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 the hottest topics about the Suns. Here’s this edition’s panelists.
Jon Bloom: Suns Postgame Radio Host and Northern Arizona Suns Play-by-Play
Gerald Bourguet: Covers the Suns and the NBA at HoopsHabit.com
Rhett Reese: Writer and Producer of Deadpool and Zombieland and Lifelong Suns Fan
Greg Esposito: Suns Columnist for Sports360AZ and Former Suns Postgame Radio Host
1) At the midway point of the season, are you overwhelmed, underwhelmed or simply whelmed (we think that’s a word) with the Suns?
Jon Bloom: I guess I’m simply whelmed. The combination of Bledsoe and Booker in the backcourt and the upside of the young guys on the roster cause me to lean over just a bit, but the occasional wandering mind to the “what could’ve beens” and the “why didn’t theys” level me back to right about properly whelmed.
Gerald Bourguet: Whelmed. The most “optimistic” expectations were that a veteran-laden starting five and a young bench would mesh to push for a playoff spot, which a .500 team could easily do in this year’s Western Conference. The more realistic expectations have basically come to fruition — a young coach struggling to split minutes between his vets and the future cornerstones, a general manager who needs to ship off his current assets at the trade deadline and dive further into the youth movement, and a mismatched team that struggles to defend anyone and record wins.
Rhett Reese: I don’t claim to be able to predict the future, but the Suns are about where I expected they’d be at this point in the season, so consider me whelmed. I figured the young rookies would be pretty raw, but exciting, which they are. I figured TJ Warren would continue blossoming, which he has. I guessed I’d be frustrated by too many minutes going to veterans, and I was right. The Suns’ record is about as crummy as I feared, but I’m OK with it. In fact, I’m very secretly hoping for a high draft pick, so I’m more than OK with it. Just don’t accuse me of rooting against my favorite team!
Greg Esposito: Let’s make this like the 2010 series against the Spurs. A 4-0 sweep. Whelmed is the answer. I used to live by the adage aim low so you could never be disappointed. I aimed about the same place I usually do with my expectations for an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Look to be confused yet entertained during it and you’re torn on how it should end.
2) ________ is the Sun that should be dealt before the trade deadline.
JB: The guy who will return the best piece to help move the team forward while not compromising the developing chemistry and long-term outlook of the group. How’s that for diplomacy?
GB: Eric Bledsoe. Most fans will want to see “Brandon Knight” or even “Tyson Chandler” here, but Bledsoe easily has the most value. Bled is now 27 and like it or not, he’s on a different timeline from Devin Booker, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. That alone isn’t reason enough to ship him away, but the Suns are building around youth and with Bledsoe having another great — and more importantly, injury-free — year, the Suns would be wise to cash in on his current value while it lasts. Given Bledsoe’s injury history, it isn’t guaranteed to last forever either.
RR: I would love for us to trade Brandon Knight. He just feels like the odd man out in this group. Also, his shooting percentage has been abysmal. I’m always pulling for him, but I’ve started to cringe when he shoots… never a good sign.
Espo: P.J. Tucker. Look, I love P.J. the guy. He’s hardworking and dedicated but he’s also taking minutes from young guys plus his contract is expiring. If you can get a 1st round pick out of a team for him you’ve basically committed robbery. Plus, if you really like him that much for the future, which I argue you shouldn’t, you can simply re-sign him. Win-win.
3) 👍or👎 the Suns have given their young guys enough playing time so far.
JB: 👍 for the first half of the season considering their experience level & age. Now we’ll see if things change with 41 games in the books. I have a feeling with some roster moves, that playing time will most likely change one way or another in the near future.
GB: 👎, but with the caveat that head coach Earl Watson has been (somewhat) better about this lately. Up until the close of 2016, there were often nights where P.J. Tucker and Tyson Chandler were playing 30+ minutes a night…in losses. Those nights are still there, and the Suns really need to bump Alex Len into the starting five before his restricted free agency this summer, but at least now we’re seeing Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender play about 15 minutes a night. However, that’s still not enough though. Tyler Ulis needs more time with the train wreck that Brandon Knight has been, and as much as everyone’s loved Devin Booker’s recent hot streak, playing him 37-40 minutes is TOO much. He’s not Jimmy Butler.
RR: 👎 I want to see all the young guys play more, Alan Williams and Tyler Ulis included. I would understand giving the veterans minutes if those guys were actually helping us win, but they haven’t been. Let the young bucks run.
Espo: Is there a sideways thumb emoji? If there isn’t, there should be for this question. Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss have gotten the kind of minutes that they should as starters. T.J. Warren, if it weren’t for his minor 3 week head injury — let’s be honest, as the NFL has taught us, there is no such thing as a “minor head injury” — has gotten his minutes. Where it’s been less than ideal is with Dragan Bender. He hasn’t gotten the type of run that I had hoped for him. In a season that is practically a lost cause why not let him mature on the job? Sure, his mentality or his physicality probably isn’t where Booker’s was last season, but we saw how valuable getting minutes was for his growth. I also agree with Rhett. I’d love to see Williams and Ulis also get more minutes too.
4) Is it a blessing or a curse that the Suns are only 3.5 games back of the last playoff spot despite having the second worst record in the West?
JB: I’m going to stay on the cop-out train and claim it can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the team and most importantly its young core can get valuable reps staying engaged in a race, even if it might seem like winning is against the odds. The curse could be the team staying in the hunt long enough to win more games and lose more ping pong balls in the upcoming NBA Draft lottery. The other curse some may consider to be a possibility (myself not included), could be that management would chase the playoffs and thus mortgage some of the bright future they currently possess. I don’t see the latter happening, and hope I’m right on this one more than any of the others.
GB: A curse. The clear course of action for this franchise is to give heavy minutes to the youngsters, trade one or two veterans at the trade deadline for more draft picks/youth, and cruise to another top-five selection in the draft. But with the playoffs still somehow in reach, the Suns are one ill-fated hot streak away from decimating the value of this year’s first round pick — whether they sneak into the playoffs or not. Watson has been better about getting the young guys more minutes, but he’s also an extremely competitive individual who’s trying to prove himself as a head coach. That could be a bad mix. I know fans have been playoff-starved since 2010, but there’s no learning experience to be had from a first round sweep at the hands of the Warriors or Spurs. Stay the course and stay away from that eighth seed.
RR: PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS?! I don’t think the playoffs are a realistic goal. But I’ve been proven wrong many times before. Like when I called Jerrod Mustaf our ‘future.’ Or said Negele Knight was a poor man’s K.J.
Espo: Just like a 1964 Kennedy silver half dollar, this is a HUGE curse for the Suns. The illusion that the Suns are still in contention is just another excuse to limit the young players minutes and get treated like Ronda Rousey in her last few fights at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Honestly, at 15-29, a playoff spot is like winning the popular vote but not the electoral college. A nice thing to tell people about but completely meaningless. A top 3 pick will be much more valuable to the franchise in the long term than a few extra million in revenue from playoff games.
OT) Sure, we said there’s only be four questions but sometimes you work hard and you still have overtime. Purple or Orange?
GB: Purple. The Suns only recently decided to start reincorporating purple onto their hardwood design, and it was a welcome return.
RR: Purple. There’s a reason they didn’t call it the Orange Palace.
Espo: Al McCoy didn’t call them the Orange Gang from Phoenix. Purple 100%.