Some say nine games is not a good sample size. Others feel this is enough to have a general feel for a team. The Phoenix Suns (5-4) are playing well, not doing any one thing out of the norm, and have not had to deal with debilitating injuries so far.
Does that make them good? Luck? Somewhere in-between...
In this roundtable discussion we review the season to date, nine games in, and give the hard hitting opinions that you need. Let's get it!
Twenty-Fourth Topic: Take a Stance!
1. Breaking the Ice: It is time to take a stance guys -- Is this a good team or another product of an early start?
Jim Coughenour: I like where Kris is going (behind me). On dictionary.reference.com there are 58 different definitions for the word good. It is a polysemous word and can mean anything from sufficient and satisfactory to excellent and great. Let's define good as fairly middle of the road... maybe somewhere between 13-18. I can see that as a ceiling. I can also still see them falling below that. I am still chary of buying into the early returns. Even 20 games, let alone nine, doesn't always tell the full story. This team could still easily be 10-10 and then slip into the top 10 in the lottery. So maybe not good, but definitely infinitely more watchable than last season.
Jacob Padilla: Right now, through nine games, this is a good team. They are playing together and they are playing hard. Bledsoe is playing out of his mind and he's getting plenty of help from the supporting cast. To this point they have won more than they lost and that can't be taken away from them. However, the team's current success has been a result of half the roster having career years. This could go south at any time. But for now, they are a good team.
Dave King: These Suns are a good team for three reasons: quality defense, which leads to indefensible fast-break offense, which leads to a team full of confidence that they know who they are. That last reason is the most important - a good team has an identity. No matter what, they know exactly what's expected of them on the court. Knowing who you are makes it easier to fix your problems. Last year, they didn't have an identity, so they didn't know where to start on fixing their issues. This team is good, right now. But it all hinges on their defense staying in the top 10 all season.
Kris Habbas: I said it once and I will say it again, this is a good team. Are they a championship caliber team that will contend in the Western Conference Playoffs? No, but that is an entirely different question. Good teams have a style, they have an identity, and they win games. Last year the Jazz were a "good team" and the same could be said for the Trail Blazers, the Celtics, and the Wizards. None of those teams won more than 43 games, but they were "good teams." It all depends on ones definition of "good" because this is an all or nothing society these days...
Sean Sullivan: Depends on your interpretation of good. Is this a team that can go deep in the playoffs and contend for a title? I very much doubt it. However, is this team much better than nearly everyone gave them credit for at the beginning of the season? Absolutely. I think Plumlee has been the biggest difference. Nobody thought he could replace Gortat, let alone be an improvement over him. His athleticism and instincts in the post, especially on defense, have been huge. The team as a whole is one of the most athletic in the league...Who knew that was the missing ingredient for efficient defense?
2. How would you grade Coach Hornacek for the first nine games of the season?
JP: A, Hornacek has done a phenomenal job (with the help of Ryan McDonough) turning this team around from the total dumpster fire of last year to a team currently in playoff contention (nine games in, but still). As I said in my first answer, he has this team playing together, playing well and most importantly, winning. The Suns hired the right guy.
DK: Clearly, he gets an A. He instilled an identity, and he has the players totally on the his page, on his playbook. They know exactly what he wants and when he wants it. That makes it so much easier to manage. Is he a great game-manager? No. That comes in time. He's only been "the man" for nine games. There's a lot to learn.
KH: On a curve of his peers, the other eight first time NBA head coaches, Hornacek has the Suns with a better record than all of them with the exception of the Bobcats (Steve Clifford) and the Hawks (Mike Budenholzer) who have an equal 5-4 mark so far. He has great poise, great candor, carries himself well, put together a phenomenal staff, and connects with the young players. It is just nine games, but I am 100% bought into the Hornacek stock as one of the better young coaches in the game.
SS: As a brand new head coach with a team that most thought would be one of the worst in the league? A+. This Suns' team is exceeding all expectations. They always play hard, with energy, and seem to have bought in to Hornacek's system. He deserves a lot of praise for what he's been able to do with this team.
JC: Well, it's got to be an A. I would think he should be one of the early leaders in the coach of the year race. The team is off to a surprise start and he deserves his fair share of encomiums for the success. He's getting a lot out of a roster that most consider to be stocked with misfits. They are well-prepared and playing hard. The defensive effort has been suffocating. In addition, Jeff is an affable and confident person possessed with the same aplomb as a coach that he displayed as a player.
3. Since we are forcing nicknames on people, if someone were to ask you for something to call this Suns team, what would that be?
DK: I am terrible at nicknames, but it would have to be something that describes the team clearly and concisely. This Suns team fights hard, plays hard and leaves it all out on the court. How about "Desert Storm"? Or, if that's disrespectful to the troops, "Desert Dogs"? Like I said, I suck at this.
KH: Something that is the craze with the kids recently has been made up acronyms. Things like H&H (Humble & Hungry), G2S (Grind to Shine), FOE (Family Over Anything), and other genius Twitter friendly ways to say something about yourself. So, for this years Suns, let's go with the The HD Depo. What does that mean?
The Hustle and Dunk Department. Go for it, Twitter.
SS: I like Dave's idea "Desert Storm". If I had to come up with my own though, maybe "Orange Crush", since they play with such intensity and hustle.
JC: The Jefferson St. Jammers. The McMiracles on 2nd St. The Upset Specials. The Spark Plug Factory. Run and Stun. The Feature Presentation. The Main Sequence Stars. I could (unfortunately) go on and on...
How about The Ignition System? The Suns are igniting the future and this team is the ignition system...
JP: I like the idea of tying it back to the current "Ignite the Future" tagline. This team really is the one that's getting this while rebuild moving, plus Hornack wants them to keep going faster. I'll just go with Ignition.
4. Philosophy Take: Trade ‘em while they are hot (Markieff Morris, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green) between now and the trade deadline or keep them as part of the future?
KH: That is a tough call. With Markieff you have him, he is yours as long as you want so long as you want him. I will take the McDonough approach here and say that if someone calls the Suns up and makes an undeniable offer for Keef you do it. If not there is no rush. Same for Bledsoe and to a lesser extent Green. If they can bring back a net worth that is equal or better then you move them. Someone is throwing a Max at Bledsoe this summer. Period. The Suns can match, but in the end is Bledsoe at 24 years old worth nearly six million more a year than Goran Dragic at 27 years old. The Suns have some tough decisions, but they are in a very amiable position of being in control of all of them.
SS: It just depends on the value. With Bledsoe, I think you try to keep him. He's shown he could become a franchise player, and those don't come around very often. As for Markieff and Green though, it all depends on what we could get back. If we can potentially make the team better in the long run by setting ourselves up for the future while trading one of these guys, then absolutely. I just don't know if their value outweighs their contributions to this team.
JC: That is a bifurcated issue. First, and most importantly, if there is an offer on the table that Ryan feels definitely makes the team better long term then he shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger... and I have no doubt he will. Secondly, this may depend on where exactly the team manages to position itself. If the Suns are still hovering in the 6-9 range, then a trade that is more of a dump with a possible greater reward may not be as enviable. If the team is safely out of it, I can see this roster being eviscerated. What I don't see happening is McMiracle mortgaging the future to help the team get rolled in the first round of the playoffs. I am already on the record saying at least one of Frye, Goran and EB will be gone by the deadline. I still stand fast to that belief.
JP: All three are playing substantially above their career level right now, while none of them have proven anything in the way of consistency. Sell high if the opportunity presents itself, but don't settle. Bledsoe in particular is probably penciled in to the Suns' future and it would take a lot to pry him away. The others, however, can be easily replaced.
DK: That's a very good question. I'm not hot to trade either Dragic or Bledsoe unless it's a clear "trade up" for an established, high-ceiling talent. Markieff Morris, on the other hand? Sure. Let's hope he has more than 3-4 good games to keep that value up.
5. Sum up the Suns in 100 words or less...
SS: Hard-working, athletic, tough, youthful, fast, aggressive, and entertaining.
JC: Blinding, grinding, spellbinding, electric, frenetic, athletic, entertaining, captivating, devastating, tenacious, vivacious, voracious, enthralling, shot calling, straight balling...
What? That's less than 100 words, isn't it?
DK: My favorite team. That's less than 100.
KH: Is this why I have a marketing degree? The 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns are young, tough, exciting, and no matter the opponent are going to do something to get you out of your seat. They may not win a title this year, but you would be hard pressed to not be entertained watching this team. Oh, and they are a Top 5 #LeaguePassAlert team already.
Bonus: We all saw what happened last week with Wiggins, Parker, and Randle. Does their potential make this positive start, a negative?
SS: Time will tell. Jabari Parker has me drooling over what he could become in the NBA. Any team will be extremely fortunate to get him. That said, the whole point of being a sports fan is to enjoy watching games, and the Suns has definitely delivered in that respect. So right now, I love what the Suns are doing. If that means it takes us out of the running for a top 5 pick, well, then I guess that's just how the ball bounces. But right now I love watching my team play.
JC: The odds are that it is negative. The goal is to win championships. To do that a team needs a transcendent talent. I don't believe the Suns have that type of player on their roster. There may be multiple players in next year's draft that achieve that level of greatness. To get one of them a team will most likely need to draft in the top five. Building through the draft isn't the only way, but I believe it is the path with the greatest chance of succeeding. I'm still not sold on this being a playoff team and I'm not a fan of Pyrrhic victories.
JP: I've decided to live in the moment. This team has been really fun so far, and I've enjoyed that. There is still plenty of time for this team to fall apart. Whatever happens is going to happen and there's no reason for me to worry about it right now. But I'd be lying if I said part of me wasn't at least a little disappointed in the Suns' record while watching the Champions Classic games.
DK: Winning is never a bad thing. But with the Suns, losing is fine too. Especially losing close games that are fun to watch. So, no. It's not a bad thing to win too many games for one of the best players to come out of college in a decade. However, wouldn't it be nice to see one of those guys on the court next year? Sure it would.
KH: I make it no secret that I cover the NBA Draft, it is what I do. This years crop of talent justifies any general manager not in contention for a Championship to say, "Alright, time to get to work tearing this team up from the ground up." That is the only way to do things. You either get lucky like Heat and land stars in free-agency or home grow your talent like the Thunder and Spurs have over the years. The Suns will still middle around .500 and will likely be a lottery team and, think of it this way, maybe they already got their Wiggins, Parker, or Randle this past summer in a trade...
Bright Siders, what do you think?