Monty Williams has all but cut Dario Saric from the Phoenix Suns’ rotation and it is difficult to pinpoint an exact reason why. Essentially, he’s been given the Tyler Johnson treatment.
After starting every game the entire season, Dario Saric‘s minutes for the Phoenix Suns have fallen off a cliff and I’m not really sure why.
After only playing less than 20 minutes in one game through the first 28 games of the season, Saric has only played more than 20 minutes in one game in the Suns’ last eight games. In the previous two games, Saric hasn’t started, and only seen the court for a nominal four and five minutes respectively.
Part of this is undoubtedly due to Deandre Ayton‘s return and Monty Williams‘ creative albeit somewhat bizarre inclination to start he and Aron Baynes alongside each other. However, I can’t seem to square him being benching entirely.
It can’t be based on performance. Dario is averaging a little over 10 points, six rebounds, and two assists per game, which is almost exactly his career average. When you trade for a veteran like Saric, you usually know what you were getting, and he is delivering exactly what you thought.
He did have three stinkers in a row leading up to his removal from the starting lineup, with point totals of zero, two, and four, but one would think a season-long starter who otherwise was playing well to earn a little more leeway.
So while it’s possible this three-game slump is the reason for Saric’s banishment to the bench, on the surface, it doesn’t appear that his overall play is to blame.
What else could it be?
This isn’t a perfect analogy because Tyler Johnson‘s play has been much worse than expectations compared to Saric, but in every major trade rumor to date, Tyler Johnson (or more specifically, his very large, expiring contract) has been the centerpiece.
Maybe, just maybe, as trade talks intensify, Dario’s name, err, his contract have been part of James Jones‘ negotiations.
While not nearly the $19.25 million Johnson is due this season, Dario could become an unrestricted free agent if the team does not pick up his $4.7 million qualifying offer for next year. That might be a worthy trade value for a team that wants to shed salary or a team that wants 10 points and six rebounds for a relatively market-friendly price.
Of course, this is pure speculation. Dario could just be sitting out because Monty has a quick trigger, or because Monty prefers experimenting with playing two centers at the same time (sorry, but Ayton is not playing power forward, regardless of what is on paper), or because Dario beat Monty in checkers too many times in a row on the team plane. Who knows?
From what we’ve seen, Dario Saric makes the Phoenix Suns better when he’s on the court and it seems hard to justify completely abandoning him, whether he’s part of an impending trade or not.
Cut his minutes, sure. He’s not exactly vying for an All Star bid, but to resign him to Tyler Johnson status makes little sense.