The Phoenix Suns fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 100-95 on Thursday night, with both Devin Booker and Bradley missing out through injury. The Booker news was somewhat expected given that he had played in the win over the Golden State Warriors with a troublesome toe.
Beal not being able to play was a lot worse though, as he is now yet to make his debut for the organization with a tweak in his back. For what it’s worth the player himself doesn’t seem overly concerned about it, but the back is a complex area of the body where small problems can quickly become big.
In the wake of the loss to the Lakers and with two star guards missing it is quickly becoming clear that the roster needs a true point guard.
Perhaps that is harsh on Jordan Goodwin and Saben Lee. After all, the latter was one of the standout performers of preseason, while Goodwin was a nice addition in the deal that netted the Suns Beal in exchange for Chris Paul. But that in itself is the problem for the franchise.
You can’t argue with the Suns changing the ageing Paul for Beal this offseason. It was a chance to upgrade and to add a 30-year-old who is closer in age to the cornerstone of the franchise in Booker. But maybe getting rid of another proven floor general in Cam Payne was a step too far?
Again the logic was sound. Payne is a limited player and who once he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs (before being waived and picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks), opened up a trade exception for the Suns. As nice as that sounds on paper, these trade exceptions rarely seem to turn into anything meaningful.
So if Paul absolutely had to go – and most would argue 38-years-old that he did – the franchise may have jumped the gun in ditching Payne as well. The Bucks seemed genuinely happy to be able to pick him up, and he played nine minutes in his side’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
Nine minutes may not seem like much, but Payne is already trusted by the Bucks not to mess up when he is in the game. Even if defensively he is a liability much of the time. Credit Goodwin here, as he had 14 points and did what he could in a much more meaningful 30 minutes of action against the Lakers to try and dig out a win.
But when a game slows down and the team needs to get into its half court offensive sets, Payne was a nice player to have. No matter what your thoughts on him – and he is divisive to the Suns fans – Payne was also one of the Suns’ better postseason performers in the past in crunch games. Not shying away from the moment.
The Suns wouldn’t even have needed Payne to do that anymore, but already the idea of having him instead of players like Bol Bol and Keita Bates-Diop makes sense. This team is trying to win it all, whereas those two players are more like long-term projects, the kind that the Suns don’t currently have the time for.
The same is also true of Lee, and really there is no reason (other than the financial incentive of that trade exception) for the team to think Lee, Bol or even Bates-Diop can offer this roster more both in the regular season or the playoffs. Bates-Diop certainly has a chance, injuries are going to hit this team as the season goes on, but the jury is still out on the other two.
Really this isn’t about Payne being better than Goodwin (he’s not) or Lee (he probably isn’t), but rather having him as the third option to break in case of emergency. There were times during the Lakers game where the team struggled to get anything going offensively, instead just hoping Durant and his 39 points would carry them over the line.
When Booker is healthy, this isn’t a problem. But he’s already missed a game, and the toll of being “Point-Booker” is one that is going to wear on him at points during the season. T.J. McConnell of the Indiana Pacers was another name mentioned in the summer, and he would have been even better than Payne to have out there in moments when Booker and Beal are unavailable.
Maybe the Lakers game was a blessing in disguise, and head coach Frank Vogel will realize that he needs one more reinforcement in the form of a veteran ball-handler. Goodwin can only do so much, while Lee is unproven at the highest level. If Booker and Beal miss more time, this situation will get worse.