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Center of the Sun: Adding a few missing pieces could get the Suns back into the playoffs

Phoenix needs to build on their bubble success during the offseason.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

As the NBA Playoffs continue in the Orlando Bubble, Suns fans are once again on the outside looking in as we contemplate our team’s future. One thing that’s different from the past few years is a much more positive outlook for that future.

While this year’s draft class doesn’t have any prospects that are considered to have “can’t miss” star potential, it is full of solid players that could work their way into a team’s rotation and positively contribute. That’s a blessing for a team like the Suns who have the 10th pick this year. Getting a future All-Star though the draft is every team’s dream but getting a player that can contribute to winning right away is not a bad consolation prize.

In the draft and in free agency, I’m fairly certain that those are the type of players that the Suns will be looking for this offseason. Devin Booker is and All-Star player and just keeps getting better as time passes. Deandre Ayton looked night and day different defensively compared to his rookie season and I only expect him to get better as time goes on as well. Ricky Rubio made those who called his free agent signing by the Suns “the worst move over the summer” eat their words. Kelly Oubre Jr. upped his game and became a vital part of the team’s scoring machine. Mikal Bridges, “the man of steal” remained a top-notch defender while also expanding his offense. Cameron Johnson showed he was more than just a three-point sniper and well worth being picked ahead of where projected in last year’s draft.

While there were good contributions by others as well, I didn’t mention them by name as it isn’t certain that they will still be with the Suns in 2020-21. Aron Baynes was a great acquisition but is an unrestricted free agent this year. Dario Saric and Jevon Carter are restricted free agents. Cameron Payne is under contract for next season but he was only with the team or the 8 games in the Orlando bubble and that’s just too small of a sample size to pencil him in as a must keeper next season.

So far I’ve mentioned 9 players that gave strong contributions in 2019-20. Other than they occasional above average game, no one else proved to me that they deserved to be mentioned in that respect. Expect some of them to be gone before long to open up roster spots for new acquisitions that will hopefully add more to the Suns potential to win games.

As far as possible trades, there has been much speculation on whether or not Kelly Oubre Jr. should be on the trading block. If it’s an unquestionable win for the Suns, virtually everyone on the roster is available for a trade but I’m against trading Oubre otherwise. Whether he or Cam Johnson should be in the starting lineup next next season is a question I’d rather leave to Monty Williams and not force the issue by trading away one of the Suns’ best players. But I’m not James Jones and I wouldn’t be surprised if a trade involving Oubre does happen.

The main thing is that I believe that the Suns don’t really seem to need to take chances on trying to make a big leap this offseason. Adding a few good complementary players to the bench that can consistently contribute should be enough to get them over the hump and back into the playoffs.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - Assuming that the Suns retain Dario Saric, Kelly Oubre Jr. is not traded and the Suns make no other major roster changes, what would be your preferred starting lineup for 2020-21?

GuarGuar: I’m am totally for that Bubble starting lineup of Rubio, Booker, Mikal, Cam, and Ayton. I think Cam’s spacing has a huge impact and Oubre would be most valuable as a 6th man scorer off the bench. Having Kelly come off the bench would be a huge boost for our overall bench production, which is our biggest need right now.

Sun-Arc: I would have the BOBRA line up, with Booker, Oubre, Bridges, Rubio, and Ayton. There’s a good argument to be made for switching Cam for Oubre, particularly that Oubre would be helpful off the bench. But its complicated, and here’s why.

Cam looked good as a starter in the bubble- but that was a small sample size of 8 games and the oddest of circumstances. He also shot a paltry 35% from three. Do we know that any of that will be what occurs next season? No we don’t. And while Kelly’s leadership and versatility would help the bench, I think Cam could become a leader next season and hopefully they need to shore up the bench anyway. Cam might also get torched on defense more in regular non-bubble games.

Kelly has starter-level skills, such as getting his own shot when other options have broken down. I don’t see that from Cam yet, but he seemed to be working towards that in the bubble. He’s stronger than Cam. He provides a whole lot more energy. He knows opposing players better. He’s also a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Cam appears to be a better shooter, but I wouldn’t count out improvements on that from Kelly. And Oubre needs to work on his “point-five” skills, though Cam isn’t super hot on that front either.

From a human perspective, Oubre deserves to be the starter based on how hard he’s worked since coming over to the Suns. He’s become a better player than he was at Washington, and has been a real leader. Its hard not to think of him as the first player-catalyst towards real positive change on the team in years. He created the Valley Boyz, which Booker and Bridges bought into, and we would break that up. Plus, if Williams did send him to the bench in a contract year, that would really send a message that we are still mistreating players. I just can’t see the team demanding this of Kelly.

SDKyle: I’ll run with Rubio, Booker, Bridges, Johnson, Ayton...with Oubre as the energetic sixth man and Saric matching up when the other team goes bigger.

Aside from the success this lineup has had, I think it gives us the maximum amount of versatility and adaptability as well.

SouthernSun: I’m gonna go with...

  • Rubio
  • Booker
  • Bridges
  • Oubre
  • Ayton

This is mainly because I don’t think Oubre would be very happy coming off the bench. In this scenario, he would start, and often finish, the games, however, he would play a significant amount of his minutes with the 2nd unit anyway.

Oubre will want to have the “starter” label going into free agency for a bigger pay day, and if the Suns want to keep their momentum going heading into next season, they probably shouldn’t piss off the guy who brought swagger, comradery, and even the Valley Boyz name, to Phoenix, especially right after he had a career best season. You don’t reward all of that with a demotion in a season leading up to that players free agency.

Alex S: Rubio/Booker/Bridges/Oubre/Ayton

The continuity and statistical proof was there in the 19-20 season for me to be completely comfortable running it back. More importantly, this is the easiest way to avoid locker-room drama in terms of egos.

Cam is just coming off his rookie season and performed above expectations. Although he played incredibly well in the bubble, there was a drop off in this 3PT%. Was this due to an increase usage or time on the court?

It is super easy to get all three wing guys over 30 minutes per game of playing time. What’s most important is going to be who closes in 20-21.

Q2 - What is the maximum contract (dollars & years) you would offer Dario Saric and Jevon Carter next season?

GuarGuar: I would give Dario a 1 year deal at like 8-10 million. I really want to keep space for that 2021 free agent market. I think Dario wants to stay too as he seemed to gel much better with the guys at the Bubble. Jevon I could see us offering a 3 year deal with a team option for like 4-5 million a year. I love Carter’s skillset and energy. If he continues to have a great 3pt% he is a fantastic fit for this team.

Sun-Arc: I like Dario a lot as a person, and by all accounts he’s a good teammate. I’d like to see him on the team long-term because he can play either “big” position, and played great off the bench in the bubble, but can also start if/when Ayton rolls an ankle. I would like to see if he would take longer term security over high short-term pay. I’d start with $20m/4yr but would go as high as $32/4yr depending on what the other moves end up being.

Carter is more complicated. I like him as a player, I like his defense against guards and his 3pt shooting. His lack of defending players over 6’-4” and inability to be a true point guard trouble me, particularly because that was the shortcoming of the bench all ‘regular’ season long. Payne does a better job of running the team, but can’t defend like Carter. I liked them as a bench combo, but felt it would get taken advantage of by many teams in the end. Depending on the situation, I could see keeping him over Payne or the other way around, or keeping Carter for around $2.5m on a one year deal or $4m/2yr. Carter deserves to be in the league because of his defensive effort alone, but maybe the team as-constructed isn’t the right spot.

SDKyle: I’d go with one year deals for each, honestly. Or two-year with a team option. I like Carter especially but realistically he should not be getting heavy minutes on a good team, especially if the Suns do intend to use a lottery pick on another PG.

Saric I’d give another chance to, but this past season kinda cemented my view of him as a career underachiever. He clearly has the tools to be a starting-quality NBA 4, but he manages to play at the level of a 7th or 8th man but for brief stretches where his talent shows through. If the Suns do offer him a multi-year deal, I wouldn’t pay him more than $7.5 million. Two-years 15 mil maybe.

SouthernSun: Dario can start in a pinch, and had a strong showing in the bubble. He is a very productive player if coming off the bench. I definitely see the Suns bringing him back. I don’t think it will cost as much as many think though. There’s not enough cap money to go around, and I don’t think many teams will be using a full MLE on him. I could see the Suns bringing him back for anywhere between 5 and 8 mil. 8 mil short term, 6ish for multi year. Might end up being something like 2/14 mil. Hard to guess. I wouldn’t go higher than 8 though, unless they are entering free agency over the cap and its a 1 year deal anyway. Then who cares. Go wild. Pay him and Baynes whatever and still be able to use the full MLE and the BAE.

Jevon Carter is a fun player. And he can be impactful at times. And if you look back at the Center of the Sun article before this season where we guessed which end of the bench guy would end up being a fan favorite, I picked Jevon. He proved me right, and then some.

However, Jevon won’t be getting more than 5 mil a year. That’s my absolute limit for him.

I think the Suns can hold onto him for the veteran minimum this offseason, and they can even do that after they’ve used the rest of their space, since teams can still sign veteran minimum contracts after they’re capped out.

Alex S: Saric – most I’d offer would be three years at 25 million total. Anything above that would start to be too much for my liking.

Jevon I would love to see on either a two-year deal with a TO around ~8 million in total or just a one-year overpay. I love his energy and personality but it’d be great to see another year of quality play before I fully jump on board with a long-term deal.

Q3 - Even if the Suns don’t make any major roster changes, they will still need to strengthen their bench depth. What free agents should they pursue if this is their primary offseason objective?

GuarGuar: Bertans would really add a ton of spacing to this team. Our 3 point efficiency as a team would skyrocket. Jerami Grant would add much needed athleticism and defense. DJ Augustin would be a great backup PG and add depth for when Rubio misses time. There are quite a few solid options out there that would strengthen the depth of this team.

Sun-Arc: I’m stoked about the FVV talk. This could be complicated because he’s been a starter lately for the Raptors, which wouldn’t happen here- and/or would we have to trade Oubre and/or Rubio? I love Rubio and wouldn’t put HIM on the bench- but honestly I’d prefer FVV start or be the point guard here- if I had to choose. He’s a better defender, perimeter shooter, and pretty good at the other parts too- though Rubio is craftier and a better passer. Fred is four years younger, though, and I think a better overall fit next to Booker. Rubio should be a better fit for Ayton, but I didn’t see too much PnR action going on with them, so maybe not a big deal there.

Serge Ibaka would be really nice- but not sure we would want to pay what he might cost. Maybe Sarver sucks it up and does the one-year overpay on him to “juice” the team. That sounds unlikely- but it would be super cool to help out the young team.

On the lower tier front I’d go after Justin Holiday (shoots over 40% from three and defends), and I would look at replacing Kaminsky with Meyers Leonard (also shoots over 40% from three, but not great at defending). I was not impressed with Frank in his time here, and not for $5m next season.

SDKyle: At the risk of being unoriginal, the Suns should certainly pursue Christian Wood. He’s an upgrade over Saric and the Suns shouldn’t have to break the bank. I’d love to see them make a splash acquisition of someone like Montrezl Harrell, but just don’t see it happening. I’m intrigued by the possibility of Fred Van Vleet, too, but he won’t come cheap and might create chemistry issues if it becomes a controversy over whether he should be backing up Rubio.

SouthernSun: They need need need a scoring guard off the bench. If they don’t trade for one of those, then the free agents that make a lot of sense would be:

  • Goran Dragic
  • D.J. Augustin
  • Alec Burks
  • Jordan Clarkson

Each of those players could play next to either Rubio or Booker (or Carter or Payne), and keep the offense going when Book takes a seat.

There were entirely too many times where the offense sputtered to a near halt when the Suns had Elie Okobo or Ty Jerome (or Jevon Carter, but we like him, and he’s a tiny wing anyway, not a PG) running the offense. Or even Rubio without a running mate who can score the ball.

If the Suns trade for a guard, then they’ll have money to throw at a big, in which case the following players are probably in their range, and would be good additions:

  • Jerami Grant
  • Christian Wood
  • Danilo Gallinari
  • Davis Bertans

Any of those players would be fantastic additions for different reasons, though they would probably be major competition for the starting PFs spot. But that’s not a bad thing.

Alex S: I’ve been a big Joe Harris guy. I think he could be had if you have around 10-12 million to spend and you offered him a long-term deal. With the Cam Payne addition, I could tolerate if he is the primary backup 1. However a guy who is interesting to me would be DJ Augustin.

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


2019-20 Season Highlights

Devin Booker EPIC 44 Pts Full Highlights | Suns vs Pelicans

DeAndre Ayton 31 Pts Full Highlights | Suns vs Mavericks

Ricky Rubio - Triple-Double Full Highlights Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks

Kelly Oubre Jr. scores a career-high 39 points in Rockets vs Suns

Mikal Bridges Career High 26 Points Full Highlights | Suns vs Celtics


Quote of the Week


News & Notes

Hawks, Knicks, Suns Expected To Pursue Davis Bertans. Hoops Rumors

Success of Luka Doncic brings a lot of hate to Deandre Ayton. Zona Zealots

Former Suns GM has heated Twitter exchange with ‘crooked, racist’ Phoenix councilman. Clutch Points

Consensus Mock Draft: In first look after Lottery, Edwards seems like lock at No. 1. NBA.com


Draft Prospect Scouting Videos

Obi Toppin Draft Scouting Video

Killian Hayes Draft Scouting Video

Aaron Nesmith Draft Scouting Video


This Week in Suns History

On September 3, 1968, the Phoenix Suns opened their first ever training camp, running mainly conditioning drills at Brophy Prep with camp lasting for one week. Phoenix also lost another coin flip to the Milwaukee Bucks - the right for first pick off waivers.

On September 6, 1977, the Phoenix Suns acquired point guard Don Buse from the Indiana Pacers for Ricky Sobers. Sobers was instrumental in Phoenix’s 1976 Sunderella Suns run to the NBA Finals while Buse was an All-Star - first in the ABA and then in the NBA - in the two seasons prior to the trade. Buse would miss just one game in three seasons for the Suns while averaging 8.0 points, 4.4 assists and 1.9 steals in 31.0 minutes per game.


Interesting Suns Stuff

What Should The Phoenix Suns Do With The 10th Pick In The 2020 NBA Draft?


Suns Trivia

Prior to 1974, there were no formal rules about how many picks a team had or what round the NBA Draft ended in. Most teams would drop out of the draft at ten rounds, but some teams would keep going alternating between the teams that were left until everyone finally decided to stop. In 1974 league decided to limit the draft to just 10 rounds. It was not until 1988 that the draft was cut to 3 rounds and then down to 2 rounds in 1989.

In the Suns first ever draft in 1969, they actually drafted 22 players over 20 rounds. In 1982 the highest drafted player in NBA history to actually play in the NBA, Dale Wilkinson, was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 221st pick overall in the 10th round. Wilkinson never played for the Suns and was let go before the season started. He was signed as a free agent and waived by other teams in 1983 and 1984 without getting an opportunity to play. He eventually did play in 12 games in 1984-85 for the Detroit Pistons (2) and the LA Clippers (10).


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.

* Author’s Note: Current news from the NBA indicates that these dates will likely pushed further back than indicated here but no alternative dates have been given out at this time.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Next season Kelly Oubre Jr. will be...”

48% - Back in the Suns’ starting lineup.

37% - A great 6th man off the bench.

15% - On another team because the Suns will trade him in the offseason.

A total of 220 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

This year the Suns should draft...

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    The best available point guard.
    (30 votes)
  • 5%
    The best available scoring guard to be Booker’s backup.
    (15 votes)
  • 16%
    The best available wing that’s capable of playing/guarding multiple positions.
    (50 votes)
  • 68%
    The best player available regardless of position.
    (204 votes)
299 votes total Vote Now