Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.
The only thing more boring than no Suns’ basketball is no basketball at all. That’s what we have today but we’re still talking Suns basketball here at Bright Side. After the malodorous meltdown finish to this season that was Game 7, the Suns have lots of things to ponder and problems to try to remedy this summer. Is anything off the table this offseason? In past years I would have said yes and given you a list of the things that fit that bill but not now. Some things I would still consider very unlikely but there is much that we outsiders are still in the dark about concerning the reasons behind the Suns ignominious exit from the playoffs that I can’t think off a single thing that I would consider completely out of the question anymore.
As usual, the Suns have been very quiet about it all. Will we ever get the real story behind why they fell so short of expectations in the playoffs this year? While the truth is likely to eventually come out, my advice to you all is don’t hold your breath while you wait.
And now, on to the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.
Fantable Questions of the Week
Q1 - Which of the following to you think is most likely?
- A. Suns sign Deandre Ayton to a new contract (or match an offer sheet) and he stays long-term in Phoenix.
- B. Suns sign DA to a new contract (or match an offer sheet) but later trade him at the trade deadline.
- C. Suns work out a sign and trade deal for DA this summer.
- D. Suns and DA fail to reach any kind of agreement, he signs his qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.
Author’s Note: There is actually another option that I did not include, that the Suns just let DA walk for nothing this summer. I did not include that option in the question because it just seems unbelievable that they would do something that stupid (again).
GuarGuar: I think C is the most likely scenario for DA this offseason. I really feel like he is gone and we already have target trades in place. It seems from reports like everyone has known he is on his way out. I think a sign and trade is executed at some point this summer.
Alex S: I think in order of likelihood, I would go:
It all seems to be smoke and mirrors regarding DA these days but I do believe there’s truth behind Monty not being DA’s biggest supporter due to his work ethic. The Suns have shown the ability to perform well with low-level contracts in the C position and using DA as a trade piece to acquire a star/high level talent could be in the best interest of the team.
As the Warriors and Celtics have shown this year, if you have multiple wings/ball handlers who can create while maintaining a serviceable rotation of bigs you’re going to be in a good position to succeed.
OldAz: Option D is ridiculous and simply not happening. The QO is about HALF of the max DA is seeking and provides no injury protection. No agent would ever let a player of DA’s value go this route as that lost money cannot be made up. I thought Option C was a little bit possible... until I read Dave King’s excellent article on Wednesday. Now I believe this is almost as unlikely as Option D.
That leaves A & B which are basically the same, with a half season opportunity to decide which one is actually the plan. If the Suns retain DA but continue to limit his role like the last 2 years I can see it creating a lot of tension (and frustration in the fan base) and the Suns pulling the trigger a deal mid-year. However, if Monty really does start looking for opportunities to develop other scoring options and expands DA’s offensive role in that half season, I could also see the Suns going with option A and keeping him long term. Ultimately “A” is the correct answer unless the Suns screw things up in the first half of next season.
Cliff30: It’s easiest to start with what I think is least likely. Ayton isn’t accepting the QO. Serious injury is a real consideration. You can’t pass up 130 million guaranteed dollars, zero percent chance. I think the idea of the Suns signing Ayton and then trading him at the deadline is also very unlikely. Ayton isn’t likely to play well in that scenario. If they don’t mend the fence and commit to him he’s not going to continue to be a good soldier. He might even pull a Ben Simmons or worse, he could suffer a serious injury. Plus there’s more cap flexibility for teams in the off-season than in season. That’s just not a realistic plan in my opinion.
So the question is are they signing him long term or working out a sign and trade. I said it’s 50/50 last week and I will continue to say that. But I will say that there is also a good chance that they lose him for nothing. There are teams with the cap space. If Ayton is going to the Spurs, Orlando or Detroit what’s the motivation for a sign and trade? The threat of the Suns matching? Maybe Ayton wants to call their bluff, maybe he prioritizes his new team preserving all their assets and spiting his former team in the process over the extra few million he could get.
I could definitely see a team like Orlando being willing to roll the dice on extending him an offer and hoping the Suns just don’t match. If it works out they then have pieces to move to build a contender around him. If not they were in full rebuild mode anyways and only have a chance at acquiring Ayton because Sarver is cheap.
Q2 - Dario Saric is entering the final year of his contract with the Suns. It’s very possible he’s packaged in a trade this summer but do you think his skillset could be useful to the team if he’s not traded?
GuarGuar: Dario definitely has a useful skill set if he’s the same type of player pre injury. We really could’ve used him against bigger teams the past two postseasons. I don’t think he will be around come opening night but a healthy Dario can certainly have a big contribution to this team.
Alex S: I think Dario is the perfect trade bait. James Jones had reasoning towards keeping multiple ‘mid-level’ salaries on the roster in order to take that one risk. This summer seems to be the time to do it. You have multiple solid contracts, young pieces in Mikal/DA/Cam J to use, and multiple picks to trade. Why wouldn’t you shoot for the stars for a guy like KD/LeBron? 1 Chip is all it takes to make this era of basketball worthwhile.
OldAz: I actually really like Dario as a backup PF because he does so many things well, even though he is not great at any one thing. He is a good passer for a second unit, can space the floor and knock down 3’s, gets good position, and uses his body well to rebound even though he has no elevation when he jumps. He has a pretty good basketball IQ and does not need to be the focal point when he is on the floor. This is huge for those 2nd team minutes and when you run into a matchup problem in the playoffs.
The problem here is that the backup PF is currently Cam Johnson who needs more opportunities to get on the floor, not less. If Cam J can move a little more freely between wing positions and still get 25-30 minutes a night, then I think Dario is a huge value for what the Suns do. Dario’s expiring contract is a nice trade chip, but unless another team covets a couple of the Suns expiring contracts to unload for their overpriced star, I don’t see him getting moved in the summer. I anticipate the Suns having half the season to determine what Dario’s value is before assessing if a better opportunity exists at the trade deadline.
Cliff30: If he’s healthy, yes. I’m not a huge Dario fan, but he definitely can be useful in the right matchup and provides a different look as a small ball five or an old school PF. But I hope the Suns are aggressive in packaging him with other expiring contracts to try to swing a more impactful player.
Q3 - A lot of fans have blamed Monty Williams for the Suns’ playoff failure this year. I don’t see his job being in jeopardy at the moment but do you think that could change this coming season?
GuarGuar: I think the only way Monty’s job could be in jeopardy next year is if we acquire a big time talent in a sign and trade and we fall really short in the playoffs once again. I like Monty I think he’s a phenomenal coach and culture setter. It’s clear the impact he’s had here. My only issue with him is playing the same defensive coverage every game in a playoff series and not changing things up.
Alex S: Monty is not in jeopardy. Now, if he gets outcoached in multiple playoff series? Then we have a problem. I think Monty and James are going to look very hard into their system and find ways to tweak our play style during the regular season this upcoming year. I am a firm believer the Suns play style will differ in 2022-23. My projection would be more emphasis on the three ball, more player movement, and getting a wing player to take more control of the offense other than Book and CP3.
OldAz: Yes, Monty can easily find himself on the hot seat next year. This speaks more of the current nature of sports than it does to Monty specifically. Just look at the change in Suns fans from 2 years ago when we were so excited to just get invited to the bubble and compete. Compare that to this year, where I was actually bored at times during a 64 win regular season because I expected (and could not wait) to be back in the finals. Extrapolate that along with the current anger over postseason failure to next year. The regular season will be even worse as no amount of regular season success will satisfy the fan base or overcome the constant pessimism of “so what, prove it in the playoffs”.
While ultimately it is the organization that determines if a coach’s job is in jeopardy, the local fanbase and sports talk-shows often make a difference in creating that atmosphere. I remember listening to Bucks fan’s rail against Coach Bud last year even while they were winning the Championship. Fans forget that the other team and coach are paid to be there too, so it is not hard to go from the penthouse to the outhouse rather quickly.
Monty does need to adjust and grow in some significant areas to avoid the hot seat. He has always been more motivator than tactician so the loss of Willie Green hurt this past year. If Monty recognizes this and gets someone else he can trust to help with X’s and O’s, strategy, and in came adjustments it will benefit him greatly. He also has to make good on his statements about developing the younger core as individual scoring options. If instead, he continues to turn the reigns over to CP3 (who has earned a great deal of trust) to the detriment of developing “the triplets”, Monty’s motivational speaker cred could get shattered as players and fans start asking how 2022-2023 is going to be any different from last season.
In my personal opinion, seeing tangible growth among DA, Bridges, and/or Cam J to create their own offense during the regular season is the ONLY way Monty will be able to combat the upcoming negativity during a long regular season. Fans (and by extension, the team) will be patient and understanding if they see significant development in the young core. This will turn that long season of skepticism into hope and anticipation for a better playoff result.
Cliff30: Monty is going to have a long leash. We would have to be really bad next year for his job to be in jeopardy. But this Ayton situation has really soured me on him. This is the NBA, you win or lose with talent. DA has improved a lot and is an affable guy. If you can’t handle him, what would you have done with Dennis Rodman? Good coaches manage personalities, egos, and attitudes. James Jones has built a squad that doesn’t have any such bad actors. But acquiring new talent is going to get harder. If we have to avoid any player that might ruffle some feathers because Monty can’t even handle Deandre Ayton, that’s extremely limiting. I also think to get over the top we’re going to need a coach that can make better in game and in series adjustments. But I don’t expect that change to happen any time soon.
As always, many thanks to our Fantable members - GuarGuar, SouthernSun, Alex S, OldAz and Cliff30 - for all their extra effort every week! (SouthernSun did not participate this week.)
Interesting Suns Stuff
Deandre Ayton To The Indiana Pacers? More Teams Reportedly Interested In Ayton
Last Week’s Poll Results
Last week’s poll was “Will the Suns bring back Frank the Tank in 2022-23?”
47% - Yes.
53% - No.
A total of 368 votes were cast.
This week’s poll is...
Suns’ head coach Monty Williams is...
This poll is closed
Already on the hot seat.
Not on the hot seat yet but should be on a short leash during the 2022-23 season.
Safe unless the team totally collapses and winds up in the lottery again.