With a dismal 16-30 record, any hopes of the Phoenix Suns making the playoffs have now completely vanished.
This season, the Suns have been one of the worst teams in the league. Despite playing at the ninth fastest pace, they're only 18th in the league in points per game. They are also 23rd in defensive rating, 24th in offensive rating, 22nd in rebounding and 29th in three-point field goal percentage. Honestly, there really is no area in which the Suns are considered an elite team.
But with that being said, should the Suns make several trades now and try to press the reset button on this rebuilding process? Or do the Suns have enough bright talent that they should remain patient and avoid a major roster demolition at the trade deadline?
Really, the best thing for Phoenix at this point is probably some mixture of those two options. While the Suns do need to address several major roster issues and might want to explore a trade at the deadline, there is enough talent on this team for Phoenix to avoid a roster overhaul anytime soon.
First, let's start with the players who are not essential to this team's rebuilding process. Right now, Marcin Gortat is probably the biggest asset on the roster. After Steve Nash left, Gortat has seen a decrease in touches this season, and his numbers reflect that (11.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game).
Clearly the pick-and-roll game Gortat ran with Nash made him seem a little more valuable than he actually is. While the blame for his decrease in production can also be placed on some of his teammates, Gortat has been underperforming all season long, and it may be time for the team to part ways with the Polish big man.
At 28 years old, Gortat is also becoming too old to be a part of the Suns' rebuilding process. His contract expires after next season, and he may be unwilling to re-sign in Phoenix if they do lose. However, he is still an above-average big man, and if the Suns can find a suitor for Gortat that will offer up young prospects and draft picks in return, then they should jump at the opportunity.
After Gortat, there are plenty of other players who either are not or should not be in this team's long-term plans. Perhaps the most obvious names there are Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Luke Zeller, Sebastian Telfair and Diante Garrett. Johnson, Marshall, Garrett and Zeller have served no purpose this season other than filling out the back end of the bench, and the team should have no problem releasing those players at the end of the season.
As for Telfair, he has had some playing time, but he is nothing more than a role player with an expiring contract. Telfair is averaging 6.1 points and 2.5 assists a game off the bench. He does put effort into defense, but the fact that he only shoots 38 percent from the field is concerning. Right now, Telfair is taking playing time away from rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, and if the Suns truly want to head in a new direction, they should get rid of Telfair at the end of the season.
Shannon Brown is another player whom the Suns may want to trade if they get the opportunity to do so. Brown is averaging 11.8 points per game this season, and although he does occasionally have the ability to be the team's go-to scorer, more often than not he is making bad decisions and taking ill-advised shots.
Brown is currently shooting 42 percent from the floor and 29 percent from downtown, and although he may be a serviceable sixth man, the occasional 20-point game from Brown may not be worth the countless games in which he hurts the team with poor decision-making. Getting rid of Brown is by no means an urgent priority, but the Suns would be foolish not to at least consider trading him if they can.
But despite all of these players who haven't lived up to expectations, there have been plenty of bright spots this season as well. Sure, the Suns may not have a very talented roster overall, but there are some promising players that might just be able to stay in Phoenix for years to come.
First and foremost, Goran Dragic is here to stay as the team's starting point guard for the next several years. Right now, Dragic is averaging 14.1 points, 6.4 assists and 1.5 steals a game. He is the team's leading scorer, and their only player who averages more than three assists per game. He doesn't always play like the best player on the roster, but he has become the leader of this team by effectively running the offense, scoring efficiently and even hitting a game-winning shot along the way.
Still, Dragic is not a superstar, and to think that he is this team's go-to scorer is laughable, and even slightly pathetic. The Suns need a real go-to scorer, a guy who can consistently put up 20-plus points every single night.
Dragic is not that guy. However, that does not mean that he isn't a valuable piece to this roster. Dragic has been the MVP of the Phoenix Suns this season, and he needs to stay.
Besides Dragic, the Suns are also getting a lot out of their veterans this year. Luis Scola is averaging 13.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 28 minutes a game, and he has had plenty of nights in which he led the team in scoring. He might be 32 already, but veteran presence is important on any roster, and perhaps the Suns should keep Scola around.
Jared Dudley and Jermaine O'Neal have both been great too. Dudley has cooled off, but at one point this season he was the go-to scorer of this team, even putting up a career-high 36 points against the New York Knicks. He may not be very consistent, but the affordable, longest-tenured Sun should be kept for now.
O'Neal is also having somewhat of a comeback season this year after a disappointing stint with the Boston Celtics. O'Neal is coming off the bench, but he has had some great performances in limited minutes and perhaps he should be re-signed.
But even after mentioning all of these players, there is still one name that has not come up. Perhaps the best player since Lindsey Hunter became head coach has been Michael Beasley.
Yes, that Michael Beasley. The player most Suns fans have come to hate after he disappointed us all with his awful play throughout the first half of the season. And yet, perhaps there is still a glimmer of hope that Beasley can finally live up to expectations.
When the Suns originally signed Beasley to a three-year, $18 million deal, they expected him to be a go-to scorer. And now, he is finally showing some promise. Over the past 10 games, Beasley is averaging 13.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in just 19.3 minutes a game. He is also shooting 49 percent from the field on top of an extraordinary 46 percent shooting clip from behind the arc.
This is the Michael Beasley Suns fans have wanted to see all along, and he is finally playing harder and seems more motivated under coach Hunter. His recent success can also be contributed to the fact that he has played a lot of time at power forward, where he naturally excels. This season, Beasley is averaging 22.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes when he plays power forward, as he can use his quickness as an advantage over larger, slower opponents.
Now, perhaps I'm reading too much into this. After all, these stats are over a very small sample of time. But even so, Beasley's recent performance just proves that he is not a complete liability, and that he does have something to offer this team. Even if he does eventually return to his old self, Beasley must be given another chance before we throw him under the bus and call for a trade. It seems like a long shot, but perhaps he can even live up to his All-Star potential.
At 16-30, the Suns are not a good team. That's clear. I'm not trying to say otherwise. However, the Suns still have plenty of talent on the roster that they need to keep. Sure, Marcin Gortat and Shannon Brown could be traded, and the Suns do need to make the most of their draft picks and cap space if they want to return to title contention.
But, they do have more talent than most people think.
The Suns have several players who are proving that this roster is salvageable. Dragic has established himself as the face of this team. O'Neal, Scola and Dudley are all contributing as veterans, while Beasley, Marshall and Markieff Morris all need to be given more time to develop before we make any final conclusions about them.
With those players, the Suns have the makings of a decent supporting cast. They could use a few more role players, but most importantly they just need to patient while they try to find their superstar. A major roster overhaul will help nothing, and patience is going to be the key to rebuilding.
Right now, a losing season may be testing the patience of a lot of Suns fans. But do not worry, because as always, the Sun will rise again.