Last season: 23-59, 14th in the West
Off-season Gains: SF Jared Dudley (free agent), PF Dragan Bender (draft), SG Leandro Barbosa (free agent), PF Marquese Chriss (draft), PG Tyler Ulis (draft)
Off-season Losses: SF Mirza Teletovic (free agent, Milwaukee), PF Jon Leuer (free agent/Detroit), PG Ronnie Price (free agent/Oklahoma City)
Off-season Stock: I can think of literally thousands of better ways to waste my money, including but not limited to setting it on fire while it's still in my pocket.
League Pass team?: I'd rather sit on a cactus while watching the debates on replay.
I was racking my brain, trying to come up with something the least bit interesting to write about the Suns and then, out of the blue, LaMarcus Aldridge did me a solid, with a story coming out that he and the Spurs may not be a union made to live happily ever after. Either he's not happy with them or they're not happy with him, depending on whichever version you want to believe --and it's your prerogative to call shenanigans on all of it-- and ordinarily that'd be my position on something like this. However in this case, it's worth pointing out that it's not exactly "Screamin' A" and the gang of dog whistle blowing carnival barkers over at FS1 who are bringing us these rumors but rather Zach Lowe and Jackie MacMullan, two of the most well-respected, credible basketball journalists we have. They're not going to attach their names to fluff. Also, there's what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears last year with Aldridge. It's hard to put it into words, and I won't blame you if you dismiss me completely, but there was just a weird "vibe" with him. Something always felt off, distinctly un-Spurs like, like he was an actor playing the part of a star athlete in a sport movie rather being the genuine article. Maybe it's an inherent bias on my part, maybe I'm just naturally suspicious of players who weren't drafted and indoctrinated "in the Spurs way," but it's not like the Portland writers didn't warn us about what LMA would be like.
It remains to be seen what will happen with the Aldridge saga, but in light Tuesday's story, isn't it worth remembering that it was the Suns who finished second by all accounts in the free agent derby for his services a year ago? The Suns, who, granted, had to deal with injuries to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight but nevertheless finished 23-59 last year. Doesn't it strike you as odd that a team like that, which such limited personnel, would appeal to Aldridge, a guy who had no personal connections to the team or the state of Arizona (quite the contrary, actually, the Spurs lured him in part because he's a native Texan)? We can't even say that he was really intrigued about playing for old teammate and mentor Earl Watson, because he was only a Suns assistant back then. Jeff Hornacek was still their head coach a year ago.
Regardless of whether he's upset about having to play center too much with Tim Duncan having retired or Kawhi Leonard having too much of a featured role in the offense, or maybe none of those things, I can't help but look at Phoenix's roster in stark contrast to San Antonio's, look at the respective history of the two franchises, their cultures, their ownership groups, future prospects and everything else and fathom how on Earth any star free agent would feel at all conflicted when he's going to get a max contract either way. It's as inexplicable to me as the notion of an "undecided" voter for the presidential election with two weeks remaining. You're free to pick whichever option you want, but they're so diametrically different that what's there left to think about at this stage?
That Aldridge actually had to mull it over is something that will always irk me, and I'll never be able to look at the Suns without thinking about that.
And on top of that, they still boo Manu Ginobili every time he touches the ball there, which I was annoyed with at first but I kind of grudgingly respect now.
As for the team the Suns will put on the floor this season, what's there to even say? They're rebuilding and going super young. Bledsoe and Knight continue to be an odd fit. Knight's too good to be a bench guy and yet you can't play them too long in the same backcourt because Devin Booker (this generation's Kevin Martin) would get smashed having to guard opposing small-forwards on the regular. Besides, Tyler Ulis will probably be too good to be a third point guard, like Cory Joseph was for the Spurs. They've got to flip Knight somewhere, but it's going to be hard with him having signed a five-year, $70 million contract last year. How about to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe?
Most people are higher on Booker than I am (or did you not notice I literally compared him to Kevin Martin?), but I must admit he tore up the Las Vegas Summer League and has been impressive so far in preseason. Guys usually improve the most between year one and two, so I can easily see Booker averaging over 20 a night this season. But It'll be those Ray Allen/Reggie Miller/Allan Houston empty 20-1-1 stat lines that look good on the highlight shows but don't really help you win games. They're also getting a second tour of duty from Leandro Barbosa, in case Booker's defense isn't half-hearted enough.
At the three the loss of Mirza Teletovic will hurt but T.J. Warren is at least trending upward. P.J. Tucker is just a guy out there. They brought back Jared Dudley, who keeps shuffling between teams an awful lot for a dude with a "good locker room guy" reputation, and he could slide in at the three, but I think they want to use him more as a stretch four.
Center is their most depressing spot of all. They still can't seem to admit that Alex Len isn't working out and Tyson Chandler is just chilling out, enjoying the weather and wondering why they signed him to all that money just like we all are. He should be the final piece on a contender, not a part-timer on a rebuilding squad. It makes zero sense.
It's all about the future with the Suns, with a pair of teenager first-round picks in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Bender has more potential but Chriss looks readier to contribute right away. Ideally they'd both get as much playing time as they could handle --why prioritize anything else?-- but dysfunctional franchises tend to stop-gap play veterans too much for some false pretense of being competitive.
Hopefully the Suns will come to their senses and find a way to move Knight and Chandler sooner rather than later. If they're still curious about Aldridge though, I'd be open for a Bledsoe and Bender swap. I doubt they win 30 games and a DFL finish in the West wouldn't surprise me.