What should the Suns do next: A five-step plan
With the days of Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, and the vaunted seven seconds or less offense now seeming like nothing more than a distant memory, the Suns are desperate to win some basketball games. It was five offseasons ago now that Steve Nash was acquired by the Lakers in a sign-and-trade. In the five seasons since, the Suns have gone 159-251 (0.387 W%) and have not made the postseason.
Their roster makeup now consists of mostly recent lottery picks and a couple savvy veterans. What can the Suns do to help them pile up victories without sacrificing their future?
Well, they could follow this five-step guide.
Step One: Give up on winning in 2017-18
Yes, the Suns and their fans are desperate to see some wins and maybe even a little postseason action. Unfortunately, with the way the league is currently stacked, it is very difficult to see that happening in 2017-18. The Western Conference is incredible right now and it’s hard to think of a move Phoenix could realistically make that would get them into the playoffs this year. They are better off racking up the losses for one more season to get one last high lottery pick.
In 2018-19 however, the Western Conference is a bit of a question mark. Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and LaMarcus Aldridge all have the opportunity to become free agents, which could shake things up quite a bit.
Step Two: Develop the young talent
This one seems pretty obvious but its importance should not be understated. The Suns have some of the best young talent in the league.
- Devin Booker: Booker is one of only 11 players in the history of the NBA to average 20+ points at age 20. He also has such a nice shooting stroke that you have to imagine the sky is the limit for him in terms of scoring potential, both volume and efficiency wise.
- T.J. Warren: One of the lesser talked about young assets in the NBA, the 23 year-old Warren has improved quite a bit through his first three seasons on both sides of the ball, averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this past season. If he can become a little more consistent with his three-ball, Warren can become an incredibly valuable player in today’s NBA.
- Dragan Bender: Taken fourth overall last year, Bender didn’t get to play too much in his rookie season. You can still see the potential oozing out of the 7’1″ Bosnian. however. Look to see him get more minutes this season.
- Marquese Chriss: Taken four spots after Bender, Chriss had a rough start to his NBA career, but he really turned it around quite a bit down the stretch. Over the last 35 games, Chriss averaged 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in just 26.0 minutes per game on 46.8 percent shooting and 32.8 percent from long range.
- Alex Len: This is the year Len needs to make the leap assuming he signs his qualifying offer. He’s been in the NBA for four seasons now, and a breakout year from Alex could really help the outlook of the Suns’ future.
- Alan Williams: Only 24 years of age, Williams seemingly came out of nowhere this season. He averaged 17.6 points and 14.8 rebounds per 36 minutes this year on 51.7 percent shooting. The only other player in the NBA with more than 500 minutes to do that this past season was Hassan Whiteside.
- Tyler Ulis: The Suns’ second round pick in 2016 had a promising start to his career, averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 assists per 36 minutes in his rookie season.
- Derrick Jones Jr.: One of the most athletically gifted undrafted players in the history of the NBA, Jones Jr. showed some promise in his rookie year. He even appeared in the Dunk contest. How many undrafted rookies get to say that?
- Josh Jackson: The newest addition on this list, Jackson was taken fourth overall in this past draft. Despite some question marks surrounding his jump shot, the Kansas product might have been the most intriguing prospects in the draft. He’s big, he can defend, and he can handle the basketball with good play-making skills. If he can put it all together, watch out.
This is quite the crop of young ballers. Phoenix needs to be incredibly devoted to developing these guys properly. They should inspire them to want to get better and emphasize the most important skills for success in the modern NBA.
Step Three: Unload veteran contracts
Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, and Jared Dudley will make a combined $51.1 million this season, and $52.7 million the following one. That makes up over half of the total salary cap, and while these are good players, they do limit what the Suns are able to do financially.
Bledsoe is the most interesting of the four because he could land a decent return given his skill; he would be the easiest to unload. At the same time, he is only 27 years old and could be an important part of their future if he can stay healthy. I would lean towards keeping Bledsoe if they can move some of the other contracts on the team.
Knight would be a perfect player to move. He has an average cap hit of $14.6 million over the next three seasons, and a team in need of scoring would probably be willing to take him off the Suns’ hands. Knight is still only 25 years old and has proven he can score in this league. He struggles a little bit defensively, and that makes him a little redundant to the Suns as they are chock-full of good scorers with below-average defense, which makes him a moveable player for them.
Dudley and Chandler are in the home stretch of their careers but can still be useful to some teams. Chandler is still a good rim protector, and Dudley can still drain the three ball, both of which are very important skills in the game today. They won’t net much of a return given their cap hits, but they won’t be much use to the Suns when they’re ready to contend anyway. The cap space, if used correctly, could be much more valuable for the Suns.
If the Suns move Knight, Chandler, and Dudley while getting back only expiring contracts, they could find themselves with quite a bit of cap room next offseason. If they were to move those contracts, Phoenix could find themselves with over $50 million in cap space and only Warren to sign as a restricted free agent in 2018. This gives them a lot of flexibility and options for free agency.
Step Four: Become master pitch artists and recruit free agents
This step is much easier said than done, but the possibilities are endless. 2018 has the potential to be one of the best free agent classes in years. If the Suns can get the cap space, they have to use it. They might be a tough sell to superstars, but their young and talented core could be attractive.
The Suns would have the cap space to sign a max-superstar and two other good players. For example, say they could convince DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, and Trevor Booker to sign with them. All of a sudden, this is starting to look like an incredibly dangerous roster, especially with another year of development for their young players and their top pick in 2018.
Again, this is much easier said than done.
Step Five: Start winning
By this point, Suns management has done their job; it’s now up to the players to perform. They should be able to at least compete for a playoff spot immediately. At the very least, they should bring lots of excitement to the fans and increase ticket sales.
Three years down the line, if the young core progresses to their full potential, this team could actually contend for a championship once again.