We had left the Suns on a completely failed Game 7, at home. Crushed by Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, Chris Paul and his comrades went on vacation with questions in their heads.
The problem is that the summer did not necessarily bring the answers. Of course, the soap opera Deandre Ayton ended as the pivot ultimately stayed in Arizona after signing the Pacers’ offer ($133 million over four years), which the Suns ended up matching. But Phoenix’s determination not to offer its pivot a five-year contract could have long-lasting effects. Much like the Kevin Durant soap opera, since the Suns were among the winger’s favorite destinations, and young players (Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson…) may have seen their names appear in the rumors. Or the episode, still not settled Jae Crowder…
Without forgetting, of course, the investigation into the owner, Robert Sarver, the inevitable upheavals internally and the businessman’s decision to finally put the franchise up for sale.
What create a strange climate in Arizona. With the best record of the last season, an elimination (admittedly disappointing) in the semi-finals of the conference and a group that has not changed much, the Suns nevertheless have all the weapons to aim very high again this season, but the atmosphere within the club seems gloomy.
The pre-season seemed to confirm this, in particular with this defeat against the Adelaide 36ers, and above all a big lack of general enthusiasm, far from what made the strength of Chris Paul and his comrades.
Obviously, we will avoid drawing hasty conclusions from these warm-up matches, but the visual impression is questionable. It’s that Phoenix has a lot to digest. The team may simply have time to regain their momentum, and implement the attacking changes desired by Monty Williams.
To avoid a new crash in the playoffs, the coach wants to make Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson more responsible for creating actions, and thus be less dependent on the readings of the Paul / Booker duo.
“It satisfies me a lot” has also reacted the leader. “It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few years. The only way to improve in an area like this is to incorporate it into your game. Mikal (Bridges) talked about it. Booker too. Obviously there will be situations where I will always play as a playmaker, but there will be ways to play off the ball and change things up a bit. »
While waiting to find out where Jae Crowder will go, away from the group while awaiting his transfer, and what the Suns will be able to obtain in return, the recruitment of the franchise has been rather very calm.
JaVale McGee went to Dallas, Aaron Holiday to Atlanta, and only Damion Lee, Jock Landale and Josh Okogie arrived. Not really enough to modify the profile of the team, nor upset the rotation. Phoenix is obviously counting a lot on the internal progression of its players, such as Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton in the five major, but also Landry Shamet on the bench, supported by the return to business of Dario Saric.
Why not, but there seems to be a lack of a relay option on the 3/4 positions to withstand the shock against the other big cars in the West, and there is therefore a risk of some jolts.
– Arrivals Damion Lee (Warriors), Jock Landale (Hawks), Josh Okogie (Wolves)
– Departures JaVale McGee (Mavericks), Aaron Holiday (Hawks), Jae Crowder (?)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Deandre Ayton
The funny atmosphere in Phoenix is perfectly symbolized by its pivot. Returned to “training camp” with very little enthusiasm, quickly declaring that he still hadn’t spoken to Monty Williams since Game 7 of the conference semi-finals (which he ended up on the bench) and clearly showing his lack of enthusiasm, Deandre Ayton is clearly the player who will determine the success, or failure of the Suns this season.
If he stays serious, and even picks up some more volume, becoming a consistent dominating force in the racket, the Bahamian can quickly get Phoenix back on track. The problem is that he’s often hard to follow, and now that he’s got his big contract, he’ll be even harder to control.
Does he still want to listen to Chris Paul’s advice (and criticism)? Will he always put the interests of the team before his own? Two questions that can determine the season in Arizona, while with his contract extension, Deandre Ayton cannot be traded until January.
Average age : 27.6
Payroll: $172 million (9th)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
Jae Crowder is quickly exchanged and Phoenix manages in the operation to get his hands on a 3/4 experience position, capable of bringing off the bench. By making Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton more responsible, Monty Williams also manages to bring enthusiasm back to the Arizona workforce.
The team certainly loses a few more matches than the previous season, Chris Paul not always managing the “money time”, but the constant empowerment of young people is beneficial in the medium term.
Because the Suns have still secured their place in the Top 4 of the Western Conference, and as the team no longer depends only on Chris Paul and Devin Booker to create shifts, it is much more difficult to maneuver in the playoffs. Enough to erase the disappointment of the previous “postseason”, and find the Finals…
Clearly, something broke in Phoenix. Monty Williams feels that some of the players no longer hear his speech and it shows in the general enthusiasm… and also in the results.
The Suns still provide against average or weak teams, but Phoenix has gone down a notch in the hierarchy and can no longer withstand the shock against the best teams, especially since the West has strengthened with the return from injury of Kawhi Leonard , Jamal Murray, Zion Williamson and company. The Jae Crowder case is dragging on, while that of Deandre Ayton is getting worse over the weeks and months…
More really involved, often selfish, the Bahamian pivot becomes a problem and the club is considering a transfer as soon as possible. Chris Paul and Devin Booker also quickly regain control of the ball, in order to keep a positive balance and stay in the Top 6 in the West, but the team arrives in the playoffs without any momentum.