PHOENIX — Opposing head coaches and players praised their chemistry and effort.
National pundits fell in love with their enthusiasm for the game and up-tempo style of play; and then recanted preseason predictions of 17-23 wins and labeling them the 15th-worst team in the Western Conference.
“It was my pleasure to show the people that they were wrong,” Goran Dragic said.
The 2013-14 Phoenix Suns proved, more than anything, that yes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — a collection of castoffs and young talent can succeed when egos are pushed aside and everyone, from management to coaches to players, works toward a common goal.
With their victory at Sacramento on Wednesday, the Suns finished the season 48-34, joining the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors as the winningest teams to not make the playoffs since the field expanded to 16 teams in 1984.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing, I guess,” P.J. Tucker said after the team met one final time on Thursday morning. “We worked really hard this year. Nobody thought we’d be in the position we were in in the last couple of weeks of the season to be able to make the playoffs, so that’s kind of cool. But we really felt like we had a chance to make it and we should of made it.
“It still hurts. It’s still fresh so it still hurts.”
The Suns finished one game behind 8th place Dallas (49-33) in the West.
“I don’t think we have our heads down, but at the same time it’s still disappointing because we feel like we were just so close,” Gerald Green said.
This summer will go a long way into determining how they close the gap and end what has now become a four-year postseason drought.
The foundation has been poured under first-year GM Ryan McDonough and first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek. It’s now a matter of how they build around players, such as Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, who showed a two point guard backcourt can work in the NBA.
Much of the 15-man roster is expected to return. Leandro Barbosa and Emeka Okafor, who missed the entire reason due to neck rehabilitation, are unrestricted free agents. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, as is Tucker. Channing Frye has a player option at $6.8 million for next season, while the Suns hold team options on Dionte Christmas, Shavlick Randolph and Ish Smith. Everyone else is under contract.
“I know it sounds super cliché, but I’ve never been on a team like this,” Smith said. “I think that’s a little bit more bitter, knowing that whenever we were doing things, we all did it together. It was kind of like high school when…you’re just out there playing for each other and having fun.”
As hard as the front office will try to keep the group together, it will be that much harder to recapture the spirit of this season.
The biggest change moving forward, however, will be the expectations.
“We set the bar pretty high for ourselves, and I like that. The guys are already talking about what they’re going to work on and what we need to work on,” Frye said. “After the game we were all just talking on the bus, like ‘man, next year we can’t wait to do to A, B, C and D.’ When you have guys like that I think the future is bright for us.”