Once you’re locked in, the treadmill of mediocrity is hard to get off without painful experiences. Through countless other NBA franchises, we’ve witnessed decade long playoff droughts and endless changes ranging from coaches and front office figureheads.
Deja vu, because the Phoenix Suns have joined the list exclusively saved for places like Sacramento and Minnesota.
Organizationally, it’s a major failure since Phoenix was once renowned as one of the more consistently successful teams. Over the past four years, though, it’s spiraled down the toilet as they stare at another campaign where they will finish with less than 25 wins. The end result now forces history to include Phoenix alongside expansion and lockout-impacted teams of the past who endured horrendous slumps of subpar basketball.
Teams to go four straight years without reaching 25 wins:
1946-1950 Boston Celtics * (first year of NBA)
1991-1995 Minnesota Timberwolves
1995-1999 Vancouver Grizzlies *
1997-2001 Golden State Warriors * (* = lockout or expansion)
1998-2002 Chicago Bulls *
2007-2011 Minnesota Timberwolves
2008-2012 Washington Wizards *
2015-2019 Phoenix Suns
For such a proud organization that’s an embarrassing factoid to list. Being on the same footing with the expansion Grizzlies, who didn’t ever come close to the talent assembled on Phoenix’s roster, is actually sad.
Currently, the Suns sit with an 11-37 record during Devin Booker’s fourth season. They are only 1.5 games out of the No. 1 spot in the reverse standings once more, an occurrence all too familiar with Booker throughout his professional career.
If all went to plan from the beginning with Phoenix’s tanking efforts, they would have secured the rights to Ben Simmons instead of Dragan Bender to pair alongside Booker. Three years later, they are now on the verge of having their fourth consecutive top-5 pick as they look to properly build a winner around Booker and latest top lottery selection Deandre Ayton.
Forget about the Suns winning 30 games this season. Wipe away thoughts of even reaching the 25-win mark. The real question should be whether this Suns squad can even eclipse their 21-61 record from last season, which tied a franchise-worst mark with the original expansion Suns 51 years ago.
How is that even possible after using their first No. 1 pick in team history while also obtaining another top-10 pick and signing a veteran wing like Trevor Ariza? On the mediocrity wheel, incompetence usually rears it’s ugly head as we’ve seen before with the Maloof’s in Sacramento and David Kahn in Minnesota, for example.
Anyways, Phoenix will have to finish 10-24 over their last 34 games to even reach 21 wins. At the moment, this seems like a feat that will be tough to pull off when examining the Suns’ schedule. Between now and the trade deadline on February 7, only Minnesota on Tuesday and Atlanta (Feb. 4) are the only teams truly out of playoff contention Phoenix will be going up against.
Even though Booker’s 5-year, $158 million max extension won’t even kick in until July 1, it’s time to start the clock on Phoenix needing to right the ship. Sometime over Booker’s new contract, preferably within the first three years, the switch needs to flip. If not, it’s time to start really worrying if you’re a Suns fan.
The last two teams to have not reach 25 wins during the past decade, Minnesota and Washington, are still running in place covered by mediocrity.
The Timberwolves have made the playoffs once in 15 years — and it ended up backfiring in the end as they gutted part of their young core for Jimmy Butler to leave one year later. This doesn’t even include Kevin Love forcing his way out after six seasons once he became completely fed up with the consistent losing and non improvements. Meanwhile, the Wizards have only made four playoff berths during their current era led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, which included their furthest trip being the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
It’s crazy to even say this — honestly, maybe not — but the Suns have failed to put the talent around Booker like Minnesota did before with Love. During Love’s first four seasons, the Timberwolves’ win percentage in games he started was 40.1 percent (77/192). For Booker, it’s at 35.1 percent with less than half a season to try to improve that figure. What does separate those two, though, is Love never had a young cornerstone like Ayton next to him. That’s why it’s so imperative for Ayton to get as close to his ceiling as possible, because it could help keep this Suns group together for the long haul.
When The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote about five future “pre-agents” that teams are keeping an eye on, Booker was listed alongside Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Beal, and Simmons. Of course O’Connor wasn’t reporting it, but just foreshadowing what could happen in a few years with these young stars if these situations don’t improve around them quickly.
For Phoenix, this is the worry with the persistent losing around a player of Booker’s talents. He’s under contract through 2024, but as we’ve seen with Kyrie Irving, players can control their destiny up to two years prior to entering free agency. That’s why between now and the 2021-2022 season will be so important for the Suns. Over this next three-year window, significant progress has to made.
So far, through the first four years of Booker’s career, they have seen little progressions as the young core gels together slowly and no established names want to come to Phoenix. And in his fourth season, Booker still has yet to come close to tasting a playoff atmosphere unlike some of his counterparts like Donovan Mitchell, Towns, and now D’Angelo Russell as Brooklyn positions themselves for a surprising postseason birth.
It’s been 15 months since the Suns had a starting-caliber point guard next to Booker with no immediate answer in sight, but the bigger worry now should be changing course on these embarrassing win-loss totals sooner rather than later.
At the Suns’ end of season media availability last year, Booker spoke on not wanting to miss the playoffs again. Well, it’s possible a year later his team won’t even reach 20 victories over a full 82-game campaign.
Booker on wanting to win next year, and putting the challenge on himself to make the playoffs every year from here on out: pic.twitter.com/vpa5xybukp— Evan Sidery (@esidery) April 11, 2018
It’s time for Phoenix to go to work this offseason and beyond to build a sustainable playoff contender around an elite scoring combo guard in Booker before it ends up being too late.