Phoenix Suns Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 39-43, No. 3 Pacific Division, No. 10 Western Conference
Roster Additions: Devin Booker (rookie, No. 13), Kyle Casey, Tyson Chandler, Cory Jefferson, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Henry Sims, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems, Terrico White
Roster Subtractions: Earl Barron, Reggie Bullock, Gerald Green, Jerel McNeal, Marcus Morris, Marcus Thornton, Brandon Wright
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun
After a 48-win 2013-14 season that greatly exceeded expectations, the Phoenix Suns entered last year with high hopes. They had added diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas to an already talented backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, and with the expected continued development of Alex Len and Markieff Morris, making the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference was not out of the question.
Unfortunately, things never quite shook out the way that Phoenix fans had hoped.
While the Suns continued their push-the-pace style of play, finishing the year as the third-fastest playing team in the league, according to basketball-reference.com, they never quite figured out how to allocate enough minutes in their three-pronged backcourt rotation work to make all three guards effective or happy. It didn't help matters that Dragic and Thomas are both starting caliber point guards, while Bledsoe is the true definition of a score-first point guard.
The defense showed slippage over the previous season, and though young centers Alex Len and Miles Plumlee were showing improvement, Phoenix continued to allow interior scoring and was the third-worst rebounding team in the league, allowing opponents more than 45 rebounds per game.
Despite this, Phoenix was 29-25 heading into the NBA All-Star break on Feb. 10. Markieff Morris was averaging 14.9 points per game through the first half of the season, and Bledsoe was continuing his development into one of the best combo guards in the league.
Hopes were dashed quickly as free agent-to-be Dragic announced that he had no intention of resigning with the Suns, even if they made the decision to trade Thomas. With this information now public knowledge, Phoenix had little choice but to deal from a position of weakness and trade its disgruntled point guard. On Feb. 17, the Suns traded Dragic (along with his brother Zoran Dragic) to the Miami Heat in a massive three-team deal.
In return, Phoenix obtained Danny Granger, 2017 (top-seven protected) and 2021 first round picks, and John Salmons, who was immediately waived.
The Suns showed that they weren't done dealing when, two days later, they traded Isaiah Thomas and a top-10 protected 2016 first round pick in another three team deal that brought back Marcus Thornton and a first rounder. Phoenix then traded Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis, and a 2015 first round pick in ANOTHER three-team deal that brought promising point guard Brandon Knight.
Unsurprisingly, with all of the upheaval, the Suns struggled after the All-Star break, going 10-18 and closing the season losing nine of their last ten games. Overall, they were still relatively competitive all season, but weren't able to close games the way that established teams are expected to. Phoenix lost eighteen games by five points or fewer, and lost four times on buzzer-beaters.
To add insult to injury, shortly after the end of the season, Markieff and Marcus Morris were both indicted and charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault, related to a January incident at a high school basketball tournament.
It was clear that Phoenix needed a shake-up. First, they used the No. 13 overall pick on Kentucky shooting guard Devin Booker. Booker is known as a great 3-point shooter with a quick release and high basketball IQ. Though he is not an explosive athlete, he has good size and has improved his on-the-bounce game.
Next, Phoenix jumped all in with point guard Brandon Knight, signing him to a five-year, $70 million dollar extension. Then, in a surprise move, Phoenix signed center Tyson Chandler to a four-year, $52 million dollar deal. During the free agency period, word began to emerge that Phoenix was going all in on free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Though they had several meetings with the four-time All-Star, he ultimately signed elsewhere.
In an effort to clear cap room to offer Aldridge a max contract, Phoenix shipped Marcus Morris (along with Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock) to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for a 2020 second round pick. The Morris twins had notably spent almost all of their college and professional careers playing together, and reportedly Markieff signed an extension for less than market value in order to facilitate them continuing to stay on the same team. Needless to say, neither player was happy, with Markieff demanding a trade through the media (though he has since rescinded that demand, saying that he is happy to be in Phoenix).
Coach Jeff Hornacek is tasked with making all of these new pieces fit. The Suns have been one of the fastest playing teams under Hornacek, but with Thomas, Dragic, and hyper-athletic reserve Gerald Green gone, the Suns may struggle to keep the pace this season. Knight can push the pace but, like Bledsoe, excels with the ball in his hands. Swapping out Plumlee for Chandler definitely slows things down in terms of a big man trailing the fast break.
Adding Chandler makes huge sense is on the defensive end. Even in his thirties, he is considered a high-level defender, bringing interior defense, communication, and leadership. Perhaps as important, Chandler is known for his ability to set solid screens, and working with a dual point guard attack with Knight and Bledsoe should free Chandler up to receive a lot of passes while diving to the rim.
Which young player is going to step up? Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, and Devin Booker will all have opportunities for minutes this season. While Booker is known as a great shooter already, Goodwin has reportedly reworked his shot in the offseason, and is already known as a "bench sparkplug" type of player.
Warren excelled in this year's summer league and plays well off the ball, cutting and moving through screens with ease. Though Warren does not have a great jump shot, he excels around the basket.
The Suns will be counting on production from all three of these players, but will need one of the three to take a leap to the next level if they can be expected to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Ultimately, Phoenix still seems like a mismatched team of sorts. Even with drastically turned over personnel, they are still continuing to use a two point guard lineup. Morris excels in the post and could be primed for a big season, but it seems just as probable that he pouts his way through the season. A consummate pro, Chandler was brought in to provide leadership on the court while developing Alex Len, but that leadership could be just a critical for Morris' development.
Phoenix doesn't have enough to threaten the Western Conference's powerhouse teams, but it's reasonable to expect them to put it together over the course of the season and compete for the No. 8 spot, though teams like the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets have the inside track.
P.J. Tucker will be the Suns' best defender. While Chandler has the (well deserved) reputation, Tucker is developing into a lockdown defender in his own right, able to guard multiple positions on the wing. As Phoenix looks to establish a defensive identity, Tucker will prove to be a fourth quarter stopper, able to switch on to the opponents' best perimeter player for key stretches, whether it's a point guard, shooting guard, or small forward.
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