2016 has been a rough year for the Phoenix Suns. From disgruntled players to a mid-season coaching change; from losing streaks to exciting draft picks; from hope for the present to hope for the future; the Phoenix Suns have taken us on a roller coaster ride these past twelve months. Let us now dig into the events of the past year, and take a sneak peak into the future.
May through August
Article continues below ...
Jun. 10, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby speaks to the media about his decision to step down at a pre-draft workout. Mandatory Credit: Gerald Bourguet-Valley of the Suns
Following the end of a dismal 23-59 season, the Suns did not make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. The streak officially broke the franchises former record of seasons without a playoff appearance of five set from 1971 to 1975.
For Suns fans, there was a little nugget of good news that was announced on May 5 when it was news broke that Lon Babby would be stepping away from his role as Vice President of basketball operations with the Phoenix Suns. Brought on in 2010, Babby became the face of futility and mismanagement as it was his decisions and oversight of the hiring of Lance Blanks as General Manager, the mishandling of the Alvin Gentry/Dan Majerle/Lindsey Hunter head coaching change, and the misreading of the Morris twins by giving them contract extensions, that turned fans’ scorn towards him. He too became the public face of the franchise as owner Robert Sarver slowly began sliding out of public sight. The move brought relief to fans as it was hoped that new General Manager Ryan McDonough could finally handle the team the way he saw fit, without have to run his decisions by Babby.
A day later it was reported that Alex Len saved a friend’s life while staying in the Dominican Republic. His friend, 39 year old Jay Johnson, got caught up in the ocean’s current and was sucked out about 40 yards into the water and nearly drowned. Upon realizing his friend’s situation and without hesitation, Len dove into the water and swam after him. While fighting the current for some time, a lifeguard came out to assist, although he too would need Len’s assistance to remain afloat as well. All three made it back to the beach safely.
Suns fans received more good news when the league announced that rookie Devin Booker was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team, becoming the 13th player in franchise history to earn All-Rookie honors.
Near the end of the month, while Earl Watson began his team-building campaign by taking the team on a hike up Piestewa Peak, reports surfaced that back in February 2015, Goran Dragic had agreed to sign a contract extension in the summer of 2017 with Phoenix following a heart-to-heart conversation with then Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek believed that he had mended the fence with the franchise favorite point guard and that all was well. Unfortunately – for at least the public persona of the two sides – the Suns traded Dragic soon after, spurning Dragic’s act of good faith.
Sep 26, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (left), guard Tyler Ulis (center) and forward Marquese Chriss pose for a portrait during media day at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The highlight of the summer came on June 23 with the NBA Draft.
With the Suns picking 4th overall, they also held two other first round picks with the 13th pick received in the Markieff Morris to Washington trade, as well as the 28th pick, originally Cleveland’s, which they received from the Boston Celtics in the Isaiah Thomas trade.
Speculation had run rampant as to who the Suns might look to draft with the number four overall pick, with Dragan Bender one of the more likely options – presuming nobody traded in front of Phoenix and selected him before the Suns had the opportunity.
Of course, with the Suns on the clock and Bender still available, they selected Dragan, and the first four picks all seemed to go according to plan. So too did 5-7. Then with pick 8, Sacramento selected Marquese Chriss, a player that reports had recently circulated was also a favorite of Phoenix’s. However, moments after the selection was made, it was announced that the Suns and Kings had agreed to a trade, and the Suns wound up with Chriss, hitting on the two players they most coveted.
Finishing up their draft day selections, with the 4th pick in the second round, Phoenix selected Kentucky star and Devin Booker’s best friend, Tyler Ulis.
Following the draft, Eric Bledsoe paid for more team building as he brought the team, including the newly acquired draft picks, to San Diego for more bonding activities, including paintball and morning spin class on the beach.
Jan 4, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks injured power forward Amar
With July came Summer League and an opportunity for NBA fans to see the up-and coming rookies and young players play competitive games during the offseason. Phoenix traditionally plays in Las Vegas, and would play three non-tournaments games, followed by a six day single elimination tournament.
The Summer League Suns finished the non-tournament schedule with a 2-1 record, including two games dominated by Devin Booker. Booker finished 2nd in the Summer League in scoring and assists with 26.0 and 6.5, and Alan Williams led all tournament players with 11.2 rebounds.
In the tournament the Suns won their first game against the Miami Heat, then their second against Denver when Tyler Ulis hit the shot of the tournament, a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. Feel free to relive the moment over and over, right here. The victory over the Nuggets placed them in the semifinals where they fell to the eventual champion, Minnesota Timberwolves.
Along with the new blood, the Suns welcomed back two veteran fan favorite’s by inking Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa to multiyear deals. The two players would not only serve as veteran leaders on a team hoping to develop their youth quickly, but also as ambassadors to the community by linking the successful past with the rebuilding present.
At some point during the summer, Earl Watson sat down with Tyson Chandler and the two discussed the direction Watson wanted to take the team, and whether or not Chandler wanted to be a part of it. By the end of the conversation, Chandler had decided that he liked Watson’s direction and that he wanted to be a part of the future, ending any internal discussions the Suns may have had about trading Chandler in the offseason.
Jan 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) fight for a loose ball during the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
In early August, former longtime Suns Head Coach John McLeod was selected for the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame by the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Comission (ASEC). McLeod was the Suns’ Head Coach for 14 seasons from 1973-1987 compiling a 579-543 regular season coaching record and a career which included a trip to the 1976 NBA Championship series against the Boston Celtics.
Only a couple of months off of receiving his first hardware as an NBA player with his All-Rookie honors, Devin Booker received praise of another variety.
“I’ma be honest. If it’s someone that is under the radar right now that … I believe that’s gonna be a really, really, really All-Star (level player in the league, it’s Devin Booker from the Phoenix Suns.”
Booker had been a starter for the Suns in the second half of the season due to injuries to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and showed flashes of the talent that he possessed as an outside shooter. Coupling these comments with his two dominant Summer League games and Suns fans had plenty to look forward to in the 2016-17 season with Devin Booker.