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.

  • DBreezy

    Channing could have simply said, ‘I played and secretly rooted for the SSOL Suns and LA hype aside, the Clippers aren’t anywhere close to as good as those teams were’

  • Scott

    There’s only two players who shouldn’t be returning next year according to their contracts: O’Neal and Johnson.

    It would surprise me if O’Neal returned, as I think he’s trying to get on with another (more successful) team.

    It would not surprise me if Johnson returned, though it would surprise me if they give him a big contract, because he’s not worth it. As I’ve said before, personally I wouldn’t go above $3.5 million a year for him, with one or two years guaranteed, and a final year team option.

    Other than that, Brown, Haddadi, Tucker, and maybe even Garrett still have another year on their contracts. We may expect those options to be declined, but they are there.

    Now if I was GM, I might be surprised if anyone other than Dragic was still with the team after the trading dust settled.

    Oh … and I would SHOCKED if Luke Zeller returned. :)

  • Scott

    Yes, I would BE shocked. ;)

  • Luka

    Marcin Gortat. The Suns are not willing to pay his asking price. He clearly doesn’t want to be on this team anymore.

    Gortat, Jared Dudley, and #30 pick to the Thunder for: Perkins, Lamb and their 12th pick.

    Suns take on some money, but get a solid defensive center in Perkins. The Thunder meanwhile shed some payroll, and get a solid role player in Dudley to help strengthen their bench.

  • Ty-Sun

    It’s got to be Tucker IMO. O’Neal is a close second. Johnson is worth keeping if he can be kept at a reasonable contract which I would agree with Scott as being $3.5 mil or less per year with no more than year one and two guaranteed.

  • DBreezy

    This is the only guy we can’t lose

  • foreveris2long

    I would pay up to $5m/yr for Johnson to return on a two year deal with the Suns holding the option for the 3rd year. There will be teams bidding for his services this summer and the Suns should try to keep any decent athletic assets they have and add to them. Tucker and Dragic also will likely return. Everyone else should be heavily shopped.

  • Ty-Sun

    I have to disagree with you on Johnson, foreveris2long. $5 mil is too much unless it’s just a one year contract. Johnson played well but not great. Johnson is more athletic than Dudley but otherwise they are the same player. If another team is willing to offer Johnson more than a $4 mil per year contract, good luck to him and them.

  • Ty-Sun

    Looking at this from a slightly different perspective, Gortat returning to the Suns for another season would be the biggest surprise. He doesn’t seem to want to be in Phoenix anymore and I don’t think that he is part of the Suns’ future plans so I would be very surprised if the Suns don’t trade him before the beginning of the next season.

  • Scott

    I’d say the trade-offs with Johnson and Dudley are these:

    - Dudley has a higher IQ
    - Dudley is a more accurate and more efficient scorer
    - Dudley is better at driving into traffic
    - Dudley is better at drawing fouls
    - Dudley keeps developing his game

    - Johnson is an elite athlete
    - Johnson has greater length

    So while Johnson has better man defense because of his physical attributes, Dudley is better at pretty much everything else.

  • Forever is2long

    Where I might differ from Ty and others on what I would pay for Johnson, is he one of the most athletic guys on the roster who is 25 or younger. I also think he has more upside than say a Dudley. If we can get him for $3m – $3.5m, great but I think he will command greater value. He is not a great asset but he is decent with good upside. The only way I might draw the line at $3.5m is if they drafted McLemore.

    One of the things I respect about the Spurs is they can view a young player’s upside with remarkable success and may pay a little more to secure a contract but in the middle of that player’s contract it looks like a really good deal. They just seem to stay ahead of the curve.

  • Azbballfan

    I love the proposed trade of Gortat and Dudley to OKC

    that would give us something like the 4th and 12th picks

    You could probably package some other players and our 2nd rounder for the Atlantas 18th pick too

    Maybe we could go for something like Oladipo and Len at number 12?

    Lens stock dropped as he is out for a few months with an injury that needs surgery

    Len could back up Perkins at the 5

    or we could go for a wing to compliment Oladipo

    this draft is so weak and so much depends on whos drafting, someone thats good will slip

    if Len is gone i would go for Rudy Gobert as well

    Athletic rim protectors that are 7-1 with a 7-9 wingspan dont come along very often

    We just need talent on this team that can come in and produce, who we end up picking

  • bill.thomas

    I’m going to split the middle on Johnson, he’s worth a year at $4M, a year @$4.5–$4.75 9maybe a partial guarantee) and a 3rd yr. either team option or partially guaranteed only at say $5M ($2.5 guar. or team option). He’s clearly better than and better potential than Brown, who I do not want to see back.

  • bill.thomas

    @azbballfan: You seem to have hit on a concept that is completely foreign to Blanks, Babby & Sarver: “We just need talent on this team that can come in and produce….”

  • bill.thomas

    @K_Zimmerman: Why was DeAndre Jordan absent for most of these playoffs, in your opinion?

    He was not close to fouling out in most of these games. Del Negro reminds me of Hunter wherein he takes a player off the court for some reason and then forgets for the entire game that he is still sitting on the bench and available.

    Please do not bring Del Negro here if the Clips drop him.

  • bill.thomas

    If it is up to Lon we will draft a Triple-King sized pastrami and rye sandwich.

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott: Luke Zeller is the best pure shooter in the universe, he just got a bad shake here. He will be with the Spurs next year, just destroying us off the bench (his mom told me).

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott: Oh BTW, his GF loves him (sometimes they double-date with our head tweeter).

  • bill.thomas

    I think we should trade Beasley for Jeannie Buss.

  • Azbballfan

    Yeah i would take pretty much anything for Beasley right now

    Maybe Portland would take Beasley and 3 million in cash for us for someone on that team?

    Portland, i think, had the lowest scoring bench in the NBA last year

    Beasley could help them, and hey if he doesnt work out, well that 3 million in cash we gave them means his contract is only worth 3 million with a non guaranteed year after this year

    I dont care where he goes as long as he is not on the team, for all his offensive talent, he cant ever seem to get it together

    but, on a team with no real scorers off the bench, Portland wouldnt be taking much of a risk

    Outside of his driving ticket Beasley seemed to pretty much keep out of trouble

    I keep hoping that Beasley will be the next Zach Randolph, i just dont think thats going to happen

    Atleast, not with the Suns.

    Any trade that we do that gets us 2014 draft picks. 2013 draft picks, or young talent is fine with me

    Dragic is the only player i would think about including in a trade

    Hopefully our new GM can put something together

    I have my money on that assistant GM from Boston McDonaugh or something i think his name is

    that reminds me, Portlands pick this year is top 12 protected, so if something weird happens on May 21st and the pick goes to 13, the Bobcats get it, via the Gerald Wallace trade, eons ago

    Whatever happens i just want an extra lotto pick or two

    and Jamaal Franklin

    Oladipo and Franklin at the 2 and 3 is totally doable in this draft, come on new GM guy make it happen 8=)

  • foreveris2long

    If we got Oladipo and Franklin I would definitely not pay $5m/yr for Johnson. I would rather watch these get game experience with Dudley rounding out the wings.

  • Marc chacon

    To me personally I think Channing Frye will return next season.. Also I expect Shannon Brown to not return to the Suns next year he wants to play for another team to get better starting job and the suns won’t give him that although I do expect Jermaine O’Neal if he returns to the nba next season he will go to the suns not another team I also expect PJ Tucker to play for the Phoenix suns you and I expect them to re-sign Wesley Johnson to a two-year deal probably worth 5 min to 6 mil