PHOENIX SUNS

Phoenix Suns ‘got a glimpse of the future in the present’ this season

Apr 12, 2017, 4:01 PM | Updated: Apr 13, 2017, 11:29 am
Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) fouls Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the se...

Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) fouls Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Saturday, March 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

PHOENIX – Just a little over 12 hours after the final game of the regular season, Phoenix Suns players and coaches reconvened for one last time.

They met as a group, and then players met individually with GM Ryan McDonough and head coach Earl Watson throughout the day on Wednesday.

This marked the seventh straight year exit interviews have been held the second week of April. In other words, the Suns once again did not make the playoffs, further extending the longest postseason drought in franchise history.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to turn it around,” guard Devin Booker said.

The 2016-17 season’s ending could have been forecast as far back as late-January, when a five-game losing streak killed any hopes of squeezing into the playoffs as an eight-seed.

Later, the Suns accelerated their drop in the Western Conference standings by shutting down starting center Tyson Chandler and top reserve Brandon Knight following the all-star break. Point guard, and leading scorer at the time, Eric Bledsoe would soon find his own seat on the bench.

As a result, the Suns finished 24-58, the second-worst record in the NBA and third-worst in franchise history; this on the heels of the team’s second-worst mark (23-59).

The Suns’ 117 losses is the worst two-year stretch in the 49-year history of the franchise.

Still, it was an optimistic tone that was struck by Watson, among others, when meeting the media on the practice court at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“We’re right there. We’re close and improving dramatically,” he said, pointing to 24 games lost by seven points or less. “Overall, I think our young players grew. I think you got a glimpse of the future in the present.”

That future centers on Booker, who just became only the fourth player in league history to lead their team in scoring twice before turning 21. The others were Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

This season the Suns set the mark for youngest starting lineup in team history, and they did so six different times with the sixth also being the youngest in NBA history.

Overall, eight players on the roster, all of whom saw significant minutes late in the season, are 24 years or younger.

“We got tremendous young talent,” Bledsoe said.

“The young talent is here. The core is here,” Chandler added.

All of which begs the question: How close is this team to making its first playoff appearance since 2010?

“I think it depends on us. Us young guys,” Booker said. “We have great veterans around us, so us young guys, we can’t keep making the same mistakes. I think next season we’re going to be ready.”

Going into its golden anniversary as a franchise, the Suns have nine guaranteed contracts on the books, a top-5 draft pick (plus a pair of second-round selections) and roughly $15 million in salary cap space with the ability to create more if necessary.

McDonough admitted this season’s playoff expectations may have been “a little unrealistic” but next season, or the season after, Talking Stick Resort Arena should soon be the scene of postseason basketball once again.

“How long does it take? That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know. This is a multi-year process. However, if we’re good over the next couple of years, I think, we’ll be good for 10 years after that because usually you win with guys in their late 20s to early 30s. In a few years the core of our team will still be in their mid-20s and we’ll have a lot of talent and, I think, a lot of depth.”

FREE THROWS

— Here are the nine guaranteed contracts for next season: Bledsoe ($14.5 million), Brandon Knight ($13.6 million), Chandler ($13 million), Jared Dudley ($10 million), Dragan Bender ($4.5 million), T.J. Warren ($3.2 million), Marquese Chriss ($3.1 million), Booker ($2.2 million) and Tyler Ulis ($905,000 thousand).

Leandro Barbosa’s deal is only partially guaranteed, while Derrick Jones Jr. and Elijah Millsap have non-guaranteed contracts for 2017-18.

In addition, Alex Len and Alan Williams are restricted free agents; Ronnie Price is unrestricted.

— The Suns have the second-best odds (19.9 percent) of landing the No.1 overall draft pick and a 55.8-percent chance at a top-three selection. They will draft no lower than fifth.

“We’ll take the best available player,” McDonough said. “There are at least five really good players in this draft. I’ve been in the league since 2003 (and) this is up there in the top two or three drafts I’ve seen in terms of talent.”

The NBA Draft Lottery is May 16.

— Asked if he would be upset if the Suns drafted a point guard, Bledsoe put his right hand to his chin.

“I got to think about that,” he said, adding after a brief pause, “No, I just got to keep getting better, that’s all I can control. I can control what I can control. Everybody got a designated purpose. I just got to keep getting better.”

So, can Bledsoe see any scenario in which he won’t be back as the Suns point guard?

“I just got to control what I can control. I’m going to get better,” he said. “Making the playoffs is the next step for me.”

— While Chandler once again expressed his commitment to the Suns, Knight remains a question mark. There doesn’t appear to be room for him, especially if the Suns target the backcourt in the draft.

“I think our first priority is figuring out how to put him in a position to be more effective. How we do that remains to be seen,” McDonough said. “We always assume, especially with guys under contract for multiple years that they will be here. Now what opportunities (i.e. trades) will potentially present themselves…we don’t know, we don’t have a crystal ball and aren’t able to predict that.”

Knight did not speak to the media on Wednesday.

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