Roundtable: What moves must Suns make to contend for a title?
The NBA season began 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. Now, we ask them to tell us the ceiling of the squad at hand and what move — specific or in theory — could perhaps push Phoenix over the top.
How deep can this team go in the playoffs as currently constructed? And, if you were GM, what one trade would you pursue to push this Phoenix team closer to a title?
Dan Bickley, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: The roster has lots of potential issues, from rebounding to three-point shooters to the backup point guard. But to win in the playoffs, the Suns will need another high-volume scorer who can consistently create his own opportunities.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I’m pursuing scoring off the bench. Somebody to come in and complement my starters when the opposing game plan tries to snuff them out. Bogdanovic (either Bojan or Bogdan, frankly) would have been great. Jordan Clarkson wouldn’t have been a bad idea either. All that said, I think their ceiling is the Western Conference Finals. They’re still good — I haven’t lost sight of that — but so many around them have improved. Can Ayton, Bridges and Johnson be even better than they’ve been? There’s your passcode for success.
Kellan Olson, Suns reporter and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I start to believe they will be seriously challenged as early as the first round, and depending on the matchup, I could have it down to a coin flip. From there, it’s only going to get more difficult. I don’t have them making the conference finals at this moment but let’s see how the team progresses in-season and who stands out in the west. For the trade target, anyone who can bring a legitimate injection of perimeter-oriented offense.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I cannot answer the first part of this question because the bench is such a question mark. So maybe that is my answer. The Suns’ playoff run should pivot on that question mark and that never seems to work in the end.
And if I had my druthers, I would try to repair the relationship (if possible) with Crowder rather than work a trade. Yes, I am all for running this team back the way it is currently constructed. What happened last year wasn’t about a lack of talent — it was a lack of culture. The culture they had all season dissipated. And they were done.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I’d put their starting five up against anybody’s in the league. I’m assuming we’re getting the Chris Paul we didn’t see against Dallas in the playoffs, Mikal Bridges is on his way and I don’t think I have to explain why Devin Booker is good at basketball. And for all the criticism Deandre Ayton gets, he is still an impact player. How big of a step forward can Cam Johnson take, especially since his promotion seems to be why Jae Crowder is leaving?
They have the talent in that core to get to the Western Conference Finals, but I’d be dealing for either some guard help behind Chris Paul, a bonafide sixth man or both. And yes, Cam Payne might very well be able to fill both of those roles. That’s great and I hope it happens. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want someone else on the team, too.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: I am not expecting the best record in the West but that is OK. The Suns will get homecourt advantage in the first round. They’ll be one of the top four teams, but from there it will all be about matchups. They should get to the second round again with the roster constructed the way it is, but I expect the roster to be different come playoff time with the trade of Crowder, the use of the taxpayer mid-level exception and some potential signings/trades. So as of now, I won’t go further than second round, but that is subject to change depending on what moves they make.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: As currently constructed, I see the Suns as a top-five team in the Western Conference (although the win total will be much lower than last season’s 64). If everyone in the West remains relatively healthy (when does that ever happen?), I don’t think the Suns can win it all, again, as currently constructed. If all goes right, I think they can win two series and get to the conference finals, but I do believe James Jones and Co. will need to be much more aggressive in adding talent at the trade deadline to get any further.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I am going to hammer it again here: The Suns need men who can dribble the basketball around defenders to help themselves score baskets without the help of their teammates. Jordan Clarkson is the realistic guy on the trading block who could inject the Suns with something they need with Paul aging and the backend of the roster featuring too many guys who either don’t have any shake and can’t get downhill to put pressure on the rim off the dribble. As is, this team is in for a second-round exit, if that.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor: Where the Suns stand right now, this team is closer to a second-round exit than anything else. Chris Paul is still the primary floor general but is getting up there and has visibly worn down the last two postseasons. Adding another scoring threat along with someone who can fill that enforcer role left behind by Crowder would pay dividends in the long run. There would have to be a lot that goes into it, but a trade for a guy like the Boston Celtics’ Grant Williams would check a whole lot of boxes for Phoenix.