Roundtable: CP3’s future aside, where do the Suns go from here?
What’s left to do when you come up two wins short of an NBA Finals victory?
Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones successfully flipped a franchise’s fortunes in two seasons, but the challenge gets more difficult as keeping the core intact — all while keeping the roster sustainable — become priorities.
Chris Paul can opt out of his contract, while Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges enter the final year of their rookie deals seeking extensions.
The Suns’ free agents include backup point guard Cameron Payne, wing Torrey Craig, big man Frank Kaminsky, plus veteran guards E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.
Before we get to that, the Suns hold the No. 29 pick in the NBA Draft next Thursday.
How can Jones improve Phoenix to make another deep playoff run in 2021-22? We asked our Arizona Sports hosts, editors and reporters.
Other than making sure Chris Paul is back next season, what should be the biggest offseason goal for GM James Jones so the Suns can again challenge for an NBA title?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Paul is definitely the key to all of it, but the Suns’ lack of length and size got exploited by the Bucks in the Finals. The Suns definitely need a backup big they can rely on, a bench four with length who can hit threes and most difficult, I think Phoenix needs a better, more dependable scoring option on the wing.
Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson all produced at inconsistent levels this season offensively — you never know what you’re going to get from one night to the next. For Bridges and Johnson, maybe that comes with age and experience?
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Locking up Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges should be two major priorities. And outside of that adding size has to be a necessity. They need more length behind Ayton. Frank Kaminsky just doesn’t have the defensive ability you need from a backup big. Dario Saric will miss significant time. So adding a defensive presence with size at the center spot needs to happen.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Honestly, I think most of the improvement is going to come from within. Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and of course Deandre Ayton get better through experience and what they learned about themselves last year. But if we’re talking personnel it’s clear; more big man depth and bigger bodies to be able to mix and match. This is not a luxury item, it’s a necessity particularly after the Dario Saric injury. Is Jalen Smith ready to take that leap? Even if he is the Suns need to flex their rediscovered muscles as a destination location for free agents and find some depth.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf:: James Jones must answer these two questions: 1) who is the real Deandre Ayton? And 2) will giving five years/$168 million to DA change your answer to question one?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Sign Deandre Ayton to a five-year max deal. The kid is 22 years old and is getting better every year. And this year was exhibit “A” for his development. DA got better as the season evolved. He went from being sat down in the 4th quarter during crunch-time minutes in April to being a HUGE reason why the Suns went deep in the postseason.
The light bulb has gone on in the shed; DA will never be the same going forward. He will only get better. The only question is HOW MUCH better? I give him a ton of credit for this because DA overcame himself and his nature to become a force in the postseason.
Or, as Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” Sign DA to a max deal now.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski: I think it’s fairly simple: do everything you can to keep this group together and add some depth behind Deandre Ayton.
I’ve heard the argument that, because they didn’t win the whole thing, they still have significant pieces to add. I don’t buy it. That’s too much of a blanket statement that can just be thrown on any team that doesn’t win the title. This group got about as close as you can get, so making changes for the sake of making changes seems counterproductive.
Look, if someone amazing becomes available, do it. Phoenix is more of a destination for high-end players now than it’s been in a long time. But just be aware that adding an alpha could disrupt the chemistry, so it’s probably worth vetting any significant additions.
They do need some bigs that can step in when Ayton needs a rest or gets into foul trouble though. That was a legitimate concern around the trade deadline, and it was exposed by Milwaukee in the Finals. I’m not suggesting that adding a depth guy four months ago would’ve swung the series by any means, but it’s a loose end that needs to be tied up before next season.
Kevin Zimmerman, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I will cheat to answer the question by combining all of what the Suns need into one thing: They need to focus on developing players on rookie contracts who can do the dribbling.
Let’s break it down in pieces. They need to begin leaning more on draft picks and inexpensive contributors with contract decisions — and likely shelling out — to keep Paul, Ayton and Mikal Bridges. The Suns already have a versatile big Jalen Smith, who might be called upon to play heavy minutes next year. What they need to fit their 0.5 style are guards or wings that can take even more off Devin Booker and, assuming he is back, Chris Paul.
It’s here where I will begin promoting the Suns to draft Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, an athletic combo guard who can attack the rim, shoot at a decent clip and also get to the rim off the bound. That last item is something they need dearly, especially if Cam Payne gets a big payday to leave.
Kellan Olson, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: Re-sign Cameron Payne, get the rookie extensions done and add another dribble creator plus a more traditional 5. One of those should be easy enough to find in the draft at No. 29 and another in free agency.
Payne is an important part of this team, especially early in the season when the bench carried the Suns. A high-speed guard with his skill set (slashing, shooting, defense) is really hard to find, so even with Payne likely to see suitors in free agency and command some good money, Phoenix would be foolish to let him go. He was one of the best backup point guards in the league last season.
With the Suns’ spot in the NBA Draft, there’s a good mix of guards there. Baylor’s Jared Butler slipping to them would be a dream, Kevin mentioned Ayo Dosunmu and there’s a lot to the game of Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves, even if he’s a bit slow for the position. Little less to offer with bigs in that range, but North Carolina’s Day’Ron Sharpe is my personal favorite with an endless motor and physicalness to his play that’s hard not to like.
The free agent market is full of veteran 5s, from the higher end like Denver’s JaMychal Green (player option) and Brooklyn’s Jeff Green (unrestricted) to the lower end like Chicago’s Daniel Theis and Dallas’ Boban Marjanovic.
Lastly, if the Suns have room and Langston Galloway or E’Twaun Moore wants to come back, they should re-sign at least one of them. Both were important for helping establish the culture and were key veteran voices to have around all season.