On November 30th in the year 2015, the Phoenix Suns stood at 8-9 on the season. Despite a pair of frustrating losses to the floundering Pelicans, there was little reason to believe that the Suns wouldn't find a way to stay competitive in a Western Conference that featured a handful of underperforming teams.
Along with the Pelicans, the Rockets, Grizzlies and Clippers all looked to have significantly regressed while the Kings, Lakers, Nuggets and Timberwolves more or less had met their low expectations after a month of basketball. Meanwhile the Jazz, widely considered to be the Suns' chief adversary in their hopes of snagging a playoff spot, had stagnated after their torrid finish to the season prior.
The Suns knew that a daunting schedule awaited them in the month of December, with 18 games stuffed into 31 days, but seemed reasonably equipped to at least break even until the calendar flipped to 2016. They were coming off their most impressive win of the season, a 107-102 victory on the road against a formidable Toronto Raptors squad without the services of starting center Tyson Chandler, and the rotations were beginning to settle with Mirza Teletovic providing lights-out shooting and 19-year-old Devin Booker proving to be rotation-ready in what many thought would be something of a redshirt rookie season for the shooting guard.
Their Defensive Rating had taken a dive after a late-November matchup against the Warriors, who in all fairness should be playing in a different galaxy, but prior to that the Suns had boasted a team that was top ten in offense and defense. With Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight coalescing in the backcourt and with Chandler and Markieff Morris surely about to step up their production, things seemed to be generally OK for the Suns, who were finally in position to enjoy a weak year from the Western Conference.
Then December happened.
December 1: The Suns faced a 5-12 Brooklyn Nets team that started a backcourt of Jarrett Jack and a fossilized Joe Johnson. They held a 9-point lead in the 4th quarter before the mighty Nets stormed back thanks to some big buckets by Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington. Despite another vapid showing from Morris in which he shot 3/11 from the field and grabbed only one rebound (to be fair, it was a hell of a rebound), the Suns had a chance to tie on the final possession but couldn't get a shot off.
Oh well, these things happen. Better to get these games out of the way early, eh? No?
December 2: In their second meetup with former Suns fan-favorite Marcus Morris, the evil twin went off for 24 points on only 10 field goal attempts. Prior to that, he was shooting even worse from the field than his angelic brother. No matter, though. The Suns would dominate the Pistons and blow the game open with a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Except, yeah...they kinda let the Pistons score on 14 of their last 17 possessions.
Still, the Suns had the lead with the shotclock turned off and only had to hit their freethrows to ice the win and not throw the ball away and BRANDON KNIGHT YOU JUST THREW THE BALL AWAY WHY WOULD YOU THROW THE BALL AT ALL.
The Suns would lose in overtime and Marcus Morris would call Knight 'soft' afterwards because Marcus Morris just oozes class and charm like that.
But hey, surely the team only has so many 4th quarter collapses in them. Surely that would be the last of it.
December 4: The road trip continued in Washington and this time the Suns were outscored by 10 in the final frame after leading most of the way. In what will be remembered fondly as the Markieff Morris Game, Kieff not only battled his own teammate for a crucial rebound that was ultimately fumbled out of bounds, but raised the brainfart bar even higher by being so insistent on not lining up next to Ryan Hollins during a late freethrow attempt that he incurred a delay of game violation.
The Suns' enigmatic backcourt once again failed to produce any late-game offense. This was probably the point where the fans stopped being surprised anymore, and could only laugh at their own misfortune.
December 6: As everyone knows, the best way to get back on track is with a matchup in Memphis with the Grizzlies. Amazingly, the Suns still had plenty of fight left in them at this point and yet again were in position to win the game. Except with 2.1 seconds left and the score tied, P.J. Tucker for reasons unknown inbounded to Brandon Knight, who was skidding towards the baseline 30 feet from the hoop with Mike Conley on him like a houndstooth jacket. Knight couldn't handle the ball, and the Grizzlies took over with 0.8 seconds left.
Not the end of the world, just gotta win the 5 minutes in overtime and then everything will be--
That's correct -- the Suns had the ball with 2.1 seconds left and found a way to lose it in regulation.
December 14: As the road trip from hell mercifully ended, the Suns were able to show some signs of life and bag 3 victories in 4 games over the Bulls, Magic and Timberwolves. The time was nigh to get the season back on track, and what better way to exercise some embarrassing demons than exacting some payback from a Dallas Mavericks team that turned the Suns' season opener at home into a snuff film.
In almost an exact repeat of their previous meeting, the Suns were blown off the floor in the third quarter before making the score semi-respectable in garbage time. All the momentum that was built up during the previous week was undone as the Suns again proved to be their own worst enemy.
December 15: We all thought that Markieff Morris would be traded at midnight on this date.
It didn't happen.
It still hasn't happened.
December 20: The last time the Bucks played in Phoenix, Khris Middleton was just one of a handful of players to rattle in a shot at the buzzer to put the Suns away. This time things didn't get quite that close, although the Suns once again showed consistency in the 4th quarter by watching another lead evaporate while their offense displayed all the acrid characteristics of a carton of egg nog left on the kitchen counter overnight.
This time it was O.J. Mayo, rookie Rashad Vaughn, Michael Carter-Williams and once again Khris Middleton that took advantage of a dumbfounded Suns defense. The fans all shrugged and went home.
December 21: This was probably the unofficial beginning of the end, as the Suns traveled to Salt Lake City and failed to even crack 40% shooting on the night against a Jazz defense that had been a hot mess since losing Rudy Gobert to injury.
Perhaps it was the pain of so many close losses, but this team wanted nothing to do with a competitive basketball game.
December 23: Q: What do get when you take the Denver Nuggets, remove three of their starters and send them to Phoenix to play the night after suffering a loss at home to the Lakers? A: I'm not sure, but it's still better than the Phoenix Suns.
Morris decided to express his feelings through the art of interpretive towel tossing.
December 24: Morris is politely counseled to take a couple games off and find a new way of expressing his feelings.
December 26: The Suns handed the 1-30 76ers their second win of the season, losing Eric Bledsoe to another meniscus tear in the process.
December 28: After Robert Sarver and Ryan McDonough interviewed the players to find out who should be fired, it ended up being assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting. Hornacek kept his job but probably felt just a little envious of his departed friends.
December 29: As if the basketball gods were telling the Suns to stop struggling and accept their fate, Bledsoe was ruled out for the season.
December 30: Markieff Morris decided that six months was an appropriate time to wait before apologizing to the fans for all the unprofessionalism he displayed since his dear twin was traded back on the first week of July.
Also, Markieff Morris is still a Sun.
The Month Ahead
The schedule lightens up a bit for the Suns in January, with a pair of Eastern road trips but only two back-to-back sets after playing five in December. Bledsoe's injury obviously has a drastic effect on the team's goals for the rest of the season, as Devin Booker's stat lines will be of more intrigue than any final score from here on out.
There's a decent chance that the Timberwolves (11-20) and Pelicans (10-21) both move past the Suns in the next month, which would mean only the Lakers (5-27) would prevent them from last place. For those following the Tank Watch (which is probably most of us by now), the Nets (9-22) and 76ers (2-31) will be tough teams to catch once the standings are turned upside-down, but Milwaukee (12-21) is likely to improve at some point.
In the meantime, circle January 15th on your calendar as the day when the potential Corey Brewer/Terrence Jones/Markieff Morris trade can be officially consummated, then circle January 16th as well as the day when you'll weep softly that nothing happened again.
In seriousness, it remains to be seen how the Suns' front office will approach the deadline dealings now that they're looking beyond this season. Will we see an exodus of veterans such as P.J. Tucker and Tyson Chandler, or will they opt to keep the old guys on board to lessen the load on the youngsters?
While it is most certainly a supreme bummer that the Suns will in all likelihood be watching the playoffs from home for the sixth straight season, the silver lining is that the organization can start planning for the future now instead of waiting until they are mathematically eliminated from contention.
After everything that has transpired from Josh Childress to the unholy hellspawn that was December 2015, maybe we'll actually catch a break sometime in the next year.