rotation of him, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson. All of these guys can slide into the 4 spot as well although that would leave the Suns a little smallish there. Does someone get traded to bring in a true power forward or is one pursued during free agency?

I truly love what Jevon Carter brings to the table for the Suns but he’s really not an NBA caliber point guard. He’s done very well when paired with Cameron Payne in the backcourt but a better backup for Devin Booker is definitely worth looking for.

The Suns still have needs and they will have open roster spots to fill those needs. Some of this season’s players will be gone but hopefully none of those that we actually want to retain. I really doubt that Cheick Diallo, Elie Okobo and Frank Kaminsky return and I’ve already noted those who might also move on or be moved during the offseason.

I’m not one to speculate much on possible trades but they do often come out of the blue and aren’t all done during the offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Suns make what seem like minor moves in the offseason and then pull off something bigger near the trade deadline (whenever that will be next season). I also wouldn’t bet on them making any big trades without it being a clear win for the Suns. They’ve made good progress this season and I believe that James Jones will attempt to move forward through a series of base hits rather than take a swing at a risky but possible home run.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - One of the TNT announcers (during the Spurs/Jazz game) actually said he thought it would be better for the Suns to miss the play-in stage and go home 8-0 winners rather than maybe get to the playoffs and go home losers of a 1st round series with the Lakers. Do you think there is is any validity to that point of view?

GuarGuar: I would rather us have the playoff experience than just go 8-0 and leave the Bubble. We were really hot. I’m pretty confident we could have gotten into the playoffs. And playing against one of the best players of all time in the playoffs would have been a great learning experience. However, I think this team really learned the hard way that you can’t take nights off in this league if you want to be good. Look how many games we let slip this season against very bad teams. Learn from this entire year and bring it every night next season.

Sun-Arc: Sometimes its easier for outsiders to see the truth of a situation. Being a fan can certainly cloud our decisions. In this case, though, I think this announcer is incorrect. Having more playoff experience would be better for this young team, even if they got swept by the Lakers. The bubble brought them together and they figured out what they needed to do as a team to win. Being rewarded for that growth would have been even more helpful than the pat on the back for being the only undefeated team in the Bubble.

One aspect of the Bubble experience I’ve been thinking about is how much it will actually carry over to next season- even if it were to start by Christmas. There has been speculation that Williams had more time to consider what was working and what wasn’t. Players were able to watch more video of how to play with each other. Yet the isolation in the bubble, making it a multi-week retreat for the players and coaches, was touted as THE most important part. Yet season starting training camp is only a week long.

What was magical is that it was the Suns that really came together during the lead up to games in the Bubble to become a much better team. They grew far more than the other 22 teams there. But will that really carry over? Potentially, Saric, Baynes, Kaminsky, Diallo (all big men), plus Okobo, Carter, and maybe Oubre (trade) could all be off the team when the next season starts. That is a 6-7 player turnover, which is huge. Even if it is four of those guys, is it still the same bubble-boys team? Hard to say.

I also wonder if Williams will be able to recreate the same mentality even if we are able to keep Saric, Carter, and Oubre with that brief training camp time period. It’s a huge question to me. I am optimistic about it, but I can certainly see a scenario where they come out flat and just get frustrated again and end up below .500 again. Ugh, that’d be awful.

But if they had been able to get to that seven game series against the Lakers? They’d have the confidence of knowing they had actually become a real playoff team. I think the carryover would be more secure. So, yeah, I think it would have been better to play in, move up to the real playoffs, and get spanked in the first round.

SDKyle: I’ve heard this kind of logic expressed before, and I understand the idea behind it, but I do not agree it’s better to miss the playoffs. I think historically we see that early playoff exits are key parts of the journey for eventual powerhouses. Jordan’s Bulls were summarily dismissed by the Celtics in the first round despite MJ’s magnificent scoring. The Warriors had early round losses two years in a row before winning the whole thing.

Just because you probably don’t have the depth and all-around talent to go the distance doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of value in getting that big stage experience, especially against the likes of Lebron and AD.

SouthernSun: No, there is zero validity to that point. First off, I actually think the Suns would have pulled off a win or maybe even two on those Lakers. Secondly, that’s just a stupid thing to say. Of course they’d rather make it into the playoffs. Booker and the boys would have been overjoyed to make it in.

Alex S: You know, there is part of me that felt that way before you even mentioned what TNT had said. Ending your season as the feel good story with zero blemishes on your record to go along with falling just short might end up being the best thing for the Suns moving forward.

There’s never been a team to go on an 8 game winning streak to end the year and miss the playoffs until now. It’ll be interesting to monitor how much value James Jones and Monty put into these eight games, and in my opinion I believe they will put a lot of weight into them.

Q2 - There’s been talk that next season may start as late as March instead of December as was earlier planned. Do you think an earlier or later start would be best for the Suns?

GuarGuar: I think us starting in December is way more optimal. Only around 3 months off instead of 6. We got a big groove going in Orlando so it’s probably easier to carry over to next season the sooner the games begin. Obviously safety comes first and foremost, but I do believe starting in December is best for the Suns.

Sun-Arc: I think the earlier start would benefit the Suns, partially because of my concern about a change in mentality I mentioned in the first question, particularly if the offseason goes on too long. Also, with them not playing in the playoffs now, it would be better with their young legs to hopefully take advantage of the games against good teams that are still in the bubble.

SDKyle: Earlier. We had all the momentum going. I can’t see a 7 month layoff being super beneficial for the Suns. It’s a way bigger benefit for the veteran teams leaning on a lot of 30-somethings who could use the extended rest.

SouthernSun: I’m perfectly happy with the season starting in December and being a bubble half season. Like, the just have all the pre all star break games happen in another bubble. They have already proven the bubble can work. Do it again. Don’t push off the new season even longer. Suns fans I’m sure are especially anxious to get this show on the road (to a bubble). The only possible reasoning behind that would be hoping there’s a vaccine by then, allowing fans back into arenas, but early next year is the absolute earliest we can even expect a vaccine to be confirmed safe and started to be distributed, and it will take an even longer period of time than that to get it out and administered to the 300 million people in this country.

Start in December.

Alex S: Earlier. They’re going to be eager to get out on the court again and I think for the NBA as a whole it’d be much more beneficial to start the season as originally planned. We’ll see what the season will look like in regards to fan involvement but it’s been proven that you can create a playing environment that can work during this pandemic.

Q3 - Do you think that including a play-in series/stage in future seasons would be a good or bad idea for the NBA?

GuarGuar: I think it’s a pretty cool concept. I like how if you are a certain amount of games ahead of the 9 seed there is no play in. I would consider extending it to a 9-10 seed play a game and then the winner faces off vs. the 8 seed. I think the NBA needs to look for a way for these young Western Conference teams to have a better chance of making it. The West is going to be so much better than the East next season it’s crazy.

Sun-Arc: I have mixed feelings about this. Its an exciting idea to have more of a one-and-done micro-tourney. And there is part of me that really liked the part about the 8th-9th seeds being within 4 games. It could be lowered to a 2-game difference threshold, for instance. There could be other fun rules, such as if the 9th seed wins their last 3 or 4 games before the end of the season, there is a play-in. And that could be instead of the 2-4 game difference rule, or combine them.

At the same time, I think this puts the resulting 8th seed team at a greater disadvantage when facing the 1st seed. More games played and having to play in “desperation mode.” So in the end I don’t think it’s a good idea. Though I will say that I wish the playoffs was more of a tournament system without long series. I love a good series, but the bad ones are really awful. I prefer the excitement of the NCAA tournament with the one-and-done games. I could see three-game series in the NBA as a compromise. Though I have to admit, I make this suggestion from the safety of knowing it will never happen. I might actually lament the seven game series.

SDKyle: Nah. Call me old school, but I don’t like any of the things pro leagues do to diminish the importance of the regular season. More than half the teams in the NBA already make the playoffs... the idea that the playoffs should be effectively further expanded to 18 or 20 teams in a normal season just seems gratuitous to me.

I say earn it in the regular season. If you’re a 32-50 10th place team, why do you deserve a sudden chance to jump a team that finished ahead of you? You had 82 games to earn your shot.

SouthernSun: It would probably make the games around the end of the season more enjoyable, interesting, and important, but it wouldn’t be fair to whoever is in the 8th seed. The only reason it made sense this time is because they weren’t playing a full schedule of games. The season had to end quicker. If its the end of the season, you played 82 games, and you’re the 8th seed, you should stay the 8th seed.

Alex S: 100% and this structure got me thinking. What about a 10/10/10 tournament split to end the year?

Here’s my idea: The bottom 10 teams in the league play in a tournament to determine draft position.

The middle 10 teams play to determine seeds 6-8 for the playoffs.

The top 10 teams play regular season style games against one another.

You could create a round robin system where you play each team once (4 total games).

  • Worst team (5th best record in each section) gets eliminated.
  • 1v4 and 2v3 single elimination.

If you win the bottom 10 tournament, you get the #1 pick (incentive not to deliberately suck).

Rod Argent: Yep, I’m throwing in my 2 cents on this one.

I have some reservations about it but I think that the NBA should at least have a one-game, winner takes all play-in if two teams wind up TIED for the 8th seed. The tiebreakers they already have in place might not always be fair in this situation. Teams change during the season and the present tiebreakers they use might not really represent which team is more deserving of that final playoff seed.

What if more than two teams wind up tied for 8th you might ask? Well, good question! I wish I had a good answer!

BONUS Q - Should Monty Williams get the “Coach of the Bubble Games” (or whatever it’s going to be called) award?

NOTE: I asked this question before it was announced that Monty did indeed win and a few of the FT members sent their answers before that happened.

GuarGuar: Monty absolutely deserved the award for Coach of the Bubble. He did a fantastic job having these guys ready to play every night. His rotations were sharp and we had good gameplans every matchup.

Sun-Arc: Absolutely it should be Monty as Coach of the Bubble. That’s an easy one. Honorable mentions to Nets, Raptors, and Blazers.

SDKyle: Yeah. Monty did a great job. Hard to say there’s some other coach who deserves it more than him.

SouthernSun: Yes, of course. And he did. And Book should have been MVP. Lillard barely eked out wins in the bubble.

Alex S: Easily. Going from the worst team in the West to 8-0? Not even a question.

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


Key Stats

Eight(ish) man rotation

Yes, only 8 Suns played in all 8 games plus Frank Kaminsky getting 8.5 minutes per game in 7. And no one averaged more than 33.8 mpg (Devin Booker). Four players (Diallo, Jerome, Okobo and Lecque) got minutes in no more than 3 games after the final result was no longer in doubt.

All of the main eight players except Jevon Carter (7.0 ppg) averaged double figures in scoring but Carter’s defensive presence more than made up for that. Monty Williams came up with a great mostly eight player rotation that kept the pressure on opponents all game long and did it with two key players (Kelly Oubre Jr. and Aron Baynes) unavailable. Much credit also goes to Cameron Payne for coming in on short notice, picking things up and contributing at a high level. I can’t imagine the Suns doing as well as they did without him coming off the bench. He and Carter led the team in defensive rating (96.5 and 99.0 respectively).

All stats courtesy of NBA.com.


Game Highlights

Suns Go 8-0 In Orlando The Best Of The Suns From NBA Restart!

Devin Booker BEST Highlights & Moments from 2020 NBA Bubble!

THUNDER at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 10, 2020

Dario Saric 16 pts 9 rebs 2 asts vs Thunder

Cameron Johnson 18 pts 4 threes 3 asts vs Thunder

SUNS at 76ERS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 11, 2020

Mikal Bridges 24 Points Full Highlights (8/11/2020)

Ricky Rubio Suns 16 pts 10 asts vs 76ers Highlights (08/11/20)

MAVERICKS at SUNS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | August 13, 2020

Cameron Payne 15 Points Full Highlights


Quotes of the Week

“Guys will walk away from this with a ton more confidence. They’ll know that they can do it against the best teams on a big stage, and that’s something that you can’t take away.” - Monty Williams

“We changed how people think of us, from the NBA to the refs to different teams to everybody. Every time somebody plays the Phoenix Suns, they know it’s gonna be a tough matchup.” - Devin Booker


Rookie Report

Cameron Johnson - 22.0 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 0.6 TO, 1.5 PF, 80.7% FT, 39.0% 3pt

  • This week - 31.0 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.0 bpg, 0.3 TO, 1.3 PF, 100% FT, 31.3% 3pt

Ty Jerome - 10.6 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 TO, 0.9 PF, 75.0% FT, 28.0% 3pt

  • This week - 5.3 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 0.0 TO, 0.5 PF, 50.0% FT, 50.0% 3pt, 1 DNP-CD

All stats courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

The Suns Finally Have Built the Right Team Around Their Superstar. The Ringer

Mikal Bridges Gives The Suns Exactly What They Need, And He’s Only Getting Better. UPROXX

Playoffs or not, the Phoenix Suns made the most of the NBA bubble. Gerald Bourguet/The Step Back

How will Suns’ bubble success change offseason direction? Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

Without Monty Williams, There Is No Fairy Tale Run For The Phoenix Suns. Brendon Kleen/Forbes

Harmon: Suns took us all on a magical ride. ABC 15 Arizona

Why the Suns missing the playoffs is the best thing that could have happened to the NBA. CBS Sports


This Week in Suns History

On August 19, 2005, seven weeks after the trade had been agreed upon, the Phoenix Suns completed a sign-and-trade with Joe Johnson which sent him to the Atlanta Hawks. In return, Phoenix acquired Boris Diaw and two lottery-protected first round picks in 2006 (Rajon Rondo) and 2008 (Robin Lopez).


Interesting Suns Stuff

‘You ain’t Steph!’ - Stephen A. reacts to Draymond Green’s comments about Devin Booker


Suns Trivia

The Suns’ 8-0 season ending win streak is the longest in Suns history. Second is the 7 wins they had to end the 1993-94 season (56-26) and number three was during the 1982-83 season (53-29) when they finished up 6-0. The Suns went to the playoffs in both of those seasons. The Suns have never finished up any other season with more than 4 straight wins at the end.


Previewing The Week Ahead

Thursday, August 20 - NBA Draft Lottery (on ESPN at 5:30 p.m. AZT).


Important Future Dates

October 16 - NBA Draft.

October 17 - Deadline to tender Saric & Carter AND decline/accept team options on Kaminsky & Diallo.

October 18 - Free agency begins.

October 23 - Moratorium ends (noon).

October 28 - Okobo’s contract becomes fully guaranteed.

November 10 - Target date for opening day for 2020-21 season training camps.

December 1 - Target date for 2020-21 season opening night.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “If the Suns were to somehow make it to the playoffs, how do you think they would do against the Lakers in the 1st round?”

02.6% - 0-4.

40.6% - They would win at least 1 game but that’s it.

33.8% - They might take it to 6 or even 7 games but lose eventually.

23.0% - They would win the series!

A total of 192 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Should the Suns trade their 1st round draft pick this year?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    No.
    (79 votes)
  • 44%
    Yes if it’s not in the top 3-4.
    (99 votes)
  • 19%
    Yes.
    (44 votes)
222 votes total Vote Now