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Phoenix Suns Are Looking To Turn Things Around Quickly

The Phoenix Suns are looking to turn things around as early as next season, writes James Blancarte.

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These are interesting times for the Phoenix Suns. While the team has had a steady stream of young talent for the past few years, it has not translated to any sort of consistent success on the court. The team hasn’t won more than 24 games since the 2014-15 season and hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season. This helped lead to a situation where the team has struggled to maintain a strong league-wide profile and a consistent national television presence (2017-18 season: three appearances on ESPN and one on TNT). For comparison, only eight teams had fewer national television games.

Expect that number, among other things, to change as the Suns look to move the needle. The team made it clear during the 2018 NBA Draft that they value the present and aim to turn things around now. When the Suns won the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery and the number one pick, it was apparent that the team would be adding significant talent in an already loaded draft.

For a short time, observers of the league debated who the Suns should take with the pick — Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, maybe Marvin Bagley III. The team also could have traded down in the draft, as the Philadelphia 76ers did last year, to bring in another talented player a few spots lower and also nab additional assets as well. Leading up to the draft, it became clear that the franchise saw Ayton as the clear choice. The seven-foot big man is athletic and talented, and watching his development alone should move the Suns up the list of the NBA’s more interesting League Pass watches.

The Suns also traded the No. 16 pick and a 2021 first-round draft pick (originating from the Miami HEAT) to the Philadelphia 76ers pick for forward Mikal Bridges. While the Ayton pick was unsurprising, this trade seemingly came out of nowhere. Bridges was among those caught off guard as he had just expressed his excitement to play in his hometown and for the organization that already employs his mother. While the trade and the inclusion of the HEAT pick, which is unprotected, caught some off guard, it turns out it is exactly what the Suns had in mind. Speaking to the media, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough made it clear that the team had their eye on Bridges and had wanted to execute a trade to get him.

“Mikal [Bridges] is a player that we targeted, that we were chasing but the teams in the top 10 were unwilling to move,” McDonough said. “I asked [the Philadelphia 76ers] who they were taking, they said Mikal Bridges. I said that’s the guy [the Suns] wanted, if anything changes let us know. We are coming back again with the 16th pick and I think what happened is the 11th [through the] 15th went by. They liked Zaire [Smith]. We were willing to step up and put the 2021 Miami first in play and that’s ultimately how the deal got done.”

With Bridges, the Suns bring in a player that is more polished and prepared to contribute than most rookies. Bridges fits the mold of 3-and-D wing players, with a particular emphasis on the defensive end of the court. That should fit well alongside forward Josh Jackson, who also projects to be a capable defender. Those two on the perimeter present a nice counter-balance for the offensive prowess of Suns guard Devin Booker.

Not to be overlooked by the new rookies, Booker and Jackson represent foundational pieces for the team. Booker is already high on the list of extremely talented players who would be a likely NBA All-Stars if only his team had a higher winning percentage (and perhaps more league-wide attention). The jury is still out on the future potential of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, who have shown flashes of major upside but have been unable to sustain their production. However, Bender looks to be a good fit alongside Ayton, as Bender prefers to play from the outside.

It’s unlikely that the Suns can become a viable playoff contender next season but with an infusion of young talent, the team could become a dangerous team on most nights. Booker is already an elite scorer and will look to expand on his already capable passing abilities as he will have more talented options around him. Ayton will demand attention rolling to the rim and Bridges offers capable shooting from the outside, should he adjust quickly to the pace of the NBA. Add to that Josh Okobo, whom the Suns selected with the No. 31 pick, who projects as a capable scorer and shooter who should eventually demand defensive attention as well.

The team made moves to improve significantly in the draft and is now in a strong position in free agency. The Suns declined the option on center Alex Len, released point guard Elfrid Payton and waived Tyler Ulis. These moves open up significant cap space for the Suns, leaving them as one of the real players in free agency. McDonough has stated his interest in veteran free agents to help balance his young and talented roster. With a core of young talent and cap space to bring in (or trade for) a veteran, look for the Suns to be aggressive and put together a roster that can compete at a high level next season.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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