The Phoenix Suns have lost nine games in a row, and during that stretch have seen their record fall to a disappointing 12-25.
After entering the season with playoff aspirations, having the fourth-worst record in the league on Jan. 6 is not what anyone hand in mind. Yet, that’s exactly where the Suns are, and things seem incredibly bleak now.
A guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday, Suns GM Ryan McDonough said the poor record and terrible losing streak is surprising, adding the schedule of games has not helped but noted there are no excuses for what’s gone on.
In the near term, McDonough said the plan is to try and get some rest as the schedule eases up, as well as work to improve.
The question is, can they?
Will time and experience help them win more games, or is the team’s record simply a product of being one of the least-talented rosters in the league?
“I don’t think we’re the least-talented team in the league, let’s put it that way,” McDonough said. “I think when we had Eric Bledsoe and we played 12 games into the year and we’re 7-5 and top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, I don’t think that’s a horrible team.”
Since that 7-5 start, however, the Suns have gone 5-20.
“We’ve slid over the last 25 games,” McDonough acknowledged. “I think certainly we have some guys who are capable of playing better than they have played, and you could say that about most of the guys on our roster.
“And we’re all searching for answers, we’re trying to figure out organizationally how to put them in better positions to be successful. But we’re not as bad as we’ve looked lately; we’ll get out of this, we’ll get it figured out, and I’m confident in the players and coaches we have.”
One of those players, at least for now, is Markieff Morris.
The embattled forward played 20 minutes in his return from a two-game suspension against San Antonio last week, but has not seen a minute of action since then. Tuesday, Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said, “We can’t put a guy out there that’s not going to do his best,” which would seem to be an indication that Morris’ time in the Valley may be running out.
However, McDonough said there is not necessarily anything close to something happening with him and a possible trade or not.
“I’d say you never know if you’re close or not until something actually happens,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any quantifiable way to measure that. We’re certainly looking at a number of things between now and the trade deadline, which is I think about five or six weeks away.
“Look, we’re not going to sit here and put our head in the sand and act like everything’s OK and we’re doing everything fine. We obviously need to make some changes and we’ll explore those things as aggressively as we usually do.”
The third-year GM was asked if the team has decided it would be best for everyone involved if Morris was no longer part of the team, and answered that a number of things have been discussed.
“If and when we come to firm conclusions, usually that’s followed by action,” he said. “So as of now we are where we are and we have the roster that we have, and that’s what it is until if and when we make changes.”
The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 18, and if things don’t turn around soon, it wouldn’t be a shock to anyone if the roster underwent some significant changes prior to that date.
Assuming moves are made, it would be more of what has happened over the last few seasons, with the roster being made over at a fairly regular pace. As of now, just five players remain from the 2013-14 team that won 48 games, and McDonough said he approached that success looking to try and improve, which led to where they are now.
“We chased LeBron James and that was the only way we could think of that would bring our franchise to that championship level, or that level we could compete for multiple championships,” he said. “We did project some regression from the players on our roster because that was an incredible job by our coaches and players, coaches put players in position to succeed and the players, most of the guys on that roster had career years and years they hadn’t had before that and have not had since then.
“So we could have brought the exact same team back, I guess, but I didn’t think — first of all, we were good enough to be a playoff team in 2014, which we weren’t — and No. 2, even if we brought back the exact same roster, we thought there would be a drop-off.”
McDonough went on to say the organization is aggressive, adding that sometimes it works and if the team had LaMarcus Aldridge right now, people would feel different about the team and season right now.
“And sometimes that aggression works against you,” he conceded. “I give Robert (Sarver) credit; he provides the direction for this franchise, and he’s always been aggressive. I think you look around the league, there are plenty of franchises kind of hovering around the middle that think they’re doing OK when the rest of the league says, ‘Well you’re not really good enough to win a championship or you’re potentially not going to get a high pick.’
“When I came in here a lot people said, ‘Well you should bottom out and play the young guys and get a top-five pick, and we’ve taken a circuitous route to that point — I’m not saying we’ll end up there, but we may — and if we do, we’ll get another good young player to add to Alex Len and T.J. Warren and Devin Booker and our young core.
“So this is kind of, I don’t know, two years delayed what’s going on now, but at the same time I do like how aggressive we’ve been in that we’re willing to make changes, even if the changes we made haven’t all worked out.”
All that said, McDonough pointed out he does not subscribe to the idea that the best thing for the team would be to bottom out and land a top draft pick.
“We’re never going to try to do that, I’m not saying that. I hope we dig out of this hole and I hope we win and get back into the playoff race, that would be my priority,” he said. “However, if that doesn’t happen there are some players in this draft that we’re excited about and we can add to our group and build on.”
McDonough pointed to the team’s draft record since’s been around, with the team selecting Len, Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Booker in the first round. Ennis was dealt to Milwaukee last season and Bogdanovic is still playing in Europe, but there appear to be some good building blocks in this group.
“I think we’ve scouted well and drafted well with some our picks, especially in the late-lottery the past couple of years, so you know we have options,” McDonough said. “The future is bright, I think, even if the present is a little bit painful and we’re not getting the results we want.”