Did it help that the Suns current roster contains players who buy into Jeff Hornacek's system, or did it hurt that the Suns new roster was working to figure each other out? This new roster played with energy on a back to back, but lost to the Bulls 112-107 despite a strong Suns bench performance.
A new era is here for the Suns, with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas out, and Brandon Knight in. The first three quarters looked promising as the Suns went into the final stanza up 83-81 before a Bulls blitz in the fourth finished them off, 112-107.
Marcus Morris led the Suns with 17 points on 8-15 shooting off the bench as his twin Markieff struggled through a 3-15 night. The newest Sun, Knight, showed flashes of why he was so highly coveted, but the Suns also looked out of sorts at time in trying to find their way with the new rotation.
Not good. A 4 game Suns losing streak coupled with a 5 game Thunder winning streak leaves the Suns a game and a half back of the 8th spot, and only a half game up from the Pelicans for the 9th spot.
The Suns overhauled their roster at Thursday's NBA trade deadline, but the results of last night's game looked very much the same: A close loss due to poor execution down the stretch. Tonight, the Suns welcome prized addition Brandon Knight as they play the Bulls in Chicago.
Recent history of Bulls-Suns has featured the physical Bulls beating the high-flying Suns into submission with stifling defense. In last season's sweep, the Bulls held the Suns to 87 and 92 points, well below their season average of 105.2PPG.
Late last month, the Suns turned the tables on the Bulls, winning 99-93 in a game that seems so, so long ago given all the events which have transpired between then and now.
Since then, the Suns slumped into the All-Star break, last season's All-NBA guard Goran Dragic announced he wouldn't re-sign after the season, then an ugly war of words broke out between Dragic and the Suns front office as Dragic was dealt to the Heat for future draft choices.
The end result is that the current Suns roster is minus Dragic, his brother Zoran Dragic, Tyler Ennis, Isaiah Thomas and Miles Plumlee, and plus Brandon Knight, Marcus Thornton and Earl Barron (and maybe Danny Granger).
As the full roster, new look Suns haven't played together yet, tonight should be our first chance to see how Knight and Bledsoe fit together, the key to the Suns' Thursday dealing. Knight was the blue chip of the day, according to Suns GM Ryan McDonough. As per AZCentral's Paul Coro, Knight will start next to Bledsoe tonight.
Just as the Suns have now abandoned their PG-heavy roster, the Bulls have abandoned their imbalance of dominant defense coupled with lackluster offense. Last season's poor and plodding Bulls offense (28th in O-Rating and 29th in pace) has given way to this season's 8th in O-Rating and 20th in pace.
The downside of the additions of Pau Gasol and Aaron Brooks, and return of Derrick Rose from injury is the decline of the Bulls once vaunted D from 2nd to 13th. Overall, they seem to have a better roster with an improved chance to win the East (they sit at #3 in the Eastern Conference standings right now), but are giving up over 7 PPG more this season (99.1-91.8). Can Tom Thibodeau's Bulls achieve their lofty goals with a league average defense?
Knight Rider - The Suns backcourt, once so deep that allocating minutes for all was a problem, is now fairly reliant on Bledsoe and Knight. Gone are Dragic and IT, so Bledsoe and Knight might see staggered minutes, much as Bledsoe and Dragic did last season. Knight's a 3 and D player, shooting 41% from 3 this season with a 102 D-Rating, which should make him a good fit next to Bledsoe and his penetration skills when they're on the floor together.
Back to Back Blues - One would expect a team as deep as the early season Suns would have success in back to back games, but they're only 4-8 so far this season on the second game of a back to back. My theory is that a team based on transition offense and jump shooting requires fresh legs to be effective. With less depth now, players who logged heavy minutes last night will have to be ready to go again.
Ball Movement - This has been a hot topic of conversation as the Suns offense, while slightly improved from last season, continues to show isolation play tendencies and launch fast, bad shots. The departed IT was a problem here, but Dragic was not, though things did look a little better in last night's game as the Suns exceeded their season average with 23 assists.
3 is a Magic Number - While the Bulls defense has declined overall from last season, they remain strong in 3-point defense, surrendering the fewest made 3s in the league, and 6th best opponents' 3-point %. Sometimes lost amidst the controversy of IT is that he was a highly effective 3-point shooter this season, converting them at 39%. Knight, with his 41%, will need to step in and hit his 3s immediately for a Suns team which is 4th in the league in attempts and 7th in makes.
Earl Barron - OK, Barron isn't a key, but he's back for his second stint with the Suns on a 10-day contract to provide frontcourt depth. Although he didn't enjoy great success in his 12 game 2010 regular season Phoenix stretch, you have to respect the commitment and resilience of a 33-year old journeyman who has been waived 7 times, including twice by the Suns. Barron keeps working to make it in the NBA, and now he has another chance after lighting up the D-League with Bakersfield. We're all pulling for you, Earl!
Bryan Gibberman spoke with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough after Friday's press conference.
After the Suns press conference, and television interviews, and radio interviews…general manager Ryan McDonough was kind enough to give Bright Side a couple of minutes of his time to answer a few questions. I mainly deviated away from the same talking points that were discussed in the presser.
Bryan Gibberman: What you've gone through from the offseason to now, you haven't even been on the job for two years, is there anything from that experience that you've learned that you want to take forward?
It's a good question (I could have easily left that part out, but HAHA like I wouldn't allow my praise to be seen). I think like any job the more experience you get the more you learn and grow.
The main thing I would change or we would change is probably how Eric Bledsoe's contract negotiation went last year and how long it was drawn out. I think we will do better in that situation the next time around. Other than that we don't really make any apologies for the moves we've made. They're all with the same goal in mind, that's to try to get the Suns to a championship level. I think people like yourself who've been around the team for a long time and have watched the Suns for a while now can see the growth and I hope the fans can see the influx of young talent and future potential.
Sometimes it can be difficult in the short term for people to see the organization take what they perceive to be a step back, even though we don't see it that way, or for players they're familiar with to go out in trades, and players or picks that are coming back that they're less familiar with can be a challenge sometimes. I'm very confident with the moves we've made. I think like with these deals there's all kind of blogs, articles, draft winners and losers, trades winners and losers -- I think as always at the end of the day time will tell and I think and hope over the next few years people will look back favorably on the moves we made here over the past couple times.
BG: You mentioned with IT (during the press conference) how he had a positive impact on the on-court success. When it comes to Brandon Knight he's had a lot of individual success, but they've been about 10 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the court. What was the context with that there and why do you think he can have more of a positive impact here?
I think the challenge and I don't want to get into analyzing Milwaukee's team too much. I think the challenge for Brandon has been in some ways their bench group was almost better than their starters. Their bench has played extremely well, they're up there with our bench in terms of the highest scoring benches in the league. Players like Khris Middleton and Jared Dudley who they've brought off the bench have had terrific years. In some ways that can skew the numbers if you're playing primarily with the starters. Again, I don't want to get into analyzing the Bucks team, but their starting lineup is kind of young and inexperienced, and their bench guys are solid veterans guys and they are experienced. We did more specific breakdowns than that.
We rely fairly heavily on analytics and there are a few factors I don't want to get into. We are comfortable doing this deal. We think Brandon Knight is a very good two-way player, he's up among the league leaders in three-point shooting, he's a very good defender and we're confident he will have a very positive impact on our team.
Statistical addition: In 408 minutes Knight played with Middleton and Dudley the group was a +11.9 net rating per 100 possessions.
BG: You guys have very much bought into position-less basketball, but it seems like it's something that the players aren't accepting of. How do you get them to buy into that?
I think I disagree with the notion that not all players are not accepting of it. I think the guys accepted it very well last year and we had a lot of team success. I think this year certain players are more concerned about their contractual status or what was best for them, rather than what was best for the team. To be honest with you, that led to a lot of the moves we made yesterday.
We tried to clear out the guys who were more concerned with what they did individually, or we felt were more concerned with what they did individually than with team success. I feel like we accomplished this.
BG: Last question, you've talked about the value of these draft picks. The Lakers pick was arguably one of if not your most valuable commodity. Why was this the right time to cash that in?
With a pick like that our analysis was that we probably weren't going to receive the pick this year. That pushes the pick into next year, the protection drops to three, but I think analyzing the Lakers situation there's pretty high variance there as to what the pick could be. If you ask me how the Lakers are going to be a year from now i have no idea. Obviously, they've struggled some recently, but they're going to have a lot of salary cap space this summer and they're in a market that's traditionally been one of the top draws for free agents.
We know the risks. The pick next year could be the fourth pick in the draft, it could be the 14th pick in the draft, it could be the 30th pick in the draft. We felt it was the right time to cash it in.
We knew we needed to give something good to Philadelphia in a three-team trade in order for them to part with Michael Carter-Williams. That's what they wanted so that's how the deal got done.