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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Phoenix Suns

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Previous editions can be found here. Let's get to it!

Phoenix Suns (26-39, 13th place Western Conference)

Good Things

1. Better than the record shows

The Suns have a -1.3 net rating on the season. For reference, the #8 seed Grizzlies have a -1.1 net rating on the season. They have the 16th best Offensive Rating and the 20th Defensive Rating. They beat the Kings by 29 points on opening night and then lost Deandre Ayton for the next 25 games. They went a respectable 10-15 without their #1 pick due to a team effort.

From the 2018 season to 2019, the Suns jumped from 28th to 16th in ORTG and 29th to 20th in DRTG under new HC Monty Williams. They jumped from 30th to 9th in defensive rebounding percentage and from 28th to 17 in offensive rebounding percentage. They finished 10th in True Shooting one year after finishing 22nd. A few adults in the room (Williams & new additions Ricky Rubio/Aron Baynes) went a long way for a team that won 19 games last season. They won game #19 this season in January and finished with the most wins they've had since the 2014-15 season.

2. CPF Deandre Ayton

Phoenix went 10-15 in the games Ayton missed due to suspension and were 3-7 in games he missed otherwise. That adds up to 13-22 (37% winning percentage) without Ayton and 13-17 (43%) with him. Not a huge gap in win percentage but only six games separated the 8th seed Grizzlies from the 13th seed Suns. Over time, that gap adds up and the Suns likely would have been in postseason contention if Ayton was on the floor.

Ayton came back his sophomore year and improved at just about everything you'd like to see him progress in. His ORB and DRB percentages, usage, and assist rate improved. Most importantly, he took a promising step on the defensive end. He nearly doubled his block rate from his rookie year and the team defended at a league-average rate when he was on the floor. This year, opponents shot about 8% worse from inside six feet with Ayton on the court than they normally would. Last year, that number was about even (-0.4%). Considering the knocks on Ayton coming into the league, this type of progress only 100 games into his career is encouraging.

3. Great cap situation

Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, and Kelly Oubre are each under contract for at least one more season. Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson are all still on rookie contracts and cost-controlled for multiple seasons. Frank Kaminsky (team option), Dario Saric (RFA), and Aron Baynes (UFA) can each hit free agency this summer but the Suns have more than enough cap space to keep all three if they decide to do so. The expiring contracts of Tyler Johnson and Kyle Korver will open up over $22 million dollars for Phoenix.

Bad Things

1. Horrible home record

Every team currently slated to make the playoffs in the NBA won at least 52% of their home games this season. The Suns (13-22 at home) won 37% of their games in Talking Stick Resort Arena. That's right. The Suns play in a building called Talking Stick Resort Arena. In a completely unrelated note, the Suns are 27th in the league in home attendance. They weren't as bad on the road so getting close to the .500 mark at home would work wonders for the postseason hopes.

2. No identity

As mentioned above, the Suns were probably better than their record showed but that's not quite the same as being a good team. Or even being good at anything. They made some real progress in Monty Williams' first season but were still a team with a league-average offense and a slightly below-average defense. They're 19th in team 3P%, 20th in rebounding per 100 possessions, and 22nd in turnover percentage. The growth is nice but Williams has his work cut out for him this offseason going into year two.

3. Division gets even tougher next year

As if it wasn't bad enough already having both the Lakers and Clippers in the Pacific division, next year Golden State figures to be healthy. Not only will they be healthy, but they'll have a nice top-four pick to add to a healthy Steph/Klay. The fifth team in the division? The surging Kings who battled injuries starting 15-29 but rebounded to go 13-7 over the last third of the season to finish tied for the 9th seed with the Blazers and Pelicans. Division games account for a fifth of a team's schedule so having no days off there is a tough draw.

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

1. You're probably going to have to make a decision on Booker sooner rather than later

Yes, he just finished the first year of a five year contract but we also know contract length doesn't matter anymore. All it takes is for a guy to ask out and that's that. How does this pertain to Booker?

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As you may or may not know, Devin Booker is good friends with Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. As I'm sure you know, NBA players want to play with their friends now maybe more than ever. Russell made it pretty clear in the interview:

"We gotta do this again, when we’re all on the same team,” Russell said toward the end of the shoot. “Nah, don’t cut [the film]. Y’all got it on footage. When we’re all on the same team -- I ain’t gonna tell you which team because I don’t know -- we’re gonna do this again."

Well now the Timberwolves have two of the three and the Suns are coming off of another losing season so Phoenix has a decision to make this summer. Do you try to sell Booker on year two of Monty Williams/another year of growth for Ayton/adding more veterans and see if he can win in Phoenix? Or do you accept the inevitable and try to negotiate directly with Minnesota? Per the PG-to-LAC and AD-to-LAL trades, if you have the one player in particular that a team needs, you can get a pretty good haul out of them.

KAT was fed up before this trade and thus Minnesota went and got Russell. They sent their 2021 first-rounder to Golden State in the trade so they have every incentive to win this upcoming season. While there are legit questions about how good a core of KAT/Booker/Russell could be, that's not the Sun's business. They might be able to squeeze a little extra out of a desperate T-Wolves team. A potential trade could be:

Devin Booker to Minnesota. James Johnson (2021 player option for $16 million), Jarrett Culver, 2020 first-round pick (projected to be #3) and 2020 first-round pick (projected to be #16, via Brooklyn)

You might be able to get Malik Beasley in there as part of a sign-and-trade. The Suns could ask for another future pick but the core of the trade would look something like that. I love Book and would keep him, but he's already making big money and the team hasn't shown the ability to build a winning team around him. If Minnesota's pick stays in the top-three or they could wrangle a future pick swap out of the Wolves, I think Phoenix would have to listen.

2. More veterans?

This goes hand in hand with the previous point. If the Suns move Booker, they'll probably look to go younger and start another rebuild. I think they should keep him, and thus I'd get a couple of more veterans in the locker room. The Suns were a whopping +9.9 (per 100 possessions) on their net rating when Rubio was on the court vs. when he sat. Aron Baynes had hit 21 career threes in the seven seasons prior to this one. He had surpassed that number by game 10 of the season. Even the extremely old Cam Johnson hit 40% of his triples during his rookie season, on nearly five attempts per game.

They'll have the ability to keep potential FAs like Saric, Kaminsky, and Johnson but they could also hit the free-agent market to upgrade those minutes with veterans that fit the team better. Who knows if they'd have any interest but Marc Gasol, Paul Milsap, and Serge Ibaka are unrestricted FAs this summer. Montrezl Harrell could be an interesting frontcourt pairing for Ayton and a dangerous roll man for Rubio/Booker. Kris Dunn may be available for cheap as another option to defend perimeter players so that Booker can focus his energy elsewhere. 

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3. Stick to short contracts

One thing I like that GM James Jones has done is that he normally signs short term contracts or trades for players at the end of their deal. In THIS LEAGUE Jeff Van Gundy, flexibility is key as your star player may ask politely to be traded at any given moment. Rubio was signed to a three-year deal. Kelly Oubre signed a two-year extension and had a nice season after being gifted to the Suns in exchange for Trevor Ariza. Saric and Baynes were acquired with one year left on their contracts and Kaminsky signed a two-year deal, with the second season being a team option. The longest deal on the books is…D. Book, who can be easily moved if/when he asks nicely.

Protected Players

1. Devin Booker

2. Ricky Rubio

3. Deandre Ayton

4. Dario Saric

5. Kelly Oubre

6. Mikal Bridges

7. Cam Johnson

8. Ty Jerome** (Update: I completely forgot about Ty Jerome smh. I had Baynes listed as protected in error, as he's a UFA and ineligible to be drafted)

Thoughts: Pretty simple decisions here. The core players and guys still on their rookie deals

Unprotected Players

1. Frank Kaminsky

2. Cheick Diallo

3. Elie Okobo

4. Jevon Carter

5. Jalen Lecque

Thoughts: You wouldn't like to lose one of the young guards like Carter/Okobo/Lecque but the Suns won't lose much sleep if an expansion team drafted them.

Ineligible Players (unrestricted FAs)

1. Aron Baynes