If there was one word to describe the Phoenix Suns performance in the 2018-19 season, it would be circus. The team finished 19-63, missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season. The team struggled to build around star guard, Devin Booker with only rookie big man, DeAndre Ayton, providing a glimmer of hope. Is there any hope of the Phoenix Suns playoff drought ending?
Last place again
For the third consecutive season, the Suns finished dead last in the Western Conference. The team has also seen its win totals decrease each season from 24 in 2016, 21 in 2017, and 19 this past season. The Suns won their 2018 season opener against the Dallas Mavericks 121-100, then proceeded to lose 11 of the next 12 games, setting the tone for the rest of the losing season. At one point this season, they lost 17 games in a row. Furthermore, the Suns only had two winning streaks all season. Through all of the franchise’s downfalls, this season did have a few high points. Booker did what he does best, score. The Kentucky guard averaged a career-best 26.6 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting with 6.8 assists.
Despite the loss, Devin Booker dropped 59 PTS on the Jazz and joined Tom Chambers as the only Suns players with multiple 50-point games pic.twitter.com/kCwEExvCWE
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 26, 2019
This included a season-high 59 points in a loss to the Utah Jazz back in March. Rookie Deandre Ayton provided Booker with another capable player as the rookie averaged 16.3 points per game along with 10.3 rebounds. Ayton and Booker are the duo of the future in Phoenix but will they receive the help they need to return the Suns to their glory days?
Tanking gone wrong
The Suns made some trades mid-season that fully embraced the tank. The team traded 15-year veteran, Trevor Ariza, to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers. Rivers was placed on waivers the following day and went to the Houston Rockets. Oubre is a very solid young athlete and is one the Suns should hold onto. With plenty of shots to go around in 40 games in the desert, the former Washington Wizard forward averaged 16.9 points per game. In November, the team bought out 18-year veteran Tyson Chandler allowing him to become a free agent and go to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The final trade the Suns would make on the season was sending Ryan Anderson to Miami in exchange for Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, and money. Ellington would also be placed on waivers. After all this, the Suns finished tied for the second-worst record in the league. There were hopes of Zion or Ja Morant. However, those dreams were quickly dashed as during the Draft Lottery the Suns came away with the sixth pick.
Draft night trades
The Suns made a lot of moves on draft night and, to be honest, most of them did not make sense to the fans. The night started out with Phoenix sending forward, T.J. Warren, and the 32nd pick to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for cash.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 20, 2019
The move was an effort to clear cap as Warren still has three years and 35 million dollars left on his deal. In 43 games, the 25-year-old averaged 18 points per game for the Suns. Next up, comes the really head-scratching part. The Suns traded the number six pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for, wait for it, Dario Saric and the 11th overall pick. That’s it. That’s all it took to move into the top six for the Timberwolves. Saric was famously apart of the process in Philadelphia but he is a solid player. The native Croatian averaged 10.5 points per game and 5.5 rebounds for Minnesota. He is an upgrade over Dragon Bender and should be a solid starter who can score and rebound. However, the Suns should have received more.
The Suns used their now number 11 overall pick to select 23 year old, North Carolina guard Cam Johnson. Johnson is a great shooter. He shot 45.7 percent from three and averaged 16.9 points per game during his senior year. However, he’s already 23 years old. Older than Devin Booker, who is still just 22. Furthermore, when you win 19 games, you hope to get better than just Saric and Johnson out of it. However, given the chance, Johnson is a ready now player and will space the floor and provide shooting for the Suns.
Cam Johnson shot 48% on corner 3s and 46.3% on NBA-range 3s last season, per @TheStepien shot charts.
Alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, Johnson will have ample spacing while also helping provide more for others with his sharpshooting. pic.twitter.com/jw7NotUDBl
— Evan Sidery (@esidery) June 22, 2019
Next, the Suns would acquire the 24th overall pick held by the Boston Celtics, via the 76ers, in addition to center Aron Baynes. With the 24th pick, the Suns selected Virginia guard, Ty Jerome. Jerome helped fuel the Cavaliers to their first-ever NCAA Basketball championship. He did it all as his 5.5 assists led the ACC and his 3.25 to 1 turnover ratio was one of the best in the nation. In addition to the assists, Jerome averaged 13.6 points per game and shot 39% from three. All trades made will not be official until July 6th.
Boasting the fifth youngest roster in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns are lacking the veteran, playoff leadership role that could launch the team into playoff contention.
The team also has Ty Jerome, De’Anthony Melton, and Elie Okobo at point guard. This trio of guards exhibits potential but it is unproven at the NBA level. If the Suns want to be contenders in the D’Angelo Russell sweepstakes, they must move bloated contracts such as that of Tyler Johnson and Josh Jackson, freeing up $26 million in cap space. Jackson’s current legal issues could be problematic in offloading his contract.
What to expect in Free Agency
With free agency days away, what will the Suns do? A backcourt of Booker and Russell would be an exciting one, giving Phoenix the point guard they have been missing since the days of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas. Booker has been openly campaigning Suns’ management to sign the Brooklyn point guard.
By trading TJ Warren, the Suns are moving closer to a position of offering D’Angelo Russell big money incase the Nets don’t retain him 👀☀️ Russell and Booker in the Phoenix backcourt would be exciting. pic.twitter.com/CUSfUJTIFq
— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) June 20, 2019
The team will also have to decide the future of pending free agent, Kelly Oubre Jr. If they bring him back, he would likely be their starter at small forward. Fans should not expect any big splash moves if the Suns miss out on Russell. However, their roster is in a better position at this point, which should contribute to a few more wins.
Expectations for 2019-2020
Heading into the upcoming season, I would expect more of the same from Phoenix. Booker and Ayton will undoubtedly carry the offensive load but, in a stacked western conference, obtaining a playoff spot will prove challenging for this young roster. It is not unreasonable to think the ceiling for this team is somewhere between 25-30 games and a third consecutive lottery appearance. In Booker and Ayton, the Suns showcase two of the league’s brightest, young stars. Management will have to figure out how to surround them with more talent and return the Suns back to playoff contention.
All stats via basketball-reference.com and NBA.com
Featured image via SkySports.com