Houston Rockets 101, Phoenix Suns 98 -- Goaltending gaffe


Jermaine O’Neal is one of the few veterans on the Phoenix Suns. The old guy. The oldest guy, in fact. He’s been there, done that.

So when the Suns lost to Houston on a rookie-like  mistake (goaltending) that won the game for the Rockets, the veteran big man would be the last suspect for such an occurrence, right?

Wrong.

It’s the latest of low-blows for the ailing Suns, whose losing streak hit double-digits. It also ruined Houston comebacks for former Rockets Goran Dragic, Marcus Morris and Luis Scola, all of whom scored in double figures.

Scola in particular was a harsh reminder to the team that amnestied him last summer, going off for 28 points and eight rebounds, while Dragic turned in what is becoming an increasingly routine double-double with 15 points and 10 assists.

O’Neal’s last-second gaffe, however, capped off a miserable night for the once over-achieving big man. The former All-Star shot just 2-for-12 from the field…unless exultant fans want to count the last basket he “made” for the other team.

At least…

Phoenix found a semblance of a shooting stroke from the outside, going 7-for-12 from deep. Markieff Morris was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

The Suns’ overall efficiency was likely thanks to no one getting too trigger-happy. Jared Dudley’s four attempts were a team-high, and he made two of them.

As for the recently green-lit Wes Johnson? He had just one attempt (he missed), though that can be attributed to his meager 13 minutes of action despite starting the game.

Which leads us to…

If the Suns are indeed trying to identify out who their “keepers,” are their any shoe-ins beside Dragic? Johnson has been hot and cold. The Morris twins are sometimes solid, other times transparent. Ditto for Scola, though his “solid” is a few levels higher. Jared Dudley no longer plays with the I’m-going-to-prove-I-belong-in-this-league edge.

Heading into an offseason with cap space and potentially three first-round picks, is anyone on the Suns’ roster safe?

  • Scott

    Surely this article above will get proofed and corrected? :)

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  • Scott

    FWIW, Gorgui Dieng has now traveled up to #17 on the DX draft chart. Chances are he’ll be moving a bit higher – not lower – as a consequence of evaluations prior to the draft. He’s not a star, but he appears to know his job as a defender and rim protector, and his attitude seems to be that of a dirt worker. Maybe his type is a bit like Mutombo (minus the wag)?

    Russ Smith has declared, and DX has him presently at the top of the 2nd round. I could see him moving up a tiny bit. There’s a draft video by Schmitz on him.

    If the Suns end up with the last pick of the first round Russ Smith could be a decent choice, but as I see it the idea is he’d be a combo guard off the bench (Garrett’s role). Well, on the current edition of the Suns he could probably start at SG, but he’s too small – 6′, avg wingspan, 160 lbs – to be expected to carry starter’s minutes on a real team.

    What Smith has is a good attitude, mental toughness, excellent lateral quickness (stays in front of his man), fast hands (2 steals per game), and a desire to score. So he’s a 6th man type, or a guy who could play alongside Marshall, possibly taking the task of defending smaller, faster PGs.

    (Oladipo and Smith are two of the few in this draft with excellent lateral quickness. The rest of the guys – those lacking this – will tend to play more of a matador defense, especially in the NBA. So keep that in mind.)

  • Scott

    One additional note regarding Russ Smith … DX scouts noted that:

    “Trey Burke has blown-by maybe the best perimeter defender in the NCAA Russ Smith all game. Maybe most important thing we learned tonight.”

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, good insight. Re: Smith it is rumored his attitude became an issue in the championship game which may have been the reason he did not start the 2nd half of the game. Re: Burke, his acceleration, athleticism, ball handling and ability to create his own shot makes me think he is the best college player in the country. I know the Suns would never draft him but if I was GM, I would draft him and try to secure Dieng even by trading Gortat and would be ecstatic with the team after one summer. I know we need a wing but Burke could be an exceptional pro. I could even see using Dragic at the 2 guard.

  • Ty-Sun

    I think Dragic is the only Suns player who is safe. Who else stays or goes will depend in part on which players the Suns get in the draft and which players other teams might want/accept in a potential trade. I doubt the Suns will even try to make a big splash in the FA market but they might find one or two reasonably priced role players that could be an improvement over some of the role players they already have.

  • john

    @Ty-Sun

    I think Dragic should be the #1 Sun shopped for the very reason you believe he is safe. He’s the best player on the team, clearly. If the Suns are going to swing a big deal, it’s going to have to include some combination of Dragic, Gortat, Dudley, Frye, Beasley (these five because of their talent and/or contracts) and Morris/Morris/Marshall (for the youth). A Dragic/Gortat/Marshall + picks combo might be able to land a big fish, for example. But I think in order to get a true $1 piece (referencing Bill Simmons’s player value scale), the Suns will need to give up Dragic.

    In that sense, I agree even moreso with Forever is2long that the Suns need to look long and hard at Burke (they should look at him even if Dragic is going to stay, but most definitely if they intend to shop Dragic). Let’s just pretend that the Suns ended up pulling such a deal involving Dragic and ended up getting (I’m just throwing out a random $1 name here, so just go with it for a sec) Brook Lopez and drafted Trey Burke. The Suns could have the 1 and 5 locked down for half a decade, they would still be likely to stink next year, and they might land their third stud in the lottery in 2014, giving them the 3-man all-star combo they so desperately need to become relevant again.

    Obviously it has to be the right deal. That goes without saying. But if I were in a position to be making these decisions, I would be working hard to see how I could upgrade from Dragic (who I believe is a half-dollar) to a $1 piece.

  • Scott

    @john -

    I can’t see trading Dragic until the Suns have accumulated a couple years worth of decent lottery picks. Besides, if this FO traded him, it would probably be for a bag of stale peanuts.

    To me, it looks like the Suns are all-in on losing, not winning now. If this was a Colangelo era FO, they’d be scrambling to pick up quality FAs to put together a playoffs-bound team, and they’d do it. But it would be out of character for this FO to do that; possibly even outside of their ability.

    I hope they have the sense to hang onto Dragic, because any new draft picks are going to need Dragic’s good example of giving effort even when losing.

  • http://www.getridofsarverplease.com Voqar

    I think JO did a wise veteran move. There is no point in beating Houston – better to lose and work on draft position and LOOK LIKE you tried.

    As for the draft. Russ Smith is tiny and isn’t doing anything noteworthy in the NBA. Why draft someone you know is a bench player? That’s not how you rebuild.

    Dieng is a tougher read. He’s athletic as heck, for sure, but that’s nothing special in the NBA. He has no post game. He can shoot from one spot. He’ll be a project most likely, which isn’t bad for a rebuilding team since he could blossom nicely.

    The fact that people are even discussing Smith or Dieng for the Suns shows just how weak this draft is. Figures the Suns go lotto when the draft sucks.

  • Ty-Sun

    @john – I wasn’t trying to indicate what I thought the Suns should do but what I thought they would do. I’m certain they will listen to any offers they get for Dragic but I doubt they will actively shop him. Especially if the FO is going to retain Hunter as head coach next season. Hunter seems to love Dragic and I have to assume that he has some influence with the FO after his surprise naming as interim head coach.

    What I expect the FO to do is what I said in my previous post. That doesn’t make it the right/best thing to do, just what I expect them to do.

  • john

    @Voqar

    For one, I don’t remember anyone here suggesting Smith to the Suns (I could be wrong, but I just don’t remember it), and even if they did, I’m sure they were talking about taking him with their second-round pick. I don’t think Russ Smith would be an *awful* pick in the 30-40 range.

    Secondly, I think when people are talking about taking Dieng, they’re talking about using the Lakers pick on him (which I still think is a little too early to pick such a project, but it’s not completely unreasonable).

    No one is talking (or no one should be, at least) about taking one of those guys with the Suns’ own pick (likely top 3). You’re right to say that would be crazy.

  • john

    @Ty-Sun

    I agree. That’s what I expect them to do as well. Ugh. It’s going to be rough on planet orange for quite a while.

  • Azbballfan

    Giving up future draft picks and your best player on a terrible team would be a bad idea

    i would be open to trading dragic and anyone else on this roster but not draft picks, those are the lifeblood of the team

    besides what team would do a deal like that?

    The Suns need to bottom out, build through the draft and save their free agent money for difference making free agents AFTER they have accumulated cheap lotto talent through a few years of losing and player development

    if you blow up the future of the team by selling draft picks and your best player it better be a Celtics trading for Garnett and Ray Allen without giving up paul peirce kind of scenario

    since all of the best, truly difference making players in the NBA are pretty much going nowhere that would be a mistake

    maybe in a different season

    destroying cap space and future draft picks to win next season would likely fail anyway unless say chris paul and dwight howard want to team up in phoenix for cheap

  • john

    @Azbballfan

    Deals like that happen all the time. Think Carmelo. Terrible team (Knicks) gives up a few young, quality pieces and some not-so-quality pieces (Mozgov, Chandler, Gallinari, Felton, Randolph, and Eddy Curry) and a pick (2014 first-rounder) plus cash.

    It doesn’t necessarily have to be to that scale (not many trades in NBA history have been, after all), but this is the way that $1 and $2 players move… throw everything plus the kitchen sink at a team and you can land a star through a trade. This franchise has even famously pulled off such a deal in the past.

    Why would trading the best player on a terrible team be a bad idea inherently? It’s a bad team. If Goran Dragic is your BEST player, you’re going to have a bad team. The only way to get better is to make sure Goran Dragic is not your best player. One way of doing that is through trades. Including Goran in a deal is probably the only way of landing a player that is better than him…

    Are you following the logic?

    I understand that good things can happen even if Goran stays in the Valley. I wouldn’t argue against that possibility. But to pretend that trading Goran for a better player is a bad idea is just narrow-minded and short-sighted.

    Or, to sum all of that up: There is more than one way to skin a cat.

  • Forever is2long

    The only thing I can add is when the Suns are as dpleted of talent as they are, nothing should be outside the realm of possibility. I love Dragic because he is good and has a great hard hat mentality. However if at 26 years old he would net the Suns a top ten lottery pick, I would seriously consider trading him if Burke was still available when the Suns choose at 3 or 4. Should that prove the case the Suns could select Burke, a wing (with pick for Dragic) and either Deng (if Lakers lottery pick) or Payne (end of 1st round pick).

    It would be a good start to the influx of solid if not exceptional young talent. We will be a lottery team again for sure but those would be nice pieces to have. Just like I would not be married to Gortat I would not be married to Dragic. Burke could be really good with or without Dragic. However as I said above I would not be opposed to the Suns keeping Dragic and drafting Burke anyway because I think he is going to be really good at the next level..

    It would not surprise me at all if Dieng slipped into the top ten. There are not a lot of bigs who block shots, can defend and hit a 15 footer. With his athleticism, he can learn the low post game.

  • Ty-Sun

    If the FO keeps Hunter as head coach next season and if he does actually have some influence with the FO then I would expect the Suns to draft players that they consider athletic defenders instead of scorers. I would also assume that any FAs they pick up during the off-season would fit that bill.

    The Suns have basically just tried to outscore everyone for years and defense has been an afterthought. If Hunter wants to try to recreate the 2003-04 Pistons in the Valley, I’m fine with that. I’d love to see the Suns concentrate more on defense. Good defense creates offensive opportunities.

  • Dan_C133

    I been watching a few clips on a couple kids that look to have plenty of upside and there isn’t a lot of talk about. From what I’ve seen Glen Robinson III could develop into a quality 2 in the NBA. He certainly has the build, genes, and basic skill set. I also like the McAdoo kid. I think he has plenty of upside and could develop into a real quality 3. I think both have a better offensive skill set then Oladipo and play decent defense. Granted I haven’t seen a large sample of either or Oladipo either but, I like the total package better. Both appear to be good rebounders, athletic, and can attack the basket something this team sorely needs. Robinson has a very nice looking stroke on his jumper, it appears his dad taught him well. From what I have seen from Oladipo if you push him right then quick flash a trap he’s very turn over prone, and he has no left at all.

    I realize that this would involve moving these kids from the positions they played in college. They both appear saavy, athletic, and coachable enough to make the transition.

  • Scott

    @Dan -

    Yup, Oladipo has holes in his offensive game. What he has is athleticism, defense, length, and motor. His basketball IQ may just be average though.

  • foreveris2long

    Dan, I was selling Glen Robinson last weekend. I like his game though raw. I think he will become a really good small forward in the NBA if he comes out. I also agree I would not use a #3 or #4 pick on Oladipo. Good post IMO.

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott: No, this FO would accept nothing less than a large bag of high-grade cashews and a years’ supply of pastrami-on-rye for Dragic.

  • bill.thomas

    This front office might well pull a Bil Veeck and bring back Shaq–as a popcorn vendor !!!!!!!!!!!