Suns fans, it is time to take a long, deep breath. This advice is not recommended to avoid the smell of Phoenix’s record through 24 games. Take a deep breath and be patient. Now is not the time for rash action or frustration in the Valley of the Sun. The Suns are 9-15, currently 13th in the Western Conference. Given the depth of the conference and Phoenix’s early season struggles, their season might very well be over already. On the other hand, it might just now be getting started.
Phoenix has multiple options when it comes to drastic maneuvers. Some people are calling for a coaching change because they believe Alvin Gentry is not the right man for the job. Before showing Gentry the door, however, those people ought to consider what he has done as the coach of the Suns. In 2010, he led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals. That was a Phoenix team people thought was done after Mike D’Antoni left and Terry Porter took over. Gentry is also the coach who led last year’s team to within a game or two of the playoffs after a terrible start to the season.
Coaching this year’s team is without a doubt the most difficult task Gentry has been handed during his time in Phoenix. With so many new faces and so many familiar ones departed, the process of finding the right lineup, managing minutes, and keeping everyone happy is daunting to say the least. Gentry hasn’t been very successful in these aims so far. But there’s no evidence to suggest any other coach in the league would have done better. This is a transitional year for Phoenix — the first of the post-Nash era.
Combine that with the recent rise of the Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors and Timberwolves, and the expectations for this team should definitely be tempered. That said, there’s no reason the Suns can’t be respectable the rest of the way. Last year’s team was six games under .500 after 20 games and seven games under at the halfway point. Gentry led them on a spectacular and compelling second-half run. I don’t know if Gentry and the team have another run like that in them, but I do know they deserve the chance to get back on track.
On the personnel front, the Suns have several trade options in front of them. As of yesterday, every player on the Suns’ roster save for Luis Scola became eligible to be traded (Scola was acquired via amnesty auction and cannot be traded until July.) At this point in the year, every member of the roster save Dragic has had enough poor performances to warrant fans clamoring for a trade. But beyond simple disappointment in the roster as a whole, the two most likely candidates to be moved are Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley.
Beasley has been the poster boy for the disappointing Suns, mostly because his contract left a great number of pundits scratching their heads in the offseason. CBS Sports’ Ken Berger mentioned Beasley’s struggles in his Quarterly Report. He believes, “the Suns are headed for a major reset” — whatever that means. Grantland’s Zach Lowe also weighed in on his disappointment with Beasley and thinks a trade involving him could be imminent. It’s true that Beasley has yet to put it together consistently in Phoenix, and by and large, Michael has been the most frustrating player to watch this year. Likewise, Gortat has had loads of trouble adjusting to a new role with a new set of teammates. Gortat has been outspoken about his displeasure and reportedly turned down a multi-year extension.
In his piece, Lowe said, “the vultures are circling Phoenix.” I couldn’t agree more. NBA teams are looking at the Suns’ roster and licking their lips. The Suns have pieces. They just have too many pieces. They haven’t figured out the puzzle yet, which is why the roster as a whole is struggling. This is exactly why Phoenix needs to stand pat for now. Vultures feast on the dead, and the Suns are not yet dead. A panic move now would inevitably be unfairly balanced as the Suns’ trading partner would be capitalizing and thus taking advantage of Phoenix’s panic. While a single piece like Beasley or Gortat may not fit the Phoenix jigsaw puzzle right now, it might fit better into a team with a more defined structure and a specific need. So while there may be suitors for these guys, both Beasley and Gortat’s values are so low right now, the Suns couldn’t possibly get a good deal.
If a fair trade were to come along — a trade which brought in a player who could figure into Phoenix’s long-term plans — like a talented rookie or sophomore, then Phoenix would be remiss not to pull the trigger. But a potential trading partner has no incentive to give up a valuable asset with a long shelf life right now because Marcin and Michael are playing so far below their potential. The trade deadline is still two months away. The Suns’ front office would do well to give its players time to raise their performance level and thus their trade value before considering any major move.
Although it may seem from the standings and box scores that a big-time move is the only way to salvage this season, I believe there are a few reasons to be hopeful in Phoenix. First and most importantly, the Suns have rebounded from bad starts before. Second, they’ve won two straight games against very good opponents. The Memphis game came down to the wire, and the Suns held on — something they haven’t done much this season. Utah is a team Phoenix has struggled to beat recently because of its great interior size, but the Suns started fast and seemingly never looked back Friday night. Even Gortat, who has crumbled against Big Al and the gang in the past, got a double-double.
One possible explanation for this two-game streak is the newest starting lineup featuring Dragic, Brown, Dudley, Scola, and Gortat. This five-man group has multiple scoring options and improved spacing — especially with Jared Dudley’s current hot streak. Dudley has scored in double-figures for three straight games and is shooting over 56 percent from the floor in December (45 percent in November). With Dudley a viable offensive threat, Scola and Gortat will have more room to work inside, and I expect both of them to pick their game up between now and New Year’s. This lineup shift has sent Beasley to the bench, and that ultimately may be where he’s most useful. When he played with Scola and Gortat, Beasley was forced out to the perimeter and continually settled for jumpers. Now, he will have more room to operate inside the arc and both his scoring efficiency and potency should rise.
The Suns might turn things around in the coming weeks, or they could stagnate again. No one knows what will happen, but I for one think Gentry has found something with this lineup and thus the Suns will be a whole new animal moving forward. Even if they don’t contend for the playoffs or even get back to .500, Suns fans can still be happy about one thing: The Lakers are just as bad.