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Suns Weekly (11/30-12/4): Can the IST this week tell us more about the Suns than the first 20 games did?

Your weekly roundup of Phoenix Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

WELCOME to your news roundup of the week that was and the week yet to come for your Phoenix Suns.

The Suns enter the second quarter of their season with a winning record and that’s great considering the plethora of injuries to the Big Three. Most of the season so far, the Suns have been relegated to one mega star going to work with a bucket of leggos. More on that to come.

Last Week, the Suns lost to the Raptors and Nuggets before beating a cobbled-together Memphis Grizzlies. Perfect microcosm of the season to date: lose to the good one, beat the bad one, and hope you outshoot the middy.

The Suns were also managing time and injury recovery to Kevin Durant and Devin Booker for this IST tourney this week. KD sat out a game, and played a couple fewer minutes than his usual when he did. Same with Book.

Snapshot of the week:

What’s next THIS WEEK?

Now it’s the In-Season Tournament for eight teams who did well to qualify, including the Suns. It mostly works as a single-elimination playoff setting, except everyone just goes back to regularly scheduled programming when they’re eliminated. The 22 teams already out of the picture will play regular season schedules this week against the each other, as if nothing more interesting was going on. The 8 teams still alive, including your Suns who went 3-1 with a +34 point differential in Group Play games to qualify, get to play poker in the back room until they’re kicked out.

In the West, the Suns will have to beat the Lakers in LA, then beat the winner of Kings/Pelicans and then the winner of the East bracket to take home the prize — bragging rights, a trophy, some individual ‘of the tourney’ awards and some extra cash. Sounds a little bit like the 2020 Bubble-offs, doesn’t it, where the Suns went 8-0 and Booker took home First-Team All-Bubble honors. And like that, no impact on actual playoffs coming next spring.

The Knockout round officially starts tonight, with the Kings and Pelicans deciding who makes the Semi-Finals on Thursday, vs. consolodation game on Friday, while the Celtics and Pacers decide the same for the East.

Then it’s Sunsday. Tune in to Tuesday’s game against the Lakers!


No matter what, the regular season rolls on like it always has and the Suns will be right back in the thick of it by Monday at the latest, with two more regular season games under their belt.

Let’s recap the 20-game mark, roughly 25% through the season

Seems like I shouldn’t have to ask: do we really know any more about the Phoenix Suns today than we did a few months ago?

Maybe, but then again maybe not.

Yes, the Suns survived a 20-game stretch with a winning record, despite 0 games with all three of Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker together, and only 12 games with some two of them in the same lineup.

  • Booker + Durant: 7-2
  • Durant + Beal: 1-2 (Beal (back) played clearly injured in these games)
  • With just Durant: 2-4
  • With just Booker: 2-0

Sure seems like that Devin Booker guy is the key to winning so far, and it’s a shame he hasn’t been more available more available yet due to soft tissue issues to foot, toe, ankle and hamstring. “Welcome to my season, guys,” he said to media on Sunday.

The Booker we see on the court these days is much better than any we have seen yet, and I already call him the THE face of the Suns Ring of Honore just halfway through his tenure here. In his 9th season, he’s truly morphed into Point Book, averaging career highs in points, assists, and just about every category.

But if you’re going to miss a lot of time, might as well do it when your team has had the easiest schedule in the league, according to basketball-reference.com. They only played seven tough games in the first 20.

But did they beat any good teams? 10 of their 12 wins are against losing teams. The record is 10-2 against losing teams, and 2-5 against winning teams.

Here’s those wins over good teams:

  • they killed the West’s top seed Minnesota Timberwolves after the Wolves had just gotten a pair of emotional wins over the Golden State Warriors, then faced a well-rested Suns team with both KD and Book in ready to go
  • that’s the game-winning Book three made last Sunday in MSG.

And that’s it. Let’s see if the IST helps.

I fully expect Armani Mode Book to show up — he got First-Team All-Bubble 2020, then set a record by a wide margin for points scored in his first Playoffs (2021) while leading the Suns to the Finals. And this past year, he was the second best player in the playoffs, despite only getting to the second round.

But he does have a blemish: He doesn’t carry a team to victory in an elimination game, and that’s all they’ve got this week. Here’s your chance, Book!

And then there’s the case of Kevin Freaking Durant, who is possibly the most perfect pairing with Book.

First, Kevin Durant on having Devin Booker back from various issues: “The energy around the team, the arena, the fanbase, you guys, media, it’s just better when Book plays. It just feels better when Book plays. Everybody feels that, and when he’s not out there, you can definitely just see the difference.”

Now Book on the legendary KD, 10 years older: “I remember looking at postgame conferences and how he would speak on me, and that always gave me the confidence to get respect from the top dogs in the league. He’s a living legend, and I’m glad to be able to go to battle with him every time.”

Together, Book and KD are fairly unstoppable. They nearly carried a walking wounder team through the cruising Nuggets.

  • Left graph: Suns players, sorted by minutes in 4-2 series loss vs. Denver Nuggets, May 2023
  • Middle graph: Predicted ranking of Suns entering game 1 of 2023-24 season
  • Right Graph: How it went, through 20 games

Outside the Big Three, the Suns role players have all been healthy, which can only help Head Coach Frank Vogel find mixes and matches as the stars nurse their own injuries.

To win anything BIG, the Suns will need better than middle-pack defense and he just needs to find out which groups play good enough team defense to get by and make the important stops when the other team is a on a roll.


Notable Quotes from the Week that Was

Via Trevor Booth, CLutchPoints: Booker on how he fully transformed into a point guard in year 9: “Just reading defenses, and how I got to play through, and turning the ball over and seeing a bunch of different coverages. I get to the point where every year the game is slowing down a bit. I watch a ton of basketball, and learning the tendencies of other teams in really important.”

Via Amanda Pflugrad of AZ3Family to Booker on whether he’s okay Kevin Durant becoming NBA’s 10th highest All-Time leading scorer and passing Book for most consecutive free thows made in a row in a Suns uniform in the same season. Book smiled and kept it simple: “I’m the point guard. He’s the scorer.”

Via Suns/pregame media session: Vogel on the quarter pole, where the Suns rank 18th: “No good enough. The system has been implemented and they’ve had plenty of reps to be executing at a higher level.”

Via Suns/pregame media session on seeming to always be coming back from one little injury or another: “Story of my life right now, guys.”

Via Trevor Booth, Vogel on how important Booker is: “He’s the leader of our offense and organizing us.”


Suns Articles Around the Web

Duane Rankin/AZ Republic/AZCentral.com ($), always best source for Suns news, interviews and both home and road coverage: Read this on Booker facing Lakers for first time this uear o Tuedas.

The Ringer.com — M<ore on this In-Season Tournament that starts today for 4 of the final eight teams.

Link to Sportskeeda/from Old Man and the Three podcast: Young Booker not afraid to tell opponent J.J. Reddick, who was on the Sixers, that T.J . McConnell took too long to decide whether to take an open three in the corner before chucking it to Redick for what turned out to be an airball. Booker said to Redick, “JJ, what a loser, that’s not winning basketball.”

Gerald Bourguet/PHNX Sports: Nassir Little has had some big adjustments, including moving to new team and now adding a daighter to the mix. Great story here.


Good-to-Great Bright Side reads you probably missed

Each week I’ll highlight some Bright Side articles that didn’t get as many eyeballs as they should have. It’s worth your time to give these unique takes a look before they’re lost in the ether forever.

The writing on this site is tremendous, folks! Blink and you might miss some of its best.


Bright Side Night is coming — help us out! Every day is a double match of your donation, thanks to the Phoenix Suns. As little as $15 out of your pocket can give a lifetime memory of a live pro basketball game experience to TWO underprivileged kids. Got more than $15 to give? Great — we’ll give even YOU something(s) cool too, so you can be part of the gifting AND receiving.


Cap Sheet

Here’s the latest. I added the ‘tradable on’ column to show you what’s in the bag.

Here’s the trade/signing rules between now and end of trade deadline in Feb 2024 (including the trade exceptions you may not know)

The Suns...

  1. CAN aggregate salaries this year, in and out
  2. CANNOT take on more than 10% more salary coming back in a trade of players
  3. CAN sign a guy who was bought out, but only if he made less than #12.4 million
  4. CAN use a trade exception to acquire a player from another team into a roster spot, but canNOT be included with outgoing players. Has to be used by itself to acquire someone else’s player into the salary spot
  • Dario Saric trade exception = $4.975 million, usable through 2/9/2024
  • Cameron Payne trade exception = $6.5 million, usable through 9/7/2024
  • There’s also small Isaiah Todd and Toumani Camara ones, but they are under $2 mil each

Cap Sheet

Contracts in black ink are guaranteed, meaning the Suns have to pay those salaries whether or not the player is on the team, like Keon Johnson. He’s fully charged to the Suns, since he only signed a two-way with Brooklyn.

*Note: Spotrac.com has the Suns still $4.869 million over the second apron. I got most of the way there realizing Goodwin’s non-guaranteed portion counts against this number, but still looking for the other 800k.

Team owner Ishbia has said over and over again he doesn’t care about the cost, but roster management gets more and more difficult if they stay over. Keep reading...

What does the ‘second tax apron’ mean to the Suns, starting next offseason?

If they are still over when the 2023-24 regular season ends:

  • cannot pay more than the league minimum for free agents from another team
  • cannot trade the “seven years out” first-round pick (2031)
  • cannot acquire any players in sign-and-trade
  • cannot send out cash in any trades
  • One-for-one player trades trades only (no salary aggregation of multiple players)
  • every trade must return the same or less player salary back to the Suns

If they remain over the second apron twice in the following four years (i.e. three of five), starting NEXT season:

  • those future frozen draft picks they keep are moved to the END of the first round (they can later be unfrozen if the team gets below the second apron 3 out of 4 years)

In short, trades get TOUGH for the teams over the second apron, especially after this season ends. That’s they these biggest spenders are accumulating the biggest salaries they can right now so they can at least start from the top on the trade.


Important Future Dates

  • Dec 4-5: NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout rounds; Suns play Lakers on Tuesday
  • Dec 7-8: Suns will play next game against Kings or Pelicans in winning bracket or loser bracket
  • Dec. 9: NBA In-Season Tournament Finals for inaugural NBA Cup**
  • Dec 15: Almost all free agents signed over summer can start being included in trades
  • Feb 8: Trade Deadline
  • Feb. 16-18: NBA All-Star Weekend 2024
  • April 14: 2023-24 regular season ends

*Knockout and Semis count as part of the 82 regular season games. Any that the Suns don’t play in will be rescheduled that week against another of the eliminated teams to keep schedule clean coming out of this, except for...

**The Dec 9 NBA Cup Final is #83 for 2 teams. Won’t count on schedule, kind of like if they did the All-Star game better. Every player on winning team gets half-mil.


The Week Ahead

All TBD beyond tomorrow’s game versus the LA Lakers. Watch Bright Side closely for In-season Tournament updates, and when the Suns will next play.

Regarding the Lakers/Suns game, I’ll point something important out:

  • The Lakers stars have been available and played well both prior games to go up 2-0 in the season series, which could impact tiebreakers in April. But they’ve been missing some role players in prior games, and now are clean except for Gabe Vincent.
  • The Suns stars have been down to Kevin Durant and his box of leggos. At least those leggos have almost all been healthy. We wait to see how Eric Gordon’s knee is recovering enough to play. He’s a big part of stretching the floor and taking some point guard reigns when Booker rests.

Beyond Tuesday, watch the Bright Side for updates....


This week’s poll

How do the Suns do this week?

Poll

How far do the Suns go this week in the IST?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Lose to Lakers
    (16 votes)
  • 13%
    Beat Lakers, lose to Kings/Pels winner
    (13 votes)
  • 70%
    Win all three possible games!
    (68 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now

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