None of the Phoenix Suns fans want to see a repeat of these past few seasons in the Valley, their eighth straight failure to reach a playoffs in which more than half the league qualifies.
A once-proud franchise has sunk so low that they’ve marched their own version of the Game of Thrones “shame walk” in this, their 50th season. Celebrations of past decades have been marred by ugly losses. Only four times in their first 49 years did they lose a game by 40+ points. They’ve done it four times already this season, with 10 more chances to go.
This could have been expected with the youngest playing rotation in the league: the top seven players average 21.8 years old - younger than all the starting lineups in last year’s Final Four. That’s college, folks.
The Suns did this with eyes wide open. They needed to try to develop their new core with playing time, unencumbered by demanding vets. And they needed to lose enough games to draft that next superstar. So they shipped out any big-minute veterans and rolled out the ball to see what would happen. At best, they’d be fun and competitive in losses and win the top pick in the 2018 Draft.
At worst, which is what happened, the season would be an ugly mess but at least a top draft pick would still be in reach.
“We’re not interested in doing that again next year,” Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said to 98.7 FM. “We’re interested in significantly improving the team and advancing the team.”
Even Devin Booker is tired of watching undeserving kids get unfettered playing time these past couple of years.
“We have been babied a little bit and it shows,” the 21 year old Booker said. “I think our whole team has been spoiled enough, including myself, with playing time at a young to where you get to play through mistakes.
“We still have to learn basketball. A lot of one-and-dones on this team. Nineteen, twenty, 21-year-olds, including myself that are still learning the game.”
On the plus side, the tanking has earned the Suns a sliver-sized lead on the top odds in the NBA lottery. All that losing, all those embarrassments, might end up adding another pillar to the Suns young core of Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. You need a young core to grow together to create a new decade-long run of prosperity.
Jared Dudley, one of the only veterans on the team, agrees.
“Booker is ready to go,” Dudley said on the radio show. “When you have a star ready to go, you build around him as soon as possible. That being said, he needs to have other people with him. Josh Jackson is a great addition, you’re going to add a top-three pick most likely this season that is going to be ready to go. So when you have those three pieces, how much more young talent does one team need?”
You need to add veterans though. Vets that are good enough to show the kids how to win games, be consistent and be pros.
“I would be shocked to not have a totally different roster next year,” Dudley said Wednesday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta. “The Suns have a lot of cap space, they have a lot of picks. Maybe they might use one of them, maybe they might trade for vets. But this team is in need of about three to five vets to help these young guys (win).”
He doesn’t necessarily see himself going anywhere.
“I am tired of losing,” Dudley said. “I’m hoping next year we can come back and we won’t be the laugh of the NBA.”
Of course, Dudley knows it’s a business. His expiring contract would be easy to move if the Suns need to include “filler” to make a deal work. Sure they might have to tack on a better asset or two to get value back, but Dudley’s salary helps on the financial end of the cap requirements.
“There’s going to be competition next year, not only from the young players we bring in … from the draft but from the free agents we sign and guys we may trade for,” McDonough said. “Hopefully our guys are ready for that, it’s coming and nothing is guaranteed. Everything is open and everything is a competition.”
The changes aren’t only coming with the roster. The Suns REAL season starts the day after the 82nd game.
It start with who is running the show the rest of the way. Does McDonough stay in place? He just signed a three year extension last summer, and reportedly still has a good relationship with the owner. James Jones might increase his role and presence within the front office, but I’d be surprised if Sarver eats two years worth of salary to let McD go (whether he deserves to keep the job or not).
Who do they hire as coach? Do they bring in a college guy, and surround him with NBA coaches (Triano maybe?) who can help the college coach transition to the NBA? Or do they hire an NBA veteran coach. like David Fisdale or someone who gets let go after the season?
Sometime in early July, we will also see the Suns present Devin Booker with a max extension on his rookie deal.
“I think (Booker will) get a nice excitement this July when he signs his max contract,” Dudley said on the radio show.
Unless he makes an All-NBA team (unlikely), Booker will get a contract offer worth up to 25% of the team’s salary cap: five years, for about $150 million dollars, putting him under contract through the 2023-2024 season.
Worried he won’t sign it? Don’t be. Jared’s not.
Let’s get going on the REAL season for the Phoenix Suns.