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Center of the Sun: 18-43 Phoenix Suns lose their first two games following the All-Star Break

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Will the current losing streak continue through the coming week?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Game Recaps

vs LA Clippers L (128-117) Full Recap

vs Portland Trail Blazers L (106-104) Full Recap

”It was another very rough week for the Suns...” I started last week’s article with those words and I’ve started way too many of these weekly articles with something similar this season. The loss to the Clippers was much worse than final score suggests and the loss to the Trail Blazers was also quite disappointing as the Suns just found a way to let a good lead and potential win slip away at the end.

With the worst record in the NBA and what is now a nine game losing streak, it’s very difficult to be both an optimist and a Suns fan these days.

From reading the comments sections in the BSotS articles you get the feeling that optimists are becoming an endangered species among Suns fans. And it seems that the majority of those that remain have done so by shifting their optimism from this season to the upcoming draft, the summer free agent market, possible off-season trades and next season.

One thing that optimists and pessimists alike are anticipating is the decision that the Suns will have to make regarding their head coaching position once the season ends. And I think that both can agree on the fact that interim head coach Jay Triano was handed something akin to a stacked deck - and one stacked against him - when he took over following Earl Watson’s firing.

With former starting point guard Eric Bledsoe sent home (and subsequently traded to Milwaukee) after his now infamous tweet, Triano was left without a starting caliber point guard. Several other players were already injured and out for the season or at least several months. Two players were just recovering from previous injuries and weren’t 100%, one player simply wasn’t in game shape and the roster was full of very young and inexperienced players.

Under Triano, the Suns and their fans have experienced some highs and quite a few lows so far this season but he’s arguably done a fairly good job considering what he’s had to work with (and what he hasn’t had). But “fairly good” hasn’t been good enough.

Whether you like the job Triano has done this season or not, I think that virtually every Suns fan will agree that the Suns should do an extensive search for a head coach this summer and that Jay Triano should not be “gifted” the position as Earl Watson was following his period as interim head coach. Triano may still wind up with the job but hopefully not without the Suns at least interviewing other candidates first.

A lot of candidates.

With these thoughts in mind, I posed the following questions to the Fantable.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. Who would be your number one choice of available candidates for head coach and who else would you want the Suns to interview for the job?

2. One thing that I’ve sometimes worried about is whether ‘top notch’ candidates for a head coaching position would even be interested in coaching the Suns. Do you think that is a valid concern?

GuarGuar: I totally agree we need to go through an extensive process this time and not “gift” the job to anybody. I’d prefer us to get a proven head coach, and not another unknown. However, there are only so many viable candidates out there. Here is my top 3:

  1. Monty Williams - Williams is by a good margin my favorite candidate for the job. Monty got the most out of any Pelicans team over the past 5-6 years. He’s proven he is a solid head coach and when he was fired from NOLA many people were shocked given his success with a limited roster. He also is great at connecting with players too. I think he has a very solid balance of basketball knowledge and connecting with players.
  2. Igor Kokoskov - Kokoskov is an assistant for the Jazz currently. Igor was the head coach of the Slovenian national team that led an upset and won the Eurobasket tournament this summer. He has a great relationship with Luka Doncic, if we are able to draft him. While Igor isn’t proven as a head coach in the NBA, he has shown he is very capable of running a team.
  3. David Fizdale - I’m pretty neutral on Fiz. He was a terrific assistant coach in Miami, and had great success with Memphis in his first year. But he got into it with Marc Gasol and was fired. He’s more of a players coach than an Xs and Os guy, and we’ve already had a players coach and it didn’t go well. He is considered the top guy to be out there by a lot of people. I’m just not sure he is actually a good NBA head coach.
  4. Honorable Mention: David Blatt

I think there is some merit to the idea we are not an attractive job due to us sucking for so long. Our owner and GM have very poor reputations, and have been bashed by many people for years. That certainly contributes negatively to how appealing a job is. I think it takes away Mark Jackson/Van Gundy and those “big names” (although I don’t want either one). I don’t think we are that unattractive to be honest, as we have two rising stars in Booker/JJ and what hopes to be a top 3 pick this summer.

Sun-Arc: This is the most important task/decision the team will make this summer in my opinion. Its time to give these kids some stability and find someone that is going to do right by the team long-term. There are a few of directions we could go here:

  1. Bring in an old sage who can steady the ship. Someone with some gravitas and a good amount of NBA winning experience that can hold the attention of the kids. This might include names such as David Blatt, Mark Jackson (I know - barf), Jeff Van Gundy, or even Doug Collins. There is also the list of fired coaches such as David Fizdale, Kevin McHale, and Jason Kidd.
  2. Bring in an under-study from a team with successes. They will be more hungry for success and may be able to grow with the young players. This includes names like Becky Hammon, Igor Kokoskov, Ettore Messina, and Stephen Silas.
  3. Coax a famed college coach to make the leap to the NBA. In this case, with so many college age players on our team, they may be the best choice to develop these players and build up the team as they grow into the NBA coach role. This may include names like Rick Patino, John Calipari, Sean Miller, Shaka Smart, or our own Dan Majerle.

#1 is the route I would lean towards - but only if its from the first half of that list and only if Sarver really pays them. That last part may not happen, and all of them may not want to touch our team with a ten foot cattle-prod.

#3 seems highly unlikely for any number of reasons. All of those names are intriguing, but we’d have to really pay them to lure them out, which is not Sarver’s M.O. Also, outside of Patino, they have it really good where they are. And we really don’t need Pitino’s current baggage.

So that probably leaves us with #2. We’ve tried a weak version of this with Horny, Triano, & Watson. It has not worked at all. Let’s go through this list of potentials:

  • Ettore Messina: Highly regarded Euro coach. Though along with being a bit of a hot-head (maybe not a good fit with Marquese Chriss/Josh Jackson?), I found this quote:

“Those who know Messina say he’d more likely gravitate toward a team with a veteran roster, but given the breadth of his portfolio, any team looking for a serious, dedicated leader might very well have Messina on its target list.”

  • Becky Hammon: As much as I am intrigued by Becky I would rather see her coach a more solid team right out-of-the-gate in order to give the first female head coach in the NBA a better chance at success.
  • Igor Kokoskov: Igor is a favorite name of this group for me, as he has had a lot of success with the Slovenian national team, works well with youth, and has been with the team before. People in Utah love him. He’s my #2.
  • Stephen Silas: Stephen is my #1 option. He is the son of the great player and coach Paul Silas (who was an assistant coach of the Suns at one point). Need more reasons? Ok - he was an assistant under Don Nelson at Golden State and learned his offense, then coached under Steve Clifford at Charlotte to learn his defense. He was also the runner-up to Mike D’Antoni for the Houston job. He’s still young, at 44, and hungry. And if that isn’t enough, he has also gotten some serious backing from both Steph Curry and LBJ:

”He had better get a job,” James said. “I know the family that he comes from and how much work he’s put in. He’s been grinding for a long time, and when he does get on, it’ll be good for the league.”

”Coach Silas is a big part of who I am today,” Curry said. “Getting to work with him was beneficial for me. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a gig. Really, he should probably already have one. Whoever gets him will be getting a winner.”

You can also read more about him here.

But there is that nasty part of the question - can we lure top-notch coaches to even interview, much less hire. This all comes down to Sarver’s willingness to spend. His track record is nothing short of abysmal in this regard. This is the moment he needs to overcome the stinginess and really help the team by investing in a good coach. Offer them over the league average, Sarver - I beg of you. If you bag Silas or Kokoskov, I’ll be instantly joyous. Mess this up and I may never watch the team again. How’s that for an ultimatum?

And here’s the rub: As much as I think we should try to interview as many candidates as possible, if I’m Ryan McDonough/Robert Sarver (and thank God I’m not) and if Silas is my guy I go after him really hard right out of the gate. I offer him serious money and try to lock him up right away as there will be a lot of competition for him. If we don’t get him, then go interview others.

SDKyle: My top candidate at the moment would be David Fizdale. He checks a few boxes for me:

  • Has NBA head coaching experience and wasn’t awful.
  • Has worked under a successful coach for a winning franchise in Miami.
  • Favors an uptempo offense
  • At 43 is still early enough in his career that this won’t feel like a “last job before hanging it up,” gig.

He’s far from perfect. He’s a .500 coach in the NBA and apparently struggled to get along with Marc Gasol. But he’s passionate and has the credentials and I hope the suns give him a long look.

David Blatt is basically choice 1b. He’s been successful in the NBA and very much so in Europe, emphasizes ball movement with his offense, and is known as a good basketball strategist. The big question mark with him is whether he can actually implement his style in the NBA and win with it. LeBron never accepted Blatt’s philosophy in Cleveland and made himself the de-facto head coach. Blatt lost the locker room and his job. Was it just a LeBron problem?

Another candidate that really intrigues me is Jay Wright. He’s been very successful in the NCAA without typically having the same level of talent as a Calipari or Bill Self. The strike against him in my mind is his lack of NBA experience, and it’s also somewhat doubtful that he’s looking to jump to the NBA in his late 50s. If he wanted it, why wait until now? But still, he intrigues... could he be the Suns’ Brad Stevens?

The third candidate I’ll mention is Becky Hammon. She’s had the best possible mentorship in San Antonio, and is apparently quite well-respected in the organization. Shes young at age 40 and would bring a lot of excitement to the organization as the first woman to be named HC of an NBA team. That fact would also make her quite likely to accept the job if it were offered. The downside, clearly, is her experience level: she has the thinnest resume on my list.

Regarding question #2, I believe this is a valid concern but not an overriding one. I think most great coaches like to be challenged, and would enjoy the opportunity to work with a young team that has nowhere to go but up. At the risk of derailing the conversation, I think ridding the Suns of McD’s arrogant mug and poison reputation as a personnel manager would go a long way to alleviating this concern.

SouthernSun: My top choice for the Suns next head coach would be David Fizdale. He is a big name, so signing him would cost a good amount and show that the Suns are all in on winning immediately and truly do want to go ahead and accelerate the timeline. He has the respect of players and staff across the league. LeBron loves him. He has a good relationship with James Jones. He could probably help with drawing free agents. I’m not certain he has amazing Xs and Os, but I am confident he is just as good at those as Triano, probably better, and has a lot more to offer on top of that.

My other three coaches I’d be interested in are Monty Williams (if we could steal him from the Spurs front office), Jeff Van Gundy (if he’s willing to leave his cushy TV gig) and David Blatt.

Yes, I do think that there is a certain stigma attached to the Suns. Coaches probably aren’t quite as excited at the prospect of coaching for the Suns as they might once have been back when this team wasn’t a steaming pile of crap with a horrible losing culture and what appears to be an inept front office. However, the Suns do have Devin Booker, a blossoming Josh Jackson who looks like at least a future fringe all star, and a probable top 3 pick in a loaded draft coming. So perhaps that’s enough to woo an actual NBA head coach to the Valley of the Sun, if they are able to be convinced that the tank is over, and they won’t be cast aside a year or two layer like every single other coach has been for the last almost decade. Oh, and if Sarver is willing to pay them an extremely large sum of money.

Many thanks again to our Fantable, GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle and SouthernSun for all their input!


Key Stats

8.6 steals, 5.6 blocks & 13.3 turnovers

Those are the average stats for opponents in games verses the Suns this season. Only two teams (76ers & Warriors) get the ball stolen more often than the Suns per game. Only two teams (Lakers & Nets) get their shots blocked more often per game. Only three teams (Bulls, Trail Blazers & Nets) force fewer turnovers per game.

The Suns are averaging 6.7 steals, 4.5 blocks and 15.6 turnovers per game, none of which are better than what opposing teams average against them.

Weekly Book Report

28.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 0.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 4.0 TO, 4.0 PF, 36.8% 3pt

Random Stats: Devin Booker now has 17 30+ scoring games this season and 37 for his career. Booker is averaging 27.9 points on 44.6 FG%, 40.8 3FG% and 87.1 FT% over his past 15 road games and the top 8 scoring games of his career have all been in away games. T.J. Warren has 32 games scoring 20+ points this season after having 21 in his career entering the 2017-18 season.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.


Game Highlights

LA Clippers vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | February 23, 2018 | 2017-18 NBA Season

Portland Trail Blazers vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | Feb 24, 2018 | 2017-18 NBA Season


Quotes of the Week

”All these losses in the beginning, obviously they hurt now, but I think two or three years, looking back, it will be really nice to be winning and having to go through that growth with a good group of guys.” - Devin Booker

”I have been told nothing other than try to win games. So my goal is to try to win, and that is not tanking.” - Jay Triano


Rookie Report

Josh Jackson - 23.4 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.7 TO, 2.8 PF

  • This week - 20.9 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.0 TO, 3.5 PF, 25.0 3PT%

Davon Reed - 8.0 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.3 TO, 0.9 PF

  • This week - DNP-CD/assigned to the NAZ Suns

Alec Peters - 9.1 mpg, 1.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.1 TO, 0.2 PF

  • This week - Assigned to the NAZ Suns

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.


News & Notes

Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler seeing neck specialist. Craig Grialou/Arizona Sports

College basketball scandal: Suns’ Josh Jackson doesn’t ‘recall’ being approached by agents. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports

Jay Triano wants to become Phoenix Suns coach: ‘I love this team, I love the players here’. Jeremy Cluff/AZCentral Sports

The 5: Questions for the Suns’ homestretch. Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports

Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough: Suns won’t tank final 23 games of season. Scott Bordow/AZCentral Sports

3-point champ Devin Booker has ‘eat or be eaten mentality’ when he’s on the court. Kentucky Sports


This Week in Suns History

On February 26, 1989, Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns dished out 21 assists in a 134-122 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.


Suns History in Video


Suns Trivia

Among players in their age 21 season or younger (as of Jan. 1 of that season), Devin Booker is just the third player ever to average at least 24 points and four assists while posting an Effective Field Goal Percentage of at least .500 (24.4/4.8/.502%). The other players that accomplished this are Michael Jordon (1984-85, 28.2/5.9/.518%) and LeBron James (twice - 2004-05, 27.2/7.2/.504% & 2005-06, 31.4/6.6/.515%).

Source - Basketball-Reference.com.


Previewing the Week Ahead

Monday, February 26 - Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans, 6:00 pm AZ time

Wednesday, February 28 - Phoenix Suns @ Memphis Grizzlies, 6:00 pm AZ time

Friday, March 2 - Phoenix Suns vs Oklahoma City Thunder, 7:00 pm AZ time

Sunday, March 4 - Phoenix Suns @ Atlanta Hawks, 1:30 pm AZ time

Four games this week, starting with two on the road, then a quick trip home before the Suns begin a four game road trip in Atlanta.

The first game on the road takes the Suns to the ‘Big Easy’ where it is doubtful that nickname will apply to the game against the New Orleans Pelicans. Even without DeMarcus Cousins the Pels should be more than a match for the Suns.

Next the Suns head to the ‘Bluff City’ to face the Grizzlies. That seems appropriate place for two bad teams to play a game in an attempt to bluff their fans into believing they’re watching a real NBA game. Who is going to win this one? Since most of the fans of both teams are probably more interested in their placement in the reverse standings, the team that loses may actually be considered the winner.

On Friday the Suns return home to face the OKC Thunder for just the second time this season. The Suns won the first game 110-100 but I can’t see it happening again. Count this one as another loss for the Suns.

And finally the Suns head East to ‘Hotlanta’ for a date with the equally win-challenged Hawks. Hopefully the nachos will be hot there because neither team has been lately. But both teams tend to treat the ball as if it were a hot potato as they are two of the most turnover prone teams in the NBA (Suns 27th, Hawks 25th in turnovers). With any luck, we might get to witness a game that sets an NBA record for the most turnovers by both teams in a single game! As with the Grizzlies game, the real winner may be the loser and I thik that it’s a toss up as to which team ends up with the highest score when time mercifully runs out.

With the way things have been going, my best guess is that the Suns go 1-3 this week with a fair possibility of going 2-2... if the Griz and Hawks both decide to go into mega-serious tank mode.

What’s your prediction?


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was, “How many of the last 23 games do you think the Suns will win?”

The results were:

03% - More than 10.

17% - 8 to 10.

54% - 5 to 7.

26% - Less than 5.

There were a total of 488 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

What is the most important objective for the Suns during the off-season?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Hiring a new head coach.
    (36 votes)
  • 23%
    Hitting a home run in the draft.
    (47 votes)
  • 1%
    Hitting at least a triple in free agency or in a trade.
    (3 votes)
  • 56%
    All of the above. (They’re equally important!)
    (112 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now

Yes, I realize that the poll question is kind of a trick question.