EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns remain confident, paint picture beyond bleak end to season

May 1, 2024, 8:27 PM

Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — If you went into Wednesday’s end-of-season availability for Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones with zero idea of how the season went, you’d need more than 50 guesses to land on what really happened.

Ishbia and Jones were not only very positive about the future but vague when addressing the failures.

Yes, there is some merit to them remaining in that glass-full headspace through the lens of a back-and-forth with the media. But the scales were heavily tipped onto that side instead of a proper balance between that and reviewing what spiraled for the Suns. This was a team once thought of as one of the two main powers in the Western Conference that avoided the play-in tournament in game No. 82 before getting swept in a first-round series that included three uncompetitive finishes.

They also chose to hold the availability before deciding the fate of head coach Frank Vogel, so there was no clarity there. The majority of what was said on the critical side was muddled and lacking substance, just like the basketball team we watched this past year.

Jones on a few separate occasions referenced Phoenix’s lack of chemistry and continuity, noting how Phoenix will progress once it gets on the same page and simply ran out of time. What are some of the contributing factors to that? Is it time together? Personalities not meshing?

“I think all of those things, all of those human conditions you talked about,” Jones said. “Familiarity — once you’re familiar with someone you can develop a deep level of trust where you can be honest and candid in the toughest moments. I think when you’re familiar with someone, you can start to get on the same page and recognize the patterns and the behaviors that put you on the same page. So I don’t think there’s just one factor. I do know over time it’s easier the more time you have but we look at this from year-to-year and our goal, my goal, my responsibility, coach’s responsibility, the player’s responsibility is to accelerate all of those things because that’s the only way you get ahead of it when you’re coming together for the first time like we were.”

That process was a mess this year. And while the 2020-21 run to the NBA Finals was Monty Williams’ second season, it was the first for Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, two incredibly large fixtures in the leadership dynamic and Paul’s systematic inclusion into the offense was another huge element to figure out. They did.

Both Ishbia and Jones kept coming back to a win total of 49, which is a solid number, but hardly discussed the sweep. They noted the injuries and lack of time the team had together when again, this group should have overcome those obstacles and wasn’t exactly hamstrung by them to completely tank the season’s outcome.

Ishbia wanted to take some of his time to target a few takes he had been reading up on, noting “the house is not on fire” despite some outlets declaring Phoenix’s current position as inescapable, such as The Ringer describing the Suns as “screwed.”

There were other takes that were more of the inaccurate nature, such as Phoenix’s complete lack of draft picks (not true) or one throwaway line from Stephen A. Smith about how Devin Booker would want to play in New York for the Knicks (OK sure thing) that is now on Day 3 of being in the news cycle (please make it stop).

What’s the next word after quadruple? For five? Google says quintuple. Ishbia quintupled down on where the team is at.

“It’s extremely fixable. Let’s just be real. Although this isn’t a cool narrative and the national media really won’t want to play it out there but ask the 29 other GMs, 26 of them would trade their whole team for our whole team and our draft picks and everything as is,” Ishbia said. “The house is not on fire. We’re in a great position. It’s not hard to fix. It’s not like we’re like, ‘Hey guys, we don’t have enough talent to win a championship.’ We have enough talent to win a championship. Do we have enough continuity? Did we have time together? There’s a lot of things we can look at it. Do we have great leadership in place? Do we have to add some little pieces around? It’s not like we don’t have people that can score the ball, not play defense and have won championships — we have all the things.

“So how fixable is it? If I read the media I would think we have a lot of problems. But luckily I get to spend time with the best players in the world in my opinion, the best coaches, GMs — all these people and I get to spend time with our people and say we’re in really great shape and I wouldn’t trade our team or our situation for anyone else’s — except for I’d like to be playing right now — but besides that going into the offseason I feel great about that. There’s a lot of other teams that have good players that have to re-sign them or they’re going to lose them or their unrestricted free agents — our starting five is coming back. I feel very good about it.”

Ishbia was asked to assess the moves he’s made with accountability in mind, a question surely focused primarily on the Kevin Durant trade but also the others made last offseason.

“I feel really great about all the things we’ve done in 15 months. The outcome of this year’s playoff series and last year’s playoff series, let’s take those two things out of there, besides that I feel like we’ve made a lot of amazing decisions,” Ishbia said, going on to clarify those are team decisions and not just his before rattling off some of Phoenix’s correctly labeled decisions to upgrade the franchise off the court.

“You look back at some of the trades that James and all of us were part of. We do those things 100 out of 100 times. Not 99 out of 100, 100 out of 100 and we’d still do them again and I think the other 29 GMs would all do the same exact thing.”

Looking past the postseason results in any way and the 29 GMs line are both tough sells. Once more, should Ishbia have stated, “Hey we shouldn’t have traded The Twins and a wealth of picks for Durant. Also we would have been better off taking time on Paul’s situation instead of taking on a mega contract that handcuffs us even further?” Of course not. But the degree to which the perception trended let off an odd tone not matching the season that transpired.

To go back to the topic of balance over this presentation, it should be noted that a lot of the more fair speculation about potentially some big changes coming this offseason centralizes around the thought of Ishbia having a quick trigger finger. That directly contradicts the vibe from Wednesday.

There was some stuff between the lines if you want to choose to read into it. Ishbia gave his perspective on the leadership and thinks it is “the coach” and Booker before naming other players as well. He did not refer to Vogel by name during that answer. And the overall evaluation of the roster sure didn’t sound like a top decision-maker that would be attempting to trade Beal or Durant this summer.

All in all, it was just bizarre. So in that way, it served as a fitting finale to send off a strange season of Suns basketball.

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