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 Phoenix Suns. Here’s this edition’s panelists:
Oliver Maroney: NBA Writer
Dave King: Managing Editor, BrightSideOfTheSun.com
Casey Jacobsen: Former Sun and FS1 College Basketball Analyst
Greg Esposito: Suns Columnist for Sports360AZ and Former Suns Postgame Radio Host
1) Did Devin Booker cross the line from confidence to cocky in his comments about Troy Daniels after the Memphis loss and is that a good or bad thing for the Suns?
Oliver Maroney: Yes, but do I think it’s bad? No. Given Broker’s age and talent, he’s bound to make mistakes. If anything, it tells me that he’s more human. I think long-term this is good for him. He’s extremely young and has been put in a position that very few players do. Booker is an incredible talent that needs to hit some bumps along the way in order to deal with the pressures of being great in this league.
Dave King: Every great player is a bit cocky. I like it. If Daniels truly did say that Booker was a garbage player, then Booker had a right to defend himself. I like that he’s not backing down just because the Suns are a crappy team. If and when the Suns start to win again, they need a guy who can not only jaw with the opponent who is trying to get into his head, but also show him up by winning the game. One of the best stories I’ve ever heard was about Larry Bird’s trash talking. Bird would supposedly tell the opponent exactly how he was going to beat him that day, and then go ahead and do it.
Casey Jacobsen: This is not a big deal. It’s important to remember that these comments came in an interview directly after an emotionally-charged road game in which the Grizzlies badly beat Devin and the Suns by 19 points. It’s hard to calm down after a game like that. Devin was just being honest. He believes he is better than Troy Daniels. And while he is correct in that belief, Troy got the better of him that night and so Devin’s statement, combined with the fact that he’s never played in the playoffs or been an all-star yet, makes him look like a spoiled brat. I’m not going to hold that comment against him, though. I’ve never met an NBA star who didn’t believe he was the best player on the floor in every game he ever played. That confidence is what makes Devin one of the best young players in the league. My only advice: When you are young player in the NBA still earning your stripes, it’s best to let your play do the talking.
Greg Esposito: Devin Booker put on the chaps and straddled the fence right between cocky and confident and you know what? I liked it. The Suns want, nay, they need Book to act like this if they want to reach the promised land. Every great NBA player is egotistical. You have to be to believe night in and night out that you’re the best person in your profession. It’s obvious Devin took it to heart when Kobe told him to “be legendary” because he’s taking his attitude towards opponents already.
2) It appears that Dragan Bender’s rookie season has come to a close after ankle surgery. Did you see enough from him to have hope that he’ll grow into an impactful player?
OM: I saw enough to be optimistic about his future. He really wasn’t given a full opportunity to show what he can do and play through his mistakes. Hopefully, at some point next season we’ll be able to watch him play more consistent minutes so we can get a better gauge on his NBA journey. I love the potential of Bender in this league, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit and getting him to be comfortable with the Suns.
DK: Bender can already be impactful just on defense – both at the rim and on the perimeter – and from behind the three-point line on offense. If he practices threes all summer, especially on the move in-game motion, he can be a threat in the NBA. To be truly impactful on both ends, though, he needs to develop some offense either in the post or off the dribble. Short of that, he could be limited to ‘great role player’.
CJ: I’m a little worried about Bender. I understand he is young, but so was Devin Booker last year when he became a consistent threat to drop 20 points on any given night over the last 30 games of his first year. During my rookie year with the Suns in 2003, fellow-rookie Amare Stoudemire destroyed his veteran competition, despite being 19 years old and coming straight to the NBA from high school. Dragan isn’t physically ready yet to make an impact on the game besides making 3’s (and he only shot 32% from there). Of the 124 shots he put up this year, 81 were behind the 3-point arc. That’s too much reliance on one area for a kid that is 7-feet tall. He certainly deserves more time to develop before anybody in the Suns organization makes a real decision on where he fits into the rebuilding process, but his rookie season was underwhelming, especially considering that Bender was mostly competing for minutes at the forward spot with Marquese Chriss, who is just 20-years-old and has been playing organized basketball for only 6 years.
Espo: I have hope for Dragan Bender but his rookie season does leave me somewhat concerned. It’s not the physicality of Bender that’s troublesome, although I do think he needs to gain muscle mass to be a success, it’s mentally that has me worried. People want to claim that he didn’t see the floor because he’s 19 and still learning the NBA game. While it sounds like a good narrative, the fact that Earl Watson not only played Marquese Chriss, a 19 year old with limited experience, but started him blows it out of the water. What it comes down to is the fact that some were likely worried about Bender’s ability to handle adversity that kept him on the bench much of his rookie season. You can overcome a lot physically in the NBA but if you don’t have the mental fortitude, you can’t overcome much.
3) The Ringer’s Kevin O’Conor wrote a piece on the Suns last that focused heavily on Earl Watson and Ryan McDonough’s desire to build a strong culture with the Spurs and Warriors being mentioned as teams they hope to emulate. Do you believe they’re trying to build that and will be able to or is it just lip service?
OM: Every team in the league aside from the Cavaliers seems to be building that way. But whether it’ll work for 95% of NBA teams is yet to be seen. I think the Suns have built through the draft and have fixed some of their own mistakes, but I think they still have a ways to go. The backcourt situation needs to be addressed. Playing veterans over youth also needs to be confidently ran. I feel like this team and organization will come out and say one thing, yet sometimes they do the other. The biggest difference between the Spurs and Suns isn’t just talent, it’s leadership and it’s starts with Pop. He is the enforcer and anything he says, goes. If the Suns could be more confident in their decision making and stick to the process, then I think they’ll be able to run a team similar to the Spurs. They’ve done things right through the draft in my mind. But, I don’t believe they’ve fully embraced the guys they’ve drafted which is a huge problem.
DK: I believe that Watson is trying to build from the culture up, for sure. He’s trying to set the tone of getting everyone on the same page, and at least it’s working on a professionalism level. Not one guy is complaining publicly despite the team being 17-38 and a group of veterans already moved permanently into bench roles ahead of their time (Knight, Tucker and Dudley) to make room for young players. Only Knight has languished, and even he isn’t trashing the team to the press like past unhappy players have been. Now, if Watson can use this foundation to build a winning team going forward that can succeed as parts come and go, that would be a great development. But it will be years before we know that.
CJ: I believe that Earl Watson is trying to emulate what he learned from Greg Popavich during his short time within that organization, but so is everybody else in this league. It’s hard to develop a strong culture in a league consisting of young, competitive athletes who are multi-millionaires. Finding the right players that fit together is difficult. Paying those players the right amount of money under the salary cap so that you can continue to grow and improve is even more challenging. What do the Spurs and Warriors have in common? Not just one star, but a collection of them that realize you have to play both ends of the floor and don’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight…and the money…and the ball. The Suns have not improved much on the defensive end this season after spending much of the offseason talking about how they had to establish a defensive identity. I do believe that Earl and Ryan are trying to build that. It’s easier said than done, though.
Espo: Saying you want to build a culture like the Spurs and Warriors is like someone in Hollywood saying they there sitcom is the next Seinfeld. Sure, it sounds good but it’s next to impossible to recreate that kind of chemistry and quality. I genuinely believe that Ryan McDonough and Earl Watson are striving to create that but it’s going to take a lot to come to fruition. One thing I like is that McDonough is reaching back out to Suns stars of the past like Dan Majerle to help mend fences. If you want to build culture it starts with showing players both past and present that the organization respects them and wants to build something special. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the next great Suns team either.
4) Which former Sun do you think is the most likely candidate to pull a Charles Oakley?
OM: You’ve got to say Barkley, right? I don’t know what his relationship is like with the Suns organization. But the guy loves speaking his mind and burning some bridges along the way. I actually really like him as an analyst and former player, but I think Barkley would be the guy. If we’re going outside the box, maybe Walter Davis. I don’t know if he cleaned up his act, but he was loved as a player and had a lot of controversy surrounding his career.
DK: There are plenty of former Suns players sick and tired of the state that Robert Sarver has put the franchise in, but they don’t live in Phoenix anymore and don’t attend the games. Unless Matt Barnes moves to Phoenix in retirement, I don’t see it happening.
CJ: This would never happen in any other organization besides the NY Knicks in 2017. Seriously. It would be like Kevin Johnson being banned from Talking Stick Resort Arena. If I had to choose one former Sun, I’d have to go back to the 3 years I played in Phoenix from 2002-2005. Of all my teammates during that time, Stephon Marbury might be the one guy who is strong enough, tough enough, and crazy enough to take on an entire team of security!
Espo: Is it wrong to say Casey Jacobsen since he’s present company? (I’m just kidding Case.) My money would have to be on Robert Horry. He practically did it already and that was to Steve Nash during a game. Hell, let’s just ban him outright from Talking Stick Resort Arena now as a preemptive strike. Who’s with me?
OT) Is Alan Williams deserving of more minutes after getting a double-double in every game he’s played at least 17 minutes?
OM: When a guy like Williams is playing as well as he has, I think you always reward him. Give him a shot and see what he can do. The biggest frustration I have with the NBA is guys not being given enough of a chance. When a player plays well enough and proves himself in limited minutes you should always reward the player and see what you have. If it doesn’t work, then you can always go back to the drawing board. But, if you don’t at least try you’ll never know what you have until you do. In a situation like the Suns, I think you always can take a chance in a scenario like this.
DK: I love Alan Williams as much as the next guy, but he only fits into certain scenarios as a 17+ minute player. Case in point is Saturday’s Houston game. He just didn’t fit the mold of a player who can defend a team like Houston. But I do see Williams making a long career in the NBA as a situational bench role player, and I can be happy with that.
CJ: As a general rule of thumb: If any NBA player, regardless of position or background or salary, routinely gets a double-double in only 17 or more minutes of playing time, HE SHOULD PLAY MORE. PERIOD. (and if his nickname is “Big Sauce,” then he should play all 48 minutes, if he is able)
Espo: In a season like the Suns are having when they’re the second worst record in the league you probably shouldn’t look a gift horse or a Big Sauce in the mouth. If you have a guy who routinely gets double-doubles when he gets minutes you have to find him minutes. It’s like the show Family Matters. Originally Urkel was only supposed to be a bit character but he produced when he got minutes so they kept giving him minutes. The Suns need to do the same with Williams. Ride the double-double streak until it stops.
2OT) Purple or Orange?
OM: Purple. I dislike the color orange on uniforms. I actually like the throwback purple Suns’ uniforms but something about orange just frustrates my eyes.
DK: I’ll always be Team Purple. Go Jerry!
CJ: Orange. It’s the color of basketball.
Espo: Purple because it was worn by Roman magistrates. (Finally got to use my college minor in Classics in one of these columns.)