The one common thread for the Suns since Robert Sarver took over as owner has been change.
They are facing another summer of uncertainty between Sarver’s 15th and 16th seasons running the Suns, with no more answers in front of them than the day they traded Steve Nash. Though the team cemented James Jones as general manager Thursday morning, stabilizing at the very least their lead executive, hardly anyone who is a part of this franchise has a semblance of job security.
“It’s something that I can’t think about or worry about too much,” said forward Josh Jackson, the 2017 No. 4 overall pick who is expected to be on the trade block this summer.
It may seem out of bounds to consider moving on from a top-five pick after his two season, but when that player has been statistically one of the most damaging individuals in the NBA, it’s realistic.
The same could be said of Phoenix’s other No. 4 pick, Dragan Bender, who may not have done enough over the second half of the year to earn a place in the rotation in his fourth season after seeing his option declined last fall.
“It’s definitely a long way away,” Bender said. “I’ve never been in those situations, first time experiencing that, so it will be interesting.”
Of course Bender is right to claim he has no idea whether he will be back. The people who drafted him aren’t around anymore, and he has disappointed early in his career.
Asked if he wanted to remain in Phoenix, Bender was gracious.
“This organization has given me a lot obviously but it’s a young group and we obviously don’t know who is going to be back,” Bender said.
If there is a saving grace for Bender’s future in Phoenix, it may be tied to the future of coach Igor Kokoskov. The coach’s background as an Eastern European native who also prefers a more finesse style of basketball seemed to play a major role in Bender’s turnaround.
But Kokoskov is far from locked in for next season.
“You control what you control … whatever you preach you have to do it,” Kokoskov said of his coaching during this tough season. “Nobody feels sorry for you, this is a brutal business and it’s about winning.
“No excuses. We can go on and on, at the end of the day it’s winning or losing games. Nobody’s going to remember who played that game, medical status of the guys … they only remember who won the game.”
Winning just 19 games won’t satisfy fans or ownership when it comes to turning the ship around, but several core players credited Kokoskov specifically for their improvements this season. That list includes, notably, both Jackson and Bender.
Specifically when it came to his future with the franchise, Kokoskov said he was unsure.
“This is part of the business,” Kokoskov said. “You get hired, you get fired, you don’t think about it. You just do your job and do it as best you can.”
It’s probably easier to answer for the journeyman coach who is still fairly young, has opportunities overseas and will be a top candidate for an assistant job even if he is fired.
For players, losing out on the chance to keep improving in part because of the instability from top to bottom of the Suns organization has to be frustrating. There are already several casualties of flippant roster moves during this rebuild who have blossomed elsewhere in the NBA. Could more be on the way?
“Especially for a young guy, you’re coming in and this is all you know, this is the NBA for you,” Jackson said. “Your first team, you pick up habits from there and that’s all you know, you don’t really know what it’s like on other teams so stability would definitely be a big factor.”