The Phoenix Suns shot out of the free agency gates on June 30th, collecting the kind of players that many felt they would not be able to attract as a result of having an extremely top heavy roster.
The organization adding defensive-minded players still yet to hit their primes like Kieta Bates-Diop, Chimeze Metu and Chris Eubanks. Josh Okogie was also retained, before the Suns went and added a player who looked to be the perfect complimentary fit to this roster in Yuta Watanabe. A former teammate of Kevin Durant and one of the best 3-point shooters in the league.
Yet despite bringing in a great mix of players to fill in around their superstars, there is one player the Suns will wish they had kept around.
Through two stints with the Suns, Torrey Craig came to encapsulate everything that this squad is going to need next season. A selfless worker who did his best work without ball in hand, he also shot 39.5 percent from deep last season, and that was despite barely playing with Durant because of injury, and having never suited up next to Bradley Beal at all.
At 32-years-old, Suns fans can’t begrudge Craig inking a two-year deal with the Chicago Bulls. He has a player option on that second year, and much like Bruce Brown with the Denver Nuggets last year, could play himself into one final payday of sorts before he has to call it a career. The Bulls may be a directionless purgatory right now, but that doesn’t mean Craig can’t profit personally.
If the Suns can be thankful of one thing in losing Craig though, it is that he hasn’t ended up on a direct contender. Another team who they may meet in the postseason next year and who could punish them as a result, because the Bulls are most certainly not going to be that.
But in what may be a rare misstep from owner Mat Ishbia and the front office, could the franchise have cut bait with Craig a year too soon? It feels like they went out and prioritized adding players like Metu and Bates-Diop, who have similarities to Craig but who also have a higher potential ceiling. Being considerably younger also means in theory less chance of injury to these guys, as well as less wear and tear.
But whereas these players could pan out exactly as the Suns want them too, and again they were the ideal players to go out and get, there is something to the known quantity in Craig that they are going to miss. A player who knew his role, knew what it meant to play for a Suns team trying to win it all, and who also had a good relationship with the fans.
Aside from a brief stint with the Indiana Pacers sandwiched between two goes with the Suns, Craig has also played for the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks. To call him a “winning player” is a lazy, catch-all term, and that would entail putting the eye test over the stats Craig has put up throughout his career. However, there is something to this worth accounting for, and which the Suns are surely going to miss.
Craig has spent a lot of his career on contenders, and been around generational talents like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both of whom have won championships, been league MVPs and also, Finals MVPs. Craig even played 18 games for the Milwaukee Bucks the year they won it all, but was traded to the Suns for cash considerations before the deadline.
He has plenty of experience, and really if there was one player with the right skill set and also temperament to play alongside Durant, Beal and Devin Booker, isn’t it Craig? The likes of Watanabe and Bates-Diop could really pop, but both of them surely have eyes beyond making the minimum for the rest of their careers.
They’ve said all the right things about joining to try and win a championship, but come next summer, they’ll want to be able to validate their games to get theirs. Craig, as he has shown the whole time, is only about winning at the highest level and getting his team over the hump. He is going to struggle to adapt to the goals of the Bulls, just like he did with the middling Pacers when he quickly fell out of fan’s thoughts around the league.
As already mentioned, he shot a shade under 40 percent from deep last season. In 138 games with the Suns, he started 70 times and was good for over 22 minutes of action per night. Craig was capable of defending some elite players, and he has never shot more 3-pointers per game (3.1) than he has with the Suns. When you see all of that written down… isn’t that the perfect player for the Suns to be able to call upon next season?
Which is exactly why the organization are going to miss him so much. There are going to be ups and downs next year for the Suns, most likely their fair share of injuries too. The players they have added to their rotation to fill it out will have never felt pressure like this, and there is no guarantee all of them will work out. Each were allowed to leave their previous situations because they had failed to really click in the NBA.
Craig was a low maintenance constant, who could do a bit of everything for the Suns and had been doing just that during his tenure. He’d been with them on their run to the NBA Finals in the past, and would have been an ideal option to call upon, both as a starter in place of Okogie or off the bench. The Suns are really going to miss him next season.