Roundtable: Biggest question about the 2022-23 Phoenix Suns
The NBA season begins Tuesday, with the Phoenix Suns tipping their campaign Wednesday coming off a newsworthy offseason.
Newsworthy is selling that short. It was dramatic on many fronts, from the basketball side to the ownership controversy, and now Robert Sarver is aiming to sell the team.
The core of the Suns from the past two seasons returns for 2022-23. However, those returning have changing roles considering their age, contract situation or natural developmental trajectory.
In the first of two roundtables, we asked our Arizona Sports hosts, editors and reporters what the biggest question is about this year’s team.
1. There are a lot of questions about this team: Deandre Ayton’s happiness, Jae Crowder’s trade request, the team being up for sale and more. Which one do you think is most concerning as the season begins?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I think the status of Jae Crowder’s trade request is of bigger concern for the Suns right now. Had he accepted his role, he would’ve been a top-seven rotation player and despite the sometimes frustrating nature of his play, Crowder did a lot of little things that championship-caliber teams need. Either this saga drags out until mid-January or beyond, or the Suns get little return in the near future. Neither scenario is all that palatable, in my opinion.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Just the overall depth. I still think this team’s a legitimate title contender, but it’s more reliant than ever on the starting five right now. And there’s no way to look at this roster and say it’s better on paper than it was a year ago. The Suns are banking on internal improvement from guys like Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Ayton and even Devin Booker — and I think they’ll get some of that improvement — but the reality is the West is loaded and they probably still need to add an impact player or two before the deadline if they’re serious about making a deep run.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I expect Ayton to figure it out. He is a professional and got paid a max contract. The team being up for sale is just business. There are many layers between the players and the owner, so I am not expecting the upcoming sale to be a distraction. The Crowder thing is another story. He was a valuable player for this team for the past two seasons and taking him off the roster right now, with no replacement, does not make the Suns better. It makes them worse.
Dan Bickley, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Apparently, the Suns are trying a volatile new chemistry experiment. As in, let’s see how far we can get with a bunch of bruised egos. Mikal Bridges knows he was floated in traded rumors for Kevin Durant. Same with Deandre Ayton, who had to deliver an offer sheet to Phoenix in order to get paid by the Suns.
Meanwhile, the team is so committed to Cam Johnson that they gave him a starting job and kicked Jae Crowder to the curb. But not committed enough to extend his contract. It’s a good thing that Monty Williams has taken on a steely demeanor because he’s going to need it. The age of innocence is over on Planet Orange.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Cam Johnson is the new positionless player the basketball universe is looking for. He has a solid handle and can put the ball on the floor. He’s a smart player and isn’t selfish; his defense has gotten better every year; he shoots the three with aplomb. But how will he respond to not getting an extension worked out with the Suns? Will this mess with his mind and get him distracted? The paradigm has completely changed for Cam this season … so what does that do to his brain?
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: At first glance, I think the Jae situation is the most concerning because it speaks to the broader flaw with this Suns roster: their bench. It feels thin and unreliable. Plus, it speaks to another larger flaw that perhaps the all-for-one, one-for-all foundation has been cracked.
But really when I think about it, the Sarver situation is a very close second. Gambo has assured me on the air that the ownership situation will not prevent them from conducting business this season, but the lack of a Johnson extension makes me think it will. That trickles down to the trade deadline, the buyout market, etc, etc. Never thought I’d get to a point where the thing I’m worried about the least is Ayton, but I guess I’m there.
Kellan Olson, Suns reporter and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I am going to cheat and say that all of them together are the most concerning. The last thing this team needed after the last postseason was a myriad of offseason storylines bleeding into the regular season. That is what is happening.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: Maybe it’s wreckless to ever doubt a future first-ballot hall of famer. But Monty Williams compared Chris Paul’s evolving role to the Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Consider that and the fact that the Suns didn’t upgrade their on-ball playmaking capabilities, and there is a more brightly colored red flag that has existed since the team’s 2021 NBA Finals run.
Expect Bridges and Johnson — and maybe Ayton — to take on more offensive duties. That’s fine, but when the playoffs hit, Booker can’t be the only guy capable of creating his own shot. The perimeter has a big hole to fill if Paul’s role is reduced to protect him, and even if it’s not.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor: For me, it’s gotta be the Crowder situation. I don’t think the selling of the team will impact much on the court, and while DA’s unhappiness is something to monitor as the season progresses, it appears he is focused squarely on basketball. Max money is max money after all, right?
I think Johnson will fill in nicely as a member of the starting five. Dude is lights out from long range and has the trust of his coaching staff and teammates. That still doesn’t mean I feel great about the Crowder trade request. He doesn’t possess the ability to take over and win games like some of the others on the roster, but Crowder brought toughness to the starting lineup. Phoenix will need to harness that elsewhere.