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:
Ryan Finley: Arizona Daily Star sports editor
Michael Dunlap: Senior Content Director @DunlapSports,
Chris Axmann: Head of the Almighty Baller NBA Podcast Network, AlmightyBaller.com
Greg Esposito: Suns Columnist for Sports360AZ and Former Suns Postgame Radio Host
1) The Suns have three of the top players in ESPN’s Top 50 under 25 ranking. Devin Booker (13), Marquese Chriss (45) and T.J. Warren (47). Do you agree with the ranking and does this show just how much further the Suns have to go in their rebuild to be a contender?
Ryan Finley: No. 13 seems about right for Booker, as the top-10 is a pretty rock-solid collection of players. A case could be made for Booker as high as 11, as he’s certainly every bit the player that Wiggins and Turner are. Chriss and Warren’s rankings seem about right. (An aside: Lists like this are completely subjective and make my head hurt. How Ben Simmons makes it at 15 based on potential and, say, Dragan Bender isn’t in the top-50 is a riddle wrapped in an enigma covered in nacho cheese.)
I’d have a much better idea of how the Suns’ rebuild is going if I ever got to see the young guys play. The organization preaches youth and then sits Bender (12.7 MPG), Ullis (9.0 MPG) and Jones (3.4 MPG) on the bench. Keeping (and playing!) Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa and Tyson Chandler kills this team two ways: first, it limits minutes that should be given to the young guys who are, in theory, the future of the organization. Secondly, veteran talent is keeping the Suns from bottoming out, which would lead to Lonzo Ball (or better!) in a stacked draft year. The Suns say they’ve committed to a youth movement. Let the kids play already.
Michael Dunlap: The ranking tells us all we need to know about the both the current state of the Suns and their future — they have some young talent, but the league is filled with transcendent young talent, leaving the Suns short. As for the actual numbers, Chriss and Warren are in the right range. Generally, I’m baffled by how differently Devin Booker’s potential is looked at nationally, but this ranking nails it. Booker has shown all the signs of becoming an elite scorer, but as is often the case for young players on bad teams, he hasn’t yet grasped the concept of leading the offense without forcing bad shots. With more age and experience, Booker will get a better feel for how and when to change gears. Unfortunately, he’s playing next to another guard (Eric Bledsoe) who is still learning the same thing.
Chris Axmann: Like many of the rising stars on the 50 under 25 list, Booker, Chriss, and TJ Warren have a long way to go until they reach the potential that their flashes of brilliance indicate that they each possess. That being said, as I reviewed the list and saw players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, and Jusuf Nurkic, all of whom were ranked above Marquese Chriss, I realized that the Suns don’t have nearly as far to go as their record suggests.
The most promising of the Suns young talent synergize in ways that have yet to be revealed, but the potential reality of a Ulis, Booker, Warren, Chriss, and Bender starting 5 is a tantalizing thought. Plus, if you consider the ceilings of players like Booker & Dragan, two of the youngest players in the NBA, and the vast potential of Chriss, arguably the rawest player in the league, the Suns future could easily be brighter than many of the teams with players ranked higher than all 3.
If I had to guess, I’d say that the pieces of this young core that will ultimately rise to their potential heights will be clear sooner than most Suns fans think – I’d guess that the Suns will have answers to many of their rebuild questions by the time that their young core players are up for extension in 3 or 4 years. For now, these rankings are too low if adjusted for Booker’s, Chriss, and Warren’s tremendous upside, but probably too high if evaluating the players as they are right now.
Greg Esposito: First off, I never agree with these rankings in any form based on principle. It’s basically the DCEU of sports takes. Something that sounds good in theory but in practice it looks like something thrown together in a hurry to cash in as quick as possible. This isn’t based on any crazy mathematic formula or analytics but more on opinion and potential of young players.
Let’s be honest, as of right now we have no clue how the Suns young talent will come together. That has as much to do with the evolution of the second-youngest head coach in the NBA, Earl Watson, as it does with anything else. If Watson and the Suns continue to play aging vets rather than youth these rankings are probably a bit too high for Booker, Chriss and Warren.
The Suns future is the most interesting it has been since the late 1980s. This is the most raw young talent the franchise has had since then, and maybe ever depending on where this year’s draft pick lands. The question is, will they ever live up to that potential? If you know that, your name is probably Biff, you borrowed a DeLorean and you have a sports almanac I’d like to purchase from you.
2) Larry Nance, Ced Ceballos, Amare Stoudemire and Derrick Jones Jr., which, in their prime, would win the Suns all-time all-star dunk contest?
RF: Amare, and it’s not close. Strong, but funky. (Oh, how the Suns could use someone like him now).
MD: 99% of the time, I’ll go with the most recent athletes on this kind of question. Athletes today are leaner, faster and generally more well taken care of than in any other era. This, however, is one of the 1%. Larry Nance was far ahead of his time back in the mid-80’s, doing the kind of cradle dunks that would wow judges even today. The combination of his vertical, long arms and massive hands gave him the prototypical dunker body that allowed him to be an innovator back then. If he were around today and in his prime, he’d be doing the kinds of dunks we see from Zach LaVine.
CA: Trick question: it’s Dan Marjele at his athletic peak.
Espo: It’s Derrick Jones Jr. hands down. He could jump over the other three and still have room to throw in Dan Majerle and still slam it home. Nance was great, Ceballos is best known for dunking with a blindfold he could obviously see through and Amar’e would be too busy trying to figure out where the apostrophe in his name goes to win.
Oh, and Fins, the Suns do have a guy like him. His name is Marquese Chriss.
3) Zach Lowe, as a guest on The Jump, ranked his top 5 NBA mascots and the Suns Gorilla didn’t make the list. Has the Gorilla’s act worn thin?
RF: Innovators never get their due. The Gorilla’s high-flying act made him (sadly?) the face of the organization during long stretches of putrid play. Many times, he was the show. That the league seems to have caught up to The Gorilla is more a sign of his influence than a knock on his ability.
MD: There are few mascots in sports that are as recognizable and are as tied to a franchise as The Gorilla is with the Suns. That alone should land The Gorilla in the top-5. The job of any mascot is to entertain the fans during breaks and to fire them up for the beginning of play, which The Gorilla continues to do. The in-game entertainment is anchored by The Gorilla and his antics, and even though I’ve seen it 150 times, it still holds my attention. I look at it like a Las Vegas casino — the MGM Grand is getting older, as new casinos continue to pop up all over. The newer casinos are more glitzy, more glamorous and garner more casual attention, but do they do the job any better?
CA: Absolutely not. The historical significance of the Suns’ Gorilla should resonate with the modern NBA’s internet culture, and not just because of Harambe – the gorilla is the closest thing to a meme among the NBA’s storied mascots.
Espo: I’m not even going to dignified this with a response other than to say The Gorilla is a close personal friend and has always been the best and always will be the best. Zach Lowe has officially been added to a list that includes Robert Horry, John Paxson and a few key others.
4) The trade deadline is this week. Do the Suns make a move? What move should they make?
RF: TRADE EVERYONE OVER 25. Sorry, capslock off. The Suns should take what they can get for Bledsoe, though I can’t imagine his style of play fitting on a playoff-caliber team, and let Chandler, Dudley and Barbosa chase a ring somewhere else. (Cleveland needs a big; just sayin’). What’s the worst that can happen: A bad team gets worse? And isn’t that a good thing, big picture, if it means a shot at a franchise-changing player?
MD: The Suns absolutely need to work the phones and stay ready, but by no means do they need to force any kind of trade — unless a superstar becomes available. Unfortunately, Phoenix hasn’t been a spot that prime free agents flock to, so the only way to acquire a star is through trade or the draft. If they can’t get a star, they can facilitate a trade and acquire more assets to use in the future. Ryan McDonough has followed this path in the past (with the Boston Celtics) and has, to an extent, with the Suns (Isaiah Thomas). I hate to be part of the “be patient, the rebuild is in process” crowd, but it’s true. The Suns have a lot of promise, now they need a little luck.
CA: I think that the Suns will probably make a move for Demarcus Cou- oh wait.
In all seriousness though, there’s an obvious answer to which players should be dealt – either Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe. The Suns need to open up time for Tyler Ulis, who projects to be the Suns play maker of the bench for years to come and should be groomed as such.
When you look close, you realize that Eric Bledsoe is having the best scoring season of his career, and is a much needed source of play-making for the Suns as currently constructed. Without the starting play-maker of the future, moving on from Bledsoe might hard for the Suns to stomach right now.
Then there’s Brandon Knight.
Unfortunately, one man’s ‘free-flowing system’ is another man’s ‘lack of offense structure’. As soon as Knight was removed from Kidd’s play-heavy play style, and thrust into a role in which he is personally responsible for both creating his own offense and making his own decisions, Knight’s lack of basketball IQ became startlingly clear – and it’s not getting any better.
At -5.34, Brandon Knight has the lowest Real Plus-Minus in the league. Plus, no teams are calling the Suns looking to bring Knight in to their locker room, as reports from inside the Suns suggest that he is dissatisfied with his role off the bench. He’s either completely fallen off in terms of talent or checked out and become uninterested in playing team basketball during his minutes on the court. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that the Suns will get anywhere close to the value that they gave up to secure him from the Bucks – the Lakers’ top 3 protected pick which is now part of the Sixers impressive cache of future assets. Will Suns’ management sell low on Knight when his value is the lowest it’s ever been, and walk away with a low 2nd round pick, some flotsam, and plenty of egg on their face?
So, maybe Dudley, Tucker, or Barbosa gets moved, but I wouldn’t expect fireworks from Phoenix this trade deadline.
Espo: If it’s not named Booker, Chriss or Bender and it isn’t nailed down at Talking Stick Resort Arena, it should be for sale. The price has to be right — and in Brandon Knight’s case it’s the cost of shipping and handling — but Ryan McDonough should take calls on everyone not part of the young core.
That being said, the Suns shouldn’t make a deal just to make a deal. They’re at a point where they’ll only get one chance to go “all in” on a player and if they do it has the potential to set the franchise back another seven years. That seems to be why they stayed out of the DeMarcus Cousins trade despite the low cost of entry. If the right super star — Paging Jimmy Butler and Paul George — becomes available you make the move. Otherwise you make minor moves to acquire draft picks and young talent with a lot of potential. Look at dealing Barbosa, Tucker, Dudley, Chandler and anyone else potentially taking minutes from the young guys.
My best guess? Tucker goes, everyone else stays and the Suns are mentioned in three or four other rumors. If a big move does happen, it’ll happen without many rumors as McDonough is more stealth than Batman in a cold, dark Gotham night.
OT) Purple or Orange?
RF: Purple! While we’re at it, put the Diamondbacks back in purple, too. Fans will always identify a team by the colors it wore when it was at its best. For the Suns, that’s purple — with a black alternate jersey and a giant flaming ball on the front. Purple is the color of Tom Chambers, of Charles Barkley, of Dan Majerle, of Jeff Hornacek, of pre-questionable-mayor Kevin Johnson. Wear it. And while you’re at it, wear the Sir Charles-era throwback full-time. White at home, purple on the road, black every once in a while. Want orange? Well, the ball is orange; the sun is orange. That’s enough orange for me.
MD: Orange. I associate purple with squash and I’m tired of getting squashed.
CA: (Refused to answer or completely forgot to)\
Espo: Like every other time. P to the Urple.