As the Phoenix Suns look up in the Western Conference, they see 14 other teams they thought they’d be able to compete with this year. Their record of 13-27 doesn’t accurately reflect the quality of the club. They have to take some responsibility for their lack of success and personnel choices, but they’ve also been quite unlucky.
Summer of 2012
When the Suns traded Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers, it wasn’t exactly lauded by the masses. In reality, the Suns did a good job of stockpiling draft picks for the future. If the Lakers end up in the lottery this year, the Suns will receive that pick.
It was a move looking towards the future, as a new era of Suns basketball began. The Suns could strike gold with those picks, or they could use them in a package to trade for a star at some point.
The first major blow came when restricted free agent Eric Gordon ended up having his offer matched by the New Orleans Hornets. Suns management viewed Gordon as a franchise centerpiece and as an electric scorer who could take over a game at any time.
Once Gordon was off the table, the Suns had to look elsewhere to put together their team.
Then, fortune struck.
The Houston Rockets inexplicably waived Luis Scola via their amnesty provision. The Suns put in a claim for Scola and he was ultimately awarded to them. Scola’s been excellent this year, averaging 13 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just 27.5 minutes of play.
His contract is extremely friendly, at just $13.5 million over the next three years.
The next step in the rebuilding process was the acquisition of Goran Dragic. He’s a familiar face, as the former backup to Nash. Dragic signed a lucrative four-year, $30 million deal with a player option in 2015-16.
Dragic has been as expected. He’s been active in the passing lanes, terrific as a finisher, but not someone who’s going to make the All-NBA first team.
The day after Dragic was announced, Michael Beasley signed on as the latest member of the Suns team. He signed a three-year, $18 million deal with 2014-15 not being fully guaranteed.
There’s no question that Beasley is one of the most uniquely talented offensive players in the NBA. He’s shown glimpses of greatness during his time at Kansas State and during his previous NBA stops, in Miami and Minnesota.
For one reason or another, things haven’t panned out for Beasley and the Suns. It hasn’t gotten ugly, but for now, his potential remains unrealized. Let’s not forget that he averaged 19.2 points per game in 2010-11 and is still only 24 years old.
One week later, the Suns were involved in a three-team trade that sent Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick to the New Orleans Hornets. The Suns received Wesley Johnson and a first-round pick, which was a nice haul.
Johnson was terrific in the preseason, but has struggled to find minutes in Alvin Gentry’s system during the regular season.
After re-signing Shannon Brown and bringing on Jermaine O’Neal, they brought on an assortment of prospects and journeymen to fill the roster. Then, the Suns got a dose of terrible news, both on a professional and a personal level.
Channing Frye was announced as being out indefinitely with an enlarged heart. It’s fortunate that it was caught during a routine physical and before any tragedy could occur. Still, it left a big hole in the Suns’ hearts and on the floor.
Frye was coming off of a solid year, in which he averaged 10.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He stretches the floor with his ability to shoot the three (39% career) and has never turned away from the big shot.
After those offseason happenings and 40 regular season games, that brings us to today. How do the Suns look moving forward?
Gentry has been forced to be extremely patient with his team. In their last two games, they demolished the Chicago Bulls on the road, only to come home and get rocked by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A big problem for the Suns has been closing out games. They are No. 27 in the NBA in fourth-quarter margin, as they get outscored by an average of 1.5 points per game. They place dead last on the road, being outscored by 3.8 points per game.
Is it coaching? Is it an issue of matchups? It’s certainly not a question of desire. The only answer is that the fourth quarter is generally a matchup of each team’s best lineups. The Suns are still trying to search for the lineup with the best chemistry, but it’s a work in progress.
At some point, the spotlight is going to turn to the coaching staff. At the end of the day, the players play the game, but the coaches need to put them in the best position to succeed.
The roster is a mixed bag. While there’s no superstar on the team, the Suns have their fair share of quality veterans. Dragic, Scola and Marcin Gortat could all find their way onto an All-Star team at some point.
However, the NBA is a league of stars. If a team doesn’t have star power, they had better play suffocating defense. The Suns are No. 23 in the NBA in points allowed at 99.8 per game. There will need to be some changes made if the Suns intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2013-14.
|Player||Cap Hit||2012-13||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||Signed Using||Guaranteed|
|Goran Dragic*||$7,500,000||$7,500,000||$7,500,000||$7,500,000||$7,500,000||Cap Space||$22,500,000|
|Marcin Gortat*||$7,258,960||$7,258,960||$7,727,280||Early Bird Rights||$14,986,240|
|Michael Beasley*||$5,750,000||$5,750,000||$6,000,000||$6,250,000||Cap Space||$11,750,000|
|Wesley Johnson*||$4,285,560||$4,285,560||1st Round Pick||$4,285,560|
|Jared Dudley*||$4,250,000||$4,250,000||$4,250,000||$4,250,000||$4,250,000||Bird Rights||$17,000,000|
|Luis Scola*||$4,148,510||$4,148,510||$4,508,504||$4,868,499||Cap Space||$13,525,513|
|Shannon Brown*||$3,500,000||$3,500,000||$3,500,000||Cap Space||$3,500,000|
|Markieff Morris*||$2,005,560||$2,005,560||$2,091,840||$2,989,239||1st Round Pick||$4,097,400|
|Kendall Marshall*||$1,919,160||$1,919,160||$2,005,560||$2,091,840||$2,989,239||1st Round Pick||$3,924,720|
|Jermaine O’Neal*||$854,389||$1,352,181||Cap Space||$854,389|
|P.J. Tucker*||$762,195||$762,195||$884,293||Cap Space||$762,195|
|Diante Garrett*||$473,604||$473,604||Cap Space||$473,604|
|Luke Zeller*||$473,604||$473,604||Cap Space||$473,604|
Luckily, the Suns have made some shrewd financial moves. They aren’t saddled with any horrible contracts and they have cap room in 2013-14 to sign a major player.
They don’t have any major decisions to make until the summer of 2014, when Gortat becomes eligible for free agency.
When a team is struggling, the worst possible thing to do is panic. The Suns were smart here and didn’t over-extend themselves with bad contracts. They’re under the luxury tax threshold and maintain flexibility going into the summer.
The Suns have had their fair share of bad luck. They’ve also looked in the mirror and they know what they are. They’re a rebuilding franchise that isn’t going to go over the tax line for any reason.
Because of that, the Suns have to lean heavily on personnel decisions. Lance Blanks (GM) and Lon Babby (President of Basketball Operations) did a good job for the most part in the summer of 2012.
The summer of 2013 will be pivotal, as the Suns are two key players away from returning to serious contention. They have the money to spend and the roster spots to fill. It’s a lifestyle that Phoenix became accustomed to in the Nash era, and one that they’re not far away from today.
Thanks for visiting HoopsHabit.com! We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below!
HoopsHabit’s Regular Column Schedule: