Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns. (Formerly called Center of the Sun)
I’ve always been confused about the phrase “dog days of summer”. I suppose it’s a dig on canines who, we think, spend more time sleeping during the hottest days of the year. Except, it’s probably just that we are around them more often during summer more and therefore more likely to notice their normal 18-hour-a-day sleep habits.
The phrase “dog days of summer” on my own pet has a whole different meaning. You see, mine is not only a puppy but a golden doodle puppy of all things. ‘Golden doodle puppy’ loosely translates to ‘crazy’. And being inside the house more often, thanks to 150-degree concrete and asphalt, makes him even more crazy.
So I am very excited for October to come around. Not just because the Phoenix Suns are back in action by then, but also because my dog can get the eff out of the house to burn his energy.
Enough about dogs. This is a Phoenix Suns story.
We have spent much of the past month obsessing about this team’s depth. Worried about the fifth starter. Worried about the quality of the bench rotation. Worried about a lot of things that make very little difference in the outcome of a playoff game. Oh sure, you can’t have your wide open weak side spot-up shooters making 20% of their shots. I get it. But your bench being at least as good as their bench doesn’t matter if your very best players can’t outplay their very best players.
The Suns will win or lose a championship based on how well their top players play. Luckily for us fans, the Suns have one of the very best cores in the NBA.
Over the next few months, in an effort to fill the content void, major sports media outlets will update their rankings of the best players in the NBA. The more great players you have on your team, the more likely you can tip the scales in your favor during the playoffs.
Just look at the most recent players rankings, courtesy of TheRinger.com updated through late June (i.e. post-playoffs).
The World Champion Denver Nuggets have four players among the Top 62 on The Ringer’s board (Nikola Jokic #1, Jamal Murray #16, Aaron Gordon #45, Michael Porter Jr. #62). The only other teams will more players among the Top 62 on that list are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors.
You might argue that the Nuggets are being over-ranked based on the Finals run — and certainly Jamal Murray jumped a ways up the board to #16 — but those top four have been among the league’s Top 100 for years now. It’s the supporting cast that gets over-ranked after playoff runs. Their fifth and sixth best players, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown, come in at #91 and #96 respectively — certainly bumped up based on playoff performance.
The 2023 runners-up Miami Heat vastly outplayed their top-end talent, having only two players (Jimmy Butler #9 and Bam Adebayo #21) on The Ringer’s list best being available for the Finals.
Another key here is that at least one of the team’s best players ranks among the top handful in the game. Jokic was definitely head and shoulders above anyone on the Heat.
The 2022 World Champ Golden State Warriors have had four players in the Top 75 of the league for a long time with Curry (#2 on this list) surrounded by Draymond Green (#34), former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins (#46) and Klay Thompson (#56). Like KCP and Brown of the Nuggets, the Warriors’ next-best player Jordan Poole briefly cracked the top 100 before delivering an absolutely terrible follow-up season and getting salary-dumped.
Runners up in 2022, the Boston Celtics, have been the epitome of “2 great players and a deep group of pretty good players are not enough to win a ring.” The Celtics, like the Suns a year before, got deep in the 2022 playoffs with that formula but ultimately lost out to a team that put the clamps on their two stars. Jayson Tatum (#6 on the Ringer list) and Jaylen Brown (#22) are two of the league’s best one-on-one scorers, but the cadre of supporting cast (Al Horford #67, Derrick White #68, Robert Williams Jr. #70, Marcus Smart #71) fell short when the best playoff defenses slowed down the top two.
Both Finals teams had a player among the top handful — Curry is a top-3 player and Tatum is a top-6-8 player — so here is where you can see the Warriors winning out because of their Top 4.
I’m sensing a pattern here. The Milwaukee Bucks won the 2021 Finals with one of the best top-fours in the league (Giannis #3, Jrue Holiday #38, Khris Middleton #49 and Brook Lopez #54) are a great core-four who are good enough to get away with their 5th starter being someone like Grayson Allen, P.J. Tucker, Donte DiVincenzo, or Pat Connaughton.
They beat a Suns team that, until February 2023, were a slightly lesser version of the modern day Celtics — two top-25 players and a cadre of pretty good players who can’t carry the load when the two stars are being bottled up, or at least held in check.
We all remember the difference in the 2021 was Giannis being an unstoppable force, but Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez definitely outplayed their counterparts when they were needed the most.
Now... on to 2024
So I’ve made my case for needing one of the league’s best Core Fours, along with a Top-5 player, to hope to survive the gauntlet of the playoffs.
The Ringer’s latest rankings give the Suns that exact profile. They rank four Suns players among the top 66 on their list (Kevin Durant #4, Devin Booker #10, Bradley Beal #42 and Deandre Ayton #66). Beal, who is not even 30 years old quite yet, was among the top 30 players in the league as recently as a year ago, before having a really weird season in Washington. The Suns haven’t had three top-30 players at the level of Durant, Booker and Beal at any point in this current era.
I know two years ago the Suns had a really good core-Four that got to the 2021 Finals, but at their best that year they profiled as a pair of Top-11-15 players and a pair of top-35-45 players.
This new Suns team is better. All of Durant, today’s Booker and Bradley Beal are better players and Ayton himself is a top-40 player when he’s in the right head space.
There’s not really a better core out there. Only the Warriors (who added Chris Paul to give them 5 of the top 70), Bucks, Nuggets, Cavaliers (Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Even Mobley) and Celtics can boast as many top end players on the list.
Those six teams, including the Suns, include five of the last six NBA Finals teams and the last three NBA title winners. That’s a pretty good formula for success.
Quotes of the Week
SPORTS: “I can feel the whole world hating me,” Deandre Ayton.— Eyewitness News Bahamas (@ewnewsbahamas) July 19, 2023
Phoenix Suns Center Deandre Ayton opens up about last season and says he aims to “change the narrative” when he returns to the court in October. pic.twitter.com/2vMbE1tc5E
"He’s an 18 and 10 player and if you were to ask the game’s greatest players how easy it is to do that, they’ll tell you it’s extremely difficult, but even that bar isn’t high enough for him and others.” James Jones on Deandre Ayton #Suns— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) July 22, 2023
Full story here: https://t.co/VYOki3X6b4 pic.twitter.com/kQIFAYP7Pf
In Part 2 of @azcentral Q&A with Phoenix Suns GM James Jones, he said Deandre Ayton, who turns 25 years old today, is "one of the top 6 centers in the NBA."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) July 23, 2023
Agree or disagree?
Story incoming later. #Suns
The Suns didn’t do anything this past week in terms of transactions, so the cap sheet remains unchanged.
And here’s the bottom line.
The Suns are now just a hair over the second apron if you only count the guaranteed money (i.e. only $300k of Goodwin and none of Ish Wainright).
Important Future Dates
Second week of August: NBA schedule released.
August 31: Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2023-24 salaries.
September 5: Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.
Late September: (specific dates TBA) Training camps open.
October 24: 2023-24 NBA season begins.
This week’s poll
Team governor Mat Ishbia did mention an “open roster spot” which is a hint that Ish Wainright, whose contract is non-guaranteed, could be sacrificed if another player wants to join the contending Suns on a minimum-salary deal.
Interesting names still available include Christian Wood, who reportedly wants a guaranteed starting spot on a contender (which should send up LOTS of red flags, folks) and a veritable plethora of former Suns, including Kelly Oubre Jr., Terrence Ross, T.J. Warren, Bismack Biyombo, Ish Smith and Goran Dragic.
I’m saving you from yourselves and won’t give you a chance to vote on Christian Wood.
In today’s poll, you get to pick your favorite former Suns fan favorite to sign a minimum deal for the 2024-25 season.
Which former Sun should the team sign for the 15th spot?
This poll is closed
Kelly Oubre Jr.