The timing is obviously not optimal, although when a dysfunctional organization is making a high profile firing, it rarely is.
To be sure... Wednesday, April 11, 2018 (the day after the regular season ended) would have probably been the best time to send McDonough packing.
After all, I was on board with that reset date. After the Watson firing three games into last season, I wrote about the benefits of that exact scenario.
I was one of Ryan McDonough’s biggest detractors and most vocal critics. The whole idea of #TheTimeline was a hoax. A clever ruse, used to cover up years of failure and ineptitude.
The Suns took five full years to bottom out under McDonough. If the plan was to get really bad I could have easily achieved that in one. How hard would it have been to trade away every shred of talent on the roster for future assets and lose at a historic rate?
Hell, if Robert Sarver hired me as general manager today, I can guarantee that I could make the Suns win less than 10 games this season.
Losing is easy.
But it even took McDonough time to learn how to do that. McDonough inherited a struggling team coming off a 25-57 season, the second-worst record in franchise history.
By his own admission he “lucked” into constructing a team that was surprisingly competitive and won 48 games with the addition of Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green.
He was absolutely trying to win when he signed Isaiah Thomas that summer, before the three-point guard Hydra experiment blew up in his face and resulted in a disappointing 39-43 record.
McDonough tried to retool by chasing LaMarcus Aldridge, but that didn’t work and the team hit the skids to the tune of 23-59. At that point, the team entered rebuild mode. Not because Ryan failed to be competitive, but according to him, because that was the plan all along!
Patience became the mantra. Robert Sarver even told season ticket holders the plan was to be patient, build through the draft, and aim to be competitive again by 2019 or 2020.
Just months after that company line was given, the Suns scheduled a free agent meeting with Blake Griffin and were linked to other high profile free agents such as Paul Millsap. Griffin canceled that meeting at the last minute, though... and the Suns pivoted right back to claiming the plan was to be patient and that they never wavered from it!
The series of pivots from this front office would make a schizophrenic with multiple personality disorder look stable in comparison.
It wasn’t just the moving goalposts, either. It was the series of missteps that made changing the plan so often necessary.
2014: Isaiah Thomas was signed with Eric Bledsoe contract negotiations looming (the summer of Rich Paul). This eventually resulted in the famous Goran Dragic “I don’t trust them” trade demand and the famous “best player coming or going” fire sale that dismantled a 48 win team.
2015: Tyson Chandler was signed and Marcus Morris traded in a failed attempt to recruit LaMarcus Aldridge (even though the Suns were intentionally tanking by this point, right?). This resulted in Markieff Morris pulling a team #FOE and disrupting the chemistry of the team, culminating in him being traded by the deadline and coach Jeff Hornacek being shown the door in favor of the inimitable Earl Watson.
2016: Instead of trading out of a terrible draft, or even just standing pat, McDonough doubled down by moving up to select Marquese Chriss (now in Houston) along with Tyler Ulis (temporarily with the Warriors) and Dragan Bender (soon to have his rookie team option declined).
2017: Earl Watson (coming off a 24-58 record in his first full season as head coach) was fired just three games into the season... after two of the most savage beatings in NBA history. Eric Bledsoe was also essentially fired after a hair salon tweet indicated he didn’t want to be a Sun anymore (sort of a Goran Dragic remix).
2018: After six drafts and five full seasons under his belt, Ryan spent his litmus-test summer overloading at the small forward position and acquiring zero NBA-caliber point guards. He failed his test, once again showing that he wasn’t capable of assembling a balanced roster while getting ready to roll out a team that most people felt would struggle to sniff 30 wins.
Such was life with Ryan McDonough.
At least three major components of his job showed salient shortcomings:
1. He could not build a balanced roster. There always seemed to be a feast or famine at one position or another (currently a glut of small forwards and paucity of point guards).
2. He could not manage personalities. From Channing Frye to Isaiah Thomas, to Goran Dragic, to the Morris twins, to Eric Bledsoe... all of the Suns’ best players during McDonough’s tenure have left under less-than-ideal circumstances. Often with McDonough taking parting shots that, in some cases, may have been true, but didn’t need to be said, especially by him.
3. He failed to learn from his mistakes and had blinders on. Every season, something seemed to blow up in his face (Hyrdra, FOE, Watson/Hair Salon, etc.)... yet just weeks before the season opener, he was prepared to roll into the season with no point guard. All these things that others could see coming as huge pitfalls to success, he seemed oblivious to. If he had just read Bright Side of the Sun, he would see plenty of us predicting these imbroglios in advance, yet he couldn’t help but sabotage seasons before they even began.
Even in the draft, McDonough’s supposed strongest aspect, there were definite failings. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton look like keepers for sure, but it has been a mixed bag. After all, out of 17 selections for the Suns during McDonough’s tenure, one would expect more successes.
In 2013, the Suns took new “franchise center” Alex Len fifth overall, passing on players like C.J. McCollum, Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert (among others). Len is no longer with the team.
In 2014, he bypassed Gary Harris (in addition to Clint Capela and Nikola Jokic) to take Tyler Ennis.
2016 was the miserable Bender/Chriss/Ulis draft.
In 2017 McDonough “tricked” Danny Ainge into taking Jayson Tatum so he could nab Josh Jackson with the fourth overall pick. This is a big year for Jackson, because he has had a mostly wretched Summer League and preseason. And although he put up some decent counting numbers over the second half of his rookie season, by every available metric, the Suns have been a worse team with him on the court than when he’s on the bench.
Ultimately, McDonough took far to long to orchestrate his vision. Five-plus years in the modern sports era is far too long to produce such meager results.
Since 1990, out of 130 GMs hired, not one has ever missed the playoffs five straight years to start his career and survived to still be employed when the team finally made it back.
McDonough not only missed the playoffs all five seasons while in Phoenix, but is responsible for three of the four worst loss totals in franchise history. He not only failed to produce timely results, but he turned one of the most respected franchises in the league into a comedy of absurdities.
But at some recent point, Robert Sarver finally listened to the cacophonous laughter. In a rare moment of clarity, he realized something that I had already figured out long before him: Ryan McDonough needed to go.
The Suns were deep in a hole, and it was time to stop digging.
After the circus of horrors we’ve witnessed the last several years, including the bizarre decision to fire a coach three games into last season, the timing of McDonough’s dismissal can’t really bring much more derisive mockery than what we’ve become accustomed to.
Once Sarver became aware McDonough wasn’t the man that would hang a championship banner in the rafters, the best time to fire him was right away.
James Jones, in my opinion, is more than capable of filling in on an interim basis pending a decision on when a permanent hiring will be made.
Ryan McDonough wasn’t the worst GM in NBA history. He probably isn’t even the worst GM in the NBA now... unless you’re judging strictly by wins. He could have done much worse.
He didn’t mortgage the future of the franchise by trading away the team’s upcoming draft picks. He didn’t leave the cupboard completely bare. The Booker/Ayton combo is one of the most promising young duos in the league.
But not being the very worst in the league at his job isn’t a ringing endorsement of McDonough being given more time.
McDonough’s chances finally ran out.
And it’s about time.