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Dan Bickley

Suns head to Orlando with old, new questions hanging over them

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr., right, celebrates his 3-pointer with head coach Monty Williams, left, and Suns guard Devin Booker, middle, during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

No matter where they’re going, the Suns always leave you guessing.

They depart for Orlando on Tuesday. Except the team is not traveling with its entire roster. An undisclosed number of unidentified players will arrive at a later date.

And if that weren’t strange enough, general manager James Jones said he’s leaving the front door and a side window open for the return Kelly Oubre Jr.

It’s confusing, maddening, exhilarating and perfectly Planet Orange.

“It’s going to be an extreme challenge,” Jones said. “Probably the toughest stretch of basketball – not just (for) the players, but the players, staff and organization – in the history of the NBA.”

Jones’ claim is utter nonsense. The Suns are tasked with playing eight games in two-and-a-half weeks inside mostly-empty buildings, in an environment that will be as hermetically sealed as any on the planet. There is no pressure to make the postseason. They’ll mostly be playing games in the middle of the afternoon, in the realm of quiz shows and daytime soap operas.

In all likelihood, they will be leaving Florida in the middle of August, among the first wave of ejections. They will be remembered for doing their NBA duty, for stepping up and showing up at a perilous time. There’s nothing difficult about this at all.

To the contrary, this is a tremendous opportunity. The Suns have only one nationally-televised game. The national media is feasting on their hindquarters yet again, pushing Devin Booker-to-New York narratives. Our NBA team has been relatively silent until the last few days.

Now, it can make everyone look stupid. They could make everyone re-think everything. The return of Oubre could make it happen.

“Kelly’s been here,” Jones said. “He’s been rehabbing, and so my expectations for him are the same as every other player: Come in every day, practice with the team, work and compete and get yourself in position to play. And hopefully, that’s before Orlando ends.”

This is a fascinating development.

Maybe this is all politics and semantics. Maybe Jones is just selling hope. Maybe Oubre remains out of play, and his stubborn resistance is pushing Jones to pacify his boss, soothing Robert Sarver with illusions of a potential return. After all, the team’s majority owner stated during a radio interview that he expected Oubre to return for the Suns’ final eight games in Orlando. Chances are, he wants his GM to do something about it.

Better yet, this is a love story. Maybe Oubre is coming around to the cause because he feels the magnitude of the moment. He trusts his surgically-repaired knee and the Suns’ medical staff with each passing day. The camaraderie he feels with his teammates is forcing him to reconsider. That opening game against his former team (Wizards) is too tantalizing to dismiss.

Maybe Oubre has agreed to see what it all looks and feels like in Orlando before calling it quits.

This much is certain: his return would make a powerful statement for Phoenix. It would mean the core of the team was pushing all its chips to the center of the table, betting on their own eight-game shot at glory. It would mean an ascending player looked beyond an incoming financial windfall, placing his faith and pledging allegiance to an organization that was open to moving him at the previous trade deadline.

It would be a sensational, transitional, transformative moment.

Don’t hold your breath. You know how it goes with this bunch. To wit:

Ayton said his team is young, hungry and ready to devour the competition. He also said he spent much of his pandemic playing video games deep into the night. His goofiness is a blessing and a curse, and it would be so much easier if he wasn’t the No. 1 overall pick.

Meanwhile, Booker hasn’t said much of anything. And that worries me. I also worry the resumption of Suns basketball means heavy minutes for Jevon Carter, Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric and Aron Baynes as parting gifts from a GM who feels a certain empathy for all outgoing players.

I worry because good things never seem to happen for this organization.

Even when they should.

Even when they’re past due.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.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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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier