2016-2017 Phoenix Suns Preview

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2016-2017 Phoenix Suns team preview.

Team Name: Phoenix Suns

Last Year’s Record: 23-59

Key Losses: Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price, Jon Luer, Chase Budinger

Key Additions: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Jared Dudley, Leandro Babosa

What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

The Suns had one of their better summers in recent memory following the 2015-2016 season. Armed with the 4th pick in the NBA Draft, Phoenix swung for the fences (which is EXACTLY what you should do at the top of the draft) and drafted European phenom Dragan Bender. Although some of the intrigue surrounding Bender could just be a bout of wishful thinking from this year’s Porzingis hangover, Bender has showcased the skill and athleticism to excel in the “new” NBA’s small ball revolution (which, of course, was brought to the forefront by the very franchise that drafted him). The Suns have had a particularly strong draft history when they actually own their picks, and although no sure-thing, Bender was a good gamble at #4 in a two-player draft.

What separated Phoenix’ draft from every other team this year, was the fact they held two Lottery picks (#4 and #13). Ryan McDonough was able to coerce the Sacramento into trading their #8 selection to Phoenix for #13, #28, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and a 2020 second-round pick. The Suns used that selection on the draft’s fastest riser, athletic wunderkind Marquese Chriss, another high-risk, high-reward prospect. Although the argument could be made that there’s a bit of a skill set overlap with Chris and Bender, drafting best-available is always preferred to best-fit, especially when your franchise hasn’t made the Playoffs in 6 seasons and only won 23 games.

The Suns reach backed into their Wayback Machine and re-signed franchise-favorites Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. Both players will bring a much-needed veteran presence in the locker room, as well positive production in limited minutes on the floor. Both have been known as World-Class teammates at every stop during their careers, and bring a plethora of both regular-season and Playoff experience, which should mesh nicely with Tyson Chandler (for however long he stays there).

 

 What are the team’s biggest strengths?

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Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss are potential stars, if given the proper time and coaching to develop.

 

The Suns biggest strength, without a doubt, is absence of expectations. The fanbase might yearn for the glory days of deep playoff runs and title contention with the Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire/Shawn Marion led teams, but they would just as quickly marry themselves to the franchise again if there were a glimmer of a future.

Last year, that glimmer became a shining beacon of hope when the youngest player in the league, 2015 #13 draft pick Devin Booker, began getting increased playing time.

Devin Booker blew past all expectations, and became the Suns first rookie since Amare Stoudemire in 2003 to make an All-Rookie Team (1st or 2nd). He is a sweet-shooting two-guard in the mold of a Klay Thompson/Bradley Beal. As long as he continues to develop incrementally, the Suns have found their starting two-guard for the future (heck, even presently he’s better than half the starting shooting guards in the league).

Devin Booker’s season really took off once he was inserted into the starting lineup following an injury to Eric Bledsoe. In fact, the Suns’ backcourt is potentially the deepest in the league, with borderline All-Stars Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Brandan Knight. The advantage of such depth, is that the team can withstand an injury to any one of those players without missing a beat. Brandon Knight can excel playing either guard position, while Bledsoe is big enough to guard bigger two-guards while the other Suns guard sticks with the small point. The interchangeability of those three is fascinating, if somewhat frustrating, knowing someone isn’t going to be getting the optimal amount of minutes.

Because the Phoenix Suns aren’t expected to make the Playoffs, this means that all of the young prospects the team currently has should be given the chance to play and develop in a real NBA environment. Besides their two lottery picks, the Suns still employ Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin, and the jury is still out on whether any of them has a future on the team, and what better way to find out than playing each one a minimum of 20-25 minutes a night?

 What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

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Robert Sarver and Ryan McDonough need to avoid short-sighted, “win-now” moves.

In contrast with the team’s strength being their absence of expectations and in turn giving opportunity to let the unproven prospects develop, the franchise’s biggest weakness is the organization’s constant self-sabotaging actions.

The front office in Phoenix has been taking a public relations beating the last handful of years. From Robert Sarver’s tight wallet (selling picks, like Rajon Rondo), to questionable basketball moves (signing Michael Beasley, trading the valuable Lakers’ pick from the Steve Nash trade, dumping Isaiah Thomas and his cap friendly contract for pennies on the dollar, holding onto Markieff Morris and his cancerous locker-room presence far too long while surrounded by impressionable young players, not allowing Amare to sign a contract to allow him to retire as a Suns player, etc), the Suns organization is never far from making a disastrous decision.

Sarver insists the team is goal is winning and it’s not difficult to see a scenario where he recognizes the team’s plethora of capable veterans (Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker) and determines (inaccurately) they are one or two moves from the Playoffs, and mandates going all-in.

The most disastrous outcome for the Suns this season would be another short-sighted move at the expense of the development of the potential star-talent youth, either by restricting their minutes, or moving them for more veteran help.

The decision to cut ties with Jeff Hornecek and handover the reigns of the team to Earl Watson is puzzling. Following the premature dismissal of Hornecek after a 14-35 start last season, Watson’s 9-24 record should have been enough for the Suns to move onto a coach search at the end of the season.

Instead they removed Watson’s interim tag, signing him to a 3 year contract, citing the positive effect his stint had on the locker room.

Hornecek was quickly scooped up by Phil Jackson and the Knicks and is entering a season in which he will be coaching Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingus, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah. Although the Knicks haven’t had the best track record when it comes to hiring coaches, Hornecek was universally seen as an up-and-coming coach and was pursued by multiple teams looking to add the former Jazz standout to their coaching staff.

What are the goals for this team?

The goals for 2016-2017 Phoenix Suns aren’t quite as cut-and-dry as most teams, due to their unpredictable front office, and evenly split roster consisting of experienced veterans and under-developed, high-upside talent.

A lyric keeps coming to mind that seems to summarize the Phoenix Suns’ current state:

“There’s something happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear”

There’s a start of something on the Suns roster, something almost Thunder-ian or Jazz-ian. If the organization could just let go of the self-imposed expectation stemming from their recent past, and embrace the growing pains of developing youth and talent within the franchise, the team could set itself on a trajectory to true title contention within a few years.

The long-term, sustained success of the team would best benefit from maximizing the rosters’ veteran talent as trade assets. One of either Bledsoe or Knight should be moved, opening up consistent, starter-level minutes for Devin Booker. Since both point guards were signed under the old salary cap, before the new T.V. money kicked in, they are on extremely cap-friendly deals, which maximize their attractiveness to other teams.

Unfortunately, the point guard position is the deepest it has ever been in NBA history, so finding a team in need of point guard help, that also has attractive trade assets, might be more difficult than it seems.

 What is the prediction for the Suns 2016-2017 season?

Ultimately, the Suns will be better than most projections, and they will return to respectability (they won’t sniff the playoffs, though). Now that Markieff Morris is gone, the team will begin to gel, and Devin Booker will continue his ascension to stardom.

As Devin Booker solidifies his spot at the two-guard position, Phoenix will find a taker for Brandon Knight’s cap-friendly contract. Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker will become one of the more exciting backcourts in the league.

Alex Len will show just enough promise for the Suns to sign him to a rookie extension, leaving them with a young, athletic center for the foreseeable future.

Dragan Bender will struggle making the adjustment to the NBA, while Marquese Chriss plays well from the jump, albeit in limited minutes.

The Suns and Tyson Chandler will either agree to buyout or move him via trade, finishing his career competing for another championship.

2016-2017 Projected Record: 33-49

 

-Tom Kaczor (@fishkzor on Twitter)

________________________________________

All the SBNation NBA Previews for 2016-2017:

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks 2016-17 Season Preview – Peachtree Hoops

The Hawks broke up a successful team for Dwight Howard. Will it be worth it? – SBNation.com

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics Preview – More of the same, only better – CelticsBlog

The possibilities are endless for the Celtics – SBNation.com

Celtics Season Preview: Buckle Up for a Fun Season! – CelticsGreenBlog.com 

Boston Celtics 2016-17 Season Preview – Lucid Sports Fan

Brooklyn Nets

2016-2017 SB Nation NBA Season Preview: Brooklyn Nets – NetsDaily

The Nets are finally starting over from scratch – SBNation.com

2016-17 NBA Preview: Brooklyn Nets – Baller Mind Frame

Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets 2016-17 Season Preview – At The Hive

The Nets are finally starting over from scratch – SBNation.com

Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Season Preview: with these additions, anything (good or bad) can happen – Blog a Bull

The Bulls’ roster is so weird that it somehow might work – SBNation.com

Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA 2016-17 Season Preview: Cavaliers look to build legacy as Cleveland’s title team – Fear The Sword

If LeBron James is healthy, the Cavaliers are going to the Finals again – SBNation.com

2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers Season Preview | Waiting For Next Year

Dallas Mavericks

Where the Mavericks stand headed into the 2016-17 season – Mavs Moneyball

Dirk Nowitzki must carry another hodge-podge Mavericks roster – SBNation.com

Denver Nuggets

SB Nation Denver Nuggets season preview – Denver Stiffs

Is it too soon to expect the Nuggets to make a playoff run? – SBNation.com

Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons Season Preview: Young team ready to take the next step – Detroit Bad Boys

The Pistons are coming. Watch out, East – SBNation.com

Golden State Warriors

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Warriors aim to regain title with the help of Kevin Durant – Golden State Of Mind

Why did we start to hate the Warriors? – SBNation.com

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets 2016-2017 season preview – The Dream Shake

James Harden and Mike D’Antoni will be a fascinating partnership for the Rockets – SBNation.com

Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers 2016-17 Season Preview – Indy Cornrows

Paul George is great. Can the rest of the Pacers’ roster keep up? – SBNation.com

LA Clippers

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: The Clippers Are On The Cusp – Clips Nation

This is a make-or-break year for the Clippers, just like last year and 2 years ago – SBNation.com

LA Lakers

The Silver Screen and Roll 2016-2017 Lakers season preview – Silver Screen and Roll

Kobe Bryant’s gone, so we’ll finally learn if the Lakers’ young core is any good – SBNation.com

Memphis Grizzlies

Season Preview: What to Expect from the Memphis Grizzlies – Grizzly Bear Blues

The Grizzlies keep putting off rebuilding, even if they’re better now – SBNation.com

Miami Heat

SB Nation Miami Heat Season Preview – Hot Hot Hoops

The Heat are hanging on Pat Riley’s next master plan – SBNation.com

Miami Heat Preview – Behind the Arc

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks 16-17 Season Preview – Brew Hoop

The Bucks are still weird as hell – SBNation.com

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves Team Preview – Canis Hoopus

The Timberwolves’ bright future will still have growing pains – SBNation.com

New Orleans Pelicans

2016-17 New Orleans Pelicans Preview: Anthony Davis looks to rebound amid new teammates – The Bird Writes

Anthony Davis is worth the price of admission, even if the Pelicans aren’t – SBNation.com

New York Knicks

The Posting and Toasting 2016-2017 Knicks season preview – Posting and Toasting

We don’t understand Phil Jackson’s plan with the Knicks – SBNation.com

Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder Season Preview: Can we get rid of the three point line? – Welcome to Loud City

Russell Westbrook needs to do everything to carry the Thunder to a top-4 seed – SBNation.com

Orlando Magic

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: New look Magic gunning for playoffs – Orlando Pinstriped Post

Whatever happens with the Magic, at least they’ll be watchable – SBNation.com

2017 Orlando Magic Preview: Eye on the Playoffs

Philadelphia Sixers

2016-17 NBA Season Preview: Sixers, Philadelphia on the verge of a new era – Liberty Ballers

The 76ers finally look like a typical bad basketball team, which is progress – SBNation.com

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix Suns Season Preview: Training Camp Style – Bright Side Of The Sun

The Suns’ young core needs patience and we’re not sure they get it – SBNation.com

Phoenix Suns Preview – Poor Execution

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers 2016-17 Season Preview – Blazer’s Edge

The Trail Blazers are good, but let’s not get carried away with expectations – SBNation.com

Sacramento Kings

2016-17 Sacramento Kings Season Preview – Sactown Royalty

It’s time for DeMarcus Cousins to rise above the Kings’ dysfunction – SBNation.com

Sacramento Kings’ Season Preview

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs 2016/17 season preview: The post-Tim Duncan era begins – Pounding The Rock

Tim Duncan is gone, but the Spurs will be just fine – SBNation.com

Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors 2016-17 Preview: Can the Raps avoid regression? – Raptors HQ

The Raptors don’t need to improve for this year to be a success – SBNation.com

Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz 2016-17 Preview – The Basics – SLC Dunk

The Jazz have the kind of roster that can make the Warriors uncomfortable – SBNation.com

Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards preview: Can they be more than fine this season? – Bullets Forever

There’s no excuse if the Wizards miss the playoffs again – SBNation.com

 

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