Suns crying foul hints at problems between their ears

Mar 23, 2023, 1:36 PM | Updated: 2:39 pm

The NBA has an officiating crisis. It either employs referees who are really bad at their jobs or it gives them jobs really good at making them look bad.

In Phoenix, the issue has reached a critical juncture.

Head coach Monty Williams has complained about officiating for three consecutive losses, even walking out on a postgame press conference in Los Angeles. The entire organization seems to be awash in victimhood, struggling with ongoing persecution complex and a battle it will never win. And after a rare loss to the Lakers, Devin Booker casually dropped accusations of rigged competition.

“Like Chris (Paul) said, I watch these games every night, so I kind of understand what’s going on,” Booker told reporters. “I understand the agendas that are being pushed, and (I’m) trying to just get that out of my head and go out there and compete.”

Agendas? What are we talking about here?

The Suns rarely attack the rim on offense. They are known for their midrange mastery. They don’t initiate physicality in the paint on either end of the floor. Their style of play is an issue in a league where fortune and free throws favor the bold.

NBA statistics reveal what logic dictates.

The Suns rank 28th in free throws attempted at 21.5 per game. But that number is only five free throws per game below the NBA’s most rewarded team (Lakers, 26.6 per game). It’s not exactly conspiracy fuel, especially when the network darlings in Golden State rank dead last in the NBA in free throws attempted.

Some have suggested the team is paying for the actions of its previous owner. Disgraced former official Tim Donaghy openly admitted that Robert Sarver’s courtside antagonism led to heavy-handed retribution from the officials, most notably during a playoff series against the rival Spurs.

More recently, the Suns have been tagged as a flopping, foul-hunting, fall-down-after-every-shot kind of team. A team that is always eager to trick officials into making the wrong call. Into making them look bad. You don’t think that comes with consequences?

This issue isn’t unique to our basketball team. Before the Suns tipped off in Los Angeles, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced he was protesting his team’s loss to the Warriors, a game in which Luka Doncic made a gesture implying the refs had been bought off.

But the issue is creating something of a wedge in Phoenix, where the head coach and his star players do not seem to be on the same page when it comes to officiating. Williams has repeatedly told his team to pour their energy into playing better defense, to focus on things they control. And yet his players keep haranguing and harping on officials.

Williams is failing his team in this area. He has been willing to stare quizzically at a box score from a podium. He has been willing to lament free-throw disparities after a game is completed. Yet he has shown no inclination to throw a chair or lose his mind and get ejected from a game in progress, while the outcome is still at hand. His players surely notice that, too.

In the end, the Suns are effectively punished for being a soft team between the lines. But it’s the softness between the ears — especially when it comes to officials — that might end up costing them a championship.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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