How can the Phoenix Suns improve?

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.”

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