2019-20 Previews: Phoenix Suns

Losses: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Troy Daniels, Richaun Holmes, Jamal Crawford, DeAnthony Melton.

Additions: Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo, Jevon Carter, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, Jared Harper.

Likely Starters
Guard: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker
Wing: Mikal Bridges
Big: Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton

Predicted Record: 30–52 | 25th in NBA | 14th in West

Some NBA mistakes are timeless, and this summer the Suns made a few of them:

  • Drafting an older player because that player seems to be more “NBA ready.” The Suns drafted Cameron Johnson, age 23, with the idea that his shooting ability will help them now. They did this last year with Mikal Bridges, too. In both cases, my guess is that they’ll eventually regret not drafting players with more long-term potential. It’s nice to get a rotation player, but drafting in the lottery is a chance to do more than that.
  • Trading for a veteran on the verge of a big contract when your team is still still rebuilding. They got Dario Saric and the 11th pick (they drafted Cameron Johnson) for the 6th pick (the Timberwolves took Jarrett Culver). Dario Saric is a nice player, but unless the Suns are prepared to offer him a big contract after the season, I’m not sure I understand the urgency of getting him now. It’s the kind of trade a team on the verge of contention makes; it’s the kind of trade that makes me think the Suns don’t have a realistic vision of what their team is.
  • Signing Aron Baynes. You shouldn’t sign Aron Baynes unless you are exactly an Aron Baynes away from competing for a title. Admittedly, the Suns also swapped a late first round pick next year (belonging to the Bucks) for the 24th pick in this draft, which they used on Ty Jerome. On the other hand, the Suns had to trade T.J. Warren—a very good offensive player on a reasonable contract—into Indiana’s cap space (giving up the 32nd pick in this draft for the privilege) in order to create the space they ended up using to take on Baynes. All together, they gave up Warren, this year’s 32nd pick, and Milwaukee’s 2020 first round pick for Baynes, Ty Jerome, and cash.

Still, while this team could have come out of this summer with a far better long-term prognosis, there is no denying that for the first time in a few years, the Suns have a competent NBA roster. More importantly, for the first time in his NBA career, we are going to get to see Ricky Rubio on a roster where he will be surrounded by players who can shoot the ball.

Rubio, to me, is the one chance this Suns team has of blasting past what all of us are expecting them to be. In every year of his career, in spite of all of the anxiety over his inability to shoot, Rubio’s team has been better with him on the court, sometimes alarmingly so:

Rubio’s net rating on-court and off-court each season, per nba.com/stats

Remember that Rubio was supposed to be a star when he arrived here from Spain. We know that he’s a tenacious defender, a great teammate, and a visionary passer. We know that in spite of the fact that he seems to be lacking so many of the skills we look for in stars in 2019, his teams have always needed him on the floor. It is at least possible that Rubio unlocks something in guys like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. It’s possible that, surrounded by better outside shooters, Rubio, at age 28 and ostensibly in the prime of his career, has the most optimal NBA roster he’s ever had.

The thing I love most about basketball is that we never exactly know how it works. Certain combinations of players succeed or fail, and we try to use those successes and failures as templates for the future, but usually we’re at least a little off. The mysterious synergy that makes a great team great is always unpredictable. Consider, for example, the way the Warriors launched into the stratosphere when David Lee got hurt and they were forced to play Draymond Green. Consider the stylistic improbability of the entire Ben Wallace Era in Detroit last decade.

The Suns are a joke; it’s true. Look no further than the goats in the previous GM’s office. Nevertheless, the Suns have been drafting near the top of the draft for long enough that this roster has potential. Ayton could be special. Booker is, without question, an elite offensive player. This season looks to me like Ricky Rubio’s last chance of finding himself in the NBA. I’m rooting like hell for that to happen.

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