Individual sacrifice in sports.
It's a tough subject. Many fans look at players who aren't willing to make sacrifices to ameliorate the team in a negative light.
Selfish, overpaid, me-first players. They are spoiled by exorbitant amounts of money to play games for a living. Others don't have a problem with a player who wants to maximize his earning potential.
The angle of role and impact is noteworthy in this topic. Sometimes a player worthy of a starting role is asked to come off the bench. Players are asked to defend multiple positions. There are plenty of other scenarios involving this dynamic.
The Suns are a microcosm of these dilemmas.
Are the reduced roles of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green good for the team? Is it fair to their earning capacity? Are their individual talents being squandered?
All three have had significant dips in playing time and production this season.
After averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game in garnering an All-NBA third team selection last season Goran has dipped precipitously to 16.5 and 4.0. An argument could be made that the best player on the team has taken a backseat to a less talented player. He has been dispossessed from his natural position of point guard and asked to play an alien role on the team.
This is coming in a contract season. Goran's last big contract. Will these lackluster numbers diminish the amount of his free agent offers?
More than just Goran's raw per game numbers have dwindled. His ORtg - DRtg has gone from a +10 to a +2. His WS/48 have withered from .186 to .119. He is just not the same player... instead a feckless, emaciated Dragon.
Gerald Green is in even more of a compromising position. Green, who just turned 29, has only earned a little less than $16 million in his NBA career. After a season where he started 48 games and averaged 15.8 points per game Gerald has been enervated by a lack of playing time, posting just 13.3 with a salient decrease in shooting efficiency. Green's minutes have dipped from 28.4 per game to 21.3.
Even Isaiah feels the crunch. After starting for most of his previous three seasons in the NBA Thomas is averaging a career low 25.4 minutes per game in a reserve role. Isaiah, who got to this point by refusing to ever play second fiddle, is now firmly cemented in the role of third fiddle.
Isaiah's per minute production is actually up. He is leading the team in WS/48 (not including new acquisition Brandan Wright). He's averaging career highs in points per minute and TS%. He's leading the team in three point shooting percentage. Yet he lags a full eight minutes per game behind Eric Bledsoe and Dragic.
Bledsoe, more than any of the other guards, hasn't been asked to make concessions. His role has remained largely unchanged as the primary point guard. He got his huge contract. No sacrifices there.
There are cases when players are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the team. Being part of a winning culture, typically one that is realistically competing for a championship, can influence a player's decision to a certain degree. Other times a veteran who has already made his money is willing to play for a discount. The extended dynasty of the San Antonio Spurs has been punctuated by these mechanics.
The Suns are not the Spurs.
Dragic and Green have not had their big paydays yet. Both players have the opportunity to make more in their next contract than they have in their entire careers to date.
Then there's the matter of sacrificing to play for a winning team. Surely winning is a panacea that salves the financial sting.
But Goran and Gerald aren't sacrificing for the benefit of the team. Last season the Suns were 29-20 through 49 games with the two players having larger roles. This season the team is 28-21 with their influence being minimized.
Are they basically sacrificing for nothing?
What's wrong with a player thinking the more he's on the court, the more he's involved, the better the team will be?
What's wrong with a natural point guard wanting to run the offense? What's wrong with him wanting the ball in his hands at the end of the game?
What's wrong with a player who finally arrived as a legitimate NBA player wanting more than inconsistent minutes in the low 20's to showcase his talents and have opportunities to get into the flow of the game and become the human inferno?
It's very likely this summer when Goran and Gerald hit free agency suitors will come calling with promises of a new setting that doesn't involve making these concessions.
Until then the Suns are asking these players to make a big sacrifice.