The Phoenix Suns will be finishing out the season without one of their most important players.
Kelly Oubre Jr. will miss the rest of the season to continue rehab on his right meniscus, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Here are some of the biggest changes and questions Oubre’s absence produces.
Super lineup gonezo
In what has become the largest source of producing optimism for the Suns, the highly successful new starting five of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Oubre, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton will not get extended run in Orlando.
Over 226 minutes, Phoenix has outscored teams by 92 points and an average of 20.2 points per 100 possessions with those five on the court.
That 92 was even a number head coach Monty Williams was citing, so it had gone beyond a neat statistic you retweeted to something the team was taking seriously and looking to get the most out of.
Getting to see those five compete against mostly playoff teams with their own playoff lives on the line in front of Mickey Mouse and the gang was the biggest reason to get excited about the remaining eight regular season games.
It’s a bummer, and now closes the door on the Suns getting any more glimpses of it before deciding whether they want to commit to it as the team’s five next season.
Why the miscommunication?
Suns owner Robert Sarver said on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo earlier this month that he and the team expected Oubre to play.
For a franchise that consistently produces reasons to doubt competency, the Suns and Oubre not being on the same page is concerning.
With that being said, Sarver could have made the claim before the Suns got Oubre in the building to really get an idea of what his status was. It’s easy to have a mixup like this given the current state of the world.
Oubre’s staggered rehab process during quarantine very likely produced a mixed result that mucked up his return timeline. It’s an unfortunate break for the Suns to not actually benefit from all this time off for their injured players to recover, with the time away actually negatively affecting the recovery.
Probably that fella up there by the name of Dario Saric.
In the seven games Oubre missed after injuring his knee before everyone hit pause, Saric started in his place.
Where this gets interesting is if the Suns make this decision as an evaluation period. Saric is a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, but do the Suns want to get more looks at him, or give the lion’s share of the minutes to someone else?
Saric averaged 30.3 minutes per game in those last seven, while Cam Johnson was at 26.5 and Bridges leaped all the way to a team-high 39.4. Which brings us to…
The No. 11 overall pick in last year’s draft has been impressive and as advertised from a plug-and-play perspective.
Johnson’s high basketball IQ, two-way effort and elite three-point shooting have come together to give the Suns a capable body off the bench. Over the next few years, that hopefully evolves into one of their most important overall players and a true sixth man.
But there’s only so much room for Johnson to play when Oubre is playing his 34.5 minutes a night and Bridges is at 27.3. In 23 of his 49 games, Johnson has played under 20 minutes and he’s only broken 30 five times.
Extended minutes for Johnson in Orlando, especially in high-stakes games early, will be meaningful experience he can carry over into a more prominent role year two.
Bridges or Oubre?
As that little girl in the popular gif says, “Why not both?”
Alas, life does not allow you to choose that option sometimes.
The Suns would ideally like to keep both wings, but Bridges is eligible for an extension off his rookie deal next summer, the same 2021 offseason Oubre becomes an unrestricted free agent. Now, if you’re thinking they have enough money to pay the duo, they should. But there’s also an Ayton extension to keep in mind that year too.
Phoenix at least listening to offers at the trade deadline indicated that Oubre is not completely off-limits, and with the team’s desire to add a power forward, he is unfortunately the most logical big trade chip it has outside of draft picks. The team is further hogtied by that two-year deal because it can’t extend Oubre off that, making his free agency inevitable.
Is there a player out there that makes sense to pursue, making the loss of Oubre’s undeniable value to the team and locker room worthwhile?
Could Philadelphia be looking to get off Tobias Harris’ max deal? Do the Suns want to make a real run at a free agent this summer that would gobble up most of the Oubre money like Danilo Gallinari, Paul Millsap or Serge Ibaka? Is Indiana now fine with the Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis frontcourt after it wasn’t at the start of the season? Will we, gulp, hear Kevin Love once again linked to Phoenix?
All those big-money options feel fairly off-base and lacking much logic behind them, but it’s a challenging position for Jones and company to be in over the next year-plus to keep this thing chugging in a positive direction. Avoiding serious stagnation by losing Oubre for nothing has to be the front office’s number one short-term fear at the moment.