I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not typically someone who’s overly reactive or doom-and-gloom about my relationship with the Phoenix Suns. I quite often have given those in and around the organization the benefit of the doubt, for better or for worse.
But as we reach a point where the Suns are struggling with the adversity of the most impactful injuries across the league, I’m left weighing options as to how I want the team to respond.
The Ishbia brothers and their inevitable arrivals also make me think about how new owners across all sports have a tendency to make a big splash early in their tenures. Guiding the team to a new direction may just be that big splash they’re looking for.
One of the things that’s been especially discouraging to me is Phoenix’s tendency to lose big when they lose. Of their 18 losses so far this year — a number that already matches last season’s total despite not quite reaching the halfway mark of the regular season yet — nine have been by double digits, including four by 25+.
I worry that pushing all the squad’s chips in now when the best you can realistically do is a first or second-round exit the next couple years may not be as valuable as taking one step back to later take two or three steps forward.
The 2020-21 Toronto Raptors are a recent example of what I think the Suns could emulate.
In their second season in the post-Kawhi Leonard era, the Raptors were 17-17 as they approached the halfway point of a 72-game season shortened by the pandemic. They finished their season 10-28 for a final record of 27-45, earning them the seventh-worst record and the fourth overall pick where they selected Scottie Barnes, who went on to win Rookie of the Year.
While the Barnes selection hasn’t born fruit of playoff success yet — and seems like he won’t this season either — he’s grown into someone averaging 14.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists as a second-year player and was deemed an untouchable piece by Toronto in Kevin Durant trade talks last summer.
This is a draft with plenty of Scottie Barnes-level prospects, and it may behoove Phoenix to get more involved in adding more young talent with a possible top 10 pick.
It’s a nutty year for tanking with prospects like Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson at the top of boards, but the Suns aren’t that far out right now; they’re 4.0 games back of the sixth-best lottery odds which would mean a 37.2% chance at a top four pick and 9.0% chance at number one.
As things currently stand, they’re 15th in the draft order. (My favorite prospect in that range is Dariq Whitehead from Duke, for those wanting to start early scouting for potential Suns)
If Devin Booker’s groin is going to continue to be an issue, it might just be the right call to not rush him back. If the team continues to struggle during that stretch and they find themselves a Deandre Ayton trade when he becomes trade-eligible on Jan. 15 (worth noting that Ayton has trade veto rights until the summer), then this ship might be going down fast. Maybe a spring and summer of re-tooling could be best.