At this time of year nine years ago, the 54-28 Suns were in a first round playoff battle with the Portland Trail Blazers. They won that series 4-2 and then also won their next series against San Antonio 4-0 before finally falling in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers 2-4.
Oh, how we all wish for those times to return. Even a first round playoff loss would be preferable to a nine year playoff drought.
Since then, bright spots have been few and far between for Suns fans. The brightest in the past few years was the 2013-14 season when the Suns surprised most of the NBA and fell just short of making it back to the playoffs with a 48-34 record.
Even though those two teams were very different, they had some similarities. Both teams only had 15 players on their rosters for the entire season (no in-season roster turnover) and neither were hit with a lot of injuries. During the 2009-10 season, the Suns had 8 different starting lineups. In 2013-14 they had only 6 different starting lineups. They had in-season stability.
Since 2014, the Suns have averaged 21.2 players per season on their rosters... and that doesn’t include players on the newer two-way contracts. They’ve also averaged 22 different starting lineups per year in the past five seasons. That’s partially due to injuries and partially due to the rosters changing due to in-season trades. A few were due to in-season coaching changes (which made lineup changes) and some were also due to coaches just trying to find something that worked when things were going badly.
That screams instability.
Injuries can’t be helped. Guys get hurt and others have to step up and take their places. Much of the rest of it can be traced back to poor decisions made by the front office. I could make this a lengthy article going back several seasons but I’ll just concentrate on the last two.
Since Eric Bledsoe checked out - and then asked out - after three uninspired games in 2017, the Suns have been without a starting caliber point guard. Elfrid Payton was the closest thing to that during that period of time but let’s face facts. Putting a bad defensive PG like Elf next to a bad defensive SG like Devin Booker long-term would have been a mistake and one that I’m glad the Suns avoided.
I won’t bother to list the names of the rest of the players that the Suns had as their starting point guards in the past two seasons. I will leave it at saying that it is a long list... twelve in fact.
Yes, in the past two seasons the Suns have had 12 different starting point guards (including the Point Book games... which sadly was most of the best PG performances of them all). Point guard is arguably the most important position for a basketball team at any level. At the highest level - the NBA - having at least a good one is essential. When you’re a team without many top level players at some of the other positions (like the Suns), it’s imperative.
Stability is necessary in other areas as well. I won’t touch on the debate on whether to retain Igor Kokoskov as the Suns’ head coach other than to say that he may not have earned a second season as HC, but the bad hand that he was dealt by the previous front office - no starting PG and no starting PF - leaves me open to giving him another year to see what he can do with a better and more balanced roster. As it looks as though that will be the case, we’ll see how it actually works out next season.
As I said earlier, injuries can’t be helped but in the last two seasons the Suns have had a total of 63 different starting lineups. In the previous four seasons, they had a total of 53. If you want to go back to the eight previous seasons, the total is 100 different starting lineups. That’s 100 different starting lineups over eight seasons versus 63 in just two seasons.
Again, instability raises it’s ugly head. Some of it can’t be helped but the last two seasons worth of instability can’t just be ignored. In the last two seasons the Suns have averaged 6 different starting point guards. In the previous eight, they averaged 2.9 per season. That’s not a coincidence or just a random occurrence. That’s bad leadership. That’s bad planning. That’s just plain bad.
During this off-season, the Suns need to find a point guard that they can build around and that will provide stability for the future. That might be through a trade or free agency or it might even be through the draft but it is imperative that they find one somewhere. I prefer the first two options but if it’s through the draft then Tyler Johnson could be a good stopgap at point next season while the rookie gets his feet wet.
The Suns have a lot of needs but stability should also be considered one of them. Finding the right people to plug in to the point guard and power forward spots this summer is critical if the Suns want to break out of the cycle of losing seasons that they’ve fallen into. Retaining the right people is just as important though.
James Jones made some nice moves during the season to improve the Suns. Now that he has the ‘interim’ tag removed from his title, hopefully he will earn that by both improving the team this summer while also retaining some semblance of stability as the Suns move forward. They desperately need to make some changes but they also need to balance the need for change with the need for some stability.
Instability is bad for any organization. The Suns have had enough of it.
Ownership should step aside and give Jones the reins this season... for good or bad.
Hopefully, he will be up to the task.