Let’s face it, if the Phoenix Suns were in the Eastern Conference, there would be light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, they’re not and the juggernaut Western Conference is what awaits the Suns this year and for the foreseeable future.
When Phoenix unloaded key players such as Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas in 2015, the Sun’s vision was built for the next two-three years out. At first, I was pessimistic that the formula was going to be successful. The Suns had something to build around but no franchise players. Eric Bledsoe was reputable, but not elite, and Devon Booker and TJ Waren weren’t mature enough yet.
Fast forward two short years and the Suns are still stuck in the mud, not able to get out of the bottom of the Western Conference.
Six games into this season and Eric Bledsoe is on the trading block destined for one of the other 29 cities in the NBA currently. This is a franchise-altering move that should have likely happened earlier.
At 27 years old, Bledsoe has a huge upside if traded to the right team. The bigger and also unknown question is, what is his trade value? The general consensus seems to lead to 2-3 assets coming back to Phoenix. Right now, the Suns have a logjam at the power forward position with both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss not getting enough playing time along with Warren and Josh Jackson sharing time at the 3.
The Suns missed an opportunity to get things under control when they drafted two power forwards on the same night in 2016 and drafting Jackson last June. That would be up to four forwards drafted since 2014. This has led to a depth chart of:
|Eric Bledsoe||Devon Booker||Josh Jackson||Marquese Chriss||Tyson Chandler|
|Tyler Ulis||Troy Daniels||TJ Waren||Dragan Bender||Alex Len|
I’m not going to make excuses, this lineup is capable to win games, however, it lacks a defensive leader. In this young season, Chriss has shown to be helpless defensively, mostly not learning to play defense without fouling (committing 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes). Bender isn’t mature enough yet for major minutes and it’s not a big enough sample size to judge Jackson yet, although he does offer supreme athleticism.
If I was the Suns GM, I would have drafted Buddy Hield with the fourth pick in 2016 and drafted De’Aaron Fox in 2017. Drafting a point guard last June would have allowed the Suns to trade Bledsoe over the offseason where there might have been more takers as teams were filling holes in their lineups.
If things had gone out that way the Suns’ lineup would have looked like this:
|De’Aaron Fox||Devon Booker||Player traded for Eric Bledsoe||Marquese Chriss||Tyson Chandler
|Tyler Ulis||Buddy Hield||TJ Waren||Sign Defensive specialist in FA||Alex Len|
Again, I’m not stating that the Suns would be a lock for the playoffs this year by drafting Fox and Hield beforehand. What I am saying is that the Suns’ depth would be stronger and that there would be clarity of who the point guard of the future is. With Bledsoe most likely on his way out, where is the clarity? Having a consistent starting PG is vital in the NBA and getting a starter’s production from sophomore Tyler Ulis – who is averaging only 18.2 minutes per game this year – won’t cut it.
The reason why I believe that Phoenix would have been better off drafting Hield at fourth overall in 2016 was that he stayed all four years at Oklahoma. Hield would have provided leadership to a youth-driven roster. Furthermore, you can never have enough guards on a team generally speaking, and having a solid backcourt is important.
Lastly, I get it that Josh Jackson might be better than Fox but I now question how much longer TJ Warren has left in the purple and orange. With Jackson’s skill set growing, he seems to be Phoenix’s small forward of the future, which then makes Warren an expendable commodity.
On top of the player saga, the Suns also have a new coach at the helm in Jay Triano. This is his second NBA head coaching stint after suffering through three losing seasons as Toronto’s head coach almost a decade ago. When you fire a head coach three games into the season, the only other option is to go with an assistant coach. He will be a good fit short-term but there is potential doubts long-term.
But this is what the Suns are facing with currently, and the whole conundrum began when they thought it was a smart idea to start from scratch.