At the moment, the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns are 30-20 - their best 50-game start since 2009-2010. The Suns currently sit in 6th place in the Western Conference with 32 games to go.
Last year's 25-57 record is a distant memory, one that only gets conjured up when a reporter asked a "then and now" question or a visiting player happens to have played on that team.
"We're all happy now. It's really painful to me that...everybody wanted to forget that year, including me. That's hard for me to swallow."
These words could have been said by any of the twelve players on last year's roster that have moved on, but they were uttered by Luis Scola when the Pacers recently visited the valley. Scola was a great guy who really meant well and wanted to win games, but he was part of the team-wide frustration that enveloped the team and dragged it down.
Let's take a look at what's happened to the worst team in the Phoenix Suns franchise history.
Four who remain
You may not want to associate these guys with the dark days, but Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris have made it all the way through these downs and ups. They have slugged through the dark side of basketball and are now experiencing the sun-shiny side. Some might call it the Bright Side of basketball.
Statistically, Goran Dragic had the best season of his young career last year, setting career bests in minutes, points, free throws, assists, steals and every other category thanks to starting every game he was healthy. He even picked up his play in the second half despite the team falling apart around him.
This season, he is playing at nearly an All-Star level (20.4 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game). Dragic has six 30-point games this season as the Suns' #1 scorer, including a career high 34 on only 13 shots on Saturday night.
"Yeah, it wasn't like we played bad defense on any of those shots," said Steph Curry after the game. "They were dagger shots, a big-time player made big-time shots so we'll tip our cap to him."
"He's a guy that, I talked about before the game," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after the game. "He's got a case to be made that he should be in the All-Star Game - the way he's playing. He's making great decisions out there, whether it be scoring for himself or making plays and he made it tough on our defense."
P.J. Tucker is another who had a career year last season in every category, thanks to getting the minutes he earned through hard work. But he couldn't lead the team to victories, mainly because he wasn't an offensive force. Ideally, Tucker is that unheralded guy who helps a good team win games.
As proof, Tucker has started all 50 games this season for the 30-20 Suns. He's not an offensive force, or a defensive stopper or rebounder extraordinaire, but he's a little of everything. Last night, he became the first Suns player since Shawn Marion (in 2007) to post 15 points, 15 rebounds and 4 steals in a game. In Suns franchise history, Tucker is joined only by Shawn Marion (10 times), Amare Stoudemire (once) and Charles Barkley (seven times) to accomplish that feat.
"PJ is always a monster. He is such a great guy and player. He is an energy guy. He is going to defend. He is going to rebound. Even when we need the basket, he can score. Most of the time, they put JO on him and he spaced the floor and made a three."
-- Goran Dragic on his teammate for 1.5 seasons, after the win Saturday night.
After those two, the team struggled mightily last season. Markieff Morris is the only other Suns player to make it all the way through last season and remain on the roster this year. His year was utterly forgettable, showing a decline in nearly every category despite being given an opportunity to shine as a young player on a bad team. But this year, Markieff is in the conversation of 'Sixth Man of the Year' with career highs in points (12.5), rebounds (5.8) and shooting percentages in 25 minutes per game off the bench.
Brother Marcus never meshed with the coach (Hunter) and eventually made his way into a 30-game doghouse. He, too, has had a resurgence this season, putting up career highs in points (10.1), rebounds (4.3) and shooting percentages in 22 minutes per game off the bench.
12 who were traded/released
- Marcin Gortat - has started 48 of 49 games for Washington Wizards (playoff team), 12 points, 9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 33 mins per game
- Jared Dudley - has started 42 of 53 games for Los Angeles Clippers (playoff team), 8/2/1.5 in 27 mins per game, though he is now coming off the bench and being dangled in trade talks
- Jermaine O'Neal - has been a backup for Golden State Warriors (playoff team), 6/4.5 in 18 mins per game
- Luis Scola - has been a backup for Indiana Pacers (playoff team), 8/5 in 18 minutes per game for league-best team
- Michael Beasley - has been a backup for Miami Heat (playoff team), 8/3 in 14 minutes per game for 2-time defending champs
- Shannon Brown - recently signed to a 10-day contract by San Antonio Spurs (playoff team), started 1 of 5 games for injury-riddled team
- Wesley Johnson - started 37 of 49 games for Los Angeles Lakers (lottery), 8/4 in 27 mins per game
- Kendall Marshall - started 15 of 22 games for Los Angeles Lakers (lottery), 10/9 in 33 mins per game
- Diante Garrett - backup for Utah Jazz, 3/2 in 14 mins per game
- Sebastian Telfair - out of league
- Luke Zeller - out of league
- Hamed Haddadi - out of league
The proof is in the pudding. Last year's team was not the least talented team in the NBA, as many purported. The talent was there.
- 12 of 16 players are either starting regularly this season or playing key rotation roles for playoff teams (the next 10, plus Johnson and Marshall)
- 10 players from last season's squad have played minutes on playoff-positioned teams this season (Dragic, Tucker, Morris, Morris, Dudley, Gortat, Scola, O'Neal, Beasley, Brown).
- Four of those 10 on playoff teams are regular starters (Dragic, Tucker, Dudley, Gortat) all season long
- Five of those 10 on playoff teams are regular backups (Morris, Morris, Scola, O'Neal, Beasley)
- Two of those last five are considered among the best backups in the league (Scola, Markieff Morris)
- None are All-Stars
This recap should just reinforce what we already knew. Last year's team had plenty of NBA talent, but there was no clear leader, direction or work ethic to get the best out of the players. Last year's team is proof positive that you can't just cobble together any 10 rotation-caliber players and expect them to play well together.
We all knew this. But it's good to see that, despite the terrible season, they have (nearly) all gotten back off the mat and produced at a high level this season.
"We're all happy now."