‘We want to change the narrative’: Suns eye significant turnaround

The Suns’ No. 1 draft pick, Deandre Ayton, seems confident during the team’s annual media day to kick off the season. (Photo by Justin Parham/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns introduced their overhauled, young roster Monday, kicking-off what the team hopes is a much improved 2018-19 season.

“Our goal is to be the most improved team in the league,” general manager Ryan McDonough said Monday during the team’s annual media day. “Coming off of a 21-win season, we have a lot of room for growth, but I think we have the capability and the potential to do that.”

Last season, the Suns finished 21-61, claiming the worst record in the league while also ranking last in both offensive and defensive categories.

The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2009-10, which is the second-longest drought in the NBA behind the Sacramento Kings, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2006.

Devin Booker is vital to the Suns reaching their potential this season and is embracing the responsibility that comes with being the cornerstone of the Suns’ future.

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“To be known as the face of a franchise is something that I’ve put a lot of work into and prepared myself for,” Booker said. “I want to represent this city to the best of my ability.”

Booker signed a five-year, $158 million contract extension over the summer to stay with the Suns through the 2023-24 season, demonstrating the mutual commitment between the franchise and its star player.

“I know I’m not only representing myself … but an entire city,” Booker said.

The Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall in this summer’s NBA draft and plan to develop him alongside Booker to form the team’s long-term core.

“Ayton is a very talented player,” first-year coach Igor Kokoskov said. “He’s a center … with a lot of tools that he can add and incorporate in his game. My job is to help him to define his role, to find his game and play to his strengths.”

Ayton took the podium with a reserved but light-hearted demeanor and entertained the questions thrown his way in the first of what may be many Suns media days to come.

“Coming in, I just want to win,” Ayton said. “I’m not really thinking about what the media says, I’m just coming in, trying to win as many games as possible this year and have fun with it as well.”

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The Suns made additional off-season moves to add experienced players to mentor and balance the roster’s youth. The Suns signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza in free-agency this summer, and simultaneously added more youth and experience in a separate transaction by acquiring veteran Ryan Anderson and rookie De’Anthony Melton through a trade with the Houston Rockets.

“We have a lot of veteran guys to teach our young guys how to win and help them win and that will be the goal for us this year,” McDonough said. “The three-year rebuilding window has come to a close and we’re going to try to win as many games as we can.”

Given the strength of the Western Conference, reaching the playoffs this season is still a long shot for the Suns. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Suns at plus-900 odds to make the playoffs and minus-1600 to miss the postseason.

However, the team feels that it finally has the necessary pieces in place in Booker, Ayton and its new coach, Kokoskov, that could be the foundation of a future playoff-contender.

“We have more shooting, we have a better defensive team – or potentially have a better defensive team,” McDonough said. “And we have a lot of veteran guys to teach our young guys how to win and help them win and that will be the goal for us this year.”

Ariza said, “We are definitely looking forward to helping this organization win. We want to win. We want to change the narrative of the Phoenix Suns that has been of late.”

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