Phoenix Suns fans left to suffer as team goes down familiar road
Nobody suffers like Suns fans.
Not Dodgers fans, whose team hasn’t won a World Series since 1988.
Not Saints fans, whose team was just eliminated from the postseason on the game’s final play for the third consecutive year.
Certainly not fans in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, where recent championships have ended spectacular droughts in the region.
That leaves us in bad company. We’re at a table with Buffalo, Cincinnati and maybe Atlanta. The kind that gets seated at the back of the restaurant, next to the bathroom.
The Suns are a special kind of suffering. They’re 0-2 in NBA Finals, lost a coin flip for the leading scorer in league history and botched their only No. 1 draft pick. They haven’t won a championship in their 51-year history. They are threatening to miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
They were once elevated by a great owner and grounded by a bad one who has since changed his ways. Or so everyone hopes.
Suffering takes all forms, and our current misery is a slow and painful resignation. It’s the realization that Monty Williams, Deandre Ayton and real culture change requires more than 11 games. It does not happen overnight.
The team that won seven of its first 11 games has inconveniently disappeared, replaced by a team that has been diminished by the return of Ayton. He is an immature player who makes double-doubles seem effortless yet rarely impacts a basketball game. He goes with the flow, never changes the tone, settles for mid-range jump shots and rarely shoots free throws.
He is the kind of player who will drive a certain kind of fan to the edge of madness.
After Sunday’s home loss to the Grizzlies, Williams bailed on his post-game press conference, after repeating a similar statement over and over again. He blamed a team that can’t consistently follow instructions or reach a certain standard, the first time Williams chose to make a scene in public.
It was a choreographed message to his players and not the assembled media.
In effect, it was Williams’ last act of paternal protection for the group. His refusal to take questions from the media was his way of covering for underachieving players, for not dropping names just yet. It was the first real show of strength from a Suns head coach since interim head coach Jay Triano benched Josh Jackson.
The immediate response will be interesting. If there is real character in the locker room, and real respect between locker room and head coach, they will respond to Williams’ disappointment.
If not, we’re in Year One of a rebuilding effort that’s already been going on for a decade. It’s hard for anyone to reconcile that much wasted time, much less bandwagon fans in a transient market. Unlike Robert Sarver, the Suns haven’t added a billion dollars to our net worth. His consolation prize is much better than ours.
Since their 7-4 start, the Suns have grown soft, dumb and disconnected. The budding identity on display in the first three weeks of the season no longer exists. That was back when Aron Baynes was flourishing, Ricky Rubio was holding up on both ends of the court and Dario Saric rarely made the wrong play.
There is also a current resignation that the Suns will never do anything bold to boost their immediate changes, like trading for disgruntled Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns. After all, the Suns could’ve acquired Kyrie Irving. They could’ve used their cap space to acquire D’Angelo Russell. They perpetually scoff at defining moments, the marquee maneuvers that either boom or bust. Trepidation has permeated the organization, and here’s why:
Acquiring top-dollar athletes like Towns flows from the very top. Like when Jerry Colangelo decided he couldn’t live without Randy Johnson. Or when he signed Mark Grace over a bottle of red wine at Pizzeria Bianco. Or when Ken Kendrick suddenly threw caution to the wind for Zack Greinke, stunning those in his employ.
There seems to be no hope of that in Phoenix, where no one seems to want the accountability and heavy-lifting of convincing Sarver to spend a boatload of money for a player who might not pay off. You might get an earful down the road.
So what do we do?
Basketball fans in Phoenix have no choice other than to wait. Patiently. Eternally. Without options. Hoping that the stern guidance of Williams will eventually steer Ayton to a light switch and we’ll all experience the exhilaration of faith rewarded. The other side of hard.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.