Welcome to the Solar Panel. A gathering of some of the most unique minds discussing topics from around Planet Orange (if that’s still a thing). These media members and super fans will breakdown whether the Phoenix Suns are headed in the right direction for the future. Here’s this edition’s panelists:
James Holas, Contributor at BballBreakdown.com and host of The Truth
Duncan Smith, editor 16WinsARing.com
Greg Esposito: Suns Columnist for Sports360AZ and co-host Suns Solar Panel
1) Everyone talks about tanking and in theory it’s great, but should Suns fans actually root for their team to lose or enjoy the young guys figuring out how to win?
JH: So, I’m on the record pro-tank. When Boston had moved KG and Pierce, and then made the rondo trade, it was bittersweet; I missed our legends Garnett and Pierce, but I was fully prepared to move on from the putrid team we were and was strapped in to the M1 Sherman Tank. That 8th seed/low lotto purgatory is death, and the best way to restock the cupboards is through the draft .
But in the Suns case, with Devin Booker, Marquise Chriss, and Dragan Bender (along with TJ Warren), there’s some serious young potential already on board. Add in the juicy trade chip that is the dynamic Eric Bledsoe, and the Suns seem pretty talent rich already. I’ve kept an eye on Phoenix all year; I think Chriss is going to be special, and Booker already oozes “star power”. Watching Derrick Jones Jr harass the hell out of Russell Westbrook, watching Tyler Ulis morph into a game changer, watching these young guys light up as their energy translates to wins, how can you, as a Suns fan, root AGAINST that? Why do you hate fun?
DS: I’m starting to find the appeal of rebuilding without tanking. While once upon a time I was on board with a Process-style rebuild, these days I think it’s just more fun to see your young guys win and figure things out as they go. A Process-style rebuild still requires a lot of luck for things to go right and is never a sure thing (see Simmons, Ben, and Embiid, Joel) in exchange for years of terrible basketball, so it’s better to let the youngsters develop on the fly.
Espo: Tanks but no tanks.
Anyone who truly wants the Suns to lose can meet me in Temecula because they’re obviously a closet Lakers fan. (Sorry James, couldn’t resist the reference.)
If the Suns were winning with some combination of spare and unwanted parts like they tried to in 2012-2013 — when the Suns really should have been tanking — it’d be one thing but they’re winning with youth. The fact Phoenix’s young talent is leading the charge is why winning in an otherwise lost season isn’t a bad thing. It’s called a draft LOTTERY for a reason. Losing guarantees you nothing other than a miserable fan base and a lack of sellouts. I, for one, am just glad the Suns are exciting and entertaining again.
2) Last week coach Earl Watson said the Suns need an “Enforcer” to protect their young stars. Does a team in rebuilding mode really need that kind of player or should they wait until they’re contending for a playoff spot?
JH: The “enforcer” is an extinct role in the NBA, at least as coach Watson remembers it. I definitely agree that having physical, no-nonsense vets to both babysit the locker room and to stand up for his fledgling squad is a huge plus. I figured Tyson Chandler is that guy in Phoenix, even now that he’s relegated to being a bystander.
But seeing the upstart Suns out-aggressive Westbrook, then out-teamwork the Celtics, I realize that, as important as Tyson’s presence is, the quiet leadership of Bledsoe is invaluable. And Phoenix may be unique; calling back to Derrick Jones Jr not backing down versus OKC, Tyler Ulis’ fearlessness, and the brash audacity of Devin Booker, maybe the league needs protection from them, not vice versa.
DS: I don’t really think the Suns are to the point where their stars are transcendent enough to need protection from physical play. While tough veteran teams are going to make life difficult on the youngsters, it might be better for them to learn to carry themselves in the face of it than relying on a modern-day Charles Oakley to come in and save the day every time.
Espo: Remember the last time you broke up with someone? Inevitably within a few weeks of the relationship ending, no matter how good or bad, you miss that person. This is what Earl Watson is going through right now.
He and P.J. Tucker broke up at the trade deadline and Watson is just longing for his old partner … in crime. Tucker was that “tough guy” for the Suns for years and now they need someone to step into the role.
Watson says it’s a priority but it’s the type of guy you don’t go and get until you’re ready to make a playoff. Before that it’s just a waste of money and playing time.
3) Brandon Knight, should the Suns play him to try to increase his trade value the rest of the season or leave him on the bench and let the youth play?
JH: In the immortal words of that chucker from the Lakers, “ship his *ss out.” Cut bait. Move him for a 24 pack of Gatorades. Tell him stay home and binge watch Netflix if you have to. The Suns took a gamble on Knight. That gamble came up snake eyes. The league knows what Brandon is; an overconfident point guard with poor vision and bad decision making who can either score the hell outta the ball or shoot you the hell outta the game. That contract will make it tough, but even if Phoenix has to eat that money, don’t give these valuable minutes to that bum.
DS: It breaks my heart to see the depths that Brandon Knight has sunk to. I loved him in Detroit, I loved him in Milwaukee, but the wheels seem to have completely fallen off the wagon in Phoenix. Being more of a Knight fan (at least in theory, he hasn’t given anybody much to root for in some time) than a Suns fan, I’d rather see him get some run and show what he can do, but that’s probably a pretty good indicator that the Suns should stow him and let the kids play.
Espo: I can’t stress this enough. Brandon Knight is a very nice guy who hasn’t been a locker room issue. That said, if he ever sees the court again as a Sun one of two things has happened. Either some catastrophic injury has befallen one of our beloved members of the Suns’ backcourt or the team has the misguided thought that playing Knight will fix his value.
The only way the Suns will be able to deal Knight, which is what they need to do, is to sit him and hope another GM forgets about his miserable season and goes full “savior” mode thinking they can fix him. That, or maybe we just need to have some well placed “fake news” about how great a player he is?
4) How much do you buy into late season stats from guys on a team at the bottom of the standings? Do you believe Tyler Ulis and Alan Williams are the real deal for the Suns or decent players getting stats on a bad team?
JH: These are the dog days of the season; veteran teams are sort of tired, good teams conserving energy, bad teams just marking time until the misery is over. It’s tough to gage who’s real or who’s just the “best looter in a riot”. Dion Waiters averaged almost 20-5-5 post all Star game in his last full year in Cleveland. On the flipside, Giannis’ (and Jabari Parker’s) March of 2016 was a promising sign of things to come for this current season.
Ulis is skilled. Ulis has really nice scoring touch. Ulis is going to be a top notch change of pace back up for years to come.
Alan Williams is a space eater with deft touch around the rim and a good motor, things that SHOULD translate into him being a rock solid rotation big, even a spot starter in certain matchups.
I’m more confident in what I’ve seen from Ulis (he’s been an impact reserve all year, not just lately) than I am in Williams, but both, like the rest of the young Phoenix roster, have seriously “Sun”ny upside. (I’ll show myself out).
DS: I’m always a bit skeptical of late-season heroics from teams far from the playoffs, especially when they weren’t big contributors earlier in the season when there may have been something to play for. That said, you can’t rule out the idea that there may be something going on. Time will tell and maybe in a season or two on a more competitive team, some of what they’re doing right now will end up being more important than we thought.
Espo: Usually I’d write the stats off because they come in losing efforts in garbage time for a lot of these young guys. For Alan Williams and Tyler Ulis they’ve been coming in competitive games against some of the more elite teams in the league.
If Williams had a few double-doubles and then completely disappeared in the box score it’d be easier to write him off but when he gets minutes he fills the stat sheet. It’s tough to deny that he has a natural ability to get rebounds and score around the rim. He’s like a modern day Mark West with better dance moves on the bench. (Sorry Mark.)
Ulis continues to prove that he knows how to do the little things like pester opponents on the defensive end, make the right pass, oh, and hit step-back threes with no time left over former Suns turned all-stars.
OT) Purple or Orange?
JH: I like orange soda. So….Orange?
Espo: Grimace from McDonald’s was purple. I like McDonalds. #NotPayola