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Dan Bickley

Suns continuing recent run of success is more important than you think

Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov, right, talks with Suns guard Jamal Crawford during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Three constants mark Robert Sarver’s Suns:

Chaos. Change. Mistakes.

His wealth increases. His team gets worse. It’s always the head coach’s fault.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

After nine torturous years, has his team finally turned a corner?

The Suns enter the weekend in a rare place. They’re on a roll. They’re showing chemistry and real doggedness. They beat LeBron James and the Lakers with defense. They beat Eric Bledsoe and the Bucks with passion and fire. And then Devin Booker dropped 41 points on the Knicks, giving postgame shoutouts to Igor Kokoskov.

They are no longer fractured, dysfunctional, easily distracted and rarely invested. They are looking and sounding like a real team bonding over a new mindset and a new nucleus of players. Or maybe it’s all fool’s gold, a respite inside the madness. This much is certain:

Great teams aren’t a collection of talent. They are a tapestry of trust and selfless behavior. They combust organically. They can transform basketball from a sport to an art form. When they get it rolling, they can’t be stopped.

The Suns are nowhere near that level. But something has happened to this team since Josh Jackson was fined $20,000 for failing to show up for a public appearance, prompting James Jones to buy beer for bruised fans. Since Sarver was eviscerated by a lengthy ESPN story that highlighted his meddling nature, including the time he stationed live goats in Ryan McDonough’s office for motivation.

Somewhere in between those two stunning visuals, the Suns have found something. Maybe it was Kokoskov finally getting a technical foul, proving he’ll go into his own pocket to protect his players. Maybe it was Ayton getting assigned to cover LeBron and Giannis in consecutive games, sparking a new level of team defense. Maybe it’s the ascension of Kelly Oubre Jr. And maybe it will end up saving Kokoskov’s job, a coach whose employment seemed in dire jeopardy on Feb. 24th, before the team rallied for a road win in Miami.

At one point, Kokoskov seemed poised to become the saddest of pink slips, a head coach respected by everyone in the NBA except for the guys on his own team. He was hired for offensive design only to be undermined by a team without a legitimate point guard. He was shaping up to be a cautionary tale for the Cardinals and Kliff Kingsbury, and how you must empower unconventional head coaches with players they like the most (i.e., Kyler Murray, Luka Doncic).

This why the Suns have missed the playoffs for nearly a decade. They set the bar for self-sabotage, always tearing down what they’re apparently trying to build. Most of the 2018-19 season has been an exercise in loathing, with the team failing to rally around its best player; with the No. 1 pick not dominating like he could; with public squabbles over arena renovation efforts.

Trevor Ariza came here as a prized free agent and couldn’t wait to leave; Austin Rivers and Wayne Ellington were obtained in trades and refused to report; the general manager was fired nine days before tipoff; and this space called for commissioner Adam Silver to save us all by staging a NBA intervention.

That’s why Valley basketball fans must cross their fingers and hope this current trend is not a fluke. We must reconcile the urge to tank for injured Duke star Zion Williamson. We have learned that winning the draft lottery is not a victory at all, merely the reward for being horrible in the games that matter. And nothing is more important to the future than washing away the culture of losing that has permeated the walls, underscoring one of the worst playoff droughts in the NBA.

We’ve been waiting a long time. Let’s hope this rare winning streak is not a harbinger of things to come and not just another desert mirage.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier