Suns are latest failure of championship dream in Phoenix
May 11, 2023, 10:50 PM | Updated: 11:48 pm
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)
PHOENIX — Championship dreams always die hard. In Phoenix, they die angry.
The 2022-23 Suns are just our latest failure.
Eulogies will not be kind following a nauseating 125-100 loss to the Nuggets on Thursday at Footprint Center. The Suns entered the postseason as favorites to win the Western Conference, only to be eliminated by another blowout loss at home in the second round.
Once is a coincidence. Twice is a pattern.
“It sucked,” Suns star Kevin Durant said. “It was a bad feeling. Embarrassing. They came out and hit us in the mouth. We couldn’t recover.”
A healthy sports town might understand the natural order of things, and how the Suns need a full offseason to assemble a complete, cohesive team around Durant and Devin Booker.
But that is little consolation for a region that has gone 55 years without an NBA championship; owns the longest championship drought in the NFL; and has spent most of the century embarrassed by our NHL franchise.
It’s also extremely painful for a fan base yearning to send the beloved Al McCoy into retirement with a long-awaited championship ring. That is an opportunity we’re never getting back.
Besides, the biggest problem wasn’t the bench or the overall quality of role players. It was the ongoing struggles of Durant, who failed to live up to the hype, an all-time great who was anything but after joining the Suns in February. To his credit, he shouldered the blame and refused to make excuses.
“If I provide context, it would just be looked at as an excuse,” Durant said. “We just have to be better next year.”
With Durant and a marginalized Booker struggling in tandem, the Suns gave up 44 points in the first quarter. They trailed by 30 points at halftime, leaving the court to a chorus of boos. It was eerily similar to the Game 7 debacle against the Mavericks. The only thing different was the name of their Eastern European conqueror.
“I take that personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” head coach Monty Williams said. “That’s something I pride myself on and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
Except the same thing happened last year, and Williams deserves a hefty portion of the blame on many fronts.
Said Cameron Payne, who led the team with a playoff-high 31 points:
“It hurt. It hurt big-time, especially with our team. It hurt, (especially) in front of our fans … it’s not us. Especially after last year (when) we kind of did the same thing. It’s not a good feeling.”
The disgust is palpable. Durant’s struggles have only intensified the loss of fan-favorite Mikal Bridges. The polarizing Deandre Ayton tapped out of Game 6 with a rib injury and has likely played his last game in Phoenix. The future of Chris Paul is also uncertain, and it’s clear a major shakeup is coming this summer.
Former NBA great Isiah Thomas is a confidante of new owner Mat Ishbia and has been shadowing the team for most of the postseason. His opinion of general manager James Jones and head coach Monty Williams will likely carry significant weight.
Williams deserves credit for those magical days in the Orlando bubble; for instilling a culture of hard work and mentoring young players. But his teams blew a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals and a 2-0 lead against the Mavericks a year ago. He has been playoff fodder for opposing coaches and a terrible leader in the postseason. He no longer seems to be reaching this team, or whatever is left of it.
Here’s the silver lining: Ishbia is extremely wealthy, ambitious and impatient. He has the ascendant Booker for another five years, and Durant for another three. There will be no running it back this time, and with the right additions, the Suns should be a strong contender for that elusive championship next season.
So, take heart, Arizona. Even if the current team lost theirs somewhere along the way.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.