Have we washed away the Ashes?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember where you were when the Phoenix Suns drafted Deandre Ayton and acquired Bridges in 2018?

How about when they drafted Booker in 2015?

Ok- a harder one- where were you when the team traded for / picked up free agents Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress to make up for the loss of Amare Stoudemire? Can you name the year?

The first two off-seasons mentioned were major building foundations for the team we are seeing now. Rare bright spots over the past decade.

The third off-season mentioned marks the end of the last great Suns era. In fact, that summer of 2010 was the last time the team played in the playoffs prior to 2021. It marked a move to mediocrity for the franchise, and often much worse. Ten solid years of suckitude. Some seasons were spectacularly horrible.

Even after drafting Booker, Ayton, and Bridges, the team won merely 19 games with that trio together. The GM was sacked right as the season began, having set up the team without a true point guard to guide the young players. 19 wins, 63 losses. The franchise was a laughing stock and coach’s carousel.

We fans had gotten used to losing in so many ways.

The team had sucked on purpose, for years, to rack up high draft picks. And then mostly squandered those picks by taking arguably the worst of the available players in the lottery in multiple years. We would pine for Bender, Chriss, Marshall, or Josh Jackson to pan out for multiple seasons only to eventually realize they were not actually NBA players and we had put our energy into the Suns’ system only to watch those players flame out time and time again. The best of players we took (no longer with the team) are currently earning less than 20 mpg such as Len and Kieff. And whither Tony Buckets?

We also picked up "promising" free agents such as Tyson Chandler, Sonny Weems, Trevor Ariza, or even Eric Bledsoe (trade); players we thought could really turn things around. We kept waiting for lighting to strike- to see this team become a feisty upstart team that would take the league by storm.

The closest we got was in 2013-14 when Bledsoe and Goran nearly got us to the playoffs. Then Ryan threw the grenade into the roster by picking up Isaiah Thomas (the little engine that could- and did for a couple of seasons elsewhere), then lobbed another grenade at the trade deadline. That deadline sent the team to flatline in no-time.

All that is to say we really had the crap kicked out of us for those 10 long years. We were the league’s punching bag. And not the big 70-lb bag, I’m talking about the little speed-bag that gets hit 60x per minute. That’s what it felt like. Constantly taking damage by rapid-fire.

Then some true good started to happen.

The Bubble-Boyz run was a catalyst for change. James Jones and Monty Williams were the chemists creating new healthy elements out of the ashes of our lowly Phoenix roster. First by jettisoning players that were not team oriented. Then by bringing in a couple of great-character vets in Rubio and Baynes (along with a young "go-getter" named Oubre), vets who (for once) did not shrink from the challenge of reshaping our young players and the culture of the team. They created the Bubble run.

Then CP3 and 2021’s amazing run through the entire Western Conference and being up 2-0 in the finals.

I know I was not the only person watching that run and thinking two questions:

1. "How?"

2. "This cannot be sustainable- it happened too quickly, right?"

As others on this blog and in associated podcasts have said, our long-term fan-base (myself included) developed an inferiority complex towards the rest of the league. Most of us became like Winston Smith withering away in the arms of O’Brien, willing to hope for the best while living so many dark years in the basketball torture chamber.

But now is the time for us to come full circle. The Phoenix rising from the ashes is the way too obvious a cliche for this franchise- but man does it feel appropriate right now. Yet it is actually short-changing what we are experiencing.

The amazing run of last season has not only been sustained from last season, it has actually been surpassed. And not only are the improvements of last season holding, the players and teamwork has also increased. We can be down two starters and several bench pieces and still blow out pretty good teams on most nights. When we lose our entire roster of "bigs," somehow two more come along to shore-up the roster and continue our rampage through the league. We are #1 again. I will emphasize that word… Again!

Through the years of platitudes from Sarver, Blanks, McDonough, and the countless mediocre coaches- this really is something different.

Jones and Monty, along with Paul, Crowder, Booker, Ayton, and so many other parts of the franchise are creating something very special and fairly unique for this franchise. Great offense and defense….along with great point guards and centers?!!? For the third season running, I find myself quoting Barnabas Collins, saying to myself: What sorcery is this?

It is real leadership. Real players. Real commitment. Real teamwork. Real results.

This is not a moment to witness a rise from the ashes- this is a new dominant era.

And I’m getting more comfortable with it every day.