It’s not easy trying to find a single word to describe the 2014-15 Phoenix Suns season.
The Suns have shown flashes of excellence, but also struggled. They had a player get into an intense shouting match with his coach on the bench, as well as another publicly call out the team’s front office. Of the 13 players who were with the team on opening night, six are no longer on the roster.
The year began with high expectations following last season’s 48-win campaign, but barring a minor miracle this year’s iteration will finish with fewer wins. The one thing they’ll have in common, however, is missing the postseason.
So, what word would you pick? Frustrating? Disappointing? Confusing? Weird?
For Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby, the choice is “consolidation.”
“To me, we have consolidated the gains we made last year,” he told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday. “I know that sounds peculiar, but that’s kind of the way I feel about it. We went from 25 wins to 48 wins last year, an extraordinary jump.
“And this year, we’re still over .500 in the Western Conference with an extraordinarily young team. So to me it’s a season of consolidation.”
When the season began, the average age of the Suns’ roster was 25.1. As of Thursday, it is now 25.87.
But the players who make up their rotation, Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Brandan Wright, average 24 years of age.
With 10 games left in the season, the Suns — at 38-34 — are three games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. Should they fail to make up the difference, it will be the fifth consecutive season out of the playoffs for an organization that used to consistently be one of the NBA’s best.
While disappointing, especially when last season’s young Suns team came ever-so-close to the postseason, Babby said that surprise run ended up giving this year’s team a bit of a raw deal.
“I think the expectations were raised so dramatically by the performance last year, it was almost impossible to match,” he said. “As much as we talked about it and sensed it and took steps to try to avoid it, all those things have come to pass.
“But if you look at where we are relative to two years ago, when you look at where we’re going in the future with the youth of our team and the continued progress of Alex Len and the Morris twins and Archie and the promising play of T.J. Warren and bringing in a 23-year-old potential star in Brandon Knight; to me, we’ve consolidated the gains that we made last year. Consolidated the progress.”
It’s true that for all the disappointment that this season may have brought, a lack of an obvious step forward does not necessarily mean the Suns have taken a step back. They’re still young, they still have talent, and they still have the same front office/coaching staff combination that bred so much hope this time one year go.
And while there are no guarantees that any of what the team is doing now will pay off big down the road, a plan is in place to try and not only get the team back to the playoffs, but be a championship contender.
It all starts somewhere, which is why Babby has no issue saying this season was about his word, consolidation.
“So that to me is the theme this season, and in a lot of ways that was the goal of the season, as far as I was concerned, personally,” he said. “Sure, we wanted to make the playoffs, we wanted to win more games than last year. But realistically I wanted to prove that last year was not just a fluke; it was the beginning of laying a foundation.
“People talk about, well, are we still rebuilding. To me no, we’re building. We’re building on the foundation that we set last year.”
Babby understands the process has not been — and probably will not be — a smooth one.
“And yeah, it’s been fitful, but anytime you have a group of young players like this, you’re going to have ups and downs and the emotion swings are dramatic and their performance is dramatic,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I feel like we’ve consolidated the gains. We feel confident that we have the core of a really good team going forward, and to be able to say that after two years, I think is encouraging.”