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The Suns Try to Find Their Way in Tough Western Conference

The Phoenix Suns have been an interesting case the last few years, lost in the shuffle because of the conference that they play in but consistently fielding a quality team. Two seasons ago, for example, the Suns finished with a 48-34 record but missed the playoffs. That would’ve been good enough for homecourt advantage in the first round in the Eastern Conference.

Things were looking up for the Suns’ young roster with their head coach Jeff Hornacek coming into last season, but the progress stalled. Gerald Green wasn’t able to quite replicate the numbers from the season before, seeing his minutes drop off from 28 per game to right around 19, as well as lower shooting percentages and scoring. The Suns still had a decent offense, but nothing like the seventh overall offense they had in 2013-2014.

The defense was bad as well, ranking 26th in opponents points per game. The front office went ahead and traded Goran Dragic, along with his brother Zoran Dragic, to the Miami Heat and Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics, starting a restructure of the roster. The Suns finished the season 39-43 and went into the offseason with uncertainty about how they were going to construct their roster for upcoming seasons.

SI.com’s Rob Mahoney interviewed Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough and got a telling quote from him that shed some light on how rival general managers feel about the somewhat odd way the Suns have gone about changing their roster over the last few years:

A lot of teams, you read the media reports and you can kind of tell what they’re doing or what they want to do,” McDonough said. “I’ve got a few people telling me, ‘We have no idea what you guys are doing.’”

It’s probably not completely fair to say I have no idea what the Suns are doing, but it’s worth asking if what they’re doing is going to work.

They made a play to try to sign a star player, but that didn’t happen even though they made a strong pitch for LaMarcus Aldridge. They did sign Tyson Chandler to a four-year, $52 million deal. They also ended up trading Marcus Morris to the Pistons, which could potentially complicate things with his twin brother and now former teammate Markieff Morris.

Green left as a free agent, as did reserve forward Brandan Wright. But the Suns made several moves aimed at improving their outside shooting. They brought in Sonny Weems and Mirza Teletovic, both well-renowned for their outside shooting, and also picked up Jon Leuer and Ronnie Price for depth. All in all, the Suns had a decent offseason.

So what does it mean for their roster? Well, it depends on a few things. First of all, Chandler needs to stay healthy. He’s a well-known stud on the defensive end, but he’s had problems staying on the court in his career. In his last seven seasons, he’s averaged 61 games played per year. He was healthy last season and got into 75 games, which is the good news, so there’s reasonable hope that the Suns will be able to keep Chandler on the court.

Because the fact is Chandler helps to improve that awful defense quite a bit. The Suns lacked a true defensive presence in the paint last season, as Alex Len is still developing and the Morris twins weren’t all that adept at rim protection. Markieff Morris should fit well in the frontcourt with Chandler, though, with his ability to play on the outside and knock down jumpers (something Chandler cannot do).

This is a big season for Keef, who the Suns admittedly hadn’t spoken to regarding the surprising trade of his brother. He’s a talented forward, and he averaged a career high 15.3 points and 31.5 minutes last year. It’s been a popular notion that he might be better off not having his brother so close, as there were supposed chemistry issues in play last year.

There was the incident where Marcus screamed at Hornacek, and combined with some legal issues and the fact that the twins were called for more technicals than all the players on 17 of the 30 NBA teams, it’s understandable why the Suns may have thought a change in situation might be best for everyone.

In the backcourt the Suns re-signed Brandon Knight, the main player they received back in the Thomas deal, to play alongside Eric Bledsoe. There are still questions of how Knight and Bledsoe will work together, as both are natural point guards, both saw declines in their major stat categories after the trade and Knight dealt with injuries that forced him to miss significant time. Either way, the Suns are committed both financially and in spirit to their young backcourt.

The roster is mostly shaped for the upcoming year, with most of the starting lineup set (P.J. Tucker likely rounds out the starting five), plus Len, T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin, rookie Devin Booker, Weems, Teletovic, Leuer and Price. But is this team a playoff contender in the Western Conference? It’s tough to say at this point. Do they have enough true scoring? Is the defense good enough, even with adding Chandler? Can Chandler, Knight and Bledsoe stay healthy?

These are legitimate questions for a team that has many fans frustrated over what they sense is a lack of direction.

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