Phoenix adds talent, tries to rise in Western Conference
By DAVID BRANDT
PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns have the unenviable task of trying to gain ground in the NBA's Western Conference, which is once again home to several of the league's powerhouse teams.
There's a young nucleus already in place. Guard Devin Booker and forward Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick one year ago, are back after productive seasons. The frustration was that the big numbers didn't lead to much winning - the Suns were last in the West with a 19-63 record.
Suns general manager James Jones said it is his job to find some talent to help Booker and Ayton. In his mind, the mission has been accomplished.
"We just wanted to get some good players, and we've done that," Jones said during media day Monday. "We've added some maturity and we have a good mix of people."
The Suns signed point guard Ricky Rubio and Frank Kaminsky. They acquired rookie Cameron Johnson and veteran Aron Baynes in trades and re-signed Kelly Oubre Jr. after he had an impressive run with the Suns last season following his trade from Washington.
There's no doubt the franchise is still a work in progress. Phoenix hasn't been to the playoffs since 2010 and there were no promises made Monday. New coach Monty Williams, who replaced Igor Kokoskov, said it might take time to mold the roster, but the pieces are in place for success.
"Our expectations are to improve every month," Williams said. "We want to look back and say we competed every single practice, every game, everything was meaningful."
Arguably the Suns' biggest addition is Rubio, who gives the team a true point guard and allows Booker to stay at his natural spot on the wing. The 6-foot-4 Rubio is in his ninth NBA season and comes to the Suns after two years with the Utah Jazz, where he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 assists last season.
"In the past, (the Suns) haven't made the playoffs in a long time," Rubio said. "But every year you have the ability to change that. People don't understand that the line is so thin, but it can change. It's just so hard to make the step above that line. You've got to take care of every detail from day one."
OUBRE'S NEXT ACT
Oubre enjoyed a breakout season last year after the Suns acquired him in a December trade. He averaged nearly 17 points per game in 40 games with the Suns and re-signed with the team in the offseason.
The 6-foot-7 guard gives the Suns some versatility, along with a defensive presence, on the wing with Booker.
"I can tell you that the pieces we have are all great players," Oubre said. "It's up to us to go through training camp, work through our kinks and get on the same page."
AN `OLD' ROOKIE
For an NBA rookie, Cameron Johnson is a relatively seasoned player.
The 6-foot-9 forward played five seasons in college, transferring from Pittsburgh to North Carolina during that time. He averaged 16.9 points in his senior season.
Now the 23-year-old hopes to add some immediate punch from the perimeter, especially with his outside shooting. He made nearly 46% of his 3-pointers with the Tar Heels last year.
Booker hasn't had a lot of continuity in his career from a coaching perspective. Williams will be his sixth head coach in six seasons dating back to his time under John Calipari at Kentucky.
"He doesn't have to trust me right now," Williams said. "That's something you have to build over time."
But Booker said he's already developed a good relationship with Williams.
"He already has my trust, like every coach here has before," Booker said. "I've never had a problem with my coach in my life since grade school."
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated September 30, 2019