What does rock bottom feel like? Well, start with 19 wins, frustration, yet another coaching change, a leadership adjustment and a wasted year of Devin Booker. The Suns experienced all that and more last season and continued a stretch which saw them miss the playoffs (for the ninth straight time) and tinker with a rebuilding process that’s seemingly lasting forever. The franchise has felt like a hamster on a treadmill, going nowhere fast or meaningful, although there’s always room for optimism and improvement. Given the amount of lottery picks they’ve stockpiled in the last decade, the Suns should be beyond rebuilding, yet here they are, still working on that 3-5 year plan, because the decision-making has been spotty at best. They can only go up, though, and armed with new faces and a sense of purpose, Phoenix looks forward -- again.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Phoenix Suns
Monty Williams is the new Suns’ coach. That's good. He’s also the Suns’ fifth coach in five years. That’s not so good. Seemingly, he’ll last into 2020 and the Suns can generate some stability on the bench. ... All these different voices are never healthy for young players and particularly Booker. The Suns perhaps got it right with Williams, who had a decent run in New Orleans and comes from the Gregg Popovich tree. ... Phoenix essentially gave away a decent swingman scorer in TJ Warren. Officially, he was sent to Indiana to clear salary cap space, which the Suns used to retain Kelly Oubre and get Ricky Rubio. Could they have gotten more for Warren? He was relatively productive and young, the type you keep if you’re a rebuilding team. On the surface, this seems like another head-scratching decision ... The Suns also made a curious Draft-day swap, trading down five spots with Minnesota and taking swingman Cameron Johnson, who at 23 was the oldest player in the Draft and wasn’t even invited to the Draft’s green room.
1. New man at the point. The best player in professional basketball this summer will join the Suns this fall. No, that’s not Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James. We’re talking Ricky Rubio, fresh off leading Spain to the World Cup title and winning MVP. Rubio’s arrival will nudge Booker to his more natural off-guard position. But can Rubio’s productive summer help rescue his own stagnant NBA career?
2. Budding frontcourt force. Ayton is already a functional big man who gets good position for rebounds and uses soft hands to score from 15 feet in. However, his shooting range needs improving if the Suns want him to stretch the floor. He's also not a prototypical rim protector. That said, he’s a solution, not a problem.
3. Stop it, already. Williams needs to instill a defensive mindset in his crew even if he lacks good defenders. The Suns were horrid last season, ranking 29th in Defensive Rating, last in defensive rebound percentage and 26th in fast-break points allowed. Phoenix won't win in the loaded West without improving here.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Jeff Bower is the new vice president for basketball operations and will work with general manager James Jones on changing the image and the fortunes of the Suns, who in the last decade have fallen hard and painfully. Is Bower the right person for the job? He ran the Pistons with Stan Van Gundy and that experience was peppered with mixed results. Before that, he served in the front office of the New Orleans team then known as the Hornets and even coached 73 games for them in 2009-10. Make no mistake, the Suns are craving better direction from the top, and Bower and Jones have a decent batch of assets (young players, cap room, Draft picks) to work with.
Devin Booker | 26.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 4.1 rpg
Top-10 scorer will now be freed of the playmaking responsibilities.
Ricky Rubio | 12.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 1.3 spg
Can create shots for others, but must improve his own (40.4% last season).
Deandre Ayton | 16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 0.9 bpg
Double-double threat must grow into a rim protector.
Kelly Oubre Jr. | 15.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 apg
After breakout season with Suns, does he have another gear?
Dario Saric | 10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 apg
New arrival can play both forward positions and brings experience.
Mikal Bridges | 8.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.1 apg
Had moments as a rookie and seems prepared to push for more time.
Aron Baynes | 5.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 apg
Brings toughness to a team that didn’t intimidate anyone.
Frank Kaminsky | 8.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Flamed out in Charlotte, gets a chance to save his career in Phoenix.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Suns are building something; this much is apparent. Question is, will it generate wins and hope out West and become a foundation for the future? It’s very possible the Suns could win only 25 games yet look tremendously better than last season. It all depends on whether Williams can get the young players to buy in defensively. Rubio also must connect well with Ayton and Booker, which, by March, could have the Suns are playing spirited if not meaningful games. With a playoff berth perhaps beyond its scope, Phoenix should target season-long improvement. There are pieces in place that make this a realistic goal, yet the young players must show growth and Williams needs to demand focus to change the losing culture.
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