The Phoenix Suns are heading for another bottom-of-the-barrel season in 2013-14. Last year was hard enough for Suns fans to watch, but it might get even worse this season with the loaded 2014 NBA Draft class just around the corner. With so many teams tanking, the Suns are one of the few teams in the NBA that will be tanking by necessity, not by choice. But that doesn’t mean fans have nothing to look forward to. Here are the top 10 reasons for Phoenix Suns fans to support their team this year:
10. It’s your duty as a true fan: Let’s get the most obvious reason out of the way first: If you call yourself a fan, it’s your responsibility to watch and support your favorite team. Cheering for any sports team is like a marriage. You have to support your team in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. The 2013-14 season will probably be land somewhere between “awful” and “1996-97 Robert Horry” for the Phoenix Suns, so it won’t be easy. But if Arizona fans want to shed the
accurate unfortunate perception that they’re a bunch of bandwagoners, this is the season to prove you support the Suns through thick and thin.
9. New uniforms: Last season, the Phoenix Suns finished with the second-worst record in franchise history. So other than Goran Dragic, what was the bright spot of the 2012-13 season? My answer would easily be the slick, black “Shooting Sun” throwbacks the team wore for select games during the year. Not only did they remind Suns fans of better days in the ’90s, but they were so smooth they almost distracted us from the travesty that was occurring on the court. This year, it’s a new design, same concept. I’ve already provided my thoughts on the new uniforms, but a new look signifies a step in a better direction. It provides excitement for fans to watch games and it gets people to buy merchandise, which promotes much-needed enthusiasm for a team that’ll be finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) August 16, 2013
8. Archie Goodwin: Alex Len is the draft pick everyone will be watching for the Phoenix Suns this year, but don’t overlook Archie Goodwin either. The NBA Summer League was his chance to shine and he certainly took advantage of it, averaging 13.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Those numbers don’t seem particularly overwhelming, but when you consider that he’s only 18 years old, he’s got a long and bright future ahead of him. I won’t go as far as ESPN’s Ryan Feldman, who compared Goodwin’s game to Tyreke Evans and Russell Westbrook, but this is one first-round pick to keep an eye on.
7. The return of dunking: Let’s not get too caught up in overly complex arguments here. A slam dunk is one of the greatest and most exciting things that can happen on a basketball court. Over the last few years in Phoenix, the only electrifying dunker the Suns had was Shannon Brown, who was eventually relegated to the bench. This is one of the few areas the Suns improved for the 2013-14 season. By bringing in Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green, you may actually see a Suns player make Sportscenter’s Top 10 this year. Will it make up for a season filled with losses and inexplicably boneheaded plays by Gerald Green? Probably not. But the youth and athleticism on this roster will certainly lead to more than a few dunks that thrill everyone in a half-filled US Airways Center.
6. Channing Frye‘s return: As much as I disapprove of a player who shoots four or five 3-pointers a night, it will be good to see Channing Frye back on the court this season. Not just because he’s a good guy and Suns fans will be happy to see him playing again after missing the season with a heart condition, but also because (gulp) he might be the Suns’ best 3-point shooter at 39 percent. Frye’s career 5.2 rebounds per game means he won’t exactly bolster the frontcourt and he’s not strong enough to guard centers consistently, but Marcin Gortat and Alex Len should help alleviate that pressure and allow him to embrace his role as a stretch 4.
5. New Coach: Did Alvin Gentry deserve to get fired last season? Probably not. Was it a case of wrong place, wrong time? Definitely. But like the new uniforms, new coach Jeff Hornacek is bound to get fans excited about a new season. His first year in Phoenix is bound to be a train wreck, but Hornacek is on the same page with management and we all know this is a tank year. As a former Suns player, Hornacek has ties to the organization. His basketball mind is untested at the head coaching position, but if it’s anywhere near as impressive as his basketball mind as a player, the next few years could be promising for the Phoenix Suns. With a new coach on the sidelines, it’s worth watching how Hornacek does under pressure.
4. New GM: I’m glad that the Suns picked such a worthy (if unproven) successor to Alvin Gentry, but the move that really has me excited about the future is the new general manager, Ryan McDonough. As an assistant GM with the Boston Celtics, he was credited as being the guy who knew Rajon Rondo would be good. And that automatically makes him 10 times more qualified than Lance Blanks ever was.
Although we’ll still have to wait and see how Alex Len pans out, every other move the new GM has made this summer was a winner. Not only did he get rid of players that were non-essential to the rebuilding process (Luis Scola, Caron Butler and, yes, fan favorite Jared Dudley), but he brought in youth, athleticism and a potential star in Eric Bledsoe. Add in the fact that he’s been stockpiling draft picks for the loaded 2014 draft and Phoenix Suns fans can rest easy knowing their team is finally in good hands.
3. Alex Len: Unfortunately, only five of my 10 reasons on this list have to do with things fans will actually see on the court. But Alex Len is easily one of the biggest things to pay attention to this season (literally). As the Suns’ fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, expectations are high for Len. His summer ankle surgeries are a cause for concern, as is the opinion that Len may never pan out to be a franchise center even if he does stay healthy. But if Len can just prove his ankles are good to go and can improve his game throughout the year, the Suns will be in a good place moving forward.
Another good reason to keep an eye on how Len does has to do with Marcin Gortat. If Len proves himself capable of taking over as the starting center, the Polish Hammer immediately becomes trade bait to bring in new talent. Whether McDonough can flip Gortat for another player or draft picks remains to be seen, but Len could make Gortat expendable before the trade deadline this season.
2. The Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe backcourt: This is probably the only reason on the list that applies to all NBA fans and not just Phoenix Suns supporters. As much as the 2013-14 season is going to be a train wreck in Phoenix, the pairing of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt is the biggest reason to watch Suns games this year. Dragic, who led the team in scoring, assists and steals per game last season, was the lone bright spot for the Suns before this summer. Bledsoe is a guy bursting with potential who didn’t get his chance to breakout playing behind Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers. Now he’ll get his chance.
Aside from Bledsoe’s aforementioned athleticism and dunking ability, this backcourt could be fun to watch because of Dragic and Bledsoe’s chemistry. There are a ton of unanswered questions heading into the season. Does Dragic run the point on offense or would he be more effective creating on the wing? Does Bledsoe use his strength to guard shooting guards or does Dragic’s height mean he has to guard the 2 spot? Will Dragic be as dynamic creating opportunities for teammates without the ball in his hands? Would Bledsoe be more effective on the wing with Dragic creating open looks? My guess would be Dragic should have the ball in his hands, but we’ll really have to wait to see how Hornacek plans on utilizing these two talented point guards in the same backcourt.
1. Tank time: On principle, I hate tanking. I hate seeing teams give up on a season halfway through the year and skewing the results to improve their draft pick. But isn’t there an exception for teams that tank not by choice but by necessity? The Charlotte Bobcats are a great example. During the 2011-12 season, when they set a record for the worst winning percentage in NBA history at 7-59, you can’t tell me they were trying to lose that many games. They lost that many games because their roster was uglier than Andrew Bynum‘s hair. They deserved to win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes that year because they truly were the worst team in basketball.
Yet somehow, the New Orleans Hornets won the lottery and the poor Bobcats had to settle on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG has plenty of potential, but his nine points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a rookie certainly didn’t turn the team around the way Anthony Davis is capable of transforming the Pelicans in the coming years. And you know what happened the next season? The Bobcats missed out on the No. 1 pick again, this time settling for No. 4. My point is, the basketball gods aren’t always kind in the draft lottery. So doesn’t it make sense that a team like the Phoenix Suns, in desperate need of a franchise player, spends the season improving its odds for a top-three pick? It’s not just about Andrew Wiggins either. The 2014 NBA Draft class is so loaded that even a top-three pick would give the Suns a franchise player.
The night is darkest just before the dawn, and Wiggins, Julius Randle or Jabari Parker would immediately bring a brighter horizon in the Valley of the Sun. Which means the 2013-14 season is worth watching. The games might be hard to enjoy, but it’s a season worth keeping tabs on. And as unnatural as it may be to root against your own team, there’s no denying that the whole point of being in this predicament is to rebuild in the draft, which is exactly what McDonough has been doing by acquiring draft picks. You can despise the decent teams that throw the season away by tanking, but the Phoenix Suns are one of the few teams in the league that needs to tank. And if you want to support the Suns one or two or even five years from now when they have a franchise player and a playoff team again, it starts with the 2013-14 season.
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