#23 – The Phoenix Suns

This is one of the saddest teams on this list.

Two years after being the NBA’s fun surprise darling and turning a would-be tank season into a spirited run at the 8th seed, the Phoenix organization has done everything in its power to strip away everything cool and interesting from this team. The super-charged two-point guard lineup? Great, let’s sign a third one, piss everyone off and dump two of our guys in trades! The improving young forwards who agreed to take less money to play alongside one another? Let’s split them up and piss off the better one so he starts requesting a trade! The spirited coach who basically turned around this whole tank squad into a feisty competitor that played in transition and shot a ton of threes. Let’s refuse to extend his contract as the entire team goes through a huge transition period with all new players!

Maybe I’m being a little tough on the Suns. Despite these guys bungling the Dragic situation pretty badly, Brandon Knight did shoot nearly 40% from three last year and will play a lot better as an off-ball guard than either Isaiah Thomas or the Dragon could. Also, Phoenix was a major player in free agency over the summer, giving San Antonio the only real run for the LaMarcus Aldridge money and signing Tyson Chandler to a 4 year $52 million contract. It’s certainly a lot of money to throw at an aging big man who has always relied on his strength and athleticism to protect the paint, but I think it could pay off big time for this team.

Last year, the Suns flew under the radar as one of the most tough, physical defenses in the league. Markieff Morris was one of the league leaders in technical fouls (as well as the league’s #1 option in clutch-time performance last year, pretty chill). Eric Bledsoe was a relentless crazy-armed shotblocker and defender long before he was ever a proven scorer or facilitator in a starting lineup. And absolutely no one wants to play against PJ Tucker.

Tyson’s only going to help all of that. Sure, the Suns had Brendan Wright last year, but homie is B-level Chandler at best. Even though Wright provides similar value in both rim protection and FG offense, he doesn’t come close to Chandler’s skill at help defense and team communication. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this team end up in the top 5 defensively, especially when you consider that Bledsoe can more than capably lock down the other team’s best guard threat when he and Knight share the floor. And for those who bemoan Chandler taking minutes away from former fifth overall pick Alex Len, friggin’ relax. The Suns are still trying to stay in the thick of the Western Conference bloodbath and chase one of those last two playoff spots and that ain’t happening with Len starting. If anything Chandler should be the perfect mentor for Len (FISTICUFFS!) and will slowly cede minutes to the youngling as he gets further along in his contract.

Now I get how these guys could be pretty damn tough defensively, particularly if they continue to start Tucker over the younger, more intriguing T.J. Warren. I’m just not sure they’ll be all that fun. Sure, Bledsoe is always good for a couple rim-ratting highlights a game but I’m yet to be convinced that Knight is more than a speedy spot-up shooter type (just over 5 assists in 33 minutes per game as Milwaukee’s lead guard), which is a huge downgrade from the manic push the ball down the court left-handed trickery of the Slovenian Dragic. Plus who knows what these guys are going to get out of Morris? He did a big 180 on those earlier “Get me away from these backstabbers!” comments, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ended up being on the trading block (and a really good asset at that on his contract) if the team did go sour and wasn’t as competitive as expected. And the last two youngsters, Warren and Archie Goodwin, project to be interesting scoring pieces but neither has the pizzaz or charisma of a true league-pass must have.

These guys are still going to be right in the mix with the Jazz and whoever else for the last playoff seed in the West. And, of course, the last time these guys were seriously underrated they ended up winning 48 games and sending the league into a mini frenzy about the possibility of running a dual guard line-up (I see you Schroeder!) But ultimately these guys are just gonna be a little sad without the allure of the old three-headed point guard monster or the brick-smashing twins whipping passes to each other on the court and ignoring everyone else. I’m going to root for the Suns in the West like I always have, and I want there to be some new blood in the playoffs, but these guys are far removed from being one of the league’s most exciting teams.

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