DAN BICKLEY

Ricky Rubio signing not enough to spark Phoenix Suns revolution

Jun 30, 2019, 6:25 PM | Updated: 8:58 pm
(AP Photo/Matt York)  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)...
(AP Photo/Matt York) (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Suns remain NBA champions at baby steps. They added a point guard and a highly-respected head coach, only to fall further behind in the Western Conference. It’s becoming painfully obvious that the new general manager is a high-contact singles hitter.

Yes, James Jones improved his basketball team in his first real chance at overhaul. I personally like Ricky Rubio a great deal. But for all their maneuvering, the Suns are barely good enough to win 30 games next season. Their defiance of D’Angelo Russell was as derelict as it was suspicious. And it sounds like just another con job to me.

First, the biggest change, where Rubio is Arizona’s newest point guard. I first met Rubio at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he was just 18, all razzle and dazzle. He was a basketball prodigy, making his Spanish League debut at age 14. He was rumored to be the next Pete Maravich, an artist and creator.

He’s never reached that impossible ceiling. But at age 28, he remains a colorful, creative player capable of wizard-like assists. He’s a great cultural fit in Phoenix, where players of his ilk have flourished in the past. There will be nights when he reminds you of Steve Nash, and he’s a clear victory over the worst-case scenario (Cory Joseph).

But you can’t look at Rubio without acknowledging: Jones didn’t just give away T.J. Warren. He gave away an asset in order to give him away – one of his team’s most improved players.

And that wasted draft pick attached to the Warren deal surely hurt Jones when he needed to move back into the draft to acquire a backup point guard, Ty Jerome.

Such reckless maneuvering is only acceptable if you’re frantically creating salary cap space, clearing the decks for a premier free agent. Rubio is not that guy.

Also, Jones received only one year of Dario Saric after trading down five spots in the draft, giving up the chance to draft Coby White. That’s the high-ceiling point guard who broke down in disbelief when Jones reached badly for White’s college teammate, Cam Johnson, a nice player but terribly unworthy of the No. 11 pick.

And then he squandered the cap space he cleared for a potential max player on a backup center, virtually assuring disappointment on the first official night of NBA free agency.

The depression of Planet Orange has felt profound over the past two weeks. Fans desperately wanted to believe the Suns were fooling everyone – because their public stance on Russell was both foolish and short-sighted. They reportedly felt he wasn’t a fit in Phoenix, where he would bog down their offense by not sharing the basketball. The logic was for pinheads.

Russell is great friends with Devin Booker. If he came to Phoenix, he would be the newest addition in Booker’s city. He would not arrive with a sense of entitlement, and he would certainly defer to Booker at all times. Because he would be coming here to play with Booker.

Even better, the acquisition of Russell would’ve opened a window for the acquisition of Karl-Anthony Towns. Unfortunately, only the Timberwolves understood the severity of the situation, and how the chaos of free agency 2019 was also a ladder for teams looking for dramatic improvement.

The Suns have not checked that box. They’ve added marginally better players across the board. They’ve assembled respectable point guards. But as too often happens in Phoenix, there were too many other teams playing high-stakes poker. The NBA is currently defined by aggressive, ambitious general managers, from Toronto to Boston, from Houston to New Orleans.

That’s not the story in Phoenix, where Rubio, Aron Baynes and more Kelly Oubre does not qualify as a revolution. And when it comes to underwhelming in free agency, it appears that Jones will not disappoint.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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