Phoenix may have just gotten their first win of the season, outlasting the Kings 117-115 thanks to Devin Booker’s pair of clutch free throws, but all is not rosy the Suns’ garden. The team parted way with coach Earl Watson just three games into the season and have already alienated one of their best players in Eric Bledsoe.
Where did it all go wrong for Phoenix?
Fall from grace
It’s crazy to think less than ten years ago the Phoenix Suns were one of the hottest tickets in the NBA. Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense were about as fun to watch as any NBA team in the history of the league. An NBA Championship seemed just around the corner, yet it never quite materialized. Now, Phoenix are a dumpster fire that has been burning out of control for years.
The Suns have not sniffed the playoffs since 2010, the year Stoudemire left for New York. As the core of D’Antoni’s great squad drifted away the Suns fell into a tailspin that they have not been able to correct. They have been horrendous over the past two seasons, winning just 47 games, and having already pressed the reset button in 2017 there seems little chance of improvement soon.
The Suns have been atrocious on defense so far this season. They have been carved up by the Blazers, Lakers and Clippers to the tune of 129 points per game and made rookie Lonzo Ball look like an All-Star on his way to a near triple-double. Phoenix were also held to an embarrassing 55 points through three quarters against Portland.
When you fire your coach this early into the season there have to be serious questions asked about the hiring process. Watson was brought in as a caretaker following the sacking of Jeff Hornacek back in 2016. Watson went 9-24 as an interim coach, hardly an impressive record, yet was hired as the permanent mentor without the Suns even interviewing alternatives.
Unsurprisingly results did not pick up the following season and after a Western Conference-worst 24-58 record the pressure was heaped upon Watson. Still, the Suns stuck with Watson throughout the offseason only to abandon the project just a week into the main campaign, typical of the muddled thinking within the organization.
An exodus of talent
It’s not as if Phoenix have not had talented players during this period. Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Brandon Knight have all been on Phoenix’s books, with Dragic winning Most Improved Player whilst playing for the Suns in 2014.
However, due to failures at the very top of the Suns' hierarchy, Phoenix have consistently had to watch their best players leave and flourish elsewhere in the league. It appears a similar thing is about to happen with Bledsoe who is expected to be traded soon.
The owner of the Suns, Robert Sarver, is consistently named as one of the worst owners in US sports. His tenure in Phoenix has been punctuated with the hasty firing of coaches and a lack of investment both on and off the court. Sarver is not a basketball man, he has no knowledge of the game and yet insists on being intimately involved in the decision making process.
Amin Elhassen, who worked for Phoenix between 2005 and 2012 and is now one of ESPN's leading NBA analysts, is withering in his assessment of Sarver. There is perhaps nobody better placed than Elhassen to analyze the mess in Phoenix. His time in Phoenix coincided perfectly with the Sarver era and he has spoken numerous times about the toxic nature of the organization.
It has become clear over the years that if the Suns are going to move out of this slump Sarver needs to sell the team or at least stop meddling in the day-to-day operations.
Elhassan discusses the mess in Phoenix
Hope for the future?
Is there any hope for Phoenix fans out there? Perhaps, and his name is Devin Booker. The sweet-shooting guard out of Kentucky is the kind of offensive talent you can build teams around. Booker can score from anywhere on the court and has shown that he can lead a team even at the tender age of 21. His defense is poor, but he has all the tools to be at least an average defender. On a better team with a better culture, we might see increased effort from him on that side of the ball.
Devin Booker drops 70 on the Celtics
The talent is there for all to see but if the Suns aren't careful, Booker will merely join the long list of star players to escape the Arizona heat.
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