The Western Conference continues to be a bloodbath. It’s superior to the East in every way, but the difference in the conferences may be largest amongst the borderline playoff teams.
Minnesota landed the #1 pick and paired Karl-Anthony Towns with Andrew Wiggins. Utah was really good in the second half of last season and has a young core that’ll keep getting better. New Orleans has one of the best players in the world who’s somehow still getting better.
All of this makes the decisions for the Phoenix Suns that much more difficult. If Phoenix was fighting with Boston for a playoff spot in the East, things might be different. Instead, Ryan McDonough has to decide the best path to get past a gauntlet of teams in the West, and how to improve a team that missed the playoffs last season.
Keep Eric Bledsoe
The best move Phoenix can make this offseason is not making a move. Bledsoe still hasn’t made the jump to superstardom, but there are some signs that point to him being a late bloomer.
While he’s 25, last year was just Bledsoe’s second as a starter, and first where he stayed healthy for most of the season. Even though Bledsoe’s assist rate went up just a little last season, he seemed more comfortable in Jeff Hornacek’s system, and he still looked the part of the ideal co-point guard in an offense with two lead ball handlers.
Knight didn’t play too much in Phoenix due to injury, but with time, he and Bledsoe should have good complementary skill sets. Both are long and athletic enough to cause problems for opponents on defense, and Knight showed good three-point shooting in Milwaukee last year. If both are willing to co-exist, this could be a deadly backcourt for years to come.
Obviously, Bledsoe can be moved for a good return. If the Cavaliers would deal Kevin Love in a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe and other parts, McDonough would pounce on that in a heartbeat. But if no star is available now, Bledsoe shouldn’t be sold off for bit parts. He’s the only player on the Suns with a realistic shot of turning into a superstar, so Phoenix would be wise to hold on to him.
Re-sign Brandan Wright for three-years, $18 million
Re-signing Wright wouldn’t be the sexiest move for Phoenix. Wright will never be a star, and he’d take up most of the remaining cap space.
But the Suns will be hard-pressed to find a better big man at this price. Wright fits the system well and will do just fine as a backup center. Phoenix needs to scrap the lineups with Alex Len and Wright together, but Len will need a backup who can play big minutes. Wright is serviceable, and this contract will look like pennies the next two years after the cap explosion.
Sign Al-Farouq Aminu to the Room Mid-Level Exception at 2 years, $5.6 million
Aminu may get more than this as he had a coming out party in the playoffs, but barely played during the regular season. Phoenix should target him aggressively on Day 1, and could sell him on being a perfect fit for the team.
Aminu is an excellent defensive swingman who has limited offensive skills. He’s a great athlete and decent ball handler, but couldn’t shoot at all until the playoffs. He somehow shot 7-of -1 on three-pointers in the playoffs, but considering he’s shot under 30 percent on threes for four straight years, it’s unlikely he’s suddenly morphed into Kyle Korver.
Still, Aminu can guard plenty of power forwards, and he could come off the bench as part of a deadly fast small-ball lineup. Imagine Aminu running the court with Bledsoe, Knight, Markieff Morris at center and first-round pick Devin Booker. Good luck keeping pace with that team.
If Aminu is unavailable, the Suns would be wise to get a swingman who can play both the 3 and 4.
Round out the roster
The minimum salary players who would make up the rest of the roster would be key parts of the process. If McDonough is ever able to trade for a superstar, his team’s depth would probably take a huge hit. So, every roster spot counts.
Phoenix needs to look at players whose value would increase in the system they play. Because the team may need every one of these roster spots down the line.
Continue to be aggressive on the trade market
Just because Phoenix hasn’t landed a superstar doesn’t mean the front office hasn’t been trying. The team has been linked to every star on the market, and this needs to continue to happen.
If Cleveland did decide to part ways with Love and he was interested in Phoenix, the team has pieces that would be a huge help to the Cavaliers this season. Even if Love re-signs in Cleveland, a falling out could happen, and Phoenix could be in the mix if Cleveland traded him down the line.
The Suns may not have the same picks in the future that a team like Boston has, but few teams looking for a franchise player have as many players who can contribute right away as Phoenix does.
That could put Phoenix in a good position if a situation like the James Harden trade happens. Oklahoma City had to deal a star, but needed ready-to-contribute pieces back.
While a deal like this is less likely with the cap going up, it’s still possible. Perhaps a star doesn’t fit with the other team’s roster, or is simply unhappy. The Suns need to do anything and everything possible to put itself in a position for a superstar.
Fans may not be happy with a roster very similar to last season’s, but it’s likely the best Phoenix can do. There will likely be improvement with Bledsoe and Knight playing a full season together and Booker providing some much-needed shooting. Ultimately, keeping Bledsoe and re-upping Wright would be the best decisions to improve next season and put Phoenix in the best position in the future.