The Phoenix Suns had the worst three-game start to a season in NBA history.
They were humiliated at home in the season opener, taking the worst loss in franchise history by 48 points to the Portland Trail Blazers. While they narrowly lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second game, their defensive shortcomings and lack of hustle across the court in certain situations was clear. It was then no surprise to see the result against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, a 42-point defeat, that showcased more of those problems.
The Suns looked like a team that had quit. Especially for a head coach like Earl Watson, that was unacceptable even for a team that was expected to be one of the worst in the NBA.
Watson was brought back from an interim role because the players wanted him back. He had formed a bond with the locker room and, with that backing, the expectation would be a team playing hard for him and developing along with himself as a head coach.
Watson was still fine-tuning what his system would be for the team on both ends, but that wasn’t the problem.
Through three games, the team showed some of the worst defensive play the league had seen in years, a side of the court built on effort and competitive spirit.
The team had lost that and that was the problem. Watson had to go.
While that’s all well and true, the ramifications of Watson’s firing are going to be evident.
No Suns coach has ever been let go this early into a season and the franchise’s dramatic shift might bring more this season.
The Suns absolutely did not play like a team that was still behind their coach, but their best player Eric Bledsoe — who has not played like it this year — took to Twitter soon before the rumblings started of Watson’s departure.
98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station’s John Gambadoro had more on Bledsoe’s tweet.
This is why Watson returned. He had the players’ support, and that meant a lot for a team that had to grow from the bottom, so much so the team didn’t even formally interview any other coaches before hiring him.
If Bledsoe isn’t on board, the team has no clear veteran leader, and their best players would now all be under the age of 25.
That puts the Suns without a leader in both a player and a coach. That’s an extremely precarious place for a team to be without any real structure or identity.
What happens when a bad young team stops playing hard, especially on defense, is a quality of basketball that is toxic.
The foundation of #TheTimeline was not supposed to be fragile. Build around high draft picks, watch them get better and go from there once they are good enough to start winning. It’s very simple.
Now, not only are the cracks starting to show, but there are chunks of the foundation starting to come down.
Make your jokes about #LosingforLuka or #SecureTheBagley in a tanking effort for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but nothing will change with their arrival if the Suns are playing like this. The players’ development will stall just like their rebuild has.
That’s why Watson is out, but even with a very promising young core of a high draft pick this year, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and T.J. Warren, the Suns still need the right pieces around them, and right now, they don’t even know where to start looking for them.