After a 97-88 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday night, coach Alvin Gentry warned that changes to the starting lineup were coming. The team's starters in that Heat game were outscored by the bench 51-37, and the Suns dug themselves into another hole early on which resulted in a loss.
For Wednesday night's game against the Blazers, most speculated that the change Gentry was referring to would be replacing Jared Dudley with Shannon Brown. Although that was the case, there was also the unexpected news of Markieff Morris starting over Luis Scola. Morris hasn't been off to a particularly hot start, and that lineup change was questionable. But you can't argue that it didn't work.
The Suns cruised to a 114-87 win over the Blazers, their first blowout win of the season. They shot 60 percent from the field and held Portland to just 40 percent, and the starters worked together to score 71 points while outscoring the opposition.
Shannon Brown scored 10 points and knocked down two threes, and sophomore forward Markieff Morris was one of the more impressive players of the night, scoring 19 points on 9-13 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds. By the end, even Zeller, Johnson and Marshall got to play a few minutes each.
Though it was only one game, it's safe to say these lineup changes will stay for the time being. The team played efficiently, and perhaps Gentry has finally discovered a starting unit that can shine. The more important question, however, is whether or not the sudden changes can keep everyone in Phoenix happy.
Let's start with Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris, the obvious winners of Gentry's rash decision. Brown should be happy to be re-inserted into the starting rotation, where he spent 19 games last season. He's been one of best players on the roster up to this point, and he deserves the recognition. He sometimes requires a lot of shots, and how he'll fit in with Beasley has yet to be seen, but he will at least be more productive than Dudley has been.
Morris is finally getting another chance to start for the Suns as well. If you don't recall, he started just seven games near the beginning of last season but didn't mesh well with the starting lineup and almost immediately returned to the bench.
But tonight, Morris had one of the best games of his career. In addition to the 19 points and seven boards, he stayed out of foul trouble with just one foul and only turned the ball over once. He also was wise enough to mostly stay in front of the three-point line, as he has shot just 29 percent from behind the arc this season. Perhaps Morris can prove his worth to the organization as a future player sooner than anyone expected.
Morris and Brown shouldn't be the only players who are happy. Inserting Morris into the starting lineup could have been a way for Gentry to appease to Marcin Gortat, who recently vented to a polish publication about no longer being a main option on offense (h/t Yahoo! Sports).
With all this sudden trade speculation surrounding Gortat, was Scola benched so Gortat could once again be the starting rotation's main post option? If that was the plan, it definitely showed. Gortat went 11-14 from the field, taking more shots than any other player, and he also had a team-high 22 points.
This should probably quiet Gortat, or at least for the time being. His usage rate is at 15.1 percent this season, down from 20.8 percent last year. Pairing him with a stretch-4 in Morris should create space for Gortat to once again control the interior while he's on the court. He is clearly one of the team's most valuable players, and no matter what Gentry says, they'll do anything they can to make him happy before they actually consider a trade.
Now for the new bench players. Jared Dudley played 20 minutes for the team and scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and had three swipes. For Dudley, the transition hopefully will be no problem. He has to realize he's been struggling thus far, and he is historically more efficient as a bench player. After all, he had a higher PER and contributed more win shares to the team two seasons ago than he did last season as a full-time starter. For now, he will be one of the main scoring options off the bench.
That leaves us with Luis Scola, who poses the biggest problem. For the past four seasons in Houston, Scola was not only a starter, but also one of the Rockets' most widely used offensive threats. Not only that, but he hasn't even been having a terrible or unproductive season. In fact, he's been one of the team's better players in the starting lineup. If Gortat has his way, will it only create another issue by angering Scola?
Hopefully, the answer is no. Scola does not have a history of being a diva off the court, and he had to know when he first came to Phoenix that he would have other players like Morris and Frye competing with him for minutes. It's up to Alvin Gentry and the rest of the organization to sell Scola on a sixth man role.
If they give him enough minutes and make him the main scoring threat off the bench, the hope is that he won't complain. But in his first game on the bench, Scola received just 18 minutes and four shot attempts, which doesn't really back up those claims.
Unfortunately, the Suns might have created a mess so far this season. Gortat's happiness is in question, and perhaps Scola's is too. If Dudley and Scola are willing to take bench roles, then all should be fine hopefully. But nobody is sure of that yet.
Trading half the roster and starting from scratch at the deadline is obviously a last resort, but it's possible the team will be forced to make a move if they don't handle this situation with caution. Hopefully the players can each adapt to their own roles and focus on playing basketball. If that much happens, maybe the new group Gentry has paired together can lead the Suns up the Western Conference standings.
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