What happened to the Suns? And what's next?
As the ironic battle cry “All For Orange” drifts into oblivion, here is what we already know about the Phoenix Suns’ future:
• President of basketball operations Lon Babby is back (at least contractually) for two more seasons.
• The 2013 first-round pick Babby conjured from the Los Angeles Lakers while negotiating Steve Nash’s departure will not be located in the lottery.
• By finishing 25-57, the Suns are the fourth seed (11.9 percent chance for the overall No. 1 slot) in next month’s NBA Draft lottery.
We don’t know if interim coach Lindsey Hunter will return or if general manager Lance Blanks – who has one year remaining on his current contract – will be around to make any more talent decisions.
And now that we’re chewing on all of these variables, a lot of people wouldn’t mind knowing something else: Why was this season so awful?
For inside perspective, let’s check in with the Suns’ best player. If you’re still not sure about that distinction, please know point guard Goran Dragic is the guy who qualifies.
Take it away, Goran.
“If you look at the roster,” Dragic said, “the names are not so bad.”
Well, maybe not 25-57 bad. Marcin Gortat is a legitimate name at center, Luis Scola is crafty and effective at power forward and Jared Dudley is a really nice intangibles guy.
But there’s nobody even close to the elite level, which is one reason the Suns struggled so mightily. So even though Alvin Gentry found it humorous (or maybe just absurd) that management considered the elements of this roster sufficient to challenge for a playoff position, his 13-28 start was a bit of a shock.
Let’s go back to Dragic.
“The chemistry was not right,” he said in a review that includes situations presided over by both coaches. “We didn’t find those five to eight guys who can play together. and you can see that on the court.
“It seems like we play every game like it’s our first time together. It’s hard to make good results if you don’t have chemistry.”
Yeah, it’s difficult enough attempting to win with a roster still lacking an elite scoring option. But heap that failure/reluctance/refusal to play for each other on top of the talent limitations and you have, well, an opportunity for a really high draft pick.
While hiring an established star-caliber player isn’t easy -- and finding one at the end of the lottery may be even more difficult -- bringing in players who lack focus doesn’t reflect well upon Blanks.
It could be argued that evaluating and overseeing talent for an aging team – one that had Steve Nash around to keep it competitive – required a risky move or two. But there’s a difference between taking a shot on players with baggage and acquiring players who have to be coached up in the areas of focus and consistent effort.
Beyond having players who demonstrated a rollercoaster of effort that led to some colossal blowout losses, the Suns haven’t exactly scored in Blanks’ first two drafts, either. Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall were selected 13th in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, respectively. And despite providing some moments of promise really early in their careers, several players taken after Markieff and Kendall have produced more – while having higher ceilings – for better teams.
Hunter, whose ascension from scout to director of skill development to interim head coach was escorted by Blanks, finished his run at 12-29.
Before Gortat was injured, the Suns were 8-11 and looking feisty under a first-time coach who seemed to demand more accountability than any of Gentry’s assistants may have required given the same opportunity. And of the 22 games Phoenix played after Gortat was lost, backup center Jermaine O’Neal missed 11.
Veteran players – many of whom privately said they preferred Dan Majerle as Gentry’s successor – admit that the attention to detail (or at least the effort at it) has been a lot higher with Hunter. But many of the same players still passed when given the opportunity to publicly endorse Hunter’s return. That doesn’t mean they want him out, but anyone solidly in the interim coach’s corner probably would speak up in his favor.
Aside from knocking off some pretty good teams on his watch, Hunter did pull playing time from players who didn’t play hard consistently. That should be a given with any coach, but it really hasn’t been.
With training camp, a high pick and perhaps another good player in free agency, it would be easier to judge Hunter’s potential to coach this team moving (hopefully) forward. The Suns don’t have that luxury.
Hunter could turn out to be a pretty good coach. The decision on whether to give him that opportunity here may depend on which coaches are available, interested and/or affordable.
When all of these personnel decisions are made, the Suns have to make sure they and their fans aren’t preparing for another “Some For Orange” season.