The Phoenix Suns have been on an emotional rollercoaster this season, and the nosedive seemingly began right after their thrilling opener. Now, sitting at 2-8 with consistent blowout losses, and staring at 2-15 right in the face with an even tougher schedule upcoming, what’s the plan?
Former General Manager Ryan McDonough was officially fired on Oct. 8, nine days before the Suns’ first game. Majority owner Robert Sarver appeared on 98.7 FM the same day for an exclusive interview, and said the rebuild was over, even going a step further saying the switch had flipped to winning.
Well, it hasn’t at all.
Even though Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were plucked from the lottery and added to the Suns’ already talented young core, it hasn’t changed much. And it doesn’t help that the previous regime might have whiffed on four of its last five top-10 selections with Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Josh Jackson.
Acquiring supposed “veteran leaders” in Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson hasn’t worked out. During this tough slate, the body language out of those two hasn’t been the best. Ariza, who signed a one-year, $15 million contract from the Houston Rockets, seems ready to check out on this team 10 games in.
Rock bottom might have arrived Tuesday night versus Brooklyn, when a 104-82 home defeat left the Suns walking off the court to a cascading of boos.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson had a great game plan icing Devin Booker out, while also getting into Ayton’s head. Honestly, the game didn’t even feel like a 22-point loss, either. The energy was sapped from this team, and effort shouldn’t be a consistent negative this early on.
Even though he signed his 5-year, $158 million max extension in July, Booker is an ultra-competitive scorer who wants to win.
Following another blowout, Booker was visibly frustrated when speaking to the media.
Devin Booker was very frustrated by the team’s lack of effort tonight. Everyone needs to hold each other more accountable.— Evan Sidery (@esidery) November 7, 2018
“This losing by double-digits has to stop.” pic.twitter.com/N4x9pd1lud
“Holding each other accountable, and being okay with that,” Booker said of what needed to change. “I think all good teams have that trust and chemistry where they’re able to get on each other and know that it’s for a better purpose. So for us, I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other. We don’t step on each other’s toes. We don’t push each other and I think that’s what we need to do.”
Nobody pushing each other? Where’s the drive to get better?
It seems like this team is still lacking true leaders outside of Booker, and you can’t expect Ayton to be a vocal leader this early. Jackson said at the season-ending media scrum in April that he was going to step into more of a vocal leadership role. Well, he hasn’t either and has been usurped in the rotation by both T.J. Warren and Mikal Bridges, averaging only 10.5 minutes over his last three games.
“I think it’s an all-around thing,” Booker said of the Suns’ leadership. “I don’t think every team has just one leader. If you look at all the good teams and all the championship teams, I think they all have people that all get on each other. But like I said, it’s for a better purpose and it’s better for our team that people are uncomfortable. It brings the best out of us.”
Booker brought up a great point. The good teams don’t just have one main voice, they have secondary outlets surrounding him who provide stability.
Is there a chance the Suns don’t have enough productive players on their roster, and that it’s too young? For someone starving to taste the playoffs like Booker is, that perspective makes sense. Each team that has lined up opposite from Phoenix has had valuable role players. The “role players” for Phoenix are Jackson and Elie Okobo.
Sarver’s preseason comments following his firing of McDonough, coupled with the terrible start, have put the Suns in a bind. Are they really going to embrace losing again this season, or will they make a shortsighted move that relinquishes a valuable asset in the process?
It’s crazy even typing this fact out, but Booker could become one of the most talented players in NBA history to begin their first four seasons winning fewer than 25 games. That’s unheard of, and it will likely be remembered by Booker’s camp in the future.
Stability has never been there around Booker, with Warren being the only player left from his rookie season. The former Kentucky shooting guard has had over 50 (!!) different teammates cycle through the locker room. Booker also now has the fourth coaching voice in his ear alongside a front office cleansing.
If there was a time to commit to stability, right now would be ideal.
When you see the way this roster is constructed, though, it’s inevitable another shake up is on the horizon. Whether it’s overpaying for Terry Rozier — who I like by the way long-term in Phoenix — or trading for John Wall’s albatross contract to put more fans in the seats short-term, something seems very likely to go down, with impatience bubbling up to the surface.
The big question is, what do interim GM James Jones and Sarver think about this type of opening to a supposedly promising season?
Are they okay with organically piling up the losses to reign in one of Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett? What type of “stars” would even be available to upgrade this roster outside of names like Rozier or Wall, unless they wanted to wait until the summer of 2019?
These questions have to be answered right now within the Suns’ organization. Decisions need to made fast before indecisiveness leads to a boneheaded one.
For Sarver and Jones, it’s time to pick whether you want to accelerate things around your supposed superstar in Booker, or go back to the proverbial cellar of the lottery in hopes of landing another franchise-altering talent.
Personally, I don’t see how you can sell this team again on being one of the worst teams in the NBA, but they might be stuck with that reality. Especially someone like Booker, who said he was done missing the playoffs after the 21-61 debacle that led to the Suns selecting Ayton.
The next few months will be a tumultuous time around Talking Stick Resort Arena. Booker is ready to win, but it appears everyone else around him isn’t.
What direction will the Suns go in helping Booker push this team to another level? I guess we’ll find out soon, probably very soon, whether they panic for a point guard or get googly-eyed over prospects like Williamson and Barrett.