DAN BICKLEY

The Suns’ success dusts off issues only playoff teams experience

Feb 25, 2021, 11:23 AM
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) has words with Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, right, duri...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) has words with Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. Booker was given a technical foul for the confrontation. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Winning teams bring new problems. Suns fans are beginning to remember what they forgot during a 10-year playoff drought.

To wit:

In the span of 30 hours, Devin Booker was an All-Star Game snub; was called the “most disrespected” player in the league by LeBron James; made the All-Star Game as injury replacement for the second consecutive year, becoming the martyr king of the NBA; and then the Suns lost at home to the Hornets, on a night when Booker was issued a questionable technical foul and missed a game-tying shot on a play where he was clearly fouled.

That’s a lot to digest. Get your popcorn and your antacid. There’s a lot more of this coming in the next 41 games.

New issue 1: Having a real playoff team rekindles the nightmare of NBA officiating, when games of enhanced magnitude are decided by men who whistle while they work. It’s an infuriating dynamic, especially in cities that believe they’ve been unfairly persecuted by the league.

We are one of those cities. We’ve seen injustice with our eyes. We’ve heard about it for decades from team broadcasters. Nobody seems to remember that one of the fishiest free throw displays in playoff history came in Phoenix, during a Game 7 when the Suns attempted 64 free throws, securing a high-powered NBA Finals matchup between Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

Officiating doesn’t mean a thing when you’re barely winning 20 games a year. That has changed dramatically in the Valley.

New issue 2: Booker’s reputation is hard to quantify and even harder to figure. It’s also a near certainty that Mavericks star Luka Doncic would’ve received the call that Booker did not at the end of Wednesday’s game.

This problem will evaporate over time. As the Suns continue to win and ascend, the ignorant and the analytic-minded will understand what they’ve been missing.

But sometimes, Booker doesn’t help himself, allowing his fury to get the best of him. The Hornets did a great job of getting under his skin, on a night when he was clearly on edge from the All-Star Game fiasco. Maybe Booker should spend a little part of his pre-game routine schmoozing with the official, just like Paul does. Couldn’t hurt.

New issue 3: For most of his tenure in Arizona, Monty Williams has been coaching from a pedestal. He deserves a lot of credit for helping create a new culture in Phoenix, for keeping a Zen-like presence inside an organization that defined dysfunction for nearly a decade.

The bar was also very low after our dalliances with inexperienced head coaches like Lindsey Hunter, Earl Watson and Igor Kokoskov.

But coaching decisions that backfire take on absurd importance with contending teams. Williams needs to get his rotations right. And he is going to have to address the new defensive issues that come with Deandre Ayton guarding players on the perimeter.

In totality, Ayton remains a highly frustrating player. His potential remains limitless, but his suspect hands and his maddening passivity threaten to doom this team in high-leverage situations. But that’s not new.

What must be addressed right now is how Ayton is being exposed and exploited by smaller, quicker players, leading to many uncontested dunks and layups. And judging by Wednesday’s loss, the Suns head coach still hasn’t solved the problem of complacency.

New issue 4: The release of the NBA’s second-half schedule felt like a football event, where NFL fans pore over details and road trips and any signs of inequity. Alas, the Suns don’t have it easy in the second batch of games in 2021.

Twice, they play the Jazz and Clippers in successive games. From April 19-30, the Suns will face Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Utah. Twelve of their final 16 games are on the road. They will earn their playoff spot in 2021.

New issue 5: General Manager James Jones is in the midst of a masterpiece. He convinced owner Robert Sarver to spend big on an experienced head coach. He added Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to a roster that featured Booker and Mikal Bridges. Now comes his final stroke:

The trade deadline is March 25. Will Jones secure another frontcourt piece, maybe an experienced big man who can fortify this team from Ayton’s erratic, unreliable performances? Can the GM put this team over the top?

Stay tuned. Not that you need a reminder.

Comments

Comment guidelines: No name-calling, personal attacks, profanity, or insults. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate comments by reporting abuse.
comments powered by Disqus

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the seco...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals catch a break, protect home turf behind Kyler Murray

In the NFL, there is a fine line between victory and vilification. The Cardinals ended up on the right side of the ledger on Sunday.
1 day ago
The Arizona Cardinals run onto the field for the NFL game against the New England Patriots at the U...
Dan Bickley

Will Red Sea reignite as fans sell out Cardinals’ home opener?

State Farm Stadium was eerily quiet in 2020, when a pandemic interrupted a streak of 144 consecutive sellouts. A new era begins Sunday.
5 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates after teammate Corey Peters, third from l...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals deliver early on promise to bring more physicality in 2021

It’s only 1,600 miles to Nashville. But few NFL teams covered more ground than the Arizona Cardinals in a Week 1 victory.
7 days ago
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles away from Tennessee Titans free safety Kev...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals’ beatdown of Titans felt like a preview of destruction

Greatness doesn’t wait or whisper. It declares itself loudly. Just like the Cardinals’ 38-13 win over the Titans on Sunday. Overreaction?
9 days ago
In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, a man walks by as betting odds for NFL football's Super Bowl 55 a...
Dan Bickley

Arizona enters new era of sports with legalized sports gambling

Dan Bickley examines what the arrival of legal sports gambling in Arizona means for the sports scene in the state and country going forward.
12 days ago
Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals stands on the sidelines during the second half...
Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals’ 2021 roadmap to success littered with uncertainty

The Arizona Cardinals are a volatile stock in 2021. Some forecast disaster. Others see potential for greatness.
14 days ago
The Suns’ success dusts off issues only playoff teams experience