As the Phoenix Suns enter the new season, it seems difficult to define what they want from this season. Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight give them a terrific backcourt to rely on, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are the frontcourt hopefuls they’ll try and develop. But what’s the short term goal here?
The confusion all comes from the 2013-2014 season. Jeff Hornacek in his first season as the team’s head coach took a team many believed to be one of the three worst in the NBA to 48 wins, and almost make the playoffs. All the plans of the rebuild were scrapped, and the Suns went full force towards making the playoffs the next season. Hornacek didn’t get along with the Morris twins, especially after one of them got traded. Goran Dragic pushed himself out, Bledsoe couldn’t stay healthy, and Hornacek got fired.
Booker had a terrific rookie season, and if this isn’t a case of Tyreke Evans peaking way too early, he can very quickly develop into one of the best offensive guards in the NBA. If Bledsoe stays healthy, the Suns have themselves an incredibly athletic backcourt. Two players worth winning for now, instead of slowly adding pieces while discouraging their best players from staying a longer time. But the Suns do need to put good pieces around them and quickly.
Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa won’t take this team far. Veteran additions to help out in the locker room and overall, although Tyson Chandler, or what’s left of him, and P.J. Tucker, always on the trading block, already provide certain mental toughness and NBA expertise to this team. The real important additions of this offseason came in the draft: Bender and Chriss, although Tyler Ulis could be the most productive despite being a second round pick.
Bender and Chriss are both projects. Bender will only be 19 in November, which is what makes him so exciting. He’s a 7’1 player who the Suns hope will be their Porzingis. He barely played for Maccabi Tel-Aviv last season, and he had plenty of issues to deal with during the summer league. But his ability to shoot, pass and his length/athleticism make him such an interesting prospect, even it’s going to take at least one year to make him a legitimate NBA player. Chriss is another raw talent, turning 19 in July. He had one season of basketball with Washington before going pro. He looked a bit more ready than Bender for the NBA in the summer, but a lot of things can happen between July and October.
Earl Watson was hired after going 9-24 last season, replacing Hornacek. The Suns liked his connection with the players, giving him a 3-year contract. This isn’t a brand new team, but it does feel like this season is the beginning of something, although no one is quite sure what.
Best Case Scenario
The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, but after winning 23 games last season, their hopes are about signs of improvement. Booker taking another step towards superstardom, figuring out what to do with Knight, Bledsoe staying healthy, and maybe more than anything getting to see more than just raw potential from Bender and Chriss would make the people running this team since Steve Nash left to Los Angeles very happy.
Worst Case Scenario
Things can’t go much worse than last season, but it probably has more to do with young players not developing as expected. Booker and Bledsoe, when healthy, aren’t can’t miss players. But even in a guard-oriented NBA like we have today, not getting at least some promise fulfilled from Bender and Chriss will be very disappointing.