The Suns have lost seven straight games, 12 of 13 and are 4-17 in 2018. So what is there possibly to look forward to as the All-Star break comes to an end? Plenty, as it turns out. Here’s a look ahead, at the final 23 games of the season and, more important the NBA draft, free agency and possible trades. Payton-Booker pairing Nothing is more important than the Suns determining whether they want to go forward with a backcourt of Devin Booker and Elfrid Payton, who will be a restricted free agent this summer. The pairing looked good in the one game they played together, Phoenix’s 107-97 loss to Utah on Feb. 14. Payton had a triple-double – 13 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds – and Booker scored a game-high 28 points. There’s no question that Payton is an upgrade at point guard. But the Suns have to decide if A) his skills as a passer and penetrator best complement Booker; B) he’s worth the $10 million or so annually they’ll have to pay him as a restricted free agent; and C) if it makes more sense to pay him and then target a center with their lottery pick or let him go and pursue a point guard in the draft. Payton has made a strong case, averaging 20.3 points, 8.7 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game. But three games is a small sample size. How he plays the rest of the season – and how he works with Booker - will determine his future with Phoenix. The Suns' NBA draft picks The race for the best chance at the No. 1 pick never has been tighter. Phoenix and Atlanta are tied for the NBA’s worst record (18-41) but five other teams have at least 40 losses. One three-game winning streak could mean the difference between picking first and fifth. The Suns are in an enviable position, thanks to the assets General Manager Ryan McDonough has accumulated. They’ll have their own lottery pick and in all likelihood Miami’s first-round selection, which is protected top seven. Phoenix also owns Milwaukee’s first-round pick if it falls between 11 and 16. If the draft were held today the Bucks would own the No. 21 pick, but only one game separates them from moving to No. 16. The draft also works in the Suns’ favor because at the top it’s deep in the two positions McDonough has said he’ll target: point guard and center. If Phoenix decides after the season that it wants to re-sign Payton it can use its lottery pick to target either Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, Texas’ Mohamed Bamba or Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. It would be an ideal situation for the Suns; finally land a young rim protector and have the perfect mentor, Tyson Chandler, who will be in the final year of his contract in 2018-19. Conversely, if the Suns decide Payton isn’t part of their future, they can go after Slovenia guard Luka Doncic, Oklahoma's Trae Young or Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Phoenix loves the 6-foot-8 Doncic, whose size and ability to play both point guard and shooting guard would make him an intriguing partner for Booker. It’s been suggested that the Suns could use their bounty of picks – and potentially one of their young players - to move up in the draft if the ping-pong balls don’t fall their way. But that seems unlikely, given that few, if any, teams will be interested in trading away a potential franchise-altering talent like Ayton or Doncic.
Phoenix Suns duo of Devin Booker, Elfrid Payton highlight areas to watch as stretch run begins
Arizona Central | Feb 26