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How many wins do the Suns need by the New Year to avoid tanking again?

Reasonably speaking, the Suns need to improve. But if they don’t, how long can they wait before they decide to play for draft picks again?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns fans are tired of the abject losing.

We are tired of the Suns’ management and ownership team trying to lose games. They’ve been obvious about the plan, to everyone from fans to players to coaches, ever since cornerstone player Devin Booker emerged. But we’re tired. So very tired.

  • 2017-18: Lost Knight for season, traded Eric Bledsoe for a draft pick; Lost 32 of 36 games in one second-half stretch, clinching the league’s worst record before their final-game win
  • 2016-17: Sat out Tyson Chandler, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight the second half; Lost 28 of 35 games in one late-season stretch on their way to the league’s second-worst record
  • 2015-16: Traded Markieff Morris for draft pick; Lost 29 of 32 games in one midseason stretch on their way to the league’s fourth-worst record (only because they started 7-5 before the wheels fell off)

Since early March 2015, when the Suns were 38-33 and still on the edge of the playoff picture, losing has mostly been the priority.

It’s now August 2018. Three tanks later.

In the larger picture, that’s eight straight seasons that were over by April. No playoffs. Only one sniff of early-April excitement in the last eight years (2013-14).

The abject losing the last three seasons has helped the team surround soon-to-be 22-year-old Devin Booker with a half-dozen like-aged players (20-22 years old) high on potential but low on NBA production.

That makes seven players aged 20-22 likely to be in the rotation next season. A rotation that probably only goes 11 deep to allow for T.J. Warren (25 years old), Brandon Knight (27), Trevor Ariza (33) and Tyson Chandler (58) getting significant minutes.

All led by a rookie play-caller who’s never worked the sideline as head coach on an NBA team before.

And yet somehow we are expecting different results than the last three-plus years. Under what conditions do we actually believe that if the Suns get off to a bad start before the New Year, we won’t start seeing injuries and ailments creep in as the team suffers through another bad “28 of 35” losing streak?

Seems to me that the key to the season is what happens before New Year’s Day.

Here is the Suns’ record through Dec. 31 the last few years that precipitated the “all-in” losing:

  • 2017-18: 14-24 through New Years Eve, then 7-38 after that
  • 2016-17: 10-24 through New Years Eve, then 16-34 after that
  • 2015-16: 12-23 through New Years Eve, then 11-37 after that

You have to go back to the (relatively) salad days of Jeff Hornacek’s first two seasons as coach to see them winning enough by the start of the new year to keep pushing for wins in the second half.

  • 2014-15: 18-16 through New Year’s Eve
  • 2013-14: 19-11 through New Year’s Eve

If the Suns can’t win in the first half, I see no evidence the front office will continue pushing for wins in the spring.

This year’s win projection should be low, but it can’t be so low the Suns don’t make any real progress AND sacrifice a high draft pick.

I would be happy with 32 wins. I don’t expect it, so I’d be happy about it. The high on my projection scale right now is 30, while national media expects 27-28 wins.

In order to avoid tanking in February, March and April, the Suns HAVE to be on pace to win 30-plus games by New Years by my estimation and observation of history with this owner and front office.

That’s a .370 winning percentage. That’s all I’m asking, and that’s all the front office would likely ask to leave the tank train sitting at the station.

In order of preference, I’d rather have:

  1. 30+ wins and the No. 8 pick in the draft
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. 22 wins and the No. 2 pick in the draft
  6. ...
  7. ...
  8. ...
  9. ...
  10. 25-27 wins and the No. 5 pick in the draft

Can the Suns win at a 30-plus win pace by New Years, with six or so of their 11-man rotation aged 22 or younger?

Let’s look at the schedule.

Even if you count an opening night win at home — which I already chronicled the other day is not the Suns’ strong suit — I have a hard time envisioning more than two wins out of this opening stretch.

Record after October: 2-5

Of 15 November games, I see four that the Suns should reasonably expect to have a fighting chance to win on any night (Brooklyn, New Orleans, Orlando, Detroit) versus 11 games they’d have to play really really well to win. Like, “OMG the Timeline is NOW” kind of wins.

Reasonably speaking, they won’t win all the winnable games, and they’ll steal a couple of OMG wins.

So let’s say 5-10 in November, for a total record of 7-15 by end of November.

That’s a .310 winning percentage, by the way. Better than the last two total seasons, sure, but still not at .370 level that paces 30 wins.

Of 15 December games, I see six the Suns should reasonably expect to be able to win if they play fairly well (Sacramento, Dallas, Knicks, Washington, Brooklyn, Orlando) versus nine games they’d have to play really really well to win. Again, like, “OMG the Timeline is NOW” kind of wins.

As I did before, I can’t expect the Suns to win all winnable games, but I can expect them to eek out some inspiring wins.

Still, that’s at best a 6-9 month of December, giving them a 13-24 record on New Years Day.

Is that enough?

Scroll back up and compare this record to those of the last three seasons that inspired the front office to warm up the tank train.

A 13-24 record is a .350 win rate, on pace for 28 wins on the season.

Would you rather 28 wins and the No. 6 pick in the draft, just to show a LITTLE progress?

Or would you rather the Suns win less than 25 wins and another Top-4 pick?

I know, I know, you’d rather see 30-plus wins and not have to worry about it. I get it. Me too. I just don’t know that the season will play out that way. Look at the schedule. Look at the Suns’ rotation. Do you really see them with a better record come New Year’s Day?

Take the poll.

You only get two options in a “Would you rather” game.

Poll

Would you rather...

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    28 wins and the #6 pick, or later
    (406 votes)
  • 18%
    Less than 25 wins and a top-four pick
    (141 votes)
  • 27%
    Dave, your polls are still dumb
    (204 votes)
751 votes total Vote Now