Monday, October 30, 2017
Once-Promising Suns Become NBA Doormat
Four seasons ago, the Phoenix Suns were one of the most pleasant surprises in recent NBA history. In October, before the season started, they were projected to be a tanking contender.
Bleacher Report wrote in its 2013-14 season preview of those Suns, "A 20-win season would not be such a catastrophe for this year's Suns." It was a very common sentiment for that particular team.
Instead, Phoenix won a whopping 48 games under first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek and cruelly missed out on the playoffs after dropping 5 of its last 9 contests in March and April, becoming the best team in NBA history to miss out on the playoffs.
Sure, it was a farcical outcome of an 82-game season that the Suns finished ninth in one conference, but would have tied for third in the other, but chances are it wasn't going to be the Suns' last dance among solid NBA teams.
After all, Phoenix that year had one major contributor (Channing Frye) who was on the wrong side of 30, and seven players 25 or younger who played 40 or more games. Most of all, it had a star in Goran Dragic, who was third team All-NBA in 2014 after an amazing season in which he turned occasional brilliance in his first season starting with Phoenix and a bench role prior to that in Houston into a full season of electric plays, incredible offense and nightly semi-viral highlights on NBA Twitter.
That Suns team, in embracing both Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, was one of the first in the pace-and-space/small-ball era to show that playing two smaller guards could work in a backcourt and wasn't the taboo that it would have even been three to five years prior.
The 2013-14 regular season has only been over for three-and-a-half years — less than the length of a contract for many players. Not only has Hornacek been gone for a couple years, his successor, Earl Watson, was canned just days into this season after an 0-3 start to the season.
Bledsoe, the one holdover from the stellar team in 2014 that couldn't crack the postseason, almost certainly won't play another game in purple and orange after effectively quitting on the team when Watson was fired.
That means in less than four years, the franchise that was more responsible than any other for changing pro basketball inextricably during the previous decade turned a promising situation with a variety of guard talent in a league increasingly dominated by guards and completely bottled it. Not only did the Suns have to trade Dragic at the 2015 trade deadline a year after he had one of the breakout seasons of the decade, they had to trade future All-NBA player Isaiah Thomas and his bargain-basement contract to Boston.
Now, the Suns are essentially at the beginning stages of another rebuild, and have incredibly limited leverage in dealing their most valuable veteran player. Quietly, the Suns have the third longest playoff longest drought in the entire NBA, and if Minnesota makes the playoffs this spring as is somewhat expected, that becomes the second longest behind only Sacramento. Incredibly, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, and Jason Richardson were on the roster for Phoenix's last playoff game, the 2010 West Finals against the Lakers.
With Bledsoe on his way out, perhaps to Denver, Milwaukee, or New York, the only veterans on the roster are role player extraordinaire Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler in his 17th season. To say the least, those guys won't be around when Phoenix is ready to challenge for the playoffs again.
And in the West, where only perhaps four teams of 15 are in rebuild mode, who knows when the heck that will be? Or if?
Devin Booker certainly looks like a quality NBA player, but we're not sure if he'll ever be an all-star as he plays his third year.
Josh Jackson, Tyler Ulis, Dragan Bender, Derrick Jones, and Marquese Chriss were all born in the late 1990s, so any judgments on their status as prospects at this point would be unfair. But if they don't pan out — and with the front office's recent record there's more than a little reason to believe they won't — Phoenix would be stuck yet again for a number of years to come.