Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
Each week the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders - give their takes on the Suns’ latest issues and news.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - With a little over a quarter of the season done, give me your current “State of the Suns” summary of the team.
GuarGuar: I have been pleasantly surprised how well we’ve held up so far given the vast amount of injury issues. Book has been spectacular and Ayton and Bridges have taken steps forward in their development. Hopefully we can get some guys soon. I believe we are once again a title contender and possibly the favorite to get out of the West if we can get healthy.
I don’t think the roster we have now will be the roster come playoff time. I hope not. James Jones needs to make a deadline splash for the first time. This is probably the last year we will have “good Chris Paul”. The time is now.
OldAz: I see progress, but also a lot of room to still grow (not a bad place to be, honestly). I said before the year that the regular season was going to be tough because anything the Suns accomplish would be judged thru a jaded lens of last year’s playoff collapse. Essentially, “who cares” or “so what” would be the default attitude even if they had (have) the best record in the league (conference). The only way I saw for the Suns to avoid this was to show observable progress - especially among the core of Book, DA, Mikal and CamJ.
The injury to CamJ certainly hurt this, but the CP3 injury has actually been a big blessing. The Suns are being forced to grow and win in different ways. Shockingly, Book continues to find even more levels to raise his game. I also don’t mind seeing a loss or two when other players are getting chances.
On the other hand, I would like to see the Suns go right back to areas that failed and force the issue: To both drive and measure this necessary growth. As an example, when presented an opportunity to tie a game from the FT line very early in the season, DA choked on his first shot. I want to see the Suns keep forcing DA to take these shots and see if this recent growth can be extended to those types of crunch time situations. I don’t expect it to suddenly become a strength, but growth requires trying (and usually failing) multiple times.
Cliff30: I don’t really have any big takeaways. They’re getting wins in the regular season just like they did a year ago. But I think they’ve had a lot more adversity this year with injuries. Guys have stepped up and that’s been fun to see.
The big thing is do Bridges and especially Ayton stay more assertive offensively when they get CP3 and Cam Johnson back? What will CP3 look like when he gets back on the court? Will Cam Payne and Torrey Craig continue to be impactful when they move back into a bench role again? I still think this team needs to make an impact trade and just as importantly get healthy in order to go into the playoffs feeling confident that they can indeed make a significant postseason run.
Philip: Cautiously optimistic.
The Suns are better than I thought they would be, even with the quality of players recently on injury reports. That to say, the Suns are a good team, but my guess is that Suns fans aren’t satisfied with having a good team; they want a great one.
To reach that level, the Suns need Devin Booker to be a Top-10 player in the NBA, probably more like a Top-5 player. (If you’re interested, we covered this in great detail over the summer on Into the Valley: a Phoenix Suns Podcast.) After his preposterously good stretch, it feels dumb to write that Book isn’t a Top-10 player, but I’m not fully convinced.
Truth be told, I won’t be fully convinced one way or the other until I see him in the playoffs.
Rod: I think they’re in a good place considering all the injuries and Crowder’s absence. They’re one of the best teams in the West but they still need to make a move or two before the trade deadline to get better to really make some noise in the playoffs. I have nearly zero faith that a trade for KD will even come close to happening and James Jones does NOT need to hoard the Suns future draft picks waiting on it. That being said, he shouldn’t give any of them away in a trade or trades that doesn’t significantly move the needle for the Suns this season either.
Q2 - When Cam Johnson is ready to return, would you immediately slip him back into the starting lineup or start off playing him limited minutes with the second unit?
GuarGuar: I’d put him back with the starters unless he’s a shell of himself. That’s something I trust Monty and the coaches to decide on. We’re doin well without him right now so not a huge rush. But his absence is glaring every night with our lack of wing depth.
OldAz: Getting his rhythm in games will require shots. These shots are far more available with the current bench unit. As such, I would start with him off the bench but move him back to the starting lineup as soon as his shot shows that it is falling. After that it simply takes time and game minutes to get his legs and wind back up to NBA level. Once he starts hitting shots, I would start Cam but be much quicker about subbing in Craig early when the team looks lethargic and needs a jolt of his energy, especially on the boards.
Cliff30: I’m torn. I think Cam deserves to start and can be good as a starter. And that unit offensively is unstoppable. But I also think Craig just brings more of the defense and rebounding that we need at that PF spot and Cam’s scoring is more needed with the bench unit. I think we need to just see how the different units play together when they get back on the floor and be open to doing whatever is going to create the best chances to win.
Philip: Let’s work in stages.
In Stage 1, let Cam get his legs underneath him. This probably means short stints off the bench, letting him get adjusted to game speed.
In Stage 2, let Cam get used to his rotation. This probably means shorter stints than normal but with the starting rotation, at least in the first and third quarter.
In Stage 3, let’s see one of the league’s deadliest starting lineups at full strength.
Rod: I honestly think it would be best to bring Cam off the bench for a few games until he gets his his game legs back. There’s going to be some rust after the long layoff and he’ll need some time to get back into sync with the team. Of course, if the injury bug has thinned the Suns’ ranks even further by then, he might need to start out of necessity. I’d keep I close eye on his minutes for a while either way.
Q3 - Dec. 15 will soon be here and Jae Crowder trade speculation/rumors seem to be growing. What’s your favorite one?
GuarGuar: My favorite is he’s part of the big package deal with Durant. I don’t know if that’s the most likely but that’s my favorite for obvious reasons. I could see Miami goin after him for a pick or Max Strus. I would be ok with that I think Strus is a valuable player.
OldAz: None that I have heard so far really move the needle for me (Maybe Kuzma if that one is a legitimate possibility). Maybe I have missed some options, but most I have seen are basically 1 for 1 swaps of Crowder’s salary with maybe some picks involved. The Suns either need a contributor at PF or a major move for a long-term replacement for CP3 at guard. Any deal I would be interested in should require at least one other player (Saric?) and hopefully others to make the money work. This would then be a major move that could help the Suns this year and beyond. All the rumors I have heard so far are for a player that would likely be #7-10 and a fringe rotational player at best, especially if this is anyone that can be had in a 1:1 trade.
I could certainly talk myself into liking a Kyle Kuzma (or a John Collins) but I would much rather take a bigger swing, like a high risk / high reward move for a Julius Randle type or a pipedream type move (like SGA would be). A big trade like this is going to require at least one other team to give up on this year and look to shed longer term commitments.
Cliff30: I don’t really have high expectations for a Crowder trade. I think getting back a young player like Kenyon Martin Jr. would be a pretty nice addition in that he’s good enough to play right away and has upside. I also heard the Wizards were interested and guys like Deni Advija and Rui Hachimura could be possibilities. Not sure I believe they are ready to give up on lotto picks this quickly. But again young players that could give us some long term upside.
The problem for a trade continues to be the teams that want Crowder are win now teams that can’t afford to give back win now pieces and the Suns want a win now player in return. Something has to give. Either the Suns take a younger project type player or work out a three team trade where a third team gives us something we want in exchange for a pick(s) that another team gives up for Crowder.
Philip: Since the trade machine told me that Jae Crowder for Kevin Durant straight up doesn’t work, I set my sights on the sputtering Jazz, a team that will likely have growing interest in trades in coming weeks and months.
I’m wondering if Mike Conley is interested in competing for a title. If he is, let’s send Jae Crowder and Dario Saric to the Jazz with the understanding that they’ll be waived, and let’s bring Mike Conley in to sure up the backup point guard spot for the Suns. (I’m so sorry to the Cam Payne stans out there.)
Rod: At this point, all the trade rumors I’ve heard that I liked were just that, rumors without much substance to them. I’m just hoping that something comes along before the trade deadline that would bring back at least a solid rotation player, preferably a big wing or power forward. That’s about the best I expect when trading Jae alone but the Suns have a lot of movable contracts (and draft picks) that they could use in a package deal if the right player came on to the market. As frustrating as it’s been waiting on something to happen, I think Jones has been smart to not make a move yet. It’s very unlikely that Jae’s value will go down but it’s very possible that it could go up as the trade deadline approaches.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!
Last Week’s poll results
Last week’s question was, “Following Cam Payne, who is the Suns’ next best bench guard?”
86% - Damion Lee.
05% - Landry Shamet.
08% - Duane Washington Jr.
01% - Josh Okogie.
A total of 279 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
When Cam Johnson returns...
This poll is closed
He should immediately be put back into the starting lineup.
Monty should have him come off the bench for a while until he shakes off any rust.