Breaking down the top Suns coaching candidates

1. Jay Wright 

Jay Wright should be the number one option for the Phoenix Suns. He’s fresh off a national championship at Villanova, so it might be hard to court him away, but he has experience coaching young guys (something the Suns have plenty of). Wright has won two NCAA championships in three years, and his winning attitude and coaching talent (something the Suns do not have plenty of) would be a breath of fresh air. His offensive game plan is simple: shoot. The Suns have a few decent shooters in Devin Booker, Troy Daniels, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss (depending on who you ask). He’s never had much of an emphasis on defense, but neither have the Suns, so it seems like a match made in heaven. Wright is ready to take the next step, and the Suns have a vacant spot to let him.

Potential Destinations: Villanova, Milwaukee, Phoenix

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2. Dave Fizdale 

Take that for data! Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Fizdale didn’t exactly have the kindest end to his time in the Grit and Grind capital of the world. He left behind a franchise in a tailspin with aging talent after making the playoffs the year prior. But, who knows what he can do with young talent? He was an assistant/associate head coach in Miami during LeBron’s time with the team, and VP of Basketball Operations James Jones has nothing but nice things to say about him.

Potential Destinations: Phoenix, LA Lakers

 

3. Jason Kidd 

Ask anybody in the NBA rumor mill, and they’ll tell you Kidd is coming to Phoenix to coach. A former Suns player, Kidd most recently coached the Milwaukee Bucks. Like Wright, his defense certainly isn’t a priority. But unlike Wright, his offense ran through Giannis Antetokounmpo, someone the Suns don’t have. Having a guy like the Greek Freak made Kidd’s offense work, but there are definite concerns as to Kidd’s coaching ability without a superstar (see: the 2013 Brooklyn Nets). Kidd might not be the Suns coach of the future, but he could potentially fill the spot to stop the bleeding from Triano and bring a familiar face back into the Suns franchise. Let’s just hope he writes up a few more defensive sets.

Oh, and he moved to Paradise Valley, Arizona last week.

Potential Destinations: Phoenix, Unemployment

4. Jay Triano 

It may be an unpopular opinion, but I actually like Jay Triano a bit. He needs more time to develop, obviously, because nobody can expect the coach of the year right off the bat, but if the players respect and listen to him, keep him. That’s the issue, though. He seems to get no reaction out of them. After a lackluster 20-win season, it seems as if Triano has no chance to keep his job. But, on the off chance he does, let’s give him another chance with an updated roster and pray McDonough gives him enough to succeed.

Potential Destinations: Phoenix, Unemployment

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Shaq and Kobe 2.0

On the afternoon of March 31st, DeAndre Ayton went on CBS Sports radio. When asked where he’d like to end up in the NBA, he said “Honestly, I could see myself in Phoenix. I could see a little Shaq and Kobe 2.0.”

Not only is that like the best thing you could say to any Suns fan right now, but it’s also an extremely bold statement that allows me to be able to say Devin Booker is the next Kobe without feeling alone.

Because of how much I love this quote from Ayton, I decided to have a little fun. I’m here to compare Ayton’s freshman numbers at U of A and Shaq’s at LSU, and then Booker and Kobe’s age 20-21 numbers.

Shaq vs Ayton

Shaq: 13.9 PPG, 3.6 BPG, 12 REB, 0 3PA, 57.3 FG%

Shaq is the perfect center for that era of basketball (obviously). Young, athletic, strong, back to the basket guy, productive on offense, dominant on defense at 7’1”. Shaq is Shaq. You all know how amazing he was, especially when he was young and mobile. How does Ayton stack up?

Ayton: 20.1 PPG, 1.9 BPG, 11.6 REB, 61.2 FG%, 34.3 3PT%

A few interesting differences to point out: Shaq attempted zero 3s his freshman year, and Ayton attempted 35 (and made 12). Ayton had 1.0 3PA per game. The field goal percentage is higher, despite his tendency to shoot from further out than Shaq. He’s not as dominant on defense, but still manages to get almost two blocks in a normal game. The rebounding matches up pretty well. These two players are strangely comparable (I’m so excited oh my goodness PLEASE let Phoenix get the #1 pick).

Decision: Comparable

 

Kobe vs Booker

This one is tougher. Kobe entered the league out of high school, and Booker took a pit stop at Kentucky. But, how did Kobe fare at Booker’s current age?

Kobe (Age 20-21): 21.4 PPG, 5.9 REB, 4.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 46.7 FG%, 29.8 3P% over 116 games played* (1998-1999 was a 50-game lockout season)

Over the course of the 1998-99 to 1999-2000 seasons, Kobe was very Kobe. He was a high flyer with a solid field goal percentage and played closer to the rim than he did later in his career. He also had a really cool afro and basically broke every defense in the league, so there’s that. Early career Kobe is so fun. How, if at all, does Devin stand up?

Booker (age 20-21): 23.3 PPG, 3.7 REB, 3.9 AST, .9 SPG, .3 BPG, 42.7 FG%, 37.3 3P% over 132 games played

Oh. Oh wow. That’s interesting. Obviously, the athleticism and defense go to Kobe, that’s not a question (the only two good defenders from this generation of Kentucky players are Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo), but for volume scoring, look to Booker. He shoots a LOT, but it also goes in a lot apparently, as their field goal percentages are comparable. Devin has averaged 6.0 3PA over the last two seasons, while Kobe only tried 2.1 3s per game in those early seasons. Call it a sign of the times, I suppose. Kobe attempted 14.8 2s per game to Booker’s 12.8, but both players took a lot of shots and a lot of them have gone in.

Decision: Comparable (On Offense)

It’s fun to muse about these things when your team just picked up its 20th win in 79 tries. It’s hard not to look ahead after the abysmal season the Suns have had, so hopefully 2019 in Phoenix looks more like 1996 Los Angeles.

Whose Spot is Safe in Phoenix?

It’s no surprise that Suns fans (including myself) are looking towards next season rather than dwelling on this one. For a rebuilding team, choosing which players have a spot on next year’s roster should be first on the mind of the front office. So, the question is, who’s safe on the Suns roster?

 

Safe:

 

  1. Devin Booker (duh)

Devin Booker, currently 10th in the NBA in PPG, is a superstar in the making. Once he’s surrounded with more talent, his assist average will stop hovering around 4.5-5 and start to go up. If he keeps his rebounding consistent, we could see a player averaging 30-7-5 next year. He is the face of the franchise and prepped to sign a very hefty extension this offseason.

 

  1. Josh Jackson

After Saturday’s showing at Golden State, it’s clear what Josh Jackson can do. He’s a quality defender, something the Suns are in dire need of, with a decent jump shot and the ability to finish at the rim. When his layups fall, he’s deadly. When they don’t, he can make up for it on the defensive end, as well as make relatively smart passes. He’s brought his dribble closer to him as the season has progressed to bring down turnovers, and he seems dedicated to working alongside Devin Booker as a deadly scoring tandem.

 

  1. Jared Dudley

More than likely, Jared Dudley will retire within the next year and become an assistant coach for the Suns, which I guess makes him a guaranteed lock for a roster spot?

 

  1. Alan Williams

The Suns have Williams signed through the 2020 season, and it’s unlikely they’ll try to move him. You can read my last article on Alan here, which gives plenty of reasons why Williams wants to be, as well as belongs in Phoenix.

 

  1. Shaquille Harrison

Shaquille Harrison is one of the best defenders on the young Suns team, and he’s only played for less than half a season. He grew up wanting to be the best defender he knew, and his game reflects this fact. He’s signed for the rest of the season, and he’s definitely looking at another contract if he keeps up his current rate of defensive play and builds up his playmaking and scoring. I wrote an article about Shaq during his stint of 10-day contracts, which you can read here.

 

  1. Brandon Knight

This one is weird, but Knight has a huge contract. The Suns don’t want to buy him out and take the cap hit, no team wants that money, and he’ll be healthy enough to play next year, and the Suns have him until 2020. So, he’s safe, but not by the choice of the Suns.

 

Bonus: Alec Peters/Davon Reed/Danuel House Jr.

It’s not really that their play has set them apart, but they still need time to develop. They’re all incredibly raw and could end up seeing improvement if the Phoenix/NAZ Suns stick with them, which they probably will. They can’t exactly be moved in the offseason for anything other than a low pick, which the Suns aren’t looking to acquire.

 

50/50: These are the guys that could be dealt in trades in the offseason, but have time left on their contract.

 

  1. Troy Daniels

Daniels has another year on his contract, and he has shown time and time again that he can be a scoring piece on any team. He shoots incredibly well but isn’t great on defense. What sets Daniels apart is an intangible quality: loyalty to his team. He hasn’t even been on the Suns for a season yet, but he’s already standing up for the guys around him on the court and in interviews. Troy Daniels has a spot off the bench in Phoenix, at least for one more season, but could be dealt to a contender for a decent price.

 

  1. TJ Warren

I hate to have to say it, because I love TJ Warren, but Josh Jackson can’t come off the bench forever. There’s no good solution for playing them both at once, unless one of them plays the power forward slot and the Suns start out a game with a small lineup. Warren just signed a hefty contract extension, but he could potentially be moved for picks or a decent player at a position the Suns are lacking in (like point guard, power forward, and center). He’s worth the paycheck to any team, not just Phoenix.

 

  1. Dragan Bender

As he continues to develop, Bender has shown flashes of talent as a passer, shooter, and defender. If this development continues, Bender could be used as a piece in a trade. At this moment, he’s not an integral part in the future like Booker or Jackson, but he shows enough talent to keep in mind for the coming years.

 

  1. Tyson Chandler

Next year is the last year of his contract, but Tyson Chandler might be looking to get out via retirement sooner than later. If not, he’s definitely a veteran piece that other teams could look for in a trade package. His expiring contract is appealing to teams looking to win quickly, and his knowledge on defense could help a younger team take a big step in the right direction. If the Suns decide to stick with him next year, it will more than likely be his last season.

 

Not safe: Players that are more than likely getting traded, waived, or anything that would remove them from the Suns roster.

 

  1. Marquese Chriss

If Suns fans (mainly me) had their way, the organization would find a way to flip the Bucks and/or Heat picks (15 and 16) with Marquese Chriss for a higher in this year’s draft (that would ideally become Colin Sexton from Alabama). Chriss has had a myriad of inconsistencies in play, attitude problems, and bad habits that hold him back from being a truly talented NBA player. He’s taken a dip in athleticism from his rookie year, and he just seems to lack the drive to get better. It’s a shame, but Marquese Chriss’s time with the Suns is more than likely numbered.

 

  1. Tyler Ulis

After the season he’s had, this seems incredibly obvious. Tyler Ulis is not ready for NBA-level competition. As sad as it is, his numbers have taken a terrible hit since his breakout performance in the second half of last season, and he just doesn’t have the kick he did as a rookie. Ulis’s days are numbered as long as Shaq Harrison continues to do what he can’t: defend and hustle.

 

  1. Alex Len

Drafted 5th overall in 2013, Len’s ceiling was incredibly high. Now it seems like he’ll go down as a pretty big bust. He’s a consistent double-double guy with not much else under his belt. Shoddy post play, poor defensive effort, and lack of energy are all Alex Len has to show for five years in the NBA. He’s had flashes, but they’ve come few and far between and don’t make up for the rest of his game. His contract expires this year, and if the Suns front office has any common sense, they’ll let him walk and try to find a spot on another team.

 

  1. Elfrid Payton

After a promising start, Elfrid Payton has subverted expectation as the starting point guard for the Suns. He doesn’t work very well with Booker, he turns the ball over constantly when he drives the lane, and his finishes just don’t seem to be dropping. His contract is expiring, so he’ll probably be on the move this offseason, trying to find a good team in need of a backup ball handler. The Suns shouldn’t want to drop the paycheck that Payton is expecting.

 

Hopefully the Suns improve in the offseason, especially after McDonough’s promises to try and be more aggressive with acquiring talent. This year stands to be the worst year in Suns (and league) history, as the Suns are 11 games away from ranking 30th in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the first time in the 30-team era. Hopefully the Suns find a way to avoid that next season, through the draft and through free agency, while still keeping some of the developing talent they have.

Alan Williams: The Phoenix Son

Alan Williams is Phoenix to the core. Born in Phoenix, Arizona’s High School Player of the Year at North High in 2011, Phoenix Suns fan since childhood. You can hear all of this in Phoenix Native Futuristic’s “Phoenix Son,” a song written about Alan Williams and his commitment to Suns basketball. “Where was you born? Phoenix. Where do you score? Phoenix.”

Alan’s father, Cody Williams, was a Phoenix City Council member from 1994 to 2002 and has his Master’s Degree from Arizona State University. His mother, Jeri Williams, is the chief of police in—you guessed it—Phoenix, Arizona. Alan Williams IS Phoenix, and he wants to be one of the players bringing a winning culture and intensity back to the Suns.

Last year, Alan Williams played in 47 games, working his way into the rotation using intensity and strength to make up for the height he lacks as a 6’8’’ center. After the All-Star break last season, he averaged 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds which certainly isn’t bad for a backup averaging 15 minutes per game. Those numbers aren’t stellar, but what Williams does pass is the eye test. Whenever he’s on the court, he fights for every rebound, which is one of the reasons he totaled 12 double doubles in 24 games after the break. His love for the game and his team, his humble nature, and his incredible work ethic define what Suns culture needs to be.

When he’s not on the court, you can find the Suns social media team making a “Big Sauce Reaction of the Week,” where they take his best celebrations and compile them into weekly videos.

giphyHis Twitter profile says it all: “#15 for the Phoenix Suns living out my dream one day at a time”. He grew up watching the Suns, and now he is leading the charge for a team that needs to turn itself around.

Why is this article coming out now? Because after a long wait, the return of Big Sauce is imminent. Williams, after signing a three-year, $17 million contract this summer, underwent a meniscus repair on his right knee. He’s been sitting out for the last six months, and now his return is imminent. Williams is approved to return on Thursday against the Jazz in Utah but has thought about waiting until Saturday in order to make his return at home.

Words cannot describe how excited I am for Alan Williams to step back on the court. I’m a Phoenix native, born and raised, and this guy really knows what it’s like to represent his city. Not only that, but he can play. He’s a tenacious rebounder, he’s got a deadly floater just outside the post, he’s a nasty defender who can stay in front of guys, he’s everything you want in a backup center, and I have missed watching him play.

Alan Williams loves where he plays, and him setting foot on the court at Talking Stick Resort Arena is worth all kinds of celebration.

Shaquille Harrison and the merit of the 10-day contract

Three weeks ago, Shaquille Harrison was playing in the G-League for the Northern Arizona Suns. Now, he’s getting defensive assignments like Damian Lillard and Russel Westbrook on a nightly basis.

Before late February, every hardcore NBA fan would give you a pass if you didn’t know about Shaquille Harrison. Same goes for Jaylen Morris, Jarell Eddie, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and the myriad of other 10-day contract players around the league. A 10-day contract is basically the NBA’s version of an audition. They look at you in practice, then maybe, if you’re lucky, give you a chance to play in a real NBA game, score some real NBA points, and play some real NBA basketball. When your contract is up, you wait for a second 10-day to come your way. If it doesn’t, you make your way back to a G-League roster.

After Isaiah Canaan’s devastating ankle injury, the Suns were looking for a player who could differentiate himself from Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ulis. Josh Gray proved himself to be another decent distributor and okay scorer, something both Payton and (occasionally) Ulis provide. The last thing the Suns needed on their roster was another decent offensive player with no defensive spark, so Josh Gray only played out two 10-day contracts.

Let me briefly interject about Tyler Ulis and his sophomore slump. Let’s face the facts here: Tyler Ulis is (sadly) not that good. After 2017’s All-Star break, Earl Watson decided to rest Bledsoe for the rest of the season (we all know how that turned out). Tyler Ulis rose to the occasion, receiving Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors in April, and votes to make the All-Rookie team. Fast forward to now, and Ulis is a DNP in 9 of his last 10 games. His shot isn’t falling, his passes aren’t crisp, and as of now, he doesn’t seem to be a part of the future of a team so desperately looking towards the future. So, noow it’s late February, the Suns have lost Canaan to injury and Ulis to the sophomore slump. Josh Gray didn’t work. Who to turn to now, in these desperate times?

Enter Shaq Harrison, a 6’4 lefty point guard from the University of Tulsa, who performed well in his sophomore campaign with the NAZ Suns. Through five NBA games, Harrison had more steals than assists, and four or more steals in two of his first four games. He’s also the only current Suns roster member with a positive +/-. Talk about distinguishing yourself from your competition. And that, dear readers, is why 10-day contracts are important. They give a player a chance to play, and they give a team a chance to find exactly who they need on their roster.

Giving Harrison a chance to play has been nothing but beneficial for Phoenix, and for Harrison. Currently on his second 10-day contract, Shaq is drawing all kinds of attention for his defensive performance. He can pick pockets with the best of them, rebound the ball better than most NBA guards, and provide a spark just by being on the floor. Coach Jay Triano told Arizona Sports 98.7FM last week, “He changes the game with the way he defends.”

Harrison has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary few weeks for the Suns, providing clutch scoring and defense in the team’s only win in the month of February. With a line of 7pts-5reb-4stl-2ast in Memphis, Harrison buried a clutch three-pointer to put the game out of reach, on top of all the defense he played down the stretch.

The Suns have seemingly always had a reputation of putting defense last on the court. Harrison himself won’t change that. He can’t will Phoenix’s net defensive rating out of historical lows. He can’t make everyone try on defense, he can’t make everyone contest shots or stay in front of their man. He’s just a rookie (despite being 24–older than many of his teammates). But if the praise the coaching staff has given him, the attention he’s getting from Phoenix media outlets, and the admiration his teammates seem to have for him are any indication, Shaq Harrison might have a future on the Suns roster as the key energy player off the bench. With blossoming defensive stalwart Josh Jackson and Shaq Harrison coming off the bench and locking guys up, the Suns might be able to claw their way out of the bottom five in defense in 2019.

Alright, let’s recap: we have a player in his sophomore season in the G-League, with the defensive prowess of a NBA-caliber pro. The Suns have a vacancy at the backup point guard position due to injury and Tyler Ulis appearing to be bad at basketball. Shaq Harrison and the Phoenix Suns are a match made in heaven, and that’s why 10-day contracts are important. Without them, Shaquille Harrison wouldn’t be on an NBA roster, and Suns fans and coaches alike wouldn’t be in the process of falling in love with his defense. So, the next time your favorite team signs a Kyle Collinsworth, a Larry Drew II, or a DeAndre Liggins, give him a chance and it might just pay off.

 

Tanking is the worst form of art

But, it is an art. As I sit and watch this incredibly terrible Suns/Hawks matchup, I’ve come to realize this fact. This matchup, and recent match-ups of teams like these evokes an emotional response like no other. I can’t help but stare as the Suns and Hawks tally nine turnovers in the first four minutes of a professional basketball contest, as Kent Bazemore is ruled a healthy scratch for “resting,” and as players don’t even bother to contest jumpers (I’m looking at you, Dragan). It’s like a car crash–you want to look away, but you just can’t.

Does that suck? Yes. As a Suns fan, it sucks. I hate that my team is the laughing stock of the league and that they don’t even have 20 wins with less than 20 games left in the year. Whether or not the Suns end up with an Ayton or a Bagley or a Dončić, they’re still having a historically bad season, and that sucks. “At least we have Booker, Warren, and Jackson,” I hear the tortured souls of Suns fans call out, but three good players do not a team make.

Any bad team can say they have at least two good players. The Hawks have Schröder, Prince, and Collins. The Kings have Fox, Bogdanovic, and Cauley-Stein. The Mavs have Smith, Barnes, and the skeleton of Dirk Nowitzki. “At least we have ___” is the catchphrase for fans of a tanking basketball team.

Tanking has been on the minds of journalists, fans, and teams alike after Adam Silver sent a memo last week that reads: tanking “has no place in our game”. Obviously, Adam Silver is out of touch with the National Basketball Association because four teams have less than 20 wins. Many writers around the league have asked, “how can we fix the tanking problem”. In my opinion, tanking isn’t a problem that can be fixed short-term.

The changes to the draft are coming, but what good will those changes do except motivate teams to win 25 games instead of 19? Not much of a difference, and the problem of bad basketball will still run rampant. Will teams fight to stay out of the bottom three teams? Or will they realize their best shot is STILL to lose more than 55 games? This only changes the tanking landscape from a competition for 30th place to a competition for 30th-28th place. That doesn’t fix bad basketball.

Fining Cuban $600K (the equivalent of fining a man with a net worth of $1,000 less than 20 cents) for saying his team is tanking isn’t the way to fix things either. If you’ve got a vision for your team’s future, but know your team can’t do it in the present, you should be able to say that. You should be able to say you don’t think the team you have now is capable of winning, so you’re pushing for a good young player to breathe some life into your franchise. We’re at a time in the NBA where team offenses like the Warriors and Rockets are at historic highs. What’s going to level the playing field if you’re the Mavericks? Tanking.

Which brings me to my main point: tanking is an art form. Without tanking, which players would be on Shaqtin’ a Fool? How would we differentiate between ESPN’s marquee match-ups and the lowly local TV games? There will always be bad basketball. There will be a point in time where every single NBA fan’s favorite team just flat out sucks. For you, maybe that time is right now. Maybe that time was a few years ago and now you’re relishing in your team’s success. If you can’t be the best, you can sure try your best to be the worst, in order to become the best in the future.

So, I say tankers gotta tank. If your team sucks, drive it into the ground, blow it up, and start over. Show off your bright young pieces, your Devin Bookers, your Lauri Markkanens, your De’Aaron Foxes, so your fans have something to look forward to. Hire the best scouts in the business, build around your talent, and sign a free agent or two that are looking for a home. Give the dynasties some time to fizzle out, let LeBron retire (if he ever does), and go at it again. But for now, make tanking an art! Play horrible, sloppy games against bad teams and make your fans groan! How else will they appreciate what they have once you start to get good again?