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Suns GM: Poor play concerning but opportunity is there

Phoenix Suns guard Brandon Knight (3) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz's Rodney Hood (5) defends while Derrick Favors (15) watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Salt Lake City. The Jazz won 110-89. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
LISTEN: Ryan McDonough, Suns' General Manager

The Phoenix Suns thought this season would go differently. And if they didn’t think it would, they certainly hoped.

Yet, 30 games into the campaign, they are 12-18. Though the Suns are just two games out of a playoff spot, they are also just one win better than they were at this point in the 2012-13 season, when the team bottomed out at 25-57.

No one is saying this year’s version is destined for the same kind of finish, but the longer the struggles continue, the more questions there are about what exactly is wrong and how the team can get things turned around.

A guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough pointed to inconsistency as a culprit.

“And I think, especially when you have younger players playing or guys who haven’t been in the game a lot, late in games, those situations are relatively new to them,” he said. “You see a team like Dallas, who we thought would probably be right in the mix with us in the standings and battling for the playoffs, they have experienced players, veteran players who have been in that position before and kind of know what to do.”

Led by 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, 31-year-old Deron Williams and 29-year-old Wesley Matthews, the Mavericks are 15-13 and currently occupy the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.

“With our guys, I think we need to continue to teach them what to do,” McDonough said. “Maybe simplify it a little bit and just repeat over and over again what we’re trying to do and hammer home that consistency, make sure we execute in some of these late-game settings.”

The third-year GM made sure to point out that there is not any one thing that has led to the team’s poor record, as there have been stretches this season where they have scored a lot of points and defended well.

“But just consistently night in and night out, we haven’t been able to put it together,” McDonough said. “I think when you’re at a stretch of the schedule like the one we’re in now, it can snowball if you’re not careful because you have so many games coming so quickly with very few practice days, that you have to get back to what you do well and get back to the precision that you had or hope to have to start the year, and that’s what we’ve been focused on the past couple days.”

The Suns, who lost 110-89 to the Utah Jazz on Monday, take on the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, all at home. From there, they will have four straight road games, with matchups against the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder among them.

Maybe things will turn around over the next couple of weeks. Then again, maybe they won’t.

As of now, McDonough said a coaching change has not been discussed, so it does not appear Jeff Hornacek’s job is in any danger if things don’t improve. McDonough cited the third-year coach’s winning record as proof he can get the job done, adding they will give him “every opportunity” to be successful.

That said, McDonough admitted everyone in the organization can do better.

As far as changes, McDonough said the plan is to tweak the starting lineup a little more (Phoenix will run with Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, T.J. Warren, Jon Leuer and Alex Len against the Nuggets) and shuffle with rotations before looking externally for a trade opportunity with the Feb. 19 deadline a little less than two months away.

“Our first step is to look internally and remember that the same players who are on our roster now were on the team when we started the year 7-5 and were in the top 10 in the league in offensive and defensive efficiency,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve had a rough month, a brutal month going 5-13 over the past 30 days or so, and I don’t think any of us anticipated that we’d have a stretch like that when the season started.

“But we did know that December would be tough just with all the games — I can’t ever remember a team having 18 games in a calendar month, that seems like a heck of a lot — so we’ve had a back-to-back and a lot of travels. But at the end of the day we haven’t been good enough.”

McDonough added that means everyone needs to hold themselves accountable, and he pointed to Sunday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks as one of the more frustrating defeats they’ve sustained this season. Phoenix took a 15-point lead in the third quarter but couldn’t hang on.

“Now with all that being said, we sit here today and obviously we’re not happy at all with a 12-18 record, but the West is very different than I think all of us predicted this year,” he said. “As we sit here today, we’re two games out of the eighth spot and we’re four games out of the fifth spot, which is remarkable.

“But despite our poor play and underachievement so far, I do see an opportunity and I think we’ll get it turned around, and hopefully that starts tonight with our game against Denver.”

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