Recent staff changes and a season-ending injury to their best player have drastically changed the landscape for the Phoenix Suns. These developments along with the poor stretch of play in December has taken the Suns from battling for a playoff spot to whatever they are now. Jon Bloom, Kevin Zimmerman, Bryan Gibberman and Kellan Olson assess what exactly that is in this week’s roundtable.
Is it time to re-calibrate this year’s goals? If so, how?
Kevin Zimmerman: It seems clear the Suns can’t go on a run with the combination of pieces at hand. Determining which players are part of the future could be key, but making roster moves in the next month and a half leading into the trade deadline is easier said than done. It’s hard to get good value out of trades if other teams know Phoenix is anxious for the deadline to come. The front office must change its attack but do it without getting burned via trade. Jeff Hornacek’s job remains the same — win.
Kellan Olson: Yes. The team picked the worst time in the schedule to play their worst basketball of the season. The next two months were always going to be a struggle and that was before Bledsoe got hurt. The rest of the season now becomes figuring out what works where in terms of all the pieces moving forward. Are Booker and Knight a good fit in the backcourt? What about Warren and Booker on the wing? Can Knight really play point guard? Getting answers to questions like that will help their flexibility going forward.
Bryan Gibberman: Yes. I was hesitant to say to look forward to next year with how the Western Conference is looking, but having an acceptance of where the Suns are as a team is needed. My first order of business would be to try to move Tyson Chandler. He’s starting to round into shape and has value across the league for many of the same reasons Phoenix signed him.
Jon Bloom: I think we need to hold off a bit on setting new goals until we see the end of the”re-boot” currently in process. So far it has been two veteran assistants replaced by two younger voices, the next steps will be about the players and how they respond. Some people I talk to believe there may already be a deal or deals in place that are waiting for the January 15th deadline, so it may still be a couple weeks before more pieces start to move. Until they have a feel for what this roster is going to be for the balance of the season, it’s difficult to set expectations.
What is the thing you want to see as the team moves forward without Eric Bledsoe?
Zimmerman: Devin Booker almost certainly will benefit, but we know his shooting is excellent and defense needs work. The more curious pieces are Archie Goodwin and Sonny Weems. Can they carve out roles? Goodwin has been surprisingly solid on defense and in making smart basketball decisions — the game is slowing down. Weems can bring something defensively and could even perhaps play point guard like in the preseason. And the Suns might even get Bryce Cotton suiting up.
Bloom: The obvious thing for me is the rookie. Sometimes opportunity is necessary in order for growth. I hope in Devin Booker’s case that this kind of opportunity will allow for him to remain confident while taking his lumps. Let’s be honest, this is like baptism by fire NBA style for Booker as he gets the Cavs, Spurs and Thunder this week alone. If he can start to see the game slow down at the age of 19, the sky will be the limit for this young fella. It will also be interesting to see if Archie Goodwin gets another shot, especially considering it looks like Ronnie Price isn’t near 100% right now.
Gibberman: It’s Devin Booker time. Let the kid experiment with his game and put him outside of his comfort zone. I like seeing rookies do more on bad teams and then they can always reel it back as they go on in their career. Let him learn and grow making mistakes now so he’s comfortable in uncomfortable positions later on.
Olson: I’m with Kevin. The Suns need to see what they have in the deeper parts of their rotation. Archie Goodwin and Sonny Weems both seem like they could be at least backup shooting guards in this league, but neither impressed Hornacek enough to earn anything more than jumping in and out of the rotation since November. This extends further to the three main young guys for the future in Devin Booker, Alex Len and T.J. Warren, who should all be seeing at least 20-25 minutes a game from here on out.
In the wake of the coaching staff changes, what are the most important things Earl Watson and Nate Bjorkgren can bring to the table?
Zimmerman: Positivity and simplicity. Jeff Hornacek is charged with pushing the team forward, but he’ll need his assistants keeping the players engaged and believing they can turn things around. From a schematic standpoint on both ends, the Suns could benefit from thinking less and playing to their strengths in order to get out of a funk.
Gibberman: Making sure the Suns coaching staff has a united front. Work with Jeff Hornacek and the players to stay positive. Being bad and quitting versus being bad and making good use of the rest of the are two completely different concepts. The Suns can’t let the rest of the reason go to waste even if it’s for the reasons they were hoping for.
Bloom: Support for their head coach along with healthy communication with the players. Things have definitely taken a turn for the worse, but it wasn’t that long ago Jeff Hornacek was being praised for his coaching style both around here and the league. In order for him to succeed, he needs everybody buying in and that depends strongly on the conviction he has, but that of his staff as well. Nate & Earl may be closer in age to the players and in some cases have already developed strong relationships with many of them, hopefully that gives them a good chance to communicate in a way that can lead to better and more consistent effort for the team.
Olson: While the reports said that Hornacek was against the staff changes, a different perspective being closer to the bench is always a good thing when things were going as bad as they were. Some points of emphasis that weren’t necessarily a highlight could be just that now. There’s no doubt it’s a small change, but with the amount of talent the Suns have maybe this is what the team needed.
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