As we head into the draft, very little is certain about what this team will look like when they tip off the 2014/15 season. Jeff Hornacek will definitely be the coach and Goran Dragic will most likely be leading the charge from the backcourt, but only one other thing is clear: There will be changes.
I'd be a happy basketball fan if the 2013/14 season never ended, instead existing throughout eternity in some kind of space-time loop. The Mo Bros throwing high/low alley-oops to each other, Plumlee cleaning the boards and clanking hookshots, Ish getting brief 4-minute long appearances in which he darts around aimlessly, on and on. Alas, it ended rather unceremoniously and one must allow room for growth.
The summer of 2013 was so much easier to deal with. We were sifting through the rubble of a complete organizational meltdown, culminating from three years of poor decision-making, and there were no emotional ties to be severed. Once Ryan McDonough was hired we knew that Gortat, Scola, Dudley, Brown, Beasley and Smilin' Wes Johnson were not part of the new direction, and quite frankly it was nothing to be sentimental about.
(Good lord, when you list all those names like that ... how did we even win 25 games??)
Change was not only welcome -- it was pleaded for. As fans we were like the cliche horror movie victim that is being kept alive as a host for some alien parasite and is begging for the hero to finish them off. And McDonough did just that, cranking up his flame-thrower and ending our misery.
This time it is much more complicated. Every player on this team played their part perfectly last season, and the entire roster exemplifies -- in one way or another -- what this organization is trying to accomplish. It's hard for me to even imagine the Suns going on a big run without Dionte Christmas cheering and waving his towel. I still haven't gotten over Slava, for chrissake.
Yes, OK, I can admit that the team does need improvement before becoming a true contender. Fine. But please be sure to consider the unique culture that was forged in the desert. Something really weird and special happened last season, and great care needs to be taken to maintain these characteristics through any roster turnover. Perhaps Jules Winnfield
said shouted it best: "We just witnessed a miracle, and I want you to f@#$ing acknowledge it!!!"
The mentality behind this culture can be summed up in three tidy adjectives:
Dragic and Bledsoe both took their games to another level, setting the tone with fearless forays to the rim. Dragic in particular was the Suns' version of Jake LaMotta, bloodied and staggering but still boasting: "You couldn't knock me down, Ray." The entire team reveled at the chance to play teams above their talent level, which also was accompanied by some unfortunate letdowns against inferior competition.
Green and Tucker firmly entrenched themselves in the All-IDGAF Team -- Green with his ridiculous arcade-game offensive style and Tucker with the aggressiveness of a doberman with a rash on it's ass. The Stupid Suns were born, dubbed thee by Tucker himself. They didn't think, they just played. It's why during a late-season game against the Thunder, when Derek Fisher found himself in control of a loose ball in the heat of crunch time, he was straight mugged by Tucker, who ripped the ball from the feeble guard like it was the last basketball in a planet on the brink of extinction. In a post-apocalyptic landscape, P.J. Tucker would be a number one draft pick.
The Suns had the camaraderie of a mid-major college team last season. The players on the sidelines were always on their feet, they kept things light by pulling shenanigans such as ignoring and then mobbing Dragic when he headed to the bench after hanging 40 points on the Pellies, and they showed a genuine enthusiasm for the game whether they were playing or not. They also featured the Morris twins, a couple of strange dudes with matching tattoos that for all intents and purposes need to be treated as a single organism.
No Guts, No Glory
The Suns stayed competitive in nearly every game by virtue of a highly efficient offense and a decent-enough defense, but it was their combination of fearless/stupid/unified that enabled them to close out enough games to notch 48 wins in the West. The Timberwolves, for example, ranked 9th in ORtg and 12th in DRtg, yet managed 8 fewer wins than the Suns due to their inability to close out games.
Teams stay competitive with talent, but they win with guts and other intangibles. So many games are decided by broken plays and 50/50 balls rather than talent. As the Suns progress and look to improve the talent of their team, they need to ensure that it does not come at the cost of compromising their culture.
I have no doubt that our front office is cognizant of the results that were fostered last season from the intangibles that the team possessed. We've seen multiple comments from McDonough that place emphasis on what the 2014 draft prospects have been doing since their college season ended. Vertical, length, size, of course these things are important and they always will be. But all those things can be tossed into a dumpster and lit on fire if they aren't accompanied by a passion for the game and a high sense of character.
As for trades and free agency, I can only hope that the same set of standards are applied. Whether or not that would include Kevin Love, I'll leave to you to discuss.
Closing The Book on 2013/14
The offseason has officially begun. The draft is one week away and free agency is soon to follow. The futures of Channing Frye, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker and everyone else will soon be determined. There are three first-round draft picks at hand, at a time when the team doesn't really need them. Things that we didn't even consider are almost guaranteed to happen.
Here's hoping that the spirit of 2013/14 stays alive and well as the journey continues. We'll be doing our best to track the moves of McNinja as he goes to work on improving on last year's unexpected success. It's going to be a long, hot, crazy summer.
In the meantime ... stay stupid, my friends.