PHOENIX — Throw together a new general manager, a new head coach and 10 new faces and what do you get? You get an NBA team that is one of the bigger surprises of 2013-14.
That team, the Phoenix Suns, has hit the midway point of its season with 24 wins, a total many predicted would not even be reached this season, let alone in half a season.
“We’re in a good position,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Obviously, we weren’t picked to do this well. We’re halfway through the season, but it’s a long season. These guys can’t think that we can just duplicate that first half by showing up the second half. It’s going to be a lot of hard work.”
The Suns’ success, at least thus far, can be traced back to the summer, when Hornacek and his entire staff coached the team’s entry in the Las Vegas Summer League. That set the tone, as did having veteran P.J. Tucker plus regular rotation players Marcus and Markieff Morris on the team, which finished 6-1, losing to Golden State in the championship game.
From there, the chemistry continued to grow. From training camp in Flagstaff, to rallying together following the trade of Marcin Gortat only days before the start of the season, to an opening night home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, one of two early season wins over the fourth-best team in the league.
“Our staff and I are probably less surprised than most because we put this team together. We thought it had a chance to be pretty decent,” GM Ryan McDonough said. “I think the biggest surprise was how quickly everything came together. To come out of the gate 5-2, to have Goran (Dragic) and Eric (Bledsoe) play so well together and play so unselfishly, where they’re both competing at an all-star level, I think that was a pleasant surprise. You never know how long guys are going to come together and play well together. Sometimes it takes awhile. Sometimes it never happens.
“But for us to be pretty good and competitive, even against the top teams in the league from day one has been a pleasant surprise.”
“The big surprise is the way the guys have really kind of meshed together. They’ve got a good camaraderie amongst themselves,” he said. “I’ve been very proud of our bench guys in term of when they’re not in the game they’re cheering for the guys out on the court. You always need that to help the chemistry.
“We’ve gotten contributions from just about everyone in different types of ways. That’s why we’re probably doing better than expected.”
Sure, there have been frustrating losses, bad losses even (twice to Sacramento and once to Utah at home). But then there are the wins over Golden State and at the Los Angles Clippers, not to mention the close defeats to Oklahoma City and twice to San Antonio (by a combined 10 points).
Again, not much was expected from this Suns team. They, however, are not about to apologize for their success, which currently has them seeded seventh in the Western Conference.
“I think if you asked us before the year, we would’ve been happy with that number,” said McDonough of a projected 48-win total. “At the same time we think there is still room for growth. We’re happy to get Alex Len back and contributing for us now; looking forward to getting Eric Bledsoe back later this year. So, we’re going to keep going and see if we can get better in the second half of the year.”