5-on-1, Part 4: Who should be a surprise return for the Suns?

With the Suns’ season over and the offseason already in full swing as the team searches for a new general manager and a head coach, questions are aplenty. So instead of the traditional 5-on-5 to recap the season, we’re going to — like the Suns — start from scratch and work through five 5-on-1 sessions. Because if you can’t run an offense during a walk-through with a coach, no chance it’s working against five defenders.

We started off the discussion asking for one word to sum up the Suns’ season. In our second installment, we discussed at the best of the year, AKA, Goran Dragic. Part 3 touched on the most baffling of 2012-13, and today we ask who should be a surprise return next season. Of course, much of that has to do with the coaching style implemented. But here’s who we like.

4. If there was one player who isn’t supposed to return next year but should, who would you advocate?

Michael Schwartz: This is a tough question for me because I feel the Suns should be willing to move on from most any player. There is no reason to bring back Shannon Brown or Wesley Johnson, for example, and I’ve been of the opinion for some time now that this is the summer to trade both Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola.

One player I would not be so quick to deal is Jared Dudley. Sure, if he’s the missing piece to a franchise-changing deal, you throw him in there. But good glue guy/locker room guys who can shoot the three and play solid defense on an affordable contract aren’t found every day. Dudley would most certainly be more useful as a sixth or seventh man for a contender, but for now he’s one of the few quality assets on the Suns that teams might really want. With Phoenix almost certainly a couple years away from contention, there’s no reason to deal such an asset now.

Ryan Weisert: P.J. Tucker needs to come back next season. Tucker is the best on-ball defender currently on the roster, and it’s really not close. In seasons past, the Suns had Grant Hill to throw at their opponents’ best perimeter scorer, but now all Phoenix has is Tucker. He may not be the all-around player Grant Hill was, but P.J. is essential to the Suns’ success. He’s very much Phoenix’s version of Tony Allen. He’s not a double-digit scorer or a consistent three-point threat. But he hustles, defends and is surprisingly good in transition. He brings a toughness and work ethic to the court, two things the Suns are in desperate need of. Through sheer effort and will, Tucker went from being an end-of-the-bench fill in to starter this year. Moving forward, he needs to find and develop a role on offense (corner three/spot up shooter, back door cutter, etc.) But unless the Suns acquire a top-notch defender via free agency this offseason (there aren’t many on the market), the Suns need Tucker next year to help contain the superstar wings in the West. Plus, Tucker is an excellent locker room presence who evinces a work ethic incoming rookies can learn from.

Kevin Zimmerman: I’m torn between wanting to pick both Jermaine O’Neal and P.J. Tucker to answer this question. O’Neal, after all, is an inexpensive veteran who could hold immediate respect in the locker room if Phoenix trades away any other veteran presences like Luis Scola or Marcin Gortat. But I can’t not choose Tucker for this question. He proved that he’s willing to fill the niche of a physical wing defender who isn’t as much of an offensive liability as people might think.

Tucker is good for 10 points a game, can’t be completely sagged off as a three-point shooter — he was only getting better toward the end of the year — and proved that he at least isn’t a black hole in terms of ball movement. On defense he has the smarts to handle power forwards and point guards, and as a perimeter defender, he’s not just solid but a batting ram that only Tony Allen and maybe Lance Stephenson could compare to. Sorry, Thabo. Your slim frame takes you out of the battering ram discussion.

Dave Dulberg: Based on what he might ask for in free agency, I’m not convinced Wes Johnson will return next season. With that said, I think the Suns should do what they can to ensure that he does. Is he worth $6 or $7 million a year? No. But based on the small sample size we saw of him over the final two-plus months of the season, he’s someone that makes the offense better. Johnson is by no means a finished product, but I think we got a taste of why he was a former No. 4 overall pick.

The Suns have stockpiled 3s and 4s and because of it they were clearly deficient when it came to perimeter scoring this season. Johnson has an ability to create for himself, is a decent three-point shooter and if nothing else, gives Goran Dragic another capable option on the wing.

He’s a below-average defender and doesn’t use his athletic frame to get to the basket enough, but I’d like to see what he could do with a full season of quality minutes.

Matt Petersen: Jermaine O’Neal had a rough year with his daughter’s illness, his own heart ailment and supposed disagreements with management that he laughed off. Still, he looked better than he had in years, and the Suns could to a lot worse than a slightly rejuvenated O’Neal as their backup center and locker room leader for another season.

You can make an argument for the return of Wesley Johnson, who appears to be the only young project capable of developing into a significant player. That potential, however, will carry a semi-hefty price tag this offseason, just as it has with other former-but-still-tantalizing lottery picks (see: Kwame Brown). With O’Neal, Phoenix would return a more-than-capable backup at a piddling price.

And 1

Channing Frye might have a future as an NBA analyst. Back in March, he made a bold prediction about the Los Angeles Clippers having trouble in the playoffs. Last night, the Clippers’ issues against a physical, playoff-style team in the Memphis Grizzlies ended with a first-round defeat. Here’s what Frye said:

“Don’t get me wrong, I think the Clippers are a great team, I think they’re stacked,” Frye said. “You know what, they’re going to be on highlights every night.”

“But in playoff basketball, highlights aren’t going to get you (anything),” he added. “You aren’t to get your highlight. (DeAndre Jordan is) going to get his head busted. It’s not the same thing. It’s not going to be like that. Can DeAndre Jordan score in the post, is Blake Griffin going to score in the post? Are they going to make Chris Paul shoot all the time? Those are just some things.”

The Grizzlies did end up making Paul shoot a lot, though Blake Griffin’s ankle injury is really to do with his increase in volume in the final two games. And about DeAndre Jordan? He averaged 3.7 points per game and shot 45 percent, or 19 percent below his regular season average of 64 percent.

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