NBA

NBA AM: What’s Next for the Suns?

From a 48-win overachieving unit to a team destined for the lottery, it may be time for change in Phoenix.

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 2 months ago on
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The Phoenix Suns (12-21) are off to a rough start to the season, but on the surface the franchise sits just three games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

However, the Suns have lost five consecutive contests and eight of their past 10 games, which is a much more accurate indicator of the team’s current trajectory.

The team has been engulfed with controversy surrounding the long-term status of Markieff Morris since the summer after Phoenix shipped his twin brother, Marcus, to Detroit. Morris began the season seemingly an integral part of the Suns’ offense but has since been injured, fallen out of the rotation when healthy and recently was suspended two games, without pay, for throwing a towel at head coach Jeff Hornacek during a loss.

Hornacek has also found himself in the rumor mill with ESPN recently releasing a report stating the coach was on the hot seat after the team’s less than stellar start to the campaign. According to the report, there are growing fears within the organization that Hornacek may have lost the buy-in of his players. Morris’ conduct and the team’s recent nosedive breathe life into the rumor while the team has remained tightlipped on his status.

The latest setback came this week when it was announced that leading scorer Eric Bledsoe would miss the remainder of the 2015-16 season after undergoing successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Bledsoe was averaging a career-high 20.4 points per game in 31 appearances this season.

With the dysfunction starting to stack up, does it make sense for Phoenix to change directions on their course of building a true contender?

Morris is owed $24 million over the next three seasons and his market value has plummeted and the likelihood of Phoenix being able to secure a significant asset in return via trade doesn’t appear to be realistic.

In regards to Hornacek, the coach entered the season in the last fully guaranteed year of his deal, which is always a tough position for a skipper to be in when attempting to rally the troops.

Hornacek brushed off the topic heading into training camp.

“Just like any other player getting towards the end of their contract,” Hornacek said according to Bright Side of the Sun back in September. “You go out there and do your best and these things tend to take care of themselves with time. So that’s the way we approach it.”

The heat on Hornacek’s seat might be more industry speculation than reality at this point given that as recently as 2014 he led the franchise to 48 wins and a near playoff berth. However, last season the club dipped to 39 victories and this season Phoenix is projected to win less than 30.

From a salary cap perspective, the Suns have over $110 million tied into the guard duo of Brandon Knight and Bledsoe through the 2018-19 campaign. Role players Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer are the notable rotation guys headed to free agency next summer, while veteran forward P.J. Tucker has a non-guaranteed deal worth $5.3 million next season.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Suns this season has been the play of veteran center Tyson Chandler, the team’s marquee free agent signing this past summer.

Chandler is averaging a pedestrian 4.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in 24 contests while shooting below 50 percent from the floor for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2001-02. The Suns signed Chandler, 33, to a four-year deal worth $52 million in July.

At the moment, Phoenix is projected to have up to $25 million in salary cap room next summer to make a run for more talent in free agency, but could significantly increase this by dealing Morris, Chandler or waiving Tucker during the offseason.

 

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Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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