• Chris Stewart

The Beloved Basketball Team in Phoenix

For nearly two decades it was the NFL football team in Arizona that disappointed Phoenicians year after year. These days though the Arizona Cardinals look to be the main source of joy for local sports fans in Arizona. I say all of this with a huge “BUT”. But the Arizona Cardinals were adopted -- and while Arizonans are ecstatic about their upcoming playoff run -- those of us with historical sentiment for the state, know that the Phoenix Suns are our baby. The Suns were born in Phoenix, and there remains a little place in the hearts of many because of this.

However, the fans of their beloved basketball team are disappointed. The Suns are flirting with missing the playoffs for a sixth straight season. The team recently broke a nine game losing streak last Wednesday, before suffering blowout losses to two of the NBA’s worst, in the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns also handed the lowly Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers their SECOND win of the season in front of their own home crowd. Currently, with the sixth worst record in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have hit bottom. And just two years ago the team narrowly missed the playoffs after a surprising 48-win season.

Coach Jeff Hornacek’s top two assistant coaches were fired after the loss to the Seventy-Sixers, and many wonder whether he’ll make it through the season as head coach. Hornacek has been clear about his plans to continue fighting, and will look for players that want to demonstrate this type of effort on the court. With a 13-26 record, the consensus among the media and fans seems to be mixed. There are cries for trades that will “tank” the season, and position the Suns to draft Louisiana State University’s Ben Simmons, while still others want a trade(s) to boost the team back into playoff contention.

*Photo via USA Today

The odds of reviving the season and claiming a playoff berth look highly unlikely right now. But with just over 40 games remaining on the season, I’m with Hornacek. You keep fighting and explore the trade market while doing so. Tanking the season will encourage a culture of losing, and stunt the development of young players: Alex Len, Devin Booker, and T.J. Warren. The Suns drafted Warren in 2014 and Booker in 2015 -- in the late lottery to the middle of the first round -- and both players have arguably outplayed many of those taken before them in the draft. Point being, there will be talent in this range of the draft to be found again next summer.

It has been unmercifully painful watching the Suns lose 20 of 25 games, which included a 4-14 record in December. The team is seemingly on a path to tanking without trying. They lost their best player in Eric Bledsoe to a season ending meniscus tear on December 20th, and by all indications could easily fall into the doldrums of the NBA standings. Disgruntled power forward Markieff Morris has been benched or out with an injury in 15 of 39 games this season. It’s a safe bet that Morris will be traded by mid-January if the Suns can find a reasonable trading partner.

*Photo via AZ Centralll

Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough has said that the Suns can still make the playoffs.

So…based on that presumption, it would seem that any trade made would be one to prevent a further slide in the standings. This would mean that any trade for Markieff Morris should involve a piece to contribute now. The Suns roster is currently constructed with talented pieces for the future, players on one year contracts, an injured player (Eric Bledsoe), an aging player in the first year of a big contract (Tyson Chandler), and players who can’t crack the rotation. I have no idea whether Ryan McDonough plans to help the Suns become a playoff team through trades. But if he does, let’s first rule out the probable untouchable players on the roster.

Those two players (maybe three) are Devin Booker (who recently recorded his first double-double) at nineteen years of age and T.J. Warren who is averaging 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes of play. The organization is also very high on third-year Center Alex Len, who’s fought through a hand injury in recent weeks. Len has had flashes of incredible play and maturity this season, and is probably on the untouchables list with Warren and Booker.

One can only speculate on the possibility of a debate around the league, as it relates to Morris’ true value. It becomes difficult for McDonough to trade him for what is actually equal value in return. Morris has a pending legal issue, temperamental concerns, missed games, and a lack of focus. I believe the Suns should base Markieff Morris’ value on last seasons’ play (15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game). He will also come to a team in only the second year of a four-year contract that pays him eight million per year.

*Photo via USA Today

Most fans and media have probably grown tired of Markieff Morris in Phoenix, but the organization should still weigh the short-term distractions with a long-term trade ramification.

Let’s take a look at the Suns roster to explore other trade scenarios that could improve the team (without tanking the rest of the season). Trading other players in a package with or without Markieff Morris is possible. The best trade scenario is one that allows the Suns to continue with their youth movement -- while keeping or acquiring a good combination of veteran players – and acquiring young talent or draft picks. In that particular order.

*Photo via USA Today

It’s no secret that the Tyson Chandler signing (last summer) was part of a plan to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to Phoenix. But that plan failed, and Chandler has been ineffective on a young and struggling basketball team. His four year 52 million-dollar contract will not be easy to move, but one would think that it’s likely being explored; as it should be. P.J. Tucker, Archie Goodwin, and Sonny Weems (Weems has very little value) could also be part of a trade with Chandler. From a pure fan’s perspective -- Tucker is clearly the heart and soul of the team -- and it would not be easy to say goodbye, but he might be a key piece required to move Chandler.

Any trade(s) should bring back veteran help, young talent, or draft picks to the Suns. Goodwin is only 21 years of age and has had flashes of raw-athletic and intriguing play, and could be another piece that makes Chandler’s contract easier to move. There may also be another team willing to take a flyer on Sonny Weems, who could be molded into NBA form on the right team. It will be no easy task for the Suns front office to improve their current roster -- but they have options -- and should try by this seasons’ trade deadline in February. What a tall order in the tough business of the NBA.

#NBA #Suns #ChrisStewart

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