After a cinderella year, the Phoenix Suns are scuffling. Badly. Some of the pain is roster-inflicted, but much of it seems to be of the self-inflicted variety. The Suns have more talent than 13-14, especially considering their early-season schedule.
A year ago, the Suns played every night with a chip on their shoulder and a team-wide abandon of pretense about roles and responsibilities. The team was full of previously-underperforming players on rookie deals trying to prove they belong in the NBA. They won 48 games and quite nearly made the playoffs despite missing young star Eric Bledsoe for half the season.
This season, though, after several of the rotation players got paid - $150 million committed for several years to Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris - the Suns seem to have entered the season with an overblown sense of having "arrived" already.
Their below-.500 record (13-14) looks even worse when you consider some of their home losses to teams struggling coming into the arena. Charlotte was missing several players due to injury and has only 5 other wins on the season against 18 losses. Orlando was on a 4-game losing streak. Miami was on a 4-game losing streak. Detroit was on a 13-game losing streak. All came to Phoenix and won.
Anyone watching the Suns can see that there's something "off". Even more than trying to find rotation minutes for a deep team, the players seems to alternate bad nights. Only a couple of times out of 16 chances have the three point guards all played well in the same game. Even their most consistent player, Markieff Morris, has thrown up some inexplicable stinkers.
This is a team missing that veteran influence who can coax consistency out of the young players. Someone needs to tell these guys it doesn't matter what's in your bank account or who's in the starting lineup. You play well, you get minutes. You play great, you get important minutes. It's that simple.
Coach Hornacek has mentioned several times over the past year, and even this week on KTAR, that it helps to have a leader in the locker room and on the court. Players don't always hear the coach. They need a teammate to echo the coach and fire up the team to perform the right way.
Last year, that was P.J. Tucker providing the spark and Channing Frye providing the worldly wisdom of living "in the moment". Even Gerald Green provided "in the moment" happiness to emulate. Tucker got himself a DUI over the summer though and his voice does not appear to be resonating as well this year. Frye is gone, and Green has a diminished role and really was never a leader in the first place.
Goran Dragic is a leader by example. Play like him and you will succeed. But he doesn't get into peoples' faces, doesn't hold them accountable during timeouts.
The Suns are missing that influence to rally around.
Could the Pacers' PF David West be the answer?
At 34 years old, West in no one's savior. He's on the tail end of an illustrious career that had two huge waves of success but is about to hit the beach and recede back into the ocean. He's an old-school power forward who lives in the mid-range and struggles to grab contested rebounds.
He's only played the last 11 games of this season after having knee issues earlier in the year and the Pacers have won only once in the past 10, against the Lakers. He is producing just 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.7 minutes a game.
But, he could be the locker room presence and court voice the Suns need to right their ship and begin to play more consistently. And at a declining 34, he could share the PF position with Markieff Morris - who also lives in the mid-range - to provide consistent production at the PF spot without clashing with Keef's future.
In Indiana, West was that culture-setter that helped the Pacers become one of the league's best teams from out of no where. The Pacers went from being an also-ran to being a team no one wanted to face.
In Phoenix, he could be that guy again though with a diminished role.
Maybe I'm romanticizing the idea of West to kind of give the Suns what Channing Frye had brought, just with a little more nastiness and a little less floor-stretching.
Mentor to Warren
Another plus to David West's presence in Phoenix is that he's been a mentor to T.J. Warren for the past 13 years. Warren credits West for giving him the skills and confidence to make the NBA. We all can see Warren's bright future with the right development of skills. Couldn't West help accelerate that progress?
But at what cost?
There's the rub, and why I really hate rosterbation (and would never want to be a GM in this league).
David West makes $12 million a year, with a player option for 2015-16 at the same salary. Is that the salary you want to pay your part-time PF for the next two seasons, the guy who is sharing minutes with an up-and-coming PF in Markieff Morris?
Acquiring West could even further take the Suns out of the free agency pool next summer. As it is, the Suns could position themselves to make a run at someone like DeAndre Jordan. But if West is in the fold, unless equal money goes the other way, the Suns would not be in such a position.
A look at the Suns roster reveals that the Suns would have to overpay the Pacers in talent just to match West's salary.
Isaiah Thomas + Anthony Tolliver would get within $2 million of West, but isn't that a massive overpay to get West as a rotational PF? And would the Pacers want Thomas? Maybe, but maybe not. They didn't show interest over the summer, and they value defense over offense in most cases.
The Pacers previously had shown interest in Goran Dragic, but that was when the Pacers were threatening for the East title. After losing Paul George and Lance Stephenson, and with injuries to George Hill and others, the Pacers are a woeful 8-18 and likely looking at the 2015-16 season more than 2014-15. Dragic is a UFA next summer.
Plus, I don't see the Suns swapping Dragic for West. That's a non-starter. It's hard to even imagine the Suns sending Thomas out for the aging West.
The Suns would have to rope in a third team, and in the NBA a three-team deal is almost always a no-team deal.
And that's where I bog down.