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Decisions looming for Suns after difficult season

April 10, 2019
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An injured Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker pauses on the floor after turning his ankle during the first half of the team's NBA basketball against the Utah Jazz Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Phoenix. Booker left the game. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns suffered through their fifth straight losing season and sixth in the past seven. They’ll be spectators once again when the NBA playoffs start this week. Yet they believe the franchise can rise again.

Excitement surrounding No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton and young star Devin Booker fizzled quickly, and most of the supporting cast of veterans was traded away.

In their place came some players, most notably forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who made an impact. Oubre, a restricted free agent this offseason, had a 16-game streak reaching double figures in points. In early March, Phoenix had a run of five wins in seven games that included victories over the top teams in the East and West, Milwaukee and Golden State.

Now the Suns have questions about the look of their front office next season — they’re searching for a new general manager but could structure the management in a different way — and whether Igor Kokoskov will return as head coach after guiding the team to a Western Conference-worst 19-63 record.

“As a coach you always ask for more, from yourself and from your team,” Kokoskov said. “A lot of work has to be done. Our guys understand that. I think Phoenix Suns fans should be excited and happy about our talent and potential, but we need the potential to turn into productivity.”

Kokoskov said he sees his own work reflected in the team’s finish and took full responsibility. He said Wednesday he had yet to be told anything about his future by the front office, but he did receive several votes of confidence from players.

Booker said adding veteran experience next season may help.

“Us as players, we don’t want to be known as losers. Believe that,” Booker said. “We just have to get over that hump, get better in the offseason, take steps in the right direction. There’s not many teams in this league that can win with a lot of young players, so a lot of those successful teams have veterans around, and we understand that.”

Booker said he believes in the Suns’ top decision makers.

“I’m cool with the roster how it is,” he said. “I have total trust in our front office, everybody making the decisions, that we’re going to be in good shape next year.”

RESPECT THE VET: Guard Jamal Crawford might have walked out of Talking Resort Arena for the last time as a Sun, and if so, he left a major impression on the team for which he played on a one-year contract this season.

Not only did Crawford score 51 points Tuesday night in Dallas in the last game of the Suns’ season and became the oldest player in NBA history ever to do so (age 39), he also served as a mentor to many players on one of the youngest teams in the league.

“When you stay in love with the game, things tend to work out,” Crawford said. “When you do that, you can operate with a pure heart.”

Booker called Crawford a “true hooper” and said he will spend some time in Crawford’s hometown of Seattle this offseason to work out. Booker added he’d like Crawford, whom he called a future Hall-of-Famer, to return to the team.

“Those guys are guys that you have to keep around forever,” Booker said. “I’ll take the skeleton Jamal Crawford as long as he can talk to me and give me advice that he gives me.”

Guard Tyler Johnson paid tribute to Crawford by wearing his jersey when speaking with reporters.

INJURIES HURT: The Suns were beset with injuries. They finished the season with six regular players unable to suit up, including Booker, Oubre, Ayton, Johnson and forward T.J. Warren. Johnson started 12 of 13 games before he needed knee surgery.

The only player to play in all 82 games was rookie Mikal Bridges.

All figure to be 100 percent when training camp for next season starts.

LOTTERY BOUND: The Suns tied for the second-worst record in the NBA and guaranteed themselves a 14% chance of winning the draft lottery and again securing the first pick in this summer’s draft.

Phoenix’s 2018 lottery pick, Ayton, started 70 games and averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

Getting into the top two gives the Suns the chance to select Duke forward Zion Williamson or Murray State point guard Ja Morant, the two players widely regarded as top prospects.

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