Now that the Markieff Morris saga has finally ended and we have all had a few days to reflect and digest the most difficult of seasons, it is time for the Phoenix Suns to determine their future. That future should not include Earl Watson as head coach but it should have Ryan McDonough as the general manager.
Plain and simple the Suns need a plan. The problem with the younger generation of owners is they are all crazy. No one has patience — good coaches get fired all the time — see Kevin McHale fired a few months after getting Houston to the Western Conference Finals. The new owners are bankers and software guys and they rely on analytics too heavily because that is what they know.
The Suns need a 3-to-5-year plan. The West is getting older and making the playoffs and building a foundation will not be that hard with the young players Phoenix has and the assets, including draft picks and salary cap space. The Suns need to build an organization with sustained success. It’s not easy to get superstars and that’s what you need to win a championship in this league, but there are only a handful of them and none are coming Phoenix’s way anytime soon. But making the playoffs is a different story. A good team that plays the game the right way and has some talent can make the playoffs without a true superstar.
Let’s start with McDonough. He is young but he has proven to be good at the draft and has made some good trades as well as some bad trades. But drafting and making trades is not what being a general manager is all about. It is about running an organization. It is about managing owners, agents, players, coaches. It’s about having respect, needing to be respected. Look, agents call all the time. They want their players to play because the difference between playing and not playing is millions of dollars. So you have to deal with that. It’s obvious with some of his recent hires owner Robert Sarver doesn’t fully understand what the job entails. You need an overall leader and while there are doubts McDonough can be that, I think he deserves a chance. He has to be able to stand up to players, it can’t always be the coach. He should have done a much better job of handling the Morris situation, but he didn’t. Chalk it up as a learning experience. Players have tremendous egos, each one is their own corporation. It is a difficult job so you must have respect. Things go bad all the time. And right now the Suns could use some continuity so I’d keep McDonough and give him some more leeway to do his job and hope that he is finally ready to lead.
The Suns’ plan should be to win 35 games next year, 42 the year after then make the playoffs in the third year of the new coach’s tenure. Yes, new coach. Watson is not the guy. Neither is Tom Thibodeau, Luke Walton, McHale, Jeff Van Gundy or Mark Jackson. I’ll throw a name out there, one that has ties to Suns organization, has been a head coach for two teams and went to the playoffs four times in five years. Vinny Del Negro. Good coach. Coached Eric Bledsoe for three years. Was interviewed last year for jobs in New Orleans, Cleveland, Denver and Minnesota. Perfect coach. A coach with experience, old school, no ego, wants to win, won’t take any crap. His teams always got better — he won 56 games his last year with the Clippers. Del Negro can bring in a good experienced staff to help.
It’s time for the Suns to let a coach and GM run the team, not an owner and president. But a coach, one with authority. The Suns need to get the spirit in the players back. They need to set the tone early next season. Practice the right way. Set up a winning culture. One in which you do your job. You do what is best for the team. If you don’t like it, tough. The players see and hear everything — trust me, they do. They know what the fans and media think of the team and its performances. So right from the get go build a team that can win back the fans. One that will play hard all the time. If you don’t play hard you don’t play. This is no championship caliber team so setting that tone will not be difficult.
The Suns have some good young talent led by Devin Booker and Alex Len. They have three first-round draft picks and cap space to use. They need to be smart with their money, not sign Tyson Chandler to a four-year deal for $52 million. If the Suns cannot lure the top free agents to town, then sign guys to one-year deals. No reason to tie up cap space for a long time on an average or over the hill player. Plus, players on one-year deals tend to play hard for you as they are working for their next contract, not get complacent.
It’s been a miserable season. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The next few steps are crucial for this organization. A partial cleansing of this house is necessary, but you can keep McDonough, let him hire a coach with experience like Del Negro and have that coach bring in a good experienced staff. Hit on that top-five pick, get some quality with the Washington pick, use free agency to bring in competition and make a trade or two that helps. But have a plan and some patience.