The Phoenix Suns’ 2009-10 bench morphed into an elite unit for a number of reasons, but chief among them was the fact that everybody knew their roles and the core of players that made up the bench complemented each other perfectly.
After signing Michael Redd on Thursday, the Phoenix Suns’ roster will house 13 players with a legitimate gripe for rotation minutes once Redd is ready to take the floor, which means Alvin Gentry has quite the task on his hands to figure out which players deserve time and which players must be relegated to mop-up duty.
When Mike D’Antoni coached the Suns he barely played half that many players each game, and last season Gentry spoke of how 11 was too many to play consistently as much as he likes using his entire bench.
With 66 games crammed into four months and nights when Steve Nash and Grant Hill will likely take it easy, the Suns will likely rely on their deep reserves more often than they usually would, but if the Suns want to build bench chemistry I feel they need to settle on 10 players to receive the majority of minutes on a night in/night out basis.
That would involve the team trimming three players from its rotation. Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair are the backup point guards, with Price getting the majority of the minutes thus far. Hakim Warrick went from a DNP-CD to 32 minutes of action. He doesn’t seem to have a position with Markieff Morris deserving time at the backup four, but with his scoring punch he figures to earn some time as the season goes on.
And now the Suns are back in the same spot they were in last season with five wings for four spots (before considering Warrick as a potential three) when the additions of Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus squeezed Josh Childress out of the rotation.
If Redd is right, he will play. This is a guy who averaged 20 points per game over an 11-year career. I’m not sure if he will start because a Nash-Redd starting lineup would fly in the face of the Suns’ desire to improve defensively, and he could end up being the main scorer on a bench that lacks punch. Many of the reserves are solid enough defensively to make up for Redd’s deficiencies on that end and in turn he could potentially carry the offense for stretches off the pine.
Wednesday’s -32 notwithstanding, Jared Dudley will be playing consistent minutes this season and Hill will as well, although it would not be a surprise to see his floor time cut a bit to preserve his health through this mad dash of a season.
So if Redd plays well enough to be a rotation player that means Shannon Brown and Childress are likely battling for a spot. Neither player has been particularly impressive thus far although it would be kind of a shame for both players individually to lose their spot, Brown since he came here on a cheap one-year deal to rebuild his value and Childress because this happened to him last season and the Suns need to see what they have before making an amnesty decision on him next summer.
Such depth can be a blessing and a curse, a blessing because depth will be a requirement during this jam-packed schedule but a curse if there’s not enough quality depth and defined roles fail to materialize
Gentry showed a Midas Touch developing his bench and guiding his rotations in 2009-10, but he’s got a much tougher job making this collection of pieces work.
The Warlocks’ effect
Entering the free agency period, Michael Redd was my pick to fill the Suns’ backup shooting guard spot, as I wrote in our free agency 3-on-3.
The biggest reason was that I felt Redd possessed the most upside to emulate the go-to scorer the Suns so desperately need for stretches at a time because he has done it so often before.
And the biggest reason I thought there was a chance Redd could become even a facsimile of his Olympic self is because of Aaron Nelson and the Suns’ training staff, which Redd himself cited as one of the things that drew him to this organization.
The Warlocks have worked wonders on so many vets from Nash to Hill to Shaq that the Suns should feel extra confident taking a chance on a player like Redd who could become an important rotation player if the Suns’ trainers keep him healthy.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with Nelson toward the end of last season and I asked him if he ever wonders if his staff can make a difference for a chronically injured player.
“You always wonder, and again if you fail then it goes the other way,” Nelson said. “I like challenges, and my staff likes challenges. We like to see what we can do and what we’re capable of doing, and when I see injured players for other teams I feel for my peers because we’re all in the same boat. The guys who are paid a lot of money and normally are playing a lot of minutes for you, when they get hurt that’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress for us and the other head athletic trainers for the other teams. I don’t look at it and say, ‘I can do better than them.’ I think we’re all in the same boat. I don’t look at it in that perspective, I look at it as if my GM calls me and says, ‘Hey, if we have this guy on our team,’ then I think about it. But I don’t think outside of that.
“If I’m watching SportsCenter and so and so has been out now for whatever I think that I feel bad for my peers that are having to deal with it because I have to deal with it when our guys get hurt, but again if our GM or owner says, ‘Hey, if we’re looking at Player X, do you think you can help him?’ Immediately I start thinking, ‘OK, yeah.’”
Nelson and crew have a new challenge ahead of them when they aren’t focusing on maintaining the health of Nash and Hill, and if they succeed the Suns’ offense will receive a much-needed boost at a veteran’s minimum price.