HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and The Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin discussed Deandre Ayton’s future in free agency, Chris Paul’s MVP candidacy, Devin Booker’s quick turnaround from the NBA Finals and Team USA, the latest on the Robert Sarver investigation, and more on the latest edition of the HoopsHype podcast.
For more interviews with players, coaches, and media members, be sure to like and subscribe to the HoopsHype podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
1:07 Deandre Ayton’s free agency future
Scotto: He was upset an extension didn’t get done coming off a trip to the Finals and the way he played in the playoffs. So far this season, I’ve been told that he’s happy because he loves winning. His goal is to play at an All-Star level and get back to the championship with the Suns, and the rest of it (his next contract) will play itself out. Kudos to Monty Williams and Mark Bryant, who’ve been able to get through to him to keep his mindset in a good place. He’s on the edge of being top-15 in player efficiency rating in the league right now.
Rankin: Part of the issue with him not getting the extension was other guys getting the max extension and him believing that he’s just as important as those guys are, and he went to the Finals. He had some help with Chris Paul and Devin Booker, but he got to the Finals and was an integral part of that, so he’s looking at that, and he’s looking at the guys who got a max. The whole part of respect was huge for him, and not getting it was a sign of disrespect in his estimation.
Winning cures a lot of things, but a lot of it, too, is he’s playing for his future. If he keeps playing like this and they make another deep run, the negotiations that went on this past offseason will become serious discussions going into the next offseason. He’s setting the table early right now of what he is and what he’ll command this offseason.
Scotto: Looking ahead towards the summer of 2022, teams with outright cap space are the Pistons, Magic, and Spurs. He’s not really a good fit for the Magic, but I certainly think the Pistons or Spurs could use a guy like him. If you look at teams with around $20 million projected space according to SpoTrac, the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Knicks would be interesting to watch. If he leaves, and he plays at this level, it would be via a sign-and-trade if Phoenix doesn’t pay this guy. If he plays the way he has, he’s going to get a max or extremely close to it.
8:30 Chris Paul’s MVP candidacy
Rankin: He should be in the MVP conversation. I wouldn’t say he’s the frontrunner because it’s Stephen Curry. I think it’s Steph and everybody else if we’re being honest. Chris is right there like he was last year. He’s been a difference maker to the point where they wouldn’t be here or gone to the Finals last year without him, they wouldn’t be 14-3 without him. You talk about the phrase, “most valuable player,” and he fits it to a tee.
13:03 Devin Booker
Scotto: When I look at Booker, I think the deep Finals run and then playing for Team USA, I wondered if that was going to be a lot of mileage for him even though he’s a young guy. It’s a very quick turnaround to come back and start the NBA season… Was there any concern from the Suns about monitoring him a little bit coming off that deep playoffs run and Team USA with the quick turnaround?
Rankin: They monitored him in the preseason, and he hardly did anything. He was kicking back and relaxing. He didn’t play until the last preseason game.
When you talk to him, he talks about adjusting to the new basketball. To expect Booker to use fatigue as a reason for why he’s not doing what he normally does as consistently as he’d like, you’re not going to get that.
17:42 Robert Sarver allegations
Scotto: As far as I’ve heard, the lawyers that are doing the investigations are meeting with staff members with Phoenix as part of the ongoing investigation.
Rankin: If you look at the investigation time when they investigated the Mavericks, it’s the same law firm. I believe it was eight months. Based on that, they’re in the very early stages of it.
In some ways, it’s made the team tighter in terms of their focus. The players have talked about it, and it’s difficult to not get distracted by it. It’s obviously in their heads. You can’t shake that. But, when you’re winning, it cures a lot of stuff.
It’s going to be an ongoing and lengthy process. This isn’t a quick turnaround. You can’t make a mistake on this investigation because there are too many things this could lead to in terms of how owners are viewed in the future, how teams are viewed. Everything with the racism and the misogyny, there’s too much there to not do the most thorough job you can.
22:06 Mikal Bridges’ All-Defensive Team case
Rankin: Monty Williams said it before Chris Paul did. There’s definitely a push for him (Mikal Bridges) to be on the All-Defensive Team.
The question was for Devin Booker about Mikal Bridges, but Chris Paul had something to say.
"I don't care if Mikal don't play another game this season, he better be on that all-defensive team this year. Every night. Every night." pic.twitter.com/WdjdNFbxnt
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 20, 2021
"It's mind boggling."
Monty Williams on Mikal Bridges not being talked about as All-NBA defensive team candidate by national media. #Suns
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 18, 2021
Willie Green helped him out tremendously. He should be getting kudos for the growth of Mikal as a defender in this league. He coached the defense when he was the lead assistant with the Suns, and Mikal was one of his prized pupils in that sense. I believe he’s going to make it this year. It’s just a matter of getting his name out there and being viewed as that guy.
25:45 Jalen Smith's future
Scotto: One thing that shocked me, and several people around the league were surprised, was when the Suns didn’t pick up the third-year rookie scale option on Jalen Smith. I believe I saw this on Bright Side of the Sun, since 2009, only three players selected in the lottery have seen their third-year player option declined, including Smith. The others are, of course, former Suns lottery picks Kendall Marshall and Earl Clark. I heard over the summer they had dangled him in trade talks, and on my 30-team list of guys that could be traded, I picked him for the Suns.
Rankin: You’re playing on this team that Monty Williams called the work team. You’ve got to be able to meet that (standard) on a daily basis. I can remember talking with people last year and they were saying that he wasn’t doing that on a consistent basis in terms of competing the way they’d like him to compete.
If you look at the four bigs, Deandre, JaVale (McGee), Jalen and Frank (Kaminsky), just off talent alone you’d think Jalen would be the third guy, but he’s not. Kaminsky was getting the minutes when Deandre was out. Now, he’s the fourth guy.
What’s interesting about him is he has principles of a five in terms of how he plays, but he has the body of a four, and he shoots like a three. He can knock down threes. How do you fit that skill set into what the Suns have? I think it’s a challenge in trying to make that work. When you’re on a team that’s trying to win a championship, do you keep developing him or do what they did? They don’t have a G League team, so it’s not like they can send him down to help develop him.
32:07 Future NBA coaching candidate: Suns associate coach, Kevin Young
Scotto: One guy I think is a name to keep an eye on for future head coaching openings around the league with the more success Phoenix has is their associate head coach, Kevin Young.
Rankin: He’s from that G League pool like Nick Nurse and Taylor Jenkins. I definitely feel like he’s someone that will get that opportunity. The Suns are established. Willie Green set the precedent. Who’s next? Kevin Young is next.
With the offense as versatile as it is, and multiple guys are getting shots, and you’re the lead assistant running the offense, you’re going to get a lot of credit for what’s happening, which he deserves. Somebody is going to give him that opportunity. It’s going to be up to him whether he wants to take it.