How can the Phoenix Suns improve?

Posted by on May 15th, 12:08 am

PHOENIX — Everybody knows the Phoenix Suns need to improve.

But the question is with a bundle of cap space, a late lottery pick and no stars aside from a certain 38-year-old free-agent point guard, what do the Suns need to vault back into contention after a couple of seasons just outside the playoff picture?

Here’s what a few key members of the Suns think:

Lon Babby: “I think first and foremost we need to find another dynamic weapon on offense wherever that might be whether it’s at the wing or down low. We need to have somebody ideally that we can throw the ball to in the post and score. We need to improve our rebounding, we need to continue to make progress on defense, we need to get younger whether Steve and Grant are here or not we need to get younger on the perimeter. Obviously we need to get more athletic, and we need to do a better job of development. We need to make sure our players are progressing.”

Alvin Gentry:I don’t think you can ask [Nash] to make all the plays down the stretch, I don’t think you can ask him to be the guy that facilitates all the plays or makes the shots. Obviously he needs help. You can’t do it alone in this league, nobody’s ever been able to, even Michael Jordan. You have to have other guys. We need to improve in some areas as far as taking all the pressure off Steve as being the guy who’s going to make the plays down the stretch. We need to have a guy like that, and I think it’s pretty obvious.”

Steve Nash: “It depends on your method and philosophy, but I think the team could use more playmakers. It depends on your strategy. You could go for bigs. You could go for a consistent 20-a-game scorer. Or you could go for a few more playmakers at different positions. There are different philosophies and different ways to go about it. The team and the club need to really analyze what their philosophy is moving forward and put a contingency plan together to build the best team. It’ll be an interesting period.”

Jared Dudley: “We definitely need someone to score, to be able to demand a double in the post. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a four or a wing, someone who can demand a double. It just opens it up where sometimes teams like the Spurs want to switch all screen and rolls. We had trouble with [Al] Jefferson where we didn’t want to double, he scored, we finally doubled and that puts you in rotation, so that and guys improving. Maybe another wing player. It depends on if Grant’s here. We have a lot of free agents so we might have to bring a wing player who can create his own shot, help Steve out. Definitely those two things.”

Marcin Gortat: “We definitely have to got to become more physical. Each one of us has got to improve. We’ve all got to become better as a basketball player.  I think we’ve got to become more serious about everything that we do. We really improved toward the end of the season, and basically we’ve got to be a better rebounding team. We lost so many games because of our rebounds. When you’re losing on the boards you’re giving an extra 20 possessions to the other team, you’re automatically going to lose. We improved our defense a lot this year, so the next area is going to be improve our rebounding.”

Aside from Gortat, who seemed to be talking more specifically about himself and his fellow bigs, it’s clear what the Suns need most: a star player who can draw a double team and make things easier for the rest of the squad.

The Suns don’t seem to feel it matters whether this player is a dominant big man or a dynamic wing so long as the player can get you 20 a night as well as all the big baskets in the clutch.

None of this is too much of a surprise. We’ve been writing about that very thing on this site ever since Amare left and even months before that in discussing what the Suns should seek in a STAT trade.

But acquiring such a player is easier said than done, as the Suns know all too well. To me, only Deron Williams (who isn’t coming here) and Eric Gordon fit this bill so far as free agents are concerned. I fully believe the Suns will make a play for the former Hoosier but I would be equally surprised if they are successful.

Robert Sarver has said in the past that he feels the Suns will acquire their next big star via a trade, but it’s difficult to see the Suns making a blockbuster move unless a team wants to dump salary that the Suns could absorb with their cap space. And even then, you won’t exactly be getting a blue-chipper in such a deal save for an Al Jefferson to Utah type of situation.

In theory, becoming a top-10 defense should be higher on the priority list being that the Suns ranked eighth in offensive efficiency (fourth after the break) and just 23rd in defensive efficiency.

But considering the Suns’ personnel, if Nash stays they are much closer to becoming the class of the league offensively than they are to being a top-10 defense, and if Nash leaves they would crave an offensive star more than ever.

The Suns have known they need another playmaker to take pressure off Nash for some time, which is how the ill-fated Hedo experiment was born.

We will soon find out whether they can find the right player for that role because if they don’t they very well may need to find a new primary playmaker as well.

And 1

Speaking of Nash, the Suns’ point guard won the Magic Johnson Award, an honor annually given to a player who “best combines excellence on the court with co-operation with the media and fans” by the Professional Basketball Writers Association. (Full disclosure: I belong to this group and did indeed vote for Two Time).

Nash earned 23 out of 58 votes to edge out Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul for the accolade.

“It’s a privilege and honor to be recognized by the pro basketball writers, whose passion and skillfulness present the frontline of how our game is understood and perceived by our fans,” Nash told The Arizona Republic. “Their role in our sport can’t be underestimated and it’s an honor to be recognized by them along with the past recipients.”

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Steve Nash

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Yes, Nash has won the Magic Johnson Award, but has he won a Majerle Hustle Award? No.

    :)

  • 2 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

    BTW, just curious, but does the Magic Johnson Award come with a trophy? And if so, what does it look like? ;)

  • 3 Tony // May 15, 2012 at 1:13 am

    @Michael,

    Babby’s comments are the most thoughtful to me because basically what he’s saying boils down to “we need a new team.” I mean he wants a dynamic scorer, more youth, more athleticism, better defense, and better rebounding! How about a better owner? Funny how the one aspect of what would make the Suns better Babby conveniently failed to mention. Of course I’m wasn’t expecting him to throw his boss under the bus, but the truth is sometimes not pleasant and in this case, the Suns will not become an elite team again so long as Sarver is owner.

    Speaking of Sarver, how does he expect the Suns to land a star player via trade when he doesn’t have the assets to trade with? Unfortunately, there’s only one Robert Sarver, so I highly doubt another team’s owner just lets his star player(s) walk and all he gets in return is more cap space or Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley.

    So Michael, any reason why you didn’t mention a change in ownership as critical to making the Suns relevant again?

  • 4 shazam // May 15, 2012 at 1:44 am

    the suns should hire me to take over..i would in turn hire most of the people who participate on this site and collectively we would fix this damn team in an hour..of course we would want harmony so tony and steve have to be at opposite ends of the boardroom table
    :)

  • 5 Grover // May 15, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I still believe there will be several more big name players on the move than you will see just by looking at Internet lists of free agents. There are too many teams poorly constructed and who feel they have to do something. Just of the top of my head…

    Miami may be looking to get rid of one of the big three should they flame out. Maybe less likely now with Bosh injured as they have an excuse if they lose.

    Boston needs to get young legs and may break up their big three.

    Memphis has long been rumored to need out from either Gay or Randolph as they supposedly can’t stand each other (no idea if this is true).

    OKC may need to move players – possibly Ibaka – to make room for a Harden contract. There also have been long standing thoughts that Durant and Westbrook can’t coexist.

    The Lakers may need or want to get rid of Gasol or Bynum.

    Orlando has to do something with it for Howard. No way they stand pay.

    Add to that most if not all these teams could not sign Nash as a free agent except for the veterans minimum or their $5 mill exemption – far below his market value.

    Those are just what I came up with 2 minutes of thought at breakfast. There will be big names on the move outside of Williams and Gordon. I don’t pretend to know who, but with $30+ mill in spending room and a top tier point guard only available to most via sign and trade, I expect the Suns will do something. My point is we’re being very unimaginitive about our ideas by locking in on Gordon and Williams.

  • 6 steve // May 15, 2012 at 6:22 am

    That’s called trolling.

    Getting rid of nash is the first step to improvement. His ship has sailed in the valley, and the suns should have moved him years ago.

  • 7 Michael Schwartz // May 15, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Yeah, Tony, not everything is about Sarver. There’s no need to bring him up in a post like this or like my training staff story for example. We all know your opinion on him, but if he’s not relevant to the topic no reason to push him to the forefront.

    It really will be interesting, Grover, because cap space really is a weapon. To add another, the Utah situation with Millsap/Jefferson and all the young bigs behind them. Eventually one would think that one of them will be moved. Hell, nobody would have thought Jefferson would have been available for a couple protected firsts in the first place!

  • 8 grover // May 15, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Re-read my post and the last point was garbled… Most of these teams I mentioned are unable to sign Nash even if they think he is their missing piece to a championship run except with a veterans minimum deal, their $5 mill midlevel exception, or a sign and trade with the Suns.

  • 9 steve // May 15, 2012 at 9:28 am

    @grover

    A lot of those teams might be over (or close to) the cap, but as far as I know, going over isn’t strictly forbidden, it’s just penalized heavier than it was before. If the Lakers decide they want to spend $120M to put Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum on the floor together, they *can* do it. Miami and Boston have the cash as well, if they REALLY wanted Nash. Basically what I’m trying to say is that if Nash is interested in chasing a ring, I believe there are at least a couple of contenders who would be willing to make Nash an interesting offer, even if it means taking on $10M-$20M in taxes.

    @shazam – I like your thinking. With all the ideas we’ve got floating around on this site, I’m sure we could find a good solution… if we could ever come to an agreement. :)

  • 10 Michael Schwartz // May 15, 2012 at 9:43 am

    @Steve Teams can go over the salary cap but only by using cap exceptions and things like Bird Rights. Since the Lakers are over the luxury tax they could only use a cap exception or a similarly-salaried player to acquire Nash (“no more than 125 percent plus $100,000 of the salaries they trade away,” as Larry Coon writes, which is the same as in the old deal). Also, as Coon writes, “starting in 2013-14, teams more than $4 million above the tax level cannot receive a player in a sign-and-trade transaction.” So soon it will be pretty impossible for teams over the cap to make a big splash unless somebody wants to sign for dirt cheap. They theoretically could put together the kind of roster you speak of, but it’s pretty difficult and involves people taking pay cuts.

  • 11 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

    While I think it would be great if the Suns were suddenly able to rebuild themselves into a contender, from what little I know as a fan I’d have to say I expect next year’s team to look a lot like this year’s.

    I wrote a comment weeks ago about how I expect Blanks to sign Nash, Hill, Redd, and Aaron Brooks, keep Telfair, and not make any moves with the players currently under contract. If the Suns draft a suitable big, they may let Lopez go. And they may pick up one more player with an inexpensive contract to add defensive toughness.

    I suggested Dahntay Jones (a veteran defensive wing with a perimeter shot) as someone who I thought might appeal to Blanks. Jones has a player option on his final year with the Pacers. If he’s doing well in the playoffs (I haven’t been watching), maybe he’ll choose to put himself on the market this year to try to use the additional exposure as a way of getting a lucrative new contract.

    This plan is based on hedges, which is how I imagine Blanks would think. Signing Aaron Brooks in case Nash goes. Drafting a big in case Lopez goes. Signing a defensive wing who fits the system (Jones) in case there’s a future problem with Hill or Redd.

    And, as I’ve been saying, if the Suns end up getting their 2nd round pick after all, they could draft PG Nemanja Nedovic. He’s a young foreign player, so he could be stashed overseas.

    Warrick and Telfair have contracts that can end after this next season. I expect this coming season to be Hill’s farewell tour. So there’s a natural opportunity for more incremental change coming in another year.

    If the Suns can’t land a star, then they need to play a patient and disciplined recruiting game, and not spoil the future. Avoid expensive long-term signings for players with mid-level talent who might not work out, like Childress and Turkoglu, as those contracts can become toxic.

  • 12 steve // May 15, 2012 at 11:39 am

    @Michael

    Thanks for the info. I wasn’t aware of those cap goodies. From the pieces that you filled me in on, it seems like it is a MUCH harder cap than it was in the old CBA. Back in the old days (of a year ago) it seemed like you could just do whatever you wanted as long as you wrote a check to league.

    So, grover, when I said “as far as I know,” I really meant “I have no clue what I’m talking about.” Apparently it might be very difficult for any of those contenders to make a play for Nash.

  • 13 Ty-Sun // May 15, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Well, almost every player already under contract to any NBA team will get an automatic pay increase next season which will change the cap situation on every team. Frye for example earned $5.6 mil this season, will earn $6 mil next season, $6.4 mil the next season and $6.8 mil in the final year of his contract. That plus various teams trying to resign some of their FAs and RFAs could push them far enough into the luxury tax to make them at least consider making some trades although not of the “blockbuster” level. I doubt that will significantly impact the Suns but the cap space they will have next year could help them make a few favorable trades with teams looking to shed some salary, especially in beefing up the bench. Yeah, that’s not the priority but it will make a difference if the right moves are made. And the Suns do have a few good trade chips. I don’t think the Suns will be able to use them to gain much in a two team trade but in a multi-team trade who knows.

  • 14 Tony // May 15, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    @Steve,

    Arguing that getting rid of Nash is the first step to improving the franchise is a typical troll-like comment and beyond that, it’s up there with the dumbest comment since a certain person claimed Shaq was one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA. I guess you have a ton of faith in Arron Brooks or Telfair running the point huh?

    @Grover,

    Nash has already stated that he’s willing to take less if it means he plays on a championship team. So just because a team like the Heat can’t offer him a 2-year $20 million deal that is what the Suns are reportedly going to offer, doesn’t mean he won’t take the veterans’ minimum to sign for a team like the Heat, where he has a great chance of winning a ring. Furthermore, Nash has in a way boxed himself in a corner because he’s repeatedly said he won’t resign with the Suns unless they make major improvements to the roster. As much as you would like to believe it, having cap space is a necessary condition to bringing in elite talent but it’s not a sufficient condition. Furthermore, since the only indication we’ve seen so far from the Suns FO is Babby’s comments that are a telling sign they have no plan to seriously improve the roster by next season, Nash would hurt his reputation by then resigning with the Suns despite no significant improvements in the roster. Lastly, the fact that both Babby and Sarver have been very upfront about not improving the roster much by next season is an indirect challenge to Nash and I don’t doubt that Nash is probably not pleased by those remarks.

    Scott is spot on that next season’s roster will look very similar to this year’s although I believe not having Nash and Hill will make this team far worse next season. Scott, I may be mistaken, but I think Blanks gave away our 2nd round pick for the upcoming draft. Was it conditioned on where the Suns land in the draft though? If so, then I guess the Suns have a good chance of getting it back but I don’t believe that the deal giving away the pick was conditional.

  • 15 Grover // May 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Steve – actually that was part of my point… All those contenders CAN make a play for Nash, but only by giving something back to the Suns in exchange for the sign and trade. Could be players or picks. That’s part of the reason I think whatever happens this year (and this applies to teams other than the Suns) isn’t going to be limited to just Williams, Gordon, Batum, and the other UFAs and RFAs we all keep talking about.

    The best thing that can happen for the Suns is to watch a couple contenders implode and start pointing fingers at each other. The more they panic and start thinking they are fatally constructed, the more chance additional all nBA caliber players start changing cities.

  • 16 Tony // May 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    @Michael,

    I disagree entirely. The status of ownership is actually quite relevant to the Suns regaining elite status. Or are you suggesting that selling draft picks, trading Dragic, letting JJ, Amare, Marion (indirectly), and now Nash walk has not played a significant role in putting the Suns in their current predicament currently facing the Suns? Bringing this franchise back to prominence starts from the top, i.e., the front office’s decision-making in resigning, trading, and drafting players.

  • 17 steve // May 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if the Celtics just collapsed against PHI and decided to send two of their big 4 this way for no good reason? We can always hope Miami won’t win it, blame Bosh, then proceed to sell him for pennies on the dollar. Or how about the Thunder choking and thinking they have to get rid of one or two of Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, and Perkins? The possibilities are endless, indeed.

  • 18 Michael Schwartz // May 15, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    @Tony I suppose you’re right on a macro level, but you know that argument is way beyond the scope of this article that’s basically about how the Suns need to get better on the court. I understand that what happens with ownership leads to what happens on the court, but I think that’s a topic for another day.

  • 19 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    @Grover -

    Well, if Miami decides it wants to trade LeBron to the Suns for Nash and Hill, straight up, I’d accept the deal.

  • 20 Scott // May 15, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    @Tony -

    The RealGM site shows that Phoenix owes their 2nd round pick, unconditional, to Atlanta. This matches up with what Blanks said earlier, that the Suns have no 2nd round pick.

    I could have sworn this page said something different earlier, but maybe I somehow misread it / misremembered it.

    http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/draft/future_drafts/detailed

  • 21 steve // May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I thought I remembered hearing it’s protected for Atlanta to be top 55 (meaning the Suns would get it if it was 56-60). I could have heard totally wrong though.

  • 22 Grover // May 16, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Heres a thought if Miami fizzles out and decides they need to go a different direction… Sign and trade for Nash at $8-10 mill per season plus Frye, Suns get Wade. Miami gets more depth and shooting at more positions they lack today with a stretch C/F and the pg they’ve lacked. Salaries would roughly balance, so I think the trade is legal. Suns get a top tier player and still have almost $20 mill in remaining cap space to chase additional players.

    Haven’t thought this one through all the way yet as it just occurred to me, but its at least intriguing.

  • 23 Tony // May 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    @Grover,

    come on, Wade for Nash and Frye?? I hope you’re not being serious with that trade idea…. If Nash were five years younger than it would certainly be possible, but the Heat are not going to trade their second best player, who is still in his prime, for Nash being 38.

  • 24 Michael Schwartz // May 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Yeah, Wade isn’t going anywhere, he owns Miami. HOWEVER, on the Heat topic who says no to Nash, Morris and the first-rounder for Bosh? I assume Miami would prefer him to Channing. If Nash plans on leaving anyway with no major improvement…..

  • 25 Ty-Sun // May 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    @ Michael – I was thinking that was a much more likely trade than the Nash & Frye for Wade idea. There would be a fan revolution in Miami if they trade Wade… but Bosh? They could easily sell that idea to their fans if Nash is part of the trade. But if that were to ever happen then I would say it would be even more important to make Dragic an offer he can’t afford to refuse.

  • 26 steve // May 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I agree that the Wade thing will never happen, but from as objective of a standpoint as I can possibly have on this topic, I am not 100% sure it’s a whole lot more than nostalgia/sentimentality that leads people to believe Wade will continue to be king of Miami.

    Would I rather have Nash or Wade right now if I didn’t have to consider any other factors besides simply “which player is better?” Wade, that’s easy.

    However, if you begin to look at money (Nash is going to make about half as much as Wade, most likely), cohesion/synergy, health, and marketability (Not saying Wade isn’t a marketable player or even MORE marketable than Nash, I’m just saying Nash might cater to a different demographic than Wade), it’s conceivable that Nash might actually provide better return on investment for the next 2-3 years than Wade will.

    Wade is 30 years old, and while I believe his injury-proneness has been blown out of proportion for the most part, he is getting to the age where most SGs begin breaking down. I don’t think Wade has the J or the post game to make up for his (possibly) coming athletic decline. In two years, Nash might be a 20 PER PG averaging 10 points and 12 assists while leading the most potent offense the NBA has ever seen. In two years, Wade might be a 22 PER declining SG who lost his step and hasn’t adjusted to playing with his back to the basket yet.

    Of course, the opposite situation could also happen (Nash declines, Wade stays on his plateau), or neither of those situations could happen. We all know anything can happen. All I’m trying to say is that it’s not 100% insane to argue that Steve Nash might be the better player to have over the next two years.

    Fyi, I’d take Wade in a heartbeat.

  • 27 Ty-Sun // May 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    In time the fans in Miami may come to love James more than Wade but not yet. Wade brought them a championship, James has only brought them dreams of future championships so far. I’m sure those missed free throws at the end of the last Indi/Miami game brought back thoughts of the claims that LeBron “chokes” in the 4th quarter to Miami fans. Even though Wade missed a relatively easy layup at the end of the game too… he’s their long-time hero. Don’t discount the fans’ reaction to any trade. Just look at the “disagreements” people have had here over the possibility of trading Nash. Wade is loved in Miami as much as Nash is here. Miami will only trade Wade if they feel certain that the trade will result in a championship.

  • 28 Scott // May 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

    What I got from Gortat’s exit interview was that he planned to place an emphasis on making the simple play of going to the hole hard, and to not over-think it. To get fouled. To shoot better from the line. To shoot the 18′ jumper with greater accuracy.

    Physically, he felt he needed to get his legs stronger.

    In essence, what Gortat’s going to be working on is what a lot of fans here were wanting from Gortat.

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