Brandon Knight sounds eager to stay as Suns split for off-season
PHOENIX -- Here's a quote from the 2015 edition of Suns' getaway day that -- with a nod to recent history -- could be considered a breakthrough moment:
"Whoever's hands it needs to be in ... I'm just about winning games. That's the most important thing."
Those words -- in reference to who is assigned to possess the basketball at certain interludes -- are attributed to Brandon Knight, whose Wednesday chat with reporters provided a level of poise, understanding and clarity that three other point guards who began the season here might want to review.
Unlike Eric Bledsoe a year ago, Knight negotiated his upcoming move into restricted free agency with considerable finesse.
"I'm optimistic about the situation," he said. "I like it here, and I like the way I've been treated so far. A class organization and, like I said, I'm looking forward to a future with the Suns."
That's far more soothing than responding to each inquiry regarding his interest in Suns reenlistment with a solemn oath of summer commitment to family time. Just because Knight's approach was different from Bledsoe's doesn't guarantee a quick contractual resolution, but public perception doesn't hurt in these matters.
And while we're at it, here's another should-be favorite response that has some Suns-related irony:
"Just play basketball," Knight said when asked about sharing playmaking duties with Bledsoe or anyone else. "Every guard gets the basketball at some point; it's just about making the right play."
If two other now-former Suns point guards embraced that seemingly reasonable notion, Knight probably wouldn't even be here ... and Phoenix might be preparing for its first playoff series in five years.
Of course, that didn't happen, and so it was Knight going through Tuesday's exit interviews with his new teammates. Although the Bledsoe reenlistment seemed like a cinch at this juncture last year, too, it would seem negotiations have a swell chance to unfold more smoothly with Knight.
Anyway, a season with nine fewer wins than the previous campaign leaves us with a summer of roster rehabilitation in the offing, so let's take a look at where the current Suns' roll call stands. We're dividing the crew into four groups -- The Questions (free agents), The Core, The Kids and The Rest.
Knight: After playing to the edge of All-Stardom in Milwaukee, Knight found himself traded to another team, obliged to assimilate in another system.
And then an ankle injury prevented him and the Suns from fully blending their skills.
In addition to being optimistic about returning, Knight likes the potential of working in the same backcourt with Bledsoe.
"I definitely enjoyed playing with Eric ... great player," he said. "I think we both can be very dynamic, very hard to guard as a backcourt ... I think we both have the ability to guard the ball as well, so I think we can really play off each other -- both athletic guards, young. I think we can get on the right page -- not just us two but the entire team. With the young group we have, I think we can be a very dangerous group."
That was the plan when Phoenix made the move to acquire him.
"(It was) definitely frustrating," Knight said of not being physically able to help the Suns hold that eighth playoff seed. "I'm a competitor, so I enjoy being on the court, I enjoy playing the game, and being new to this team I wanted to come in and help make a playoff push and not really being able to contribute the way I know I can based on not being comfortable, then getting hurt ...
"I knew I was just finding my way in that Golden State game and to go down ... it was unfortunate."
With an off-season of adjustment time ahead, Knight believes he and the Suns can excel.
"That stuff takes time," he said. "That's why starting in the summer -- a lot of people say starting in training camp -- but when you build relationships in the summer, guys working out with other guys, going over different things, I think it'll be an important time for us to really build together and get prepared for next year.
"Most of the guys are around my age, a couple of 'em are from the same draft as me . . . same college as me, so we have a lot of connections. I like this group a lot. I definitely see us growing together ... I'm excited about it."
Brandan Wright: Acquired during the season from the Boston Celtics, Wright can be an excellent asset as a second-unit option (depending on matchups) at center or power forward.
He's agile, quick and smart in pick-and-roll defense, a good weak-side shot-blocking threat and can constrict the defense as a lob-dunk option after setting a ball screen.
Wright doesn't need the ball to happily do his job and is a solid locker-room presence.
And now he's an unrestricted free agent.
But he likes it here, his family likes it here, and the Suns seem to like what he brings to the floor.
"We can obviously make some improvements as a team," Wright said, "but I think we're on the right track."
His future in Phoenix will be determined by how much it will cost to keep him, folded around other free-agent interests and what transpires in the draft.
Bledsoe: Here's the point guard the Suns chose to ride with during the trade-deadline purge of three others.
Based on who was moved out, that's pretty big.
Sun coach Jeff Hornacek still certainly seems to prefer having two playmakers on the floor for large portions of the game, so Bledsoe's long-term contract fits that premise.
"I don't think we'll bring three guys in here," Hornacek joked in regard to off-season changes when asked about attempting to juggle three high-level, attack-oriented point guards. "It was fine with two."
It probably would have reached a higher plane with Bledsoe and Knight this season, as well, but Bledsoe struggled (turnovers a specialty) when required to close the season as Phoenix's only drive-and-dish option.
While it's possible the Suns could commit to Knight as the primary point and listen to whatever trade offers Bledsoe might generate, expect Bledsoe to be here a while ... in a two-Kentucky-Wildcat backcourt.
"I love to play with B. Knight," Bledsoe said. "He's one of the great young players in the league."
The Morris Twins: They prefer to work in tandem, so that's how we'll present them here.
In Markieff, the Suns have an improving force at power forward ... on offense. But the slightly older of the twins -- who was among the league leaders in late-game, field-goal percentage -- needs to improve at using his quickness advantage over the larger opponents he matches up against on an almost-nightly basis.
Some of that tracks to an inability to make slower foes pay with a high rate of shooting success from behind the arc.
Until Markieff rebounds at a higher rate and becomes more consistent at maintaining his team-concepts focus on defense, the Suns won't be elite at the four.
Marcus eventually began rebounding with a zeal the Suns are hoping Markieff reaches, but his ball-stopping properties can kill an offense.
In tandem, the twins are under contract at reasonable money (especially Markieff), but conduct questions on the court and reports of a situation off of it could provide issues for the organization to consider.
P.J. Tucker: The team's emotional leader and defensive stopper must become more consistent on offense to remain a starter on a playoff-caliber team.
Even more potentially defining are three separate off-court incidents over the past year that could put Tucker's future here in doubt. But, in terms of tenacity, he does supply what the Suns currently don't have enough of.
Alex Len: The second-year center -- also a charter member of The Kids category -- had some optimistic turns ... and more injury questions.
Considered by many observers to be the key to the Suns' potential rise up the Western Conference ladder, Len's progress has been equaled -- and in some cases exceeded -- by a few similarly aged post players around the league.
Unless a truly remarkable deal is proposed, Len will be here and given every opportunity to thrive.
T.J. Warren: A glut of card-carrying small forwards and a rookie's grasp of team-defense concepts kept the rookie from North Carolina State on the bench -- or in the D-League -- for most of the season.
But when given extended time, Warren demonstrated his old-school method of scoring -- basket cuts, runners, put-backs -- could transform him into a serious weapon down the road.
And he can guard guys within his size-quickness range.
"We think he has the potential to be a great on-ball defender," Hornacek said.
Unless he's used to sweeten some future trade package, look for Warren to quickly become part of the team's core.
Archie Goodwin: The second-year guard from Kentucky prepares hard, plays hard and attacks the basket without fear.
Unfortunately, he still struggles to make perimeter shots, doesn't handle the ball well enough to fully exploit his slashing tactics and makes poor decisions as a passer.
"I had a lot of ups and downs," Goodwin said. "They made me a better player on and off the court. Just being ready and being patient, that's the biggest thing for me.
"So I'm going to continue to work hard, continue to get better and next year we'll see what happens."
Reggie Bullock: The second-year swingman didn't receive much burn after arriving via a trade with the L.A. Clippers and had limited success when he did play.
A concussion wrecked Bullock's opportunity for bigger minutes in the last two games.
Gerald Green: Despite some extended bench time and some late-season feather-ruffling from his agent, the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be doesn't feel he's the automatic goner that others believe him to be.
"I've said that before ... I want to be here," Green said after chatting with team president of basketball operations Lon Babby. "I think they want me back as well.
"Actually, it was a good conversation, so I'm a little positive about that."
Danny Granger: A former All-Star for the Indiana Pacers, Granger played sparingly for the Heat this season but didn't feel physically capable of digging into the small-forward minutes after arriving from Miami.
He has a $2.1 million player option for next season but provided little indication of his future plans -- vis-a-vis staying with the Suns -- during Wednesday's brief chat with reporters.
Granger, another believer in the Suns' medical and training staff, said he'll remain in Phoenix this summer.
Marcus Thornton: The veteran shooting guard -- who will be an unrestricted free agent -- was caught in a positional log jam here and didn't exactly thrive in the limited opportunities he received.
Earl Barron: The definition of a journeyman inside player, Barron did return to the Suns with an improved touch from mid-range and deeper.
He doesn't supply the bounce or girth to get much done near the rim -- on either end of the floor -- but understanding his limitations and function could keep him employed somewhere.
Jerel McNeil: A late-season arrival from the D-League, McNeil is a hard-nosed customer who lacks the balls skills needed to thrive if given consistent minutes.