Time for a deep breath


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.

Tags: Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis

  • azbballfan

    I read this website all the time and i enjoy the commentary on the suns so these are just my 2 cents.

    I think the suns need to get real and nuke this team

    we have missed the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and its probably gonna be 4 of 5 after this season.

    just barely making the playoffs is not good enough and the FO doesnt seem to have any real plan in place

    The Suns defense has been horrible for a decade

    the suns are also one of the worst rebounding teams in the game.

    You have to look 3 years down the road if you are the FO

    yeah the Suns might turn it around and make the playoffs but so what look at their competition they aint gonna go anywhere.

    only one team in NBA history has made the finals after being the 8th seed and only a couple have been as low as 6th the rockets being one of them

    blow up the team, gut it, and start getting players and a FO that care about defense and rebounding

  • Grover

    I agree fans should take a deep breath, but I differ about why.

    This year is a throw away year. There is no combination of starting lineups, coaching decisions, or team chemistry that can take this roster’s talent and “turn things around”. This season has always been about building for the future. All the discussion about lineups and getting rid of players who aren’t performing is missing the point.

    What matters for the Suns is building for the future, and there are several ways to do that (all these, of course, assume that the Suns are able to sign good talent in the next 1-2 off seasons. If they continue bringing in a pu pu platter of castoffs from other teams, they’re dead anyway):

    1) Develop talent on existing players that will be valuable in future seasons. This might be leadership and clutch experience for Dragic, toughness and dependability from Gortat, or effort and motor from Beasely.

    2) Develop talent that can be traded for future assets – picks and players.

    3) Build a winning reputation that will make good FAs want to play in Phoenix in the first place. That might be continuing the reputation of the training staff, being seen as a front office and coaching staff that is capable of building a winner, or building the skills in its young players that veteran FAs will see as useful tools for their own desires to win.

    You should be asking yourself what you are seeing that matters for next year. If Gentry loses a dozen games in order to discover Beasley’s motor or Gortat’s gonads, that’s a good thing in my mind. Those are things that can make us better in 13-14 or 14-15. Finishing this year at 41 wins instead of 25 wins but having a crap team for next year is pointless.

  • azbballfan

    I totally agree, well said Grover

    I know beasley is underperforming right now but on one hand i have to say, just throw him out there and give him 40 minutes a game.

    He will either prove he is worth keeping or you can get rid of him if he stillll cant be consistent

    if our record sucks this year who cares

    I hope Gentry stays, its not like another coach coulda done any better

    just like with the Lakers, Mike Brown got sacrificed, Mike Di’Antoni came in and the Lakers still play like crap most of the time.

    one of the main goals of this year should be to identify players you wanna keep for the future.

    The Suns acquiring veteran talent to make a 8th seed playoff run would be a disaster.

    I heard Babby and Blanks are in the last years of there contracts can anyone confirm that?

  • Scott

    @azbballfan -

    I think it’s Gentry and Babby who are in the last year of their contracts, and Blanks has an additional year.

  • melon man

    I’m disappointed Gortat isn’t gone already.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Gortat was good/very good the last few games, but still, haters gonna hate…

  • http://espn flaco

    the suns will do good if suns management would go out there and spend money on good free agents maby go get howard or bynum they need a star player out there with dragic the suns have good talent on the team right know and should make the playoffs they neey a good star player to be a contender lets see if they can turn it around dragic,scola,brown,gortot,dudly, seems two work right know suns also need to draft better also they should of got a center this year

  • john

    @Sillmarillion

    I think a lot of the reason some Suns fans want Gortat to be traded is because he is the second-most valuable trade asset the Suns have. In order to get anything of value in return, you have to be willing to give up something of value. If the Suns hope to land a megastar through a trade, it will likely only happen if Gortat and/or Dragic are included in the trade.

    He has also worn out his welcome with some fans because some of his past comments could have been taken as complaining or as insulting to teammates/coaches/the organization. There isn’t a whole lot of sympathy given by fans to athletes who make millions to play a game for a living. I personally don’t have a problem with the things Gortat said, but if I worked for the franchise or was one of the people his comments were directed toward, I might feel a little differently about that.

    And, about the article, I agree. This team is still figuring out quite a bit. I’d rather see them improve than tank, and I see quite a bit of potential to compete in this team.

  • Ty-Sun

    As I mentioned in a previous post, this team has so many new players that it really isn’t too different from an expansion team. I would have loved to see the team gel immediately and shock everyone from the beginning of the season but that was always a long shot.

    The last two wins are encouraging though. Dudley is finally back where he belongs at the 3 instead of the 2. Beasley is on the bench and getting the majority of his minutes at the 4 instead of the 3 now. He’s a better offensive threat at the 4 and coming off the bench his defense at the 4 isn’t as big an issue as it would be against the other teams’ starting 4s.

    There is virtually no chance of a trade happening that will bring an established star player to Phoenix this season no matter what combination of players the Suns are willing to trade. Not unless some other team’s GM suddenly looses his mind or some star player becomes so dissatisfied with his present team that he demands a trade to any other team. Those things could happen but they’re unlikely. The most we can hope for is to get young players with potential and/or future draft picks in return. Those could be very valuable in the future but unlikely to make a significant impact on this season.

  • john

    “Not unless some other team’s GM suddenly looses his mind or some star player becomes so dissatisfied with his present team that he demands a trade to any other team.”

    It’s always unlikely for a blockbuster trade to happen for any given team. The NBA really only sees one or maybe two blockbuster trades in a given year (same with FA stars signing with new teams, it’s very rare), but they DO happen. I could see Bynum forcing his way out of Philly (or being kicked out), Pau pouting his way out of LA. Plus, there are always those trades you never even saw coming.

    A trade invovling Gortat and/or Dragic (especially AND) would demand attention from every reasonable GM in the NBA. Whether or not a deal could be struck in the end, that’s obviously a different matter.

  • Ty-Sun

    That’s why I said it was a virtual impossibility rather than an impossibility. Some trades do come out of the blue such as the trade that initially brought Gortat to Phoenix. Anything is possible but I just see it as extremely unlikely that any combination of Suns players offered in a trade will bring a true star player into the Valley this season. Perhaps a potential star but not an already established star.

  • Ty-Sun

    A question for the folks who run this site…

    Are there any updates on Frye’s medical condition? Any idea as to when (or if) he might be back could make a big impact on any potential trades this season since Frye can play both the 4 and 5 spots. Frye could actually be a much better fit with Scola on the floor with Frye playing the 5.

  • john

    Agreed. I’d just like to hope that Phoenix can pull off some magic deal that turns the franchise around. The biggest problem I see is that there are only a handful of players in the league who could accomplish such a feat, in my opinion, and most of them seem extremely happy to be where they are.

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    A tweet from Frye on Dec 7 says he thinks it is only a slim chance he’ll be back this season.

  • Ty-Sun

    @Scott

    That’s too bad, not only for the Suns but for Frye too. I hope he eventually makes a full recovery and has a long and happy life whether he returns to the NBA or not.

  • bill.thomas

    Shocking underperformance, everyone save Dragic should consider himself on the trading block and playing for his next contract. If Beasley thinks he can get MJ in China, he’s kidding himself.