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Dan Bickley

Suns change franchise’s narrative by winning NBA Draft Lottery

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, left, congratulates Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson after Tatum announced that the Suns had won the first pick for the NBA basketball draft, during the draft lottery Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

They don’t hang banners for teams that win the draft lottery?

Burp. Try telling that to basketball fans in the Valley who went to bed wearing party hats, no longer the most tormented audience in the NBA.

The Suns are finally No. 1. The milestone almost warrants a return of Robert Sarver’s giant foam finger. And on a historic night in the Valley, two roars tell the story.

The first came when the Suns weren’t announced as owners of the fourth pick in the upcoming draft, the worst-case destination assumed by most jaded fans. The other came when the Suns were the last team to emerge from an envelope, setting off confetti cannons and raucous celebration, a scene not seen since the Suns actually played basketball in the month of May.

The team and this town badly needed a moment like this.

“It’s refreshing to be on this side of history,” said James Jones, vice president of basketball operations.

For the moment, this isn’t about the impending selection, the ability to choose whoever they want. Most assume it will be Deandre Ayton, a dynamic 7-footer who will give the Suns an impact center, the hulking creature that has eluded this franchise for 50 years.

Compounding our problem, the Lakers built dynasties with Wilt, Shaq and Kareem.

“I can see a little Shaq and Kobe 2.0,” Ayton once said about a future in Phoenix, playing alongside Devin Booker.

The Suns could also select Luka Doncic. The more you read about this kid, the more fascinating he becomes. He lost part of his childhood to basketball, signing to play for Real Madrid at age 13. He’s 6-foot-8, has absurd passing skills and is one of the most polished players Europe has ever produced.

There is plenty of time for drama. Igor Kokoskov, the Suns’ new head coach, masterfully utilized his highly-emotional player, guiding Slovenia to an unexpected title at the EuroBasket tournament last summer. Doncic is too good to bust, like so many other soft European players have in the past. But he won’t find a better landing place than Phoenix, and the pairing would instantly guarantee the Suns another 2.2 million fans — the population of Slovenia.

The choice seems obvious to some. Ayton is the safer pick, and Kokoskov doesn’t have the leverage to stand on a table for Doncic, even though a player nicknamed “Wonder Boy” helped catapult a lifetime assistant to NBA head coach. And remember, Kokoskov wasn’t hired because the Suns wanted to draft the Real Madrid star.

He was hired because he was the best candidate and best fit of all the coaches who didn’t turn down the Suns during their exhaustive coaching search. He would provide additional value if the Suns somehow ended up with Doncic.

The narrative has changed. The Suns won’t be choosing from leftovers. They inherit the pressure of getting it right. And for the moment, the identity of our next highly-touted rookie is a decision that can wait. We’re going to enjoy this for a while.

The Suns won the draft lottery shortly after the Diamondbacks lost A.J. Pollock to a fractured thumb. The No. 1 pick will spark debate, spawn interest and sell tickets. We can all window shop until June 21, changing our minds whenever we choose. No other fan base in the NBA deserves this kind of momentum shift more than us.

For too long, Suns fans have been jilted by Lady Luck and stalked by Miss Fortune. They haven’t won a championship in 50 years. They haven’t made the playoffs in nearly a decade. They were victimized by the most punitive gavel a commissioner has ever wielded, a bang that altered the course of history. Their most popular teams always seem to end in some tragic form of injustice, leading to the persecution complex that permeates the Valley.

That changed on Tuesday when Suns fans found redemption for the coin flip that haunted their franchise at inception, losing out on Abdul-Jabbar and ending up with Neal Walk.

“Kareem-Abdul Ayton,” said Suns fan Russell Brooks, a good friend and season-ticket holder from 2004-13. “The curse has been lifted.”

The energy is undeniable. Jones seems to be a great addition to the front office, filling the weaknesses in Ryan McDonough’s game. Meanwhile, Jones and Jared Dudley recently countered the notion that owner Robert Sarver is meddling too much, ruining one of the best traits the organization had during the Jerry Colangelo era. Namely, its reputation across the league.

So, if Sarver has changed, and the Suns’ luck has finally changed, it safe to believe that banner can’t be far behind?

Alas, they don’t pass out rings to franchises that win a draft lottery. But this occurrence did something very important for the Valley, and for Planet Orange. It came after the Cardinals lucked into Josh Rosen at the NFL Draft. It filled the well of faith, rewarding a fan base that has suffered too much.

“They deserve to be on top, at least for one night,” Jones said.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier