Even when things were going reasonably well during the earlier stages of the Phoenix Suns' 2014/15 campaign, there was an unidentifiable funk permeating throughout the team. Some signs were easy to pinpoint -- the slumped shoulders of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas glazing over and muttering to himself during timeouts, P.J. Tucker hopelessly chasing after the bus like Tommy Boy -- but there was also a mysterious malaise that hung about like an old wedge of Limburger.
It was capable of being ignored when the team was ripping of 14 of 18, but as the wheels started coming off on the season, the matter became urgent. Where was this smell coming from?
By the time the front office finally started turning over the cushions and pulling back the rug it was too late. Once the season ended, the front office and players alike echoed a dire need for veteran leadership. Perhaps in hindsight nobody realized what Ish Smith and Dionte Christmas did for the team's morale.
The Suns chose not to retain either Smith or Christmas during the summer of 2014 with the influx of two first-round picks (T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis) plus Zoran Dragic, who in all likelihood was brought in from Slovenia in an effort to placate Goran.
Ironically, according to some rumors the presence of Zoran on the Suns and his status as a fixture among the scrubs might have contributed to the unrest, basically making him the Chris Smith of the Western Conference. But that's a whole 'nother story (that probably no one will ever bother to write).
Smith and Christmas were the odd men out. Probably not coincidentally, the charismatic team of 2013/14 slowly became identified by pouting faces, public complaints and selfish play on the court.
Recall for a moment the paths that the departed benchwarmers had taken to Phoenix. Both players were undrafted -- Smith out of Wake Forest 2010 and Christmas out of Temple in 2009. While Smith began a journeyman NBA career immediately with the Rockets, Christmas embarked on an international odyssey through Israel, Turkey, Greece, the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy before finally making an NBA roster and debuting with the Suns as a 27-year-old rookie.
Smith had played for 5 teams in 3 seasons before coming to Phoenix. He had never appeared in more than 52 games in any of them before playing in 70 with the Suns.
Christmas was just happy to wear an NBA jersey.
Both players had an infectious exuberance about having a home with the Suns, even if it was only to be for a single season.
Now I ask you, would anyone sulk in front of these guys? Complain about playing time or how much they touched the ball? Criticize the fans after getting blown out at home?
Somehow I doubt it.
While the end of the bench in 2014/15 was originally filled with a rotation of Warren, Ennis, Zoran and Archie Goodwin, by the end of the season it was a combination of Earl Barron, Marcus Thornton, Reggie Bullock, A.J. Price and Jerel McNeal. Here are their obligatory reviews.
Since his previous legendary appearance on the Suns during the 2010/11 season, Barron had continued to pop up for a cameo here and there. All in all he played in 23 NBA games between his tours of duty in Phoenix for 5 different teams, meaning he averaged a new team for every 4.6 games played. In fact, the 16 games he played for the 2014/15 Suns were the most he played for a single team since registering 46 games for the 2007/08 Miami Heat.
While it would have been nearly impossible to reach the depths of his 23.5 FG% as a Sun in 2010/11, he made a valiant effort this season and finished at 30.8%.
There is nothing that indicates Barron is anything but a swell guy, but he is nothing that resembles vocal. He is a veteran in name, but is far from an ideal choice for a guy you want taking youngsters under his wing. It's neat that the Suns brought him back for an encore appearance -- I guess -- but let's all hope for them to find a better use for the 11th spot on the roster in the future.
At least it wasn't Garret Siler
Marcus "Throw-In" Thornton
Thornton has carved out a career in the NBA as a microwave bench scorer, but what Phoenix received was more of a sno-cone without the syrup. A throw-in in the Isaiah Thomas trade, after arriving in Boston as a throw-in in the Tyler Zeller/Jarrett Jack trade, Thornton could have theoretically helped the Suns make a late playoff push as there was a desperate need for bench scoring.
Instead, he turned in what might have been the worst 9 games of his career.
A career 36.2% three-point shooter, Thornton hit only 2 of 19 attempts from deep (10.5%). His career PER and TS% is 15.9 and .536, respectively. In Phoenix, those numbers plummeted to 8.3 and .379.
To be fair, Thornton surely would have shot his way through the slump over a larger sample size. However, there was no more reason to keep Goodwin sidelined with the season circling the drain, and so the Marcus Thornton Era came to a merciful end.
Best of luck to him in free agency.
Reggie Bullock, who apparently is A Basketball Player
The Suns jumped in on the Austin Rivers Nepotism Trade and swapped sort of big man Shavlik Randolph for young "prospect" Reggie Bullock. Some people claim he has potential as a "3 and D" wing. Unfortunately, those people declined to comment for this article and asked to remain anonymous.
The second-year small forward played 75 minutes for the Suns. He shot 0-7 from three and 1-16 overall on the season, because of course he did.
He did manage to have the second-most cryptic tweets of any Sun, behind Isaiah Thomas.
We will never see the same things.— Reggie Bullock (@ReggieBullock35) May 2, 2015
No one knows what you're talking about, dude.
A.J. "Ten Day" Price
Price signed a 10-day contract with the Suns on March 21 that somehow felt a lot longer than ten days. The journeyman point guard played in 44 total minutes, going 3-14 from the floor (0-7 overall) for a total of 6 points, 6 assists and not much else.
Seems like a nice guy, though.
Jerel "Still A Sun!" McNeal
In the mold of the aforementioned Christmas, McNeal debuted as an NBA rookie at the age of 27 on a ten-day contract with the Suns, who signed him on April Fools' Day. The 6'3 point guard shot 3-11 from the field in 6 games to go with 2 assists and 5 turnovers. He must have done something right, however, since the Suns signed him to a non-guaranteed contract that will give them a point guard for their summer squad.
His contract becomes guaranteed on July 21. Best of luck to him.
Summing It Up
While it isn't fair to judge a player based on his predecessor, the players in this review saw such little time and made so few contributions that there is no other way to gauge their worth. Typically you want the guys at the end of the bench to either be A) young players with upside, or B) veterans that positively impact the locker room.
This crop appears to provide neither, depending on what you think of Bullock's potential.
Look for Ryan McDonough and the Suns' brass to handle the bottom of the roster with a bit more care next time around. While last year's group emboldened their teammates and would sometimes show up more ready to cheer than anyone was to play, the 11th and 12th roster spots in 2014/15 were a revolving door of rookies and veterans that couldn't buy a bucket.
They get a D, only because I don't want to feel like a jerk for giving them an F.
Note: They really get an F. Seriously, they shot a combined 32-120. That's an F.