The Phoenix Suns have issues, major issues — that is the understatement of the year.
At 12-20 this season is a train wreck and with Eric Bledsoe now out for the season it is likely going to get worse. The Suns have a lot of work to do to win back the fans and become respectable once again, but that is easier said than done.
What Phoenix first needs to do is to identify what is the cause of the problems? What are the real issues? Why are the Suns one of the worst teams in the NBA and headed to the draft lottery again? Why are they such a dysfunctional organization?
It’s not an easy thing to figure out, but a necessity in order to get this thing headed in the right direction. When last season ended, the Suns’ management and ownership identified the problem as a lack of leadership. Too many young guys on the roster and not enough veteran leadership to guide the younger players through the grind of 82 games.
So Phoenix addressed that issue by bringing in Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Price, Sonny Weems, Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer. And what did the effect of having veterans in the clubhouse do for this team?
After losing to lowly Philadelphia, the Suns decided that the answer to fixing things is ridding themselves of some of their assistant coaches. They fired two respected coaches who both have championship rings. Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi are out in a bench shakeup. I guess it was their fault that the Suns weren’t winning. But you have to blame someone for this season, so let’s start with those two guys. Longabardi was a coach on the Celtics 2008 NBA Championship team and Sichting was a player on the Celtics 1985-86 title team. Both had tons of experience and success in the coaching ranks.
Maybe these moves were made to give Earl Watson a chance to be at the front of the bench. OK, I can live with that as Watson has a lot of potential to be a good coach. Maybe rumblings I had heard that both assistant coaches were positioning themselves to replace head coach Jeff Hornacek if the axe were to fall and didn’t have his best interests at heart were true. I can live with that if that is the case.
But let’s make one thing certain here, the Phoenix Suns are losing games this year because they don’t have enough talent. Yes, it is that simple. No, it’s not the coaching nor is it the leadership in the clubhouse. That was so overrated it was ridiculous. And while Markieff Morris continues to be a problem, they are not 12-20 because of him. Yes Suns management made a huge mistake when they elected not to trade him in the offseason despite all the information I was providing to the public and the Suns about how this was going to go down. All of that information has proven true.
Morris doesn’t want to be here and the Suns are actively shopping him and P.J. Tucker in an effort to create more opportunities for other players. But there is so little value for Morris that all I am hearing they can do is get off the contract. Some teams don’t want Markieff for FREE. You read that correctly. They would rather preserve cap space and not add three years of salary. Most teams have similar players as Morris is nothing special — just an average basketball player when he is on his game.
The Suns have made lot of mistakes lately. Trading the Lakers’ first-round draft pick in the deal for Brandon Knight and then paying Knight close to max money. If we are being perfectly honest, Isaiah Thomas is a better player than Knight and he comes at a fraction of the price. Speaking of Thomas, signing him and trying to keep three point guards happy was a huge mistake that resulted in Goran Dragic demanding a trade.
Signing Tyson Chandler to a four-year, $52 million contract when he is nothing more than a bench/role player at this point in his career was a mistake especially considering Alex Len was a better player at the time of the signing. Getting Chandler only made sense if they had gotten LaMarcus Aldridge. Keeping Markieff Morris in the summer, fall and now winter. Jerry Colangelo traded Robert Horry a few days after he threw a towel at then head coach Danny Ainge. The Suns suspended Morris two games for the same infraction. Those are just a few. And let’s not forget that the Suns followed up the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire a few years back with Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. Mistake, mistake, mistake. Getting rid of Stoudemire wasn’t wrong, but adding those three was.
The draft picks recently have been good — Len, T.J. Warren and Devin Booker were good picks by general manager Ryan McDonough. Those three guys are solid young players to build with, so McDonough has an eye for talent in the draft. It has been his strong point in what he brings to the table. Managing media, owners, coaches and players is what he needs to work on but he is young, and it will be up to owner Robert Sarver to determine if he is the right guy going forward to fix this. Jeff Hornacek has made his share of mistakes but he is not the problem here. Hornacek had no chance with this mess. He was almost Coach of the Year two years ago and now he can’t coach? Please. Hornacek knows what it takes to win, but he doesn’t have the tools in the toolbox.
The Suns need players. Better players than what they have. How they go about getting those players is up to them to figure out. But the Suns need to stop overvaluing their own players. The vast majority of them are nothing special and not worth the money they are being paid. Some of them have taken the money and decided they don’t want to roll up their sleeves anymore, especially on the defensive end. And please stop with all the analytic stuff — it doesn’t reflect heart and attitude.
There is a time and place to make changes. But no matter how many changes the Suns organization makes, they won’t win consistently until they get more talent on the court.