The Phoenix Suns got off to a rough start this season, with their record dropping to 12-14 at one point and leading to questions about just how good the team is.
From there, though, they rebounded, and pushed their mark to a season-best eight games over .500 at 28-20 with a home win over the Chicago Bulls on January 30.
After that was another slide, and since then the team has kept its record above .500 but lost its grasp on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But a four-game winning streak has done enough to keep them in the playoff picture for at least a little while longer.
“I’m not too surprised,” former Sun and current basketball analyst Grant Hill told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday while admitting he hasn’t been able to follow much NBA over the last few weeks due to preparing for the NCAA Tournament. “I was a little unsure of whether that would work, the three point guard system. I was unsure last year if the two point guards, Goran (Dragic) and Eric (Bledsoe) would work, and I guess it did work out.”
It did work out last year, as the Suns won 48 games and appeared to be one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams.
Things have not been the same this year.
If not a struggle, this season has at least been different. Roles have not always been clearly defined, players have not always seemed happy and the trade deadline led to the departure of some key players. Hill said the Suns need to decide what they want to do, mentioning the options of continuing to go with young players with the hope that they will develop into a playoff-caliber team or keeping roster flexibility to make a trade.
That makes plenty of sense for a team like the Suns, who right now has both a stable of young players as well as flexibility to make moves if they choose to. That in itself would not seem like a bad position to be in, especially given where the franchise was just two years ago.
However, some may look at this season as a disappointment — especially on the heels of what happened last season — and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
But as Hill points out, what happened in 2013-14 may have unfairly skewed the perception of what the Suns should have been this year.
“I think what kind of screwed everything up was the success of last year,” he said. “I think everyone after last season had all these sort of high expectations and unrealistic expectations.
“I think part of it was the team played out of their mind, there were a lot of things going on, people didn’t expect anything — there weren’t any expectations. It’s tough now, when you have those expectations and people now are expecting you to be good.”
To be fair, it’s not as if the Suns have been bad, either. Competitive on most evenings, they are likely to finish with a winning record for the second straight season. It may not be worth writing home about, but it is something given how truly bad the team was not long ago.
“Just building a playoff team and, ultimately, hopefully a championship team I think it’s methodical, it’s not something where you snap your fingers and it happens overnight,” Hill added. “But I think they have some flexibility, have some good, young pieces and I think over the next three to five years you just remain flexible and try to make the right decisions.”