Save Our Suns: A Guide for Robert Sarver

As horrific as these last two seasons have been — believe it or not — the Phoenix Suns aren’t that far off from turning this thing around. No, this doesn’t mean they will become a playoff contender overnight, but with some adjustments here and there plus the addition of a few impactful veterans along with some positive player development this summer, and they could make a Kings-like leap in a perfect world. The thing is, they have to nail this off-season and here’s how with a simple five step process.

1.Hire David Griffin as General Manager.

Look, with all due respect to James Jones this just isn’t his time. At least not in Phoenix where they are already relying on a rookie head coach and now a first-time interim GM to lead last year’s worst team in the league? It just doesn’t make sense on any level, and it’s not a knock on him or really even fair for him to be expected to turn this ship around. This is more so about where the organization is right now as a whole. He’s done a decent job and I believe Jones absolutely has a future as a GM in this league someday.

In this scenario you bring on David Griffin and offer to keep Jones on the staff in a high capacity role along with cap space and CBA guru Trevor Bukstein, which could form an all-of-the-sudden very strong trio leading the front office. Griffin has ties to both Jones and Bukstein from his time in Phoenix and Cleveland, so you have to think this would be an easy sell and transition on many levels.

Griffin spent 17 seasons with Phoenix where he started as an intern in 1993 while he was a student at Arizona State University, and he was just a die-hard Suns fan living out his dream at the time. He worked extremely hard and kept advancing up the ranks to where he eventually served as the Senior Vice President of Basketball operations in his final 3 years in Phoenix before moving over to Cleveland in the same role.

He took over as acting GM for the Cavs in 2014 where he eventually got the permanent title and just a few weeks into that gig LeBron came back to Cleveland. Griffin then traded Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Kevin Love which formed the “big 3” of LeBron, Kyrie and Love. The Cavs went on to the Finals and won it all in 2016, beating the 73-win Golden State Warriors. Griffin finished 2nd in NBA executive of the year voting in 2016.

He’s built a championship team, he knows the league inside-out, he understands what it takes to win and he loves the Phoenix Suns. So how can this become a reality? 

  • Pay him
  • Stay out of his way

Enough with the stop-gap hires and low-balling people only to see them go elsewhere while ultimately ending up with an inexperienced candidate. Enough with the meddling. It’s time to take notes from owners like Steve Ballmer and Mark Cuban and many others who hire the best basketball minds and let them do their job by staying the hell out-of-the-way. 

Rob Sarver needs to understand whatever he’s been doing since 2010 isn’t working, and changes need to be made as to how he operates along with his level of involvement in the basketball decisions. As the old saying goes, “you gotta spend money to make money”. The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over again expecting different results. Is Rob Sarver insane? Prove me wrong, Bob.

I believe steps 2-5 are in good hands if David Griffin is hired, regardless, here’s what need to happen:

2. Draft plan: Zion 1st, trade pick if picking anywhere else:

If the Suns are lucky enough to win the lottery in back to back years, I’d be more than thrilled as Zion Williamson is a franchise-altering type prospect that changes the entire course of the franchise. You would then be able to cross off the power forward position as a need and be able to shift all focus towards landing a point guard.

The reality is that there is an 86% chance they don’t end up with him, and there needs to be a contingency plan in place for every possible scenario.

Let me be 100 percent clear here: If they aren’t picking first I don’t want to see another top 5 pick in Phoenix next year.

There are prospects I like in this draft don’t get me wrong, but the last thing this team needs is another rookie getting significant playing time. They will more than likely have a top 5 pick, which will hold significant trade value and if they aren’t picking 1st then they need to use this pick to find their PG of the future or make an upgrade somewhere else on the roster.

Here are some trade targets listed in order of my personal preference:

  • Jrue Holiday
  • Lonzo Ball
  • Kyle Lowry
  • Mike Conley
  • Jeff Teague

Not everyone on this list is worthy of trading a top 5 pick for, so you assume it’s part of a larger deal with more parts involved to balance things out. One potential scenario I’d love to explore would be this deal with New Orleans on draft night. Remember, this is assuming they don’t win the lottery.

NOLA: TJ Warren, (PHX pick 2-5 range), PHX 2019 2nd rounder (31-35 range)

PHX: Jrue Holiday, (NOLA pick 8-14 range)

With the Pelicans pick I would then select PF DeAndre Hunter from Virginia. Thus, landing you your PG/PF combo in one swift motion. Hunter is a defensive menace that can shoot the ball and would be a perfect fit on Phoenix’s roster as a 4 next to Ayton. If Hunter isn’t available you could always just take the next best available prospect or you could flip it in another trade landing a PF upgrade elsewhere. Having a core of Ayton-Hunter-Bridges-Booker-Holiday changes the identity of the team, and you could still add a couple veterans in free agency so they aren’t too reliant on Hunter right away.

New Orleans would love to kick their rebuild off by landing one of RJ Barrett or Ja Morant. For what it’s worth, I believe the Pelicans only do this deal if the Phoenix pick is 2nd or 3rd overall and their own pick is 8 or above.

3. Roster Construction

Building a roster around Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton as the key cornerstones *should* be the focus this summer. Yes, you read that right, Mikal Bridges is untouchable along with Booker and Ayton and he is someone I envision as the glue-guy on the next competitive Suns team whenever that may be. They need to hang on to him at all costs as “3 & D” players are extremely valuable in today’s game.

What do they need?

Position-wise:

  • Point guard- It’s obvious and long overdue that this is their priority. A pass first PG that can play defense and shoot the ball well is what you’re looking for.
  • Power forward- A traditional PF isn’t ideal, you want someone that can spread the floor, play defense and run the floor well.

Style-wise:

  • 3&D players- Trevor Ariza would’ve been a better idea if they didn’t have a million wings and actually had a stable PG in place. Oh, and if he was about 3 years younger.
  • Veterans– They need guys that aren’t particularly older, but rather experienced and in the 25-29 age range. Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley, etc. have shown that veteran leadership is overrated if they can’t contribute at a high level or lead by example on the court.

Here are some *realistic* free agent targets that should be high on their list.

PF’s: Tobias Harris, Thaddeus Young, Nikola Mirotic, Al-Faroq Aminu, Taj Gibson

PG’s: D’Angelo Russell, Ricky Rubio, Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier, Goran Dragic, Darren Collison, Patrick Beverley.

If they can land any combination of one of the bolded players and one unbolded player then I’d consider it a successful offseason and that’s excluding what happens in the draft because that could obviously impact their FA targets.

4. Making touch decisions

Trading TJ Warren has been a popular take by many fans for some time now, and it sucks because I like TJ as a person and admire the work he’s put in on his 3 pointer and craft in general. He’s humble, he works hard, and he can get a bucket in a photo booth but he just isn’t the best fit on a team where Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are your two cornerstones. His defensive struggles and tunnel-vision on offense certainly limit his upside. You can’t have your three best players all be defensive liabilities to some extent, and I think inserting him in a place that could mask his defense would be a blessing in disguise for him.

Using Warren in a trade to land either the PG or PF of the future is one possibility. Another scenario involves dealing him to a team that could absorb his contract in order for Phoenix to get aggressive in free agency. It’s not like he has a bad contract either, so it should be an attractive trade chip one way or another.

Do you re-sign Kelly Oubre and Richaun Holmes or just one or the other? If so which one? It all depends on the market for them, as well as how your pursuit of other free agents goes. There are many questions that need to be addressed and it’s impossible to dive much deeper until the Draft Lottery takes place so we can get a better idea of what is realistic.

5. Send Deandre Ayton to work out with Hakeem

The development of Deandre Ayton is going to be instrumental on how quickly things can turn around here in Phoenix. Ideally you want him to make a leap defensively next season, but it’s important to remember it takes YEARS for centers to become above average or elite defenders. Baby steps along with some patience on that end will be required for Suns fans, but we do need to start seeing more flashes on that end next season without a doubt.

One area I think he could make a major leap as soon as next year is offensively as he becomes more comfortable with the NBA and how to use his body/work the refs. Working out with Hakeem “The Dream” has done well for just about every center that has put the time in with him, look at the leap Joel Embiid made after a summer with him. Assuming Phoenix finally lands their point guard this summer, and Ayton adds a few tricks to his bag, then you have two sources of improvement in getting him the ball and him knowing what to do with it.

The elephant in the room is what do you do with Igor Kokoskov?

Well, if Griffin is brought in then you give him the chance to evaluate Igor himself and hopefully assemble a team that can help him turn things around. Let me say this, I’m totally fine keeping Kokoskov on board as long as an experienced GM like Griffin is on board. What I am not comfortable with is having James Jones and Igor Kokoskov both in the same positions heading into next season. I think having an experienced GM should be more of a priority than head coach if I had to pick between the two, due to how poorly the roster has been put together these past 5+ years. Firing another coach won’t fix the one constant problem we see year after year. Let’s see what Igor can do with a point guard and some veterans in place.

It’s been a rough season filled with a lot of lows and disappointment for what we thought would be a step forward from last year. The talent is there but it’s scattered, unorganized and sporadic.  It’s going to be a game of operation in order to put the right pieces in place while removing the incorrect ones, but with the right plan in place I think it can be done effectively.

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Here are a few dope Suns items you may like. Every purchase through these Amazon links gives me a small sales commission, and all the proceeds will go directly back into the site! Also check out our donation page as we try to grow this site, every bit counts! Thanks.

Suns throwback jacket: Suns retro jacket

Devin Booker shirt: DBook shirt

Modren Suns hoodie: Suns hoodie

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