Checking Out: A New Suns Fan Experience

So that's the 2012-13 season done. 25-57 is the final record. If I'm brutally honest, I'm really surprised that was how many wins the Suns actually achieved. It feels like so much less than that - that's how bad they were. Personally I'm struggling to recall ten of those wins. Obviously the two Lakers wins come to mind, as does the victory over the Rockets although that's still fresh in the mind. After that? I can remember going to Memphis and getting a huge win with Dragic's nice game winner. Oh and that's reminded me of Wesley Johnson's buzzer beater in that eventual win at San Antonio. What else? I am genuinely struggling now.

The reason? I checked out. There came a point shortly after the All Star break when I had just had enough. I'm a Suns fan to the core, we all are, but the season quickly became unbearable. From the slow start, to the quick realisation that the summer additions that could potentially work out clearly wouldn't (basically Michael Beasley was absoutely atrocious), the season just went from bad to worse. Gentry was gone, in came Hunter, and with him came the whole "developing" "talent" (yes, I meant those two separate quotation marks) stretch before full blown tank mode saw the season out.

It wouldn't have been half as bad if the Suns actually had some promising talent to attempt to develop, or some legit reasons to engage in tank mode, such as a LeBron or a Tim Duncan awaiting in the summer's draft. The fact that neither of these things are true made the whole process even more frustrating. It was even easier to disengage.

Exactly what do I mean by checking out? I think all of us, even the fantastic staff writers this blog has, have done this at some point during the season, either temporarily or permanently. It's a feeling I never imagined possible, particularly in the day and age we now live in where games are so ridiculously accessible to watch. Nonetheless, let me break down the five step process, or at least my experience of it, with rough timescales. I'm totally serious about these limited recollections of a season that finished not 18 hours ago. It's not for effect.

Step One - The losing becomes tough to bear

Even though a lot of us strongly suspected there would be a lot of losing ahead (sub .500 basically), once the losses started to pile up, the wheels were set in motion. It's no secret that losing breeds frustration, anger and all things negative, but you still continue to watch your team and hope for improvement, right? What was particularly frustrating about this stage of the season was the way the Suns lost. It was around this point I'd already had enough of Beasley logging heavy minutes. By heavy, I mean even 10 was too much to bear. It was quickly evident that this guy's presence on the team wasn't working out, even despite solid outings like Chicago, which I think was later on in the season than this. Oh yeah, that was another win I'd forgotten about.

So, still watching the games at this point, but really not an enjoyable experience.

Step Two - Front office addresses the situation...with the wrong solution

Alvin Gentry was never to blame for the losses. Sure, he has plenty of faults (timeout management, the inability to draw up a basic play for an end of game situation) but this losing wasn't down to him. There was actually a peaked interest at this stage as it was intriguing to see what direction the Suns would take. Naturally they chose the stupid one, unless alienating franchise legends and former coaches and pissing a lot of people off was their intention. Of course, the losing continued under Hunter. Apathy had officially set in.

At this stage of the checking out process, I'd switch off with the fourth quarter still to play if the outcome was obvious. Definitely guilty of that on multiple occasions, and it was around this part of the season this first started to happen.

Step Three - Is it the All Star break yet?

You know you're really struggling to care about the season when the All Star break can't come quick enough. And of course, in line with the rest of the season, the Suns had zero representation at All Star Weekend. That's some achievement considering some of the shite that gets invited for some nonsense events. Tellingly, the All Star break was only about four weeks on from Hunter becoming interim coach I think, so this shows how quickly the checking out process gained pace. On top of the losing, we now had a questionable coach I don't like, and we're replacing minutes the likes of Dudley and Brown deserve with minutes for young talent like Marshall and Johnson. While a lot of that might have been necessary, all of this combined really helped to ramp up the apathy.

Sure, it was interesting at first to see what those young guys could and couldn't do. In fact, that started to become the main reason to watch the Suns games - with a view to the future. But it quickly got tiresome. There's only so many bad Marshall shots and horrible Morris defensive rotations/box outs/decisions/anything you can deal with before you've seen enough. Starting to flick over to other games became the norm by this point, with large stretches of forgettable Suns basketball gladly avoided.

Step Four - The team doesn't give a shit, so why should you?

I think this was the step that officially signalled my checking out for good. I'd like to pinpoint it on that night when the Suns sat Dragic against the Jazz but it was slightly earlier. That Jazz game was definitely the start of my complete disengagement with the season. Didn't watch it, and didn't watch any the rest of the way either. I mean really, why bother? By that point, it was clear the Suns wanted to tank. It was clear we knew what the likes of Marshall could (and more to the point, couldn't) bring to the there was little else to look out for. Oh and it was clear the wins would be few and far between.

Were you ever at home on a night the Suns played, followed the game build up on here or on Twitter, gone away for a while and then quickly realised the Suns had tipped off and you'd missed most of the opening quarter...and not cared about that? Yep, you'd officially checked out. Or you'd have it on in the background but weren't really paying attention? We all did it. Overhearing the game announcers going mental over something like a Scola dunk would maybe gain your attention briefly, but otherwise...

Step Five - March Madness a convenient distraction

Personally, I wrestled with the idea of watching some of the NCAA tournament for a while, particularly with two potential lottery picks. I never watch NCAA, but this seemed as good a time as any to check out some talent. Ultimately I didn't, because frankly I'd seen more than my fair share of amateur basketball. For many though, I imagine this was probably a huge part of completely losing interest and any last remnants of care for Suns basketball.

If I had to guess what stage of the season most Suns fans completely switched off from their usual FSAZ game coverage, it'd be around here at the start of March. The box scores, recaps and analysis can wait til the mornings.

It's genuinely a bizarre situation, to be watching an NBA (or NCAA for some) game at the time the Suns are playing and be feeling perfectly OK with it. Or at least, that's how I felt as the weeks went on. As I said, it's something I could never have imagined doing, but this season taught us exactly how bad things can get for a rebuilding team. You think you'll keep on watching no matter what, but the reality is it's simply too difficult to do that.

It was a brand new experience, I think for the vast majority of us Bright Siders. I guess we've been fortunate to have had a lot of winning seasons and decent basketball over the past few decades. This was more than just losing though. This was pitiful, pathetic and borderline professional basketball at times, with no real plus points to look out for. So what lies ahead?

You have to feel for fans of teams like the Bobcats and Kings who endure these sort of seasons time and time again with no end in sight. Lord help us all if we have even one more year like this one. Look, I'm not even demanding a return to playoff basketball or a championship calibre team in place imminently, but at least be on the right tracks to success and keep the fanbase engaged, is that so much to expect?

As ever I'm an optimist about the future, and I say that while being absolutely terrified of extended stays for Blanks and Hunter. I don't rate Hunter at all, and frankly I don't trust Blanks to make the right decisions in this draft. I wouldn't trust the guy even if he had a copy of Biff Tannen's sporting almanac in front of him.

What would a second straight season of losing and subsequent checking out do to me? I genuinely don't know, and I really, really don't want to find out.

Give me back my Suns.

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