The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw NBA basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Phoenix Suns?
Place: 13th in the West
After a promising start to a season written off as a lost cause long ago, the Phoenix Suns fell hard back to expectations. They sprinkled in some impressive wins, signs of potential for the partnership between Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but the Suns lack high-end talent or the potential for it beyond them. Injuries left key contributors in and out of the lineup, including the surprisingly impactful Aron Baynes, and Phoenix lacks the depth to mask any missing piece, let alone one of the few quality NBA players.
The Suns had little chance of making up the six games separating them from the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies when play was suspended, and the four more talented teams between them make forcing a play-in series almost impossible in Orlando. The home stretch of this season was always going to be more about developing talent than competing for a playoff spot. To that end, Booker made his first All-Star appearance this season, and Ayton showed signs of progress, especially on the defensive end.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee)
Two Suns players reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 when teams began to assemble in their host cities last month, and coach Monty Williams has been evasive about questions concerning players who have yet to make public appearances in Orlando, so the availability of everyone on the roster is in flux. That includes Kelly Oubre Jr., who tore his meniscus in February and left his status to the medical staff. He is training with what could be a complete contingent of Suns when the season restarts in Orlando.
Phoenix did waive Jared Harper and sign Cameron Payne over the break. Payne has largely been a bust since being drafted 14th overall in 2015, but he showed signs of resurgence in limited G League action this season, averaging 23.2 points and 7.3 assists in 29.5 minutes over 15 games for the Texas Legends.
Over/under wins in the bubble: 2.5 (Over +160; Under -200)
NBA Finals odds: +30000
Championship odds: +100000
Dario Saric will be a restricted free agent this summer, and his audition with the Suns yielded less-than-stellar results prior to the hiatus. A starter on a 52-win Philadelphia 76ers team as recently as two years ago, Saric showed more than flashes of potential as a playmaking stretch forward. He was arguably the second-best player during that Sixers team’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, only to be discarded the following season when a revamped front office figured Jimmy Butler would expedite its title hopes.
Saric is still a skilled shooter and passer, even if those skills have not translated to production in Phoenix, and the Suns would be wise to weigh his value in Orlando. The 26-year-old Croatian is the sort of player a successful team and creative coach could find a role for, or at least convince themselves they can in the form of a mid-sized contract offer, and Phoenix may soon be forced to decide whether to hold his salary against their cap or to cut ties with a player that cost the team five spots in the 2019 draft lottery.
All times Eastern
July 31: Washington Wizards, 4 p.m.
Aug. 2: Dallas Mavericks, 9 p.m.
Aug. 4: L.A. Clippers, 4 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 6: Indiana Pacers, 4 p.m.
Aug. 8: Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 10: Oklahoma City Thunder, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: Philadelphia 76ers, 4:30 p.m.
Aug. 13: Dallas Mavericks, TBD
The Suns have less than a 1 percent chance of making the Western Conference playoffs, lower than any team in Orlando, according to FiveThirtyEight. Theoretically, they only need to trim two games off the Grizzlies’ lead to get within the requisite four games necessary to force a play-in series. The problem is they need to leapfrog the four teams ahead of them by three games. The Suns could go 8-0, and the five teams ahead of them would all have to lose at least three games for that to happen, and the Suns are not going 8-0, not against a schedule as difficult as theirs in Orlando, and especially not if Oubre cannot play.
Locked into the 10th-best lottery odds regardless of what happens in Walt Disney World, save for the miracle of making the playoffs, the Suns will be better off trying to determine who they want to contribute to a potential playoff push next season and who might be expendable in trades or as castoffs in pursuit of better free agents. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson spring to mind as potential building blocks or trade assets. The more players Suns GM James Jones can identify as either one in Orlando, the better.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: 13th in the West
Finish: Failure to make the playoffs
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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