Suns

Suns to Test New Line of Vets

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Ancient basketball wisdom says that adding proven veterans to a group of young, potential All-Star upstarts will allow cohesion and winning ways.

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it implodes.

Recently, we saw the Golden State Warriors find success in adding Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Milwaukee Bucks added Brook Lopez, George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, securing the top spot in the East last year. 

However, the Minnesota Timberwolves tried adding Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose to try and wake up Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. After one season and one first-round playoff loss, all three vets are gone and Minnesota has to squint real hard to see the playoffs.

The Phoenix Suns have been trying this to a lesser degree for a few seasons now. This year, they have an efficient cast of veterans whose trajectory is more in line with the rest of the team’s. The core nucleus, led by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr., are yearning for the fast break.

New Digs

New General Manager James Jones picked some solid veterans from the free agent grocer to improve this team during the offseason. Aron Baynes, Dario Šarić, Frank Kaminsky and Ricky Rubio all have covered ground in the league, but are just a little younger than what the Suns rolled with at the start of last season. The team was shown the full spectrum of what veteran leadership (or waning interest thereof) could be. From great to not-so, the Suns had Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler, Ryan Anderson and, ugh, Trevor Ariza. 

Crawford, at 39, could have easily dropped out mentally at any point, or asked for a meaningful trade. Yet, he stepped in as floor leader, even as the team rotated around him and schemes constantly fell apart. Crawford played 64 games last season, averaging 7.9 ppg and 3.6 assists while shooting 33% from three. But he also pulled scoring bursts from thin air, putting up 20+ points in four games, including 51 against Dallas in the final game of the season. 

Throughout a putrid season, Crawford remained professional and even enthused to be working with such raw talent in a hectic situation.

Unsuccessful Leadership

Tyson Chandler, who had been with the team since 2015-16, showed incredible patience as the team went from bad to worse. He continued to be their best scare tactic under the basket, grabbing just under 10 total rebounds per game. But as things derailed yet again, it was pretty clear he was out and had to move on. Suns fans hardly blamed him.

During training camp, Ryan Anderson said all the right things and seemed eager to find his place somewhere on the wing running with a new offense. Suns had been struggling to find a stretch four that can hit threes on the fly reliably. Anderson’s known point history fit the type, but his shot fell blank like the ball was full of gravel. It wasn’t long before Anderson was shipped out to Miami in a trade that would net the team point guard Tyler Johnson.

And then there’s Trevor Ariza, who the Suns snapped up as free agency began last July on a one-year, $15 million deal. It was a weird pick-up, sort of a see-what-sticks move by former GM Ryan McDonough. But, you know, that veteran leadership. Ariza won a ring with the Lakers and could teach the young blah blah blah blah. When Ariza was on the court he looked as if he was wondering real hard if he left the stove on in his house before leaving for the game. He was just constantly out of it, didn’t care. You couldn’t tell if he was trying to sabotage his stint to force a trade, or genuinely losing his interest in basketball. He didn’t even make it to the new year, but his trade to the Wizards did have a silver lining, as the Suns replaced him with Oubre.

Thankfully, the Suns this year have a much more equipped group. 

Pretty Ricky

The headline acquisition for the team was point guard Ricky Rubio, who had been with Utah since 2017. Finally, the Suns have a worthy point guard and that storyline can change. They’ve gone from too many point guards to too many disgruntled point guards to a new point guard starting every three weeks. Rubio will bring consistency to the sport’s most important role. In two seasons with Utah, Rubio averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 assists per contest. He isn’t a point guard that will also blow out the scoreboard, but he’s sure to find easy baskets for Ayton, Booker, Oubre and Bridges. Working with the play from new coach Monty Williams, Rubio will up the pace in transition and get the offense running in the open floor. Hey Sans fan!

Super Dario

Phoenix also swept in and grabbed Dario Šarić, who started last season with Philadelphia but ended up as Jimmy Butler bait in Minnesota. Šarić figures to start at power forward, swinging out from Ayton for open threes. He’s not quite technically a veteran, but he comes with experience most Suns have not had lately. 

In 2018, Dario was a major part of the Sixers team that went two rounds in the playoffs. For the two series, he averaged 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 39% from three. He enters his fourth year in the league, and his 6’10 figure ensures to be a perfect counterweight to Ayton in the paint. With a potential starting frontline of Ayton, Šarić and Oubre, the Suns will be flexible, interchangeable and quick. They can blockade on defense and switch to offense with a few long-legged leaps.

Frank The Tank

Frank Kaminsky, also not exactly a veteran, enters his fifth season after spending his first four years in Charlotte, where he played both center and power forward. He only played 47 games last season when his numbers were slightly down in points per game.  He’ll take a few threes a game and hit about ⅓ of them, which will help spread the bench. For his career, he averages 9.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest.

Mr. Baynes

Adding rocket fuel to the second unit will be Aron Baynes, who the Suns acquired from the Boston Celtics on draft night for a 2020 first round draft pick. Baynes the Backyard Wrestler will spike the opponent’s bench thinking they’re getting off easy avoiding Ayton. The New Zealander was a force for the Celtics the past two seasons. In the playoffs, he was a damn bulldozer behind Al Horford. In two playoff journeys with the Celtics, Baynes shot 52% from the field and pulled down 5.2 rebounds per game.

When he sets screens it’s like a Transformer powering up and assembling. Baynes will take the hit, draw the charge and sacrifice for the team. For his career he averages 5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, shoots 49.8% and isn’t afraid to take the three. Arriving with Baynes is the officially unofficial Aron Baynes one-man Twitter street team, @BaynesFanClub.

FIBA Success

Rubio and Baynes both lead their respective teams throughout the FIBA World Basketball tournament this summer in Beijing. Rubio for Spain, and Baynes for Australia. The two future Suns’ national teams faced off in the Semifinals for a thrilling double overtime game that eventually went to Spain. Rubio even took a charge from Baynes late in the fourth. In the extra quarters, Rubio was a magician for Team Spain, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and four steals on the game.

Prior to the match-up he had already made news, setting the all-time assist record in FIBA World Basketball history. Team Spain then went on to beat Team Argentina in the Finals– their second time earning gold in FIBA since 2006. Rubio was hailed MVP of FIBA and exited the arena with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Baynes, for his part, helped take Team Australia to the semis with an undefeated record. It’s the farthest the team has gone since going the same distance in 2000. In this year’s tournament Baynes averaged 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

The Phoenix Suns are hoping this group finds a working dynamic and will contribute to some kind of winning. Baynes, Kaminsky, Rubio and Šarić have experienced differing degrees of success and have been on winning teams, but not to the point where they’d be complacent. Each are at the height of their careers and can give a lot more to the game. Hopefully it shows up in the win column for the Suns this season.

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About Eli Jace

Eli Jace is from Arizona and a lifelong Phoenix Suns fan. Jordan is greater than Kobe is greater than Lebron. My NBA Mount Rushmore would have the perfectly chiseled faces of Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Shawn Kemp and Kevin Garnett. These are my basketball facts.

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