Times are tough in Phoenix right now. It truly is a “what have you done for me lately” mindset as the Suns have last their last two games after winning 5 of their previous 6. The losses bring to the surface underlying issues and observations about the team, things that winning mutes.
A team that is 19-18 is truly a team in the middle, and while the reasoning behind that record for the Phoenix Suns can be explained, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they are the 9th seed in the Western Conference. This is a team that had much higher expectations than fighting for a play-in spot.
Yes, it’s only 37 games through the season. Injuries and continuity have been issues. But one challenge that the team continues to have is bigger than a strained hamstring or rolled ankle. It’s identity. And the Suns don’t really have one.
You think back to last summer. As newly hired Frank Vogel sat in a folded chair atop a makeshift stage in the lobby of the Footprint Center, microphone in front of him, he defined who and what his expectations for his 2023-24 team would be. “Scrappy as hell” he said.
"I will be committed to bringing in a championship level culture both on & off the court... When we get out there and play, we're going to be scrappy as hell."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) June 6, 2023
Frank Vogel in his introductory press conference as the Suns new head coach.
That has yet to come to fruition.
The Suns don’t play scrappy. Or with consistency. Or with urgency. Or with focus. Or with desire. They play tentatively. They play passively. They play scared.
Scared of what, you may ask? This is purely observational, but it feels as if players are scared to mess up. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are serious dudes, and we’ve seen them yell at teammates, both on and off the court. Not aggressively or maliciously, but in a way that makes you want to avoid making a mistake.
“Why aren’t you running back?” Booker yelled at Chimezie Metu on a play in the loss against Dallas on Christmas Day. “You turn the ball over and don’t run back?”.
Devin Booker wasn't happy with the effort here, especially after Metu's turnover— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) December 26, 2023
"Why aren't you running back? You turn the ball over and don't run back?" pic.twitter.com/8aihVLVpCC
Rather than being scrappy and taking chances on both offense and defense, their teammates play with fear and trepidation. Fear of failure, fear of being wrong, fear of making mistakes? Whatever it is, there is no grit.
The Suns have yet to build an identity, and in Monday’s blowout loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, we witnessed what a team who knows who it is can be. This season isn’t lost for Phoenix, they are simply in a lull.
When the Clippers acquired James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers, the team lost seven consecutive games. It took time to develop on-court chemistry and — here’s that word again — an identity.
Fun Fact: Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal have only played 6 games together. 108 minutes. They are a +23 in those minutes.
The Suns Big Three:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) January 9, 2024
6 games played together
70 AST on 108 FGM
3 AST/TO Ratio
Give it some time.
It is going to take some time for an identity to develop. The question becomes what will it be? And why hasn’t what Vogel has attempted to deploy from an identity standpoint been executed to this point?
That is one of the challenges when you discuss identity, as a generally is tied to culture. The culture of the team. The mindset collectively that, despite certain players, being out, exists on and off the court. Why haven’t we seen something consistent relative to culture to this point of the season?
It is a deep question that has many variables and layers behind it. This isn’t a defensive team. This hasn’t been the offensive team we believed they would be. This isn’t a team that plays fast or attacks the boards, regardless of personnel.
Right now, the Suns are just a team that is. And that isn’t good enough.