Where do the Suns go from here? 3 offseason questions after the T-Wolves’ sweep

Apr 28, 2024, 11:47 PM | Updated: Apr 29, 2024, 7:32 am

PHOENIX — The Suns have a paradox on their hands after ending the 2023-24 season in a sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They want to build continuity. But they also want to make significant changes.

Cobbling together what we saw from this team in its first year under Frank Vogel and with a Big Three, it’s hard to see a path where improvement can happen without significant changes that challenge that continuity.

Devin Booker on Sunday named himself, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Vogel as the key players in searching for that improvement. Multiple times, he stressed that the team couldn’t get the details right.

“Everyone that doesn’t win (the title) is going to go into somewhat of a panic mode and feel like they have to make changes and do this and do that,” Booker said after his 49 points weren’t enough in a 122-116 loss in Game 4. “I think over time experience is the best teacher, so the more you can spend time together and go through it together, the better off you are in the future.

“Communication trumps all,” he added. “I have to be better, Kevin has to be better, Brad has to be better, coach has to be better. Starts from the top, trickles down from there.”

The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Doug Haller reported that a coaching change will be considered and that Suns players, specifically Durant, didn’t think the coaching staff put the team in optimal offensive looks. The Athletic also reported that players felt Durant did not directly voice his concerns to the staff.

Durant said Sunday that experience is the formula in the current NBA. He listed teams deep into the building stages like Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Denver for their successes this year.

So what are the big questions heading into the offseason? And what can Phoenix do about making any changes?

Will the Suns fire head coach Frank Vogel?

Let’s start here. Vogel said before Game 4 he was “very” confident he would be back to keep building — if building is the right word.

The Suns dealt with injuries but even then didn’t show many signs of advancing. No matter who’s been healthy, consistency has been an issue.

The offense deserves the utmost scrutiny considering the Suns ranked No. 8 in net rating for the year and 13th after the All-Star break. The offense was 10th and then 11th in those varying spans. It did not gain traction post-All-Star break when the Big Three was relatively together and healthy. OK, blame a tough late schedule.

Top assistant Kevin Young’s departure to lead BYU leaves an open hole to fill — and a very important one if Vogel stays.

“When you lose you always want to evaluate everything,” Vogel said. “We turned the ball over too much … and I don’t think we found our rhythm in terms of being consistent with our offensive flow.”

Defensively, Vogel deserves more credit than he’ll get because the Suns were a top-15 team despite limitations across the board.

But Phoenix was inconsistent, so full of lacking accountability, so full of blaming referees or missed shots. It was also full of mind-numbing breakdowns on defense.

What did Vogel say about the communication problems?

“I just think in-game we got to talk to each other more,” the coach said. “On the floor, our guys have got to talk more. Just one of those things that can always be better.”

Overall, the Suns showed the lack of identity, and that blame goes on the head coach who in the preseason promised his team would at the very least outwork opponents.

Is that enough to reset at coach, resetting the continuity timeclock again?

If continuity is the focus or not, how do the Suns make roster changes?

We can get into the financials down the road, but the summation is the Suns don’t have much wiggle room.

Their extension of Grayson Allen makes him untradable for six months from the date of signing, so not until the start of next season. Royce O’Neale could be extended still and stick around.

Bol Bol’s career progress and traction as a rotation player was great, but the Suns cannot re-sign him to more than a slight pay raise from his current minimum deal.

Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Drew Eubanks and Damion Lee could return with player options on their deals.

Have you heard this team could use a point guard?

That arguably is a necessity on defense as much as offense, saving their star shooting guards’ legs. You know why they need one on offense after the Timberwolves made it hard for the Suns to get the ball up the court during the sweep.

“Their pressure disrupted us the whole series,” Vogel admitted Sunday.

Which big contract, then, is tradeable?

Let’s start with the Big Three, where we have to ask if any one of them behind the scenes had anything to do with the disconnect on this 2023-24 squad.

Kevin Durant (79 games played) being the healthiest of the Big Three was a sight to see. It’s hard to tell if his role waned because of Booker and Beal’s increased involvement and discomfort in the offense — or if he hit a wall.

Two years north of $50 million each are left on his deal, and the only suitors in any deal would be title contenders who can plug him into something already established while offering Phoenix something substantial (some fans in Oklahoma City have eyes on Durant, for what that’s worth).

Beal’s three years left with a trade clause on his contract doesn’t look like it’d be moved at this point, and Booker remains the face of this franchise despite his sub-standard play until the elimination Game 4.

They are not going anywhere unless any relationships are deemed untenable, and that would be a surprise even as disjointed as they played on the court.

Jusuf Nurkic indeed saw himself get devalued against a Minnesota team that happened to play two starting centers. He’s making $18.1 million and then $19.4 million, which is tradeable. But you need a better fit at center or multiple rotation pieces back, and he’s not commanding that.

Nassir Little’s stock is at an all-time low and wouldn’t be more than contractual fodder, so you’re not likely getting a rotation point guard for him.

After saying all that, it would largely seem the Suns’ most likely option is to run it back with their core intact.

If they’re running it back, how do they make schematic changes?

As discussed, the Suns already need a new offensive coordinator with Young on the way out.

The Suns saw Vogel’s predecessor Monty Williams wonder aloud after the 2022-23 team was eliminated how a team with Booker and Durant should operate.

“Last year’s team was totally different than this year’s team,” he said after losing to the Nuggets in the conference semifinals. “Last year’s team was more ball movement, body movement. This year, we’re more pick-and-roll oriented and iso oriented. … That’s something we need to take a look at to see the kinds of combinations of players we have to fit the style of play.”

The Suns only doubled down on the iso-ball with the Beal addition, but the lack of a clear offensive identity failed them under Vogel in 2023-24.

Spacing and tempo remain an issue. They didn’t get enough possessions, either.

Phoenix was 27th in points scored in the paint and 23rd in percentage of points scored beyond the three-point line, a combination that makes them easy to guard. They lost the math battle too much.

As built, it would be assumed they lean more into the offensive production.

It was too late into the season and in the T-Wolves series when Vogel begrudgingly went to small-ball, which led to Booker setting a playoff career high. By the way, Booker also suggested that Game 3’s heavy doubling of Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards was perhaps too drastic of a move after a solid job of stopping him in Game 2.

“I think there’s a form of overadjusting, too,” he said. “After Game 2 I think we did a really good job with him and went into Game 3 and kinda got strung out. We were trying to trap him all over the place.”

That wasn’t the biggest praise of his head coach’s gameplanning.

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