The Phoenix Suns had a tumultuous 2014-15 season, and there is no shortage of reasons as to why.
A quick glance at the issues surrounding the team could lead one to point to a poorly-handled free agency (hindsight is 20/20), an unbalanced roster, a lack of top end talent, personality issues/egos, and injuries as major contributors to a dysfunctional and disappointing season for the Suns.
However, when looking back on all of the missteps along the way, there seems to be another common theme among the players, the organization, and the fans as to what was missing, and what needs to change going forward.
The Phoenix Suns need veteran leadership.
The Suns were the 9th youngest team in the league last season, but even that doesn't take into account the lack of experience from some of the major contributors on the team. For instance, Eric Bledsoe, the team's star player, played his first full season as a starter, as his previous year in Phoenix was hampered by injuries.
When listening to the Suns' players give their exit interviews last week, this need was a common theme brought up by multiple players on the roster.
"Veteran leadership, for sure", Markieff Morris responded when asked what the Suns need most going forward. "We have to have older guys around so we can keep this thing in tact".
Markieff, who identified himself as currently being the longest tenured Suns' player on the team, seemed to hint at wanting to be more of a leader himself, but also wanting the team to add other veteran players as well. This is important because although Keef can certainly lead by example with his work ethic on and off the court, he isn't the most vocal player.
Marcus Morris also hinted at the lack of leadership being one of the main issues last season as well. "We lost a lot of games towards the end...a lot of games we were supposed to win." Marcus continued, "We're a young team but I didn't think we were that young to lose some of those games where we played three great quarters and then one bad quarter that cost us the game."
Suns' fans saw this issue play out time and time again this past season. Inconsistent play from one game to another, and quarter by quarter, made attempting to predict the outcome of games one of the biggest crap-shoots in the entire NBA.
Arizonasports.com polled the Suns' fanbase after the season, asking what was the biggest problem that the organization needed to fix before next season. The overwhelming response, at 62%, was the lack of leadership on the team.
This problem certainly wasn't lost on Suns' GM Ryan McDonough, either. "I think we have a good group of players, but I do think we need to add to it."
"I think the best teams have players at all stages. We were definitely skewed toward the younger side this year", McDonough conceded. "We've tried to do something over the past couple of years that's not easy to do, especially in a very difficult Western Conference, which is turn over the team. Infuse the team with young talent, but also stay competitive."
"We've tried to do both of those things." Mcdonough concluded, " I think we did a very good job of it last year, this year I think we did ok. We were a little too young, a little too inexperienced, and we'll certainly correct that for next year."
At the moment, P.J. Tucker seems to be the most vocal presence on the court and in the locker room. And while his input is certainly helpful, it isn't realistic to expect a role player who has only played in the NBA for three seasons to be the main leader on the team without expecting issues.
P.J. needs help. And right now, outside of maybe Danny Granger, there doesn't seem to be another player on the roster fit to take on that role. As such, one should expect the Suns to add at least one more veteran player to the team over the summer...whether as a free agent signing, or possibly through a trade.
The Suns are in desperate need of an authentic veteran presence in the locker room to help mentor the young players like Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren, and also help instill a sense of camaraderie and unity that seems to be missing.
Of course, you can't only have veterans on the team either. It's important to develop rookie players for the future. And a youthful, energetic team certainly provides more hope for a fanbase of a team trying to rebuild the roster and get back into the playoff race than a roster full of older, slower veterans (as the Suns proved in 2011-12 and 2012-13).
But to take that next step, veteran leadership on the court and in the locker room is a key ingredient...Just look at the San Antonio Spurs, who have kept their elder core in tact while adding young talent like Kawhi Leonard to keep them winning titles and in contention year after year.
Perhaps P.J. Tucker summed it up best. "I think every good team has a healthy mix. You've got some good young talent who can play and help you, and you have veteran guys who come out and do what they do every night." He continued, "When you get a good mix of guys like that, and you've got a good core chemistry, then you can make it happen".