The most recent iteration of the Phoenix Suns was an on-court manifestation of head coach Monty Williams. Quiet, yet brash. Uber-prepared. ‘Pounding the rock’ as a systematic way of life. Stubborn. Head strong. And yet, ultimately too prepared, too stubborn to properly adjust when faced with unexpected moves by opponents.
That iteration of the Suns is gone.
- Owner: Gone
- Williams and most of his coaching staff: Gone
- All-Star culture-driving point guard: Gone
- Fun-loving Twins completely loyal to the Williams Way: Gone
- Overall, 9 of the 12 players who appeared in the NBA Finals: Gone
What’s left from that Finals team less than two years ago can be counted on one hand: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and Kevin Young.
That’s it. Two starters. A backup. And an assistant coach.
And that four-person list might shrink to two by the end of this week. When free agency opens on June 30 at 3:00PM AZ time, the Phoenix Suns might only have two people remaining — one player, one assistant coach — from the Western Conference Champs just two seasons ago.
How quickly we go from maddening continuity to sheer madness.
While the old Suns were an on-court model of Monty Williams, the new Suns might just be an on-court model of new owner Mat Ishbia. Boundless, yet reckless. Under-prepared for the moment. ‘Pounding the bank account’ with fervor. Aggressive. Relentless.
Can’t you just see this new on-court product playing like that?
Committing over half a billion dollars to just three players while turning over the whole roster, the whole coaching staff and mortgaging the future to win a championship in the next three years is a bold move for sure. And reckless.
Owners are, by definition, impatient. But not as impatient as Mat Ishbia. Most new owners bought their team at a distressed point and exhibited patience as the team rebuilt into relevancy.
Ishbia took over a borderline contender and committed to spending every possible dollar on making it a sure thing. Except it’s not that easy. Contenders need time to percolate a bit. Build chemistry.
Within six months of buying the team, Ishbia has jettisoned the coaching staff and most of the roster around Devin Booker. He left the front office staff untouched, but regularly has Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas — formerly coach and executive with the New York Knicks with really bad and embarrassing results — talking in his ear. Chris Paul went out of his way to postulate to America that it was “Matt and Isiah” who wanted to go in a different direction to replace him with Bradley Beal and that he’d just spoken to team president James Jones the night before the trade and got no indication from Jones that a trade was going down*.
*Chris Paul said he was surprised on Sunday with the trade news, but hadn’t we all just lived a 24-hour news cycle a mere five days earlier where Chris had been told something like this would happen very quickly? He wasn’t surprised. No one was.
Look, Mat has the best and biggest of intentions.
What more can you ask of an owner than spending like crazy? They now have the two highest paid complementary players in the game (Durant is 2nd, Beal is 6th in the entire league), and two of the highest paid assistant coaches in the league.
I can love what Mat Ishbia has done since taking over, and I can still correctly call it reckless.
We have seen this before — an owner making a big splash out the gate — and it has never worked.
Remember, it takes four playoff series wins in one year to win a championship.
Mikhail Prokhorov committed gobs of money, traded all his first round picks and guaranteed a ring within five years of purchasing the New Jersey Nets. He acquired a foursome (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) with 35 All-Star appearances between them. They won one series in 10 years before he quit and sold out.
Steve Ballmer spent like crazy after purchasing the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. He bought at the apex of the Paul era, pivoted quickly to new stars when they got old and has spent a crazy amount of money as well as all the Clippers draft capital and young future All Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trying to build a new champ from scratch. They have won four playoff series in his nine years as owner, one of those with the roster he inherited from Donald Sterling.
Then there’s the guy who bought out Prok in 2019. Joe Tsai helped orchestrate massive cap space in the summer of 2019 and, as he was taking majority ownership of the team, green lit the acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with that space (no draft picks were involved, only D’Angelo Russell sign and trade). It’s when they later added James Harden that draft capital and good young players flew out the window: 3 straight-up first round picks, 4 pick swaps, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Looks familiar doesn’t it?
Mat Ishbia is doing the same thing that Joe Tsai did.
Tsai traded three young starters and 7 first round picks (four of them swaps) to put Durant, Harden and Irving together.
Ishbia traded two young starters and 7 first round picks (three of them swaps) to put Durant, Booker and Beal together.
Will Ishbia’s efforts work out better than Tsai’s?
I’ll grab my popcorn. Can’t wait to find out.
But no matter what happens from here on out, we won’t be watching Monty Williams’ Suns anymore. Instead, we’ll be watching Mat Ishbia’s Suns. For better or worse.