EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

The Suns didn’t panic at the NBA trade deadline — should they have?

Feb 8, 2019, 12:59 PM | Updated: 3:10 pm

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)...

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Phoenix Suns are operating like a team in the first year of its rebuild. But the bigger picture is the franchise is projected to go a decade straight outside of the playoffs.

Like the Suns lack a permanent general manager after firing Ryan McDonough nine days before the start of the season, I lack hearing a consistent message from the franchise about what it is trying to accomplish.

When McDonough was fired in October, Suns owner Robert Sarver joined 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station for a rare interview on Burns & Gambo.

The purpose of his appearance was clear. Sarver wanted to make it evident to Suns fans that the team was no longer going to be in a rebuilding phase. That’s what McDonough had the team stuck in for too long and that’s why he got fired.

Erm, at least that’s why we think he got fired.

“We discussed a number of opportunities I felt like were realistic in terms of what progress would look like and, ultimately for me, the rate of progress wasn’t there where I thought it needed to be,” Sarver said.

OK. Let’s keep that one fresh in our memories. Your buddy Kellan will swing you back around to that quote in a few.

The Suns’ over/under for a win total this season in Las Vegas was 28.5. The gambling overlords declared somewhere between a seven-to-eight win improvement as reasonable.

The Suns have 11 wins as Thursday’s trade deadline passed. FiveThiryEight projects the Suns to win 19 games.

Now is this to say it’s a shock given what the Suns have gone through this season? Of course not.

A first-year head coach has been forced to start three rookies after 20 games of trying not to do so, but at some point, the best players need to play.

Turns out for the Suns, the average age of their seven leaders in minutes per game after all the shuffling is 21.8.

That’ll lead to a whole lot of hogwash basketball being jammed down our throats.

A season of incremental improvement — but with a major improvement in talent — and building stability with a long-term core of coaches and players was a logical expectation. But now this season is going to be framed as a transition year.

“We discussed a number of opportunities I felt like were realistic in terms of what progress would look like and, ultimately for me, the rate of progress wasn’t there where I thought it needed to be,” Sarver said.

So how’s this for a rate of progress again? Or even better …

“I think we’re at the end of a rebuild,” Sarver said. “For me, the switch has flipped and it’s now time to start figuring out how to win.”

By all accounts, the Suns have acted all season like they are not only in a rebuild but at the start of one. The switch to flip doesn’t even exist in their flawed concept of reality.

The team that did not have a point guard did not want to overpay for a point guard in the offseason after moving Brandon Knight on Aug. 31, leading up to training camp, during training camp, after training camp, during the preseason and during the start of the season. The big red “OH NO NOT AGAIN!” signs started flashing then and they didn’t stop at the trade deadline.

When you’re able to input the coordinates and triangulate the position of a proper way to go about team building, remaining patient makes sense.

The Suns, theoretically, should not give up long-term assets for something that only benefits them in the short term.

But how are they going to succeed in the long term without being able to in the short term?

Upon the conclusion of the trade deadline, I shot up two different polls on Twitter. One proposed likely top-3 pick Ja Morant in the sight of the Suns and trading that opportunity for Mike Conley. The other was the No. 2 pick and whatever the Suns would want to do with it in exchange for Jrue Holiday.

The results were vehemently against Conley while slightly in favor of the Holiday proposal.

Co-interim general manager and vice president of basketball operations James Jones does not sound like he’s about that life for either proposition.

“A lot of teams operated with a sense of desperation — specifically at the point guard position,” he told Burns & Gambo Thursday. “If you look at the guys that were available, they stayed put and if they were to move it’d be a crazy cost and we have so many holes.”

First of all: amazing that he had to get around that answer by addressing the current disaster they have in front of them.

Second of all: wouldn’t you operate with a sense of desperation after watching this unfold in just over two hours on Jan. 31?

Huh. So we’ve got a 23-year-old franchise player who was worried about “the losing, franchise direction and uncertainty that a culture is developing that will enable sustainable organizational success.”

If you consider yourself emotionally invested in the Suns, that had to send a chill down your spine.

Before you start typing — look.

Devin Booker signed a long-term extension that only starts kicking in next season. Phoenix is paying him a lot of money. But with everything that is happening with NBA player movement, if you can honestly say that voids Booker from stewing — or even worse, asking out of Phoenix — you’re very, very wrong.

I do not disagree with one word of what Booker said when he was asked about all the buzz the past two weeks.

“I think it’s to the point now where the players are figuring out you have more power than you thought you had back in the day,” he said Saturday. “They’re controlling their future, they’re determining their future. They’re going with their plan and they’re rolling with that.

“For us as players, I feel like it’s totally fine as a player to determine what his future is going to be. I’ve talked to guys around the NBA all the time. It’s their future — it’s nobody else’s life and whatever you want to do with that moving forward is up to you.

“Obviously, everyone has their different plans in mind and what they want to be remembered as but for a player to do something that he wants to do I totally respect it.”

Booker is, quite frankly, already sick of this nonsense of a season. He said the Suns are comfortable with losing, playing unacceptable basketball and so on.

Could he stick this out for the long haul? Maybe, but what universe are you living in if you can possibly be that optimistic about this?

If all was right in the world, the Suns would be able to slowly add another significant young piece or two next to Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and whoever else is left over from this group. They could make the jump to playoff basketball in Booker’s sixth year and Ayton’s third in 2021.

But they don’t have that much time and there’s a shocking lack of urgency with mixed messages coming from the Suns front office. That’s a front office that still doesn’t have a permanent general manager, has added one scout (Ronnie Price!), according to their staff directory, since firing McDonough and several of his trusted scouts, and hasn’t stated how the likes of Jones, Trevor Bukstein and others are doing multiple jobs at once to make up for it in the meantime.

The trade deadline was a chance for the Suns to provide the jumpstart. Conley was available. He could have guided the team through these next two years, changed the vibes and smashed that 2021 target date. Sure, the Suns would have overpaid and Conley is older with injury concerns, but don’t they have enough young talent and assets already?

Instead, they are being patient, kicking their feet up on the desk for an office inside a burning building.

There’s a negative connotation surrounding the word panic, obviously, but the Suns at least need to show some signs of life toward actual progression this offseason. For Booker, their fanbase and themselves. If that’s a panic trade to help patch things up for the time being — so be it.

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