Suns season preview roundtable, Part I: Offseason grades, expectations
To get ready for the start of a new Phoenix Suns season, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s hosts, editors and more answer some key questions.
1. What letter grade would you give Suns GM James Jones for his offseason work, and why?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: I give him an A. He fixed the point guard problem, short term. He kept Kelly Oubre Jr in the fold. He drafted a guy that could be the answer at point gurad, Ty Jerome. And he hired a coach that is finally pouring a foundation of culture that they can build on.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I’d give James Jones a solid ‘B’ for his offseason work. Jones took over the position saddled with young draftees from the previous regime, and put a priority on acquiring more experienced veterans and rookies. I’ve been eager to see a team adopt the strategy of drafting more experienced college players and Jones and the Suns appear to be the at the forefront of this experiment.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I would give James a B- for the work done this offseason. The final results made for a better roster but points were deducted for the method used to get those results. The overhaul was needed but the way they accomplished it (questionable draft-day trades and not getting proper returns on trade assets) is filled with squandered values and decisions that had a ‘damn the torpedoes’ feel to them. I also think when things are said and done we’ll be happier with Ty Jerome than Cam Johnson.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Solid B. He did the addition by subtraction thing with moving on from players that no longer fit culturally and basketball-wise in Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren. He addressed the long wait for a point guard with Ricky Rubio. And added veterans like Frank Kaminsky, Aaron Baynes and Dario Saric who fill needed roles at the PF and C spots. The draft added a shooter in Cam Johnson and a point guard in Ty Jerome, who would have started for the Suns last year.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: B+ — An A+ for getting Monty Williams. Ty Jerome was one of my favorite players in college basketball so an A- there. I didn’t like missing Coby White, C, but what I hated the most was the timing of the draft-day trade. Make the trade when you’re on the clock. They had no idea who would be available when they made the trade before the draft so big F on the when.
Jon Bloom, host of the Suns’ postgame show: Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of putting grades on things (and grateful I don’t do it for a living). I think as a total body of work, James and his staff deserve an A for what they accomplished this offseason, although obviously not every move they made was met with a positive reaction. The two biggest needs were point guard and power forward and both positions have been significantly strengthened. The team needed more shooters and more guys who were just NBA ready, they got that done too. Oh, and the team needed a proven and respected leader to turn this thing around, enter Monty Williams.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown: B-. Look I don’t want to go overboard and give the guy too much credit for getting a veteran point guard because, well, this is the NBA and teams typically have point guards. But he inherited a lot of problems that weren’t his fault when he took over, and he made an effort to fix them this summer. If you move into a house that’s missing a roof because the previous tenant didn’t think having a roof was necessary, you get some credit for going out and adding a roof. Whether Jones made the right decisions at the draft remains to be seen, so it would probably be more accurate to give him an “incomplete” grade here. But that seems like the easy way out, so I’ll go B-. Just above average, because he addressed such a glaring need by signing Ricky Rubio.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: The Williams hire and the cultural readjustment after that looked planned out, calculated. I will forgive Jones for viewing guys like T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson and De’Anthony Melton as sunk costs, and I’ll trust that there were things out of their control needed to move those players, giving away even more draft assets to do so. Retaining Oubre and adding Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio are wins, and I’m buying Cam Johnson stock when I wasn’t initially. Still, I’ll give them a C until there’s proof Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton can thrive with this odd-fitting (if not hard-working and smart) group of players around them.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: Eh. It’s more difficult to say now that everything has marinated and we’re more settled in. I’ll go with a C-, because hiring Williams and signing Rubio were both getting just about the best rational name available at two key needs. All the trades on NBA Draft night I still stand by being horrible value and ditto for the Jackson trade. I’m buying any Cam Johnson stock you are selling, though, to be fair.
2. What are your expectations for the young duo of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton this coming season?
Wolfley: Devin Booker is a superstar in waiting that will benefit from playing with Rubio, Saric, Baynes and Kaminsky. He will finally be playing with NBA talent still in their prime and that will remove the waiting from his title. Ayton should explode under Monty Williams and I expect that to be the case. He has all the talent a player can have and needs somebody to keep him accountable. He needs to learn how to be a pro and the coaching staff, including Mark Bryant, will do that.
Marotta: My expectations for Booker are off the charts. He’s improved every season he’s been in the league, and I expect that trend to continue. For the first time his career, he’s been surrounded by capable NBA talent, and that should make his job as the team’s leader much easier. As for Ayton, I’m still bullish on his future, but it’s much more a “show me, don’t tell me” attitude. Deandre’s talent is immense, but like many, I’d still like to see him (*cue the Wolf voice) tap into the rage tree and take advantage of his tremendous skill set.
Burns: Hard to expect anything more of Booker. He says and does the right things and projects the image of a future star in this league. Ayton, on the other hand, has a mammoth task this season. He should take a step forward this year both with his production and his overall aggressiveness. But is it a step or a leap? The Suns evolution depends on that answer.
Gambadoro: Booker is established and is only going to get better because of his desire to be great. He will benefit from Rubio handling the ball and getting him open shots. But Ayton should be the biggest benefactor of Rubio with anywhere from 3-5 extra easy baskets per game. And on the pick and roll. So as good as Ayton was I think he takes a huge step this year.
Franz: Extremely high. Watch the force in Zion’s game. Why can’t DA play like that? Ayton’s not as good as Zion but I guarantee we’re not going to hear about Zion being timid this year. Monty Williams is exactly what Ayton needs and I think he’ll get the best out of him.
Bloom: I think we should avoid grouping Devin and Deandre together when it comes to expectations. Book is ready for year No. 5, he’s been through the (brutal) growth process, now it’s time for him to show that he can be a winner in this league. I don’t expect him to hit for 30 points per game this season, but I do think he will be a more well-rounded, efficient overall player once he gets comfortable with his new teammates and yet another new system. His next step in that process may very well be picking his spots to defer to the veterans around him, something that will likely take some time. As for the younger and less experienced Ayton, improvement on both sides of the ball is to be expected based on the work he’s putting in and the people he has around him.
Lapinski: I just want to see progress. Ayton had a really good rookie year but got overshadowed by Luka Doncic and Trae Young, then got lost in the shuffle of the Suns’ 19-win season. As long as he continues to improve — and he should with Rubio in place — that works for me. With Booker, it’s all about wins at this point. The days of watching to see how many points he can score in a loss are over. Booker got Suns fans through some dark times with his impressive individual efforts, but he has an NBA lineup around him now and he’s being paid like a winner, so he’ll be measured by team success going forward. The fact that he’s never won more than 24 games in a season isn’t his fault but, if it happens again, he won’t be immune to criticism anymore. Which is why I expect that number to start climbing now.
Zimmerman: Even if the numbers don’t look as gaudy as a year ago, Booker should up his efficiency and improve his defense, and I’m betting he will. But I’m not sure I can even set expectations for the inconsistent Ayton, who needs to take more steps toward becoming a defensive ace while being close to the efficient offensive player he was last year.
Olson: They are always high for Booker. He’s one of the best shooting guards in the league and he needs to continue to be that. Like Kevin said, efficiency and defense are the two easiest places for him to grow and he probably will. He’s improved every year. It would be unwise to doubt him. Ayton needs to meet, if not exceed the pace set by his terrific draft class. He has to improve at a great rate either this season or next to get there. All I’m asking for this year is the defense to continue getting better while he cuts down most of the disappearance acts.