Inviting the Phoenix Suns to Orlando seemed like a bit of a reach, given that the team is six games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. The Suns (26-39) would need a miracle to make the postseason, especially considering they have to play the Clippers, 76ers and the Mavericks twice while at Disney World. Their seeding schedule is certainly one of the harshest among the 22 teams heading to Florida, and the hopes of making the playoffs is even slimmer with Kelly Oubre expected to sit out in Disney to continue rehabbing his injured knee.
While it may seem pointless for the Suns to go to Orlando just for eight games, to then just head back home, there are some positives the team can get out of it. It may not be ideal to give big minutes to franchise pieces like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, for risk of injury after such a long time away from the game. By limiting their minutes, younger players on the roster may get more opportunities to show their worth to the franchise.
Here's a look at the Suns' roster, schedule and some key storylines for when the season resumes in Orlando on July 30.
- Devin Booker
- Ricky Rubio
- Elie Okobo
- Jevon Carter
- Ty Jerome
- Jalen Lecque
- Mikal Bridges
- Dario Saric
- Cameron Johnson
- Tariq Owens (two-way player)
- Deandre Ayton
- Aron Baynes
- Frank Kaminsky
- Chick Diallo
Players sitting out: Kelly Oubre Jr.
All times Eastern
- July 31: vs. Washington Wizards, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 2: vs. Dallas Mavericks, 8 p.m.
- Aug. 4: vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 3 p.m. (on NBATV)
- Aug. 6: vs. Indiana Pacers, 3 p.m.
- Aug. 8: vs. Miami Heat, 6:30 p.m.
- Aug. 10: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 1:30 p.m.
- Aug. 11: vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 3:30 p.m.
- Aug. 13: vs. Dallas Mavericks, TBD
Overcoming Oubre's absence: Despite Suns owner Robert Sarver saying in early June that he expected Oubre to suit up for the Suns in Orlando, the five-year guard is reportedly opting out of the NBA's restart plan to continue his rehab process from a torn meniscus that he suffered in February. Oubre's absence is a huge blow for a Suns team that already had an incredibly small chance of making the postseason when the season resumed. After being traded to Phoenix during the 2018-19 season, Oubre began to hit his stride this season with the Suns.
He averaged a career-high 18.7 points and seven rebounds per game, while shooting the ball incredibly efficiently, specifically from 3-point range where he connected on 45 percent of his 3s. Oubre deciding to sit out makes all the sense in the world. If he came back too quickly in Orlando, and further injured himself, it could potentially have an impact on his impending free agency status in 2021. It's unclear what the salary cap is going to look like in the summer of 2021, but Oubre safeguarding himself from injury for potentially just eight games is the smart choice.
What to do with Devin Booker: Now is not the time for the Suns to play Booker for 35 minutes a game. While it's important for him to get some playing time so he's not sitting for potentially another four months, Phoenix has to keep the long-term plan in mind. Throwing Booker out there for 30-plus minutes a game, while the Suns sit six back of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, would be a horrendous mistake. Head coach Monty Williams will need to find an appropriate balance for his star guard in Orlando. If the Suns find themselves 0-4 halfway through the Orlando restart, it would even be wise to just sit Booker for the last four games.
Growth and development: For Phoenix, this time in Orlando can best be used for evaluating the younger players on the roster. Players like rookie Cameron Johnson, who became a spark plug off the bench for the Suns later in the season, can benefit from getting more in-game reps. With more minutes and freedom on offense, Phoenix can see if the UNC product can provide more than just catch-and-shoot 3s, and can help him develop more on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns have the youngest roster in the NBA, with a two-year average of league experience. Seeing what all these young guys can offer for the future is an important step in the Suns' journey toward playoff contention down the line, and the Orlando restart provides a perfect opportunity to assess that talent.