Suns look for winning culture after late firing of GM
PHOENIX (AP) – This is supposed to be the year that the Phoenix Suns finally start to win again.
General manager Ryan McDonough had said the goal was to be the most improved team in the NBA. If that happens, it will be without McDonough.
Owner Robert Sarver fired the general manager nine days before the Suns’ season opener.
“For me, the switch has flipped and it’s now time to start figuring out how to win,” Sarver said in an interview on 98.7 Arizona Sports the day of the firing.
Under first-year coach Igor Kokoskov, Phoenix will have some talent on the floor. Devin Booker, fresh from signing a five-year, $158 million contract, leads the way after averaging 24.9 points per game last season.
Trevor Ariza came over from Houston as a free agent and Ryan Anderson was acquired from the Rockets in a trade.
And, of course, there’s 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, patrolling the middle.
Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren provide backup strength off the bench.
But where is the point guard? There is no established point guard on the roster, something that the Suns have been looking for but never could find before Sarver decided to part ways with McDonough.
Booker had to undergo a surgical procedure on his right hand and missed the entire preseason. His goal is to be ready for the season opener.
“I feel good. I feel on target, if not before,” he said last week. “I haven’t really got to shoot or dribble with it yet to see how it feels with contact or anything like that, but so far, it’s been good.”
With the big new contract, Booker is the self-described face of the franchise and the team’s leader even though he’s just 21.
“I’m not representing myself anymore, not representing my family, but representing a whole franchise, a city, a storied organization,” he said. “With fans that are ready to win, with a whole organization that’s ready to win. It’s a good pressure to have. That I feel like I’m built for. With a great supporting cast around me I think it’s going to be a very exciting year.”
Phoenix opens its season Wednesday night at home against Dallas.
In the preseason, Ayton showed the kind of dynamic presence that the Suns envisioned and is an addition that could change the way teams defend the Suns.
He’s not only a 7-foot-1 rim protector but can make midrange jumpers and moves so well around the basket. It should clear the way for open 3-point shots for the rest of the Suns.
James Jones, vice president for basketball operations, has emerged as the likely replacement for McDonough as the team tries to acquire a point guard to round out the lineup.
The Suns have missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. Last season, they finished 21-61, worst in the NBA and second worst in franchise history. They won 25 and 24 the previous three seasons.
So it’s a long climb back to respectability.
Sarver thought the team should be “a little farther along than we were” in their rebuilding.
“It’s about consistent progress,” he said. “We hit a little bit of a plateau.”
There are four point guards on the roster: Shaquille Harrison, Isaiah Cannon and rookies Elie Okobo and DeAnthony Melton. Harrison has been the starter in the preseason.
Kokoskov needs improvement.
“Overall, their energy and presence is there,” the coach said. “A lot of mistakes. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Look for Jones to be scouting around for a point guard, but other teams know that the Suns needs and could be holding out for a one-sided deal.