"We must be unafraid."
--rookie General Manager Ryan McDonough, May 2013, when describing his task at rebuilding the 25-57 Phoenix Suns. He proceeded to draft two of the rawest talents in the "not ready for prime time" 2013 NBA Draft, not sign a single free agent until Dionte Christmas in August, and systematically trade veterans for youth over the next several months.
"No telling how good we can be."
--Channing Frye, August 2013, after 18 months away from NBA basketball, just before he was cleared to play this season after recovering from an enlarged heart.
"I don't know why people say [Phoenix] is a bad team. They are pretty good."
--Tony Parker, October 2013, after the Spurs barely beat the Suns in the final minute in just week two of the season.
"We're a hard nosed team."
--Goran Dragic, January 2013, describing the play of his team each and every night. You can count on one hand how many times the Suns have been soundly beaten this season. Maybe just two or three fingers.
"For the lack of a better word, we're just kind of stupid. We're just like, ‘We're going to win.'"
--P.J. Tucker, last night, about the Suns attitude facing the Indiana Pacers just eight days after drubbing them in Phoenix, knowing the Pacers would give their best effort last night to get some measure of revenge on their home court.
The Phoenix Suns are now 28-18 on the season, their best record at this point since before Shawn Marion was traded to Miami in 2008.
Let that sink in. This is the best 46-game mark since the Suns were in their heyday.
But do local sports fans care? Apparently not. Certainly not enough to drive downtown to cheer on the team in person.
The home arena is just 75% full on most nights. Even a nationally-televised game - the one in which the Suns pasted the league-best Pacers by 24 - didn't draw a sellout.
You can lament economy, but the tickets are no more expensive than two or three years ago when the arena sold out often. The economy was much worse then, and the team was nowhere near as fun to watch.
Highlight reel plays are made every couple of minutes this season. Sweeping dunks, big blocks, scrappy plays are the norm.
The Suns have had pretty wins, scrappy wins and gutsy wins.
The prevailing logic is that fans are late-adopters. If there's not a transcendent talent to watch, they want to pay to see a proven winner. If the Suns make the playoffs this season, the fans will come next year.
But next year won't be the same as this year. Part of what makes this year so fun for the players and the diehard fans is that there are no expectations.
The players are fearless because they're not supposed to do anything well, so why not just go ahead and play well. Why not just put up the middle finger on all those doubters.
But next year, the expectations will be there. An early-season loss to the lowly Kings will feel like a heavy burden, not a shoulder-shrug. A close loss to a playoff team will feel like a devastating defeat rather than a moral victory. A missed assignment will be a cause for finger pointing.
Enjoy this season for what it is, Suns fans: FEARLESS. UNAFRAID.
Whatever happens this season is "found money". The Suns aren't supposed to win anything. Their rookies will get better next season and the season after. Their cap space will be spent on higher-ceiling talent. More youth is on the way.
But once the season ends, so does the magic. Eric Bledsoe won't get a free pass on injuries when he's making $13 million a year. Markieff Morris will start worrying about an extension, as will his brother. P.J. Tucker will go from the league's best bargain to overpaid - either here or somewhere else.
Enjoy it NOW, Suns fans.
Cheer for the team NOW. Don't wait, or you might just miss out on a great season.