Life in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association is rough.
Just ask the Phoenix Suns, who came out of nowhere to win 48 games during the 2013-14 season. Most years, 48 wins will get you into the postseason. Hell, last year in the East, that number would have given the Suns the third-most victories in the conference.
One can certainly make the argument Phoenix will be better this season. They re-upped with star guard Eric Bledsoe who is fully healthy after an injury-plagued season. They added point guard Isaiah Thomas as a free agent from Sacramento and stretch-four Anthony Tolliver from Charlotte. The Suns drafted high-scoring forward T.J. Warren from North Carolina State.
The only problem for the Suns is the Western Conference got tougher, too.
Former Suns forward Grant Hill, who now is a broadcaster for NBA TV, believes expectations will be harder to overcome than conference competition.
“This time last year, nobody was expecting anything from this team. They were coming off a disappointing year. There were new players. (GM) Ryan McDonough came in. New coach,” Hill told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday. “No one anticipated them having the kind of season and having the start they had, coming really close to making it into the postseason.
“Now, the expectations are greater. Players have been paid, they’ve been taken care of. So if you can sort of recapture that hunger and that desire to prove yourself and prove you’re better than what everyone’s saying, if you can get that feeling back, they have a chance. They have a chance to meet those expectations and take a big step this season.”
Despite the Suns’ breakout success last year, Hill is the first to admit there are lingering questions about the future of the franchise.
“Was it just one of those seasons where everything aligned perfectly and they overachieved and played above themselves or is this who they are,” he asked. “Who are going to be the leaders in the locker room. Channing Frye left and went to Orlando. I think he was the oldest guy on the team and had played in a lot of big games and been around the league for quite some time.
“I know P.J. Tucker has some great leadership skills. But who is going to be the guy that six to ten times a year, when things go bad, and there are things that need to be discussed and said in the locker room, who are going to be those guys that step up?”