PHOENIX — Playoff droughts are scary. They bring impatience in a sports organization, from the ownership, players, fanbase and the media.
In a town that’s only had one major sports title, seven years removed from the playoffs for a franchise with the fourth-highest winning percentage in NBA history is downright terrifying.
It was a crossroads for the Phoenix Suns and their general manager, Ryan McDonough.
When he arrived with Jeff Hornacek in 2013, he understood that patience would be necessary. From his end, though, his tolerance for losing would have to be partnered with a frenetic level of activity on the trade and free agent market.
For years, the plan was to accumulate assets and wait for the next talented young player or All-Star to be on the market, and bring them in.
McDonough did it once successfully with Eric Bledsoe. He also failed in spectacular fashion with Brandon Knight.
He has always remained active, not being afraid to make one move on top of another and considering everything.
He signed Tyson Chandler to attract LaMarcus Aldridge. He liked two power forwards so much in a draft he not only drafted both of them, but traded up using some of those assets to do so. He’s attempted playing two, even three great point guards together on the same roster.
Throughout this process, there’s been a whole lot of losing, but McDonough has come out of the other end with a core four of players under the age of 21. That’s not to mention the team’s likely top-5 pick in next year’s draft and the players behind that core four who all show promise as role players.
While the rebuild wasn’t done in the most conventional way because of a 48-win season in 2013-14, it was a complete one, albeit a year or two later than expected.
Now, patience is required. The trouble with that prerequisite prior to 11 a.m. local time was McDonough being on the last year of his deal.
In free agency this summer, the team was linked to big names like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. Would Robert Sarver’s reputation as an impatient owner and a potentially desperate McDonough combine for a signing that would impede the progress of their young core?
No. Instead, they showed that required patience, extending McDonough’s contract through the 2019-2020 season.
They looked ahead, saw the team’s current trajectory and, ahem, timeline, would be more well suited for playoff contention at the start of the new decade.
“Doing what we’re trying to do and what we’re on the path to doing requires some patience,” McDonough said Wednesday.
If the term decade feels like it holds a certain weight to it, try a decade out of the playoffs.
That’s what the Suns are likely headed for, and Sarver deserves significant credit for accepting that.
Skepticism surrounding him should dissolve the closer the team gets to that point. There will be no more of seeing “former All-Star X in late 20s to early 30s available” and Suns fans recoiling in fear at the possibility of Sarver pulling over the car, taking the wheel and getting off at the nearest exit toward 35-45 wins.
With the extension of McDonough, Sarver’s understanding of the process the team must undergo is sound.
“I have no choice but to be patient,” Sarver said, joking that he’s not a patient man.
“At the end of the day, Robert and I think it’s the right thing to do,” McDonough said. “We think it’s the right way to try to build a championship team.”
Those following the team can relax. It was time for Sarver to show his faith in McDonough’s plan and he has.
Now, it’s time to watch the likes of Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender grow and become one of the most hated teams in the league with their swagger and edge.
“We’re trying to primarily bring players in through the draft and develop them together and grow the core of the team together,” McDonough said.
It’s time to watch Booker jaw at players who were in the league when he was in middle school while he drops 35 on them.
It’s time to watch Jackson’s relentless motor piss off everyone he comes up against, watch Chriss get in 15 scuffles a season and watch both him and Bender turn into an inside-outside force that’s irritating and impossible to fully handle.
It’s time to watch Earl Watson translate his clear bond with his players into winning basketball.
It’s time to strap in and get comfortable, because the timeline has taken off to its destination.
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