At this time last year, the Phoenix Suns’ roster was an island of misfit toys. The team was full of disparate pieces who made almost no sense together. Some of the pieces were lovable and loyal (Jared Dudley and Luis Scola). Some of the pieces were more trouble than they were worth (Michael Beasley). And in the end, the team performed exactly like one would expect a band of misfits to perform, and the Suns lost 57 games. Enter Ryan McDonough.
McDonough gave the Suns’ house a very thorough cleaning this summer. The Suns parted ways with several players who had no part in the their future. McDonough ably replaced them with young, hungry players. Now the team is primed for the future. Nearly everyone on the roster is on a rookie contract or has some serious trade value in the upcoming season. The lone exception seems to be Shannon Brown.
Brown is a holdover from a bygone era – the time between the run to the 2010 Western Conference Finals and the day Ryan McDonough was hired. It was a time when the Suns were totally bereft of direction and identity. His presence on this Suns team seems nearly as outdated and out of place as my hacky title to this piece.
The Suns initially signed Brown as a flier to see if he could be anything more than he had been in LA. After it became clear he was who he had always been, Brown seemed destined to leave the desert. But the Suns had no other options after striking out on Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo in the summer of 2012, and so Phoenix signed Shannon for another two years. Now, on a roster full of youth and movable veterans, Brown stands out like a sore thumb.
At the outset of the regular season, Shannon’s de facto role will be as the first guard off the bench. Just as he did in last night’s game against the Clippers, Brown will most likely spell Goran Dragic at the shooting guard spot, while the Suns’ endless list of young point guards will all get a shot at spelling Eric Bledsoe. But how long can Brown hold onto this role and his minutes? That remains to be seen.
Brown is seemingly standing in the way of rookie Archie Goodwin. Goodwin is very young and still has a long way to come as a pro, but all signs seem to indicate that he is dedicated to the development process and trusts the organization a great deal. If Goodwin shows any flashes of what he did in the Vegas Summer League, he might be the first guard off the bench sooner rather than later.
Another aspect that might limit Brown’s playing time as the season wears on is his outside shooting. Brown has always been more of a slasher than a floor spacer. While he has had some brilliant games from beyond the arc for the Suns, he’s hasn’t been a consistent three-point threat at any point in his career. He’s also coming off a season where he shot just 27.7% from three. The Suns are coming off a miserable year from downtown as a team, and that is certainly an area they will look to improve this season. Better outside shooting will give Marcin Gortat more room to operate in the paint as well as provide better driving lanes for Bledsoe and Dragic. Because Brown is not a consistent three-point threat he may lose minutes to other guards who are. Phoenix is likely to keep Dionte Christmas and/or James Nunnally on the regular season roster. I could easily see Brown giving way to one of them in the lineup as they are both much better shooters.
So what can Brown really do for the Suns this year? At 27 years of age, he still has great athleticism. It’s definitely possible that he could buy in to Coach Hornacek’s defensive system and earn his playing time on that end of the floor. But there’s little in Brown’s past to suggest that will happen. If Archie Goodwin doesn’t come along as quickly as expected, Brown might be able to carve out a niche as bench scorer/instant offense type of player. But in order to pull that off, he’ll have to improve on his 42% shooting. What seems most likely is Brown playing 8-12 minutes a night and serving as guard depth in case someone is injured. He has shown the ability, when called upon, to step into a starter’s role and perform admirably over the last two seasons. Another possibility is Brown being included in a trade for Marcin Gortat should Phoenix want to sweeten a deal with an extra expiring contract.
The outlook may not be pretty for Brown, but then again, this isn’t expected to be a pretty season for Phoenix. Even with the team’s new direction, and all the new additions, Phoenix is still a ways away from competing. The difference is that for the first time in a long time, the future in the desert is bright.