Phoenix Suns Look For Bright Spots In Ashes Of Another Lost Season
The Phoenix Suns wrapped up an otherwise forgettable season on a positive note with a win in Dallas on Tuesday.
But at 21 wins and 61 losses, they finished with the NBA’s worst record and will miss the playoffs for an eighth straight year.
The silver lining for the league’s worst record is the most pingpong balls in the NBA’s upcoming draft lottery and a 25 percent chance of securing the No. 1 overall pick this June.
That has led many to wonder whether or not the Suns intentionally lost — or tanked — for a better chance at a top draft pick.
Suns forward Josh Jackson was one of the bright spots for the team in his rookie season. He bristled at that question.
“I don’t think we ever went out and planned on losing a game, so I don’t really have anything to say about that. I felt like we fought all year, we had guys down, we had guys injured and we still came out and played," Jackson said.
But forward Jared Dudley, one of the few veterans on what is still the league’s youngest and most inexperienced team, believes fans have every right to wonder if the team lost on purpose to improve their draft fortunes.
“It’s totally understandable. If you look at our record before the injuries, it was one of the worst in the NBA. In our situation, it wasn’t like we had veterans or stars that got hurt that we just kept out, it was more just a young team not ready to win in the NBA right now," Dudley said.
One of those many injuries was to the team’s star player and leading scorer, Devin Booker, who missed much of the last month of the season with a jammed wrist.
But could he have played if the Suns were in contention?
“I might have, could have played, but it was at risk of injury or even worse — so we decided to just take it easy and let it rest," Booker said.
The delicate question of tanking was also posed to Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough.
“I respond by saying we rebuilt. It was something we did with our eyes open," McDonough said. "Obviously, we got off to a rough start and made a coaching change. From that point to early January, we were 15 and 21 and we didn’t hear a lot of that talk then. The last couple of months of the season were rough — a lot of losses accumulated. I think a lot of that was due to injuries we had. We played the young guys all year.”
Phoenix finishes with the second-worst record in the franchise's 50-year history. Only the 1968-69 inaugural season of 16-66 was worse.
After being highly competitive for much of their first four decades-plus, the Suns have won just 23, 24 and 21 games the past three seasons. That's a combined winning percentage of .276, the worst mark in the NBA over that stretch.
Phoenix is also in the market for a permanent head coach to replace the interim Jay Triano, who took over for the fired Earl Watson early in the season.
Triano was asked why any good coach would want the job.
“I think if there’s a chance to grow with the players and grow with an organization, a lot of the pieces are already here, and a lot of the tough work has been done.” Triano said. “Getting those guys minutes, figuring out who can play, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and I think when you look at that, that’s what makes [the job] attractive.”
And the crown jewel of that attractiveness is Booker, the 6-foot-6, third-year guard who has the ability to light up the scoreboard every night and is the superstar the franchise wants to build around.
Does he see light at the end of the losing tunnel?
“It’s kind of hard to see right now. I see it, being three years in. But honestly, I think we’re right there. With the young core that we have still developing, only getting better from here, I think our youth is amazing," Booker said.
The Suns will also be working on a long-term deal to try to lock Booker down in Phoenix for years to come as the franchise’s centerpiece.
But regardless of whether the pingpong balls bounce the Suns' way in the draft lottery for another one of those pieces, will fans, who’ve had to endure eight straight playoff-less seasons, lose patience — if they haven’t already?
“This team is obviously set for a bright future," said faithful fan Brandon Condron, who was waiting out front of Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix.
“I don’t believe in the word ‘tank,' but I do believe in maybe saving players for next season. So, maybe a little," he said when asked if he thought the team tanked to improve its draft status.
The NBA draft lottery is May 15, when we’ll find out where the Suns will pick in the June draft. The best-case scenario is first pick, and at worst they’ll choose fourth. Plus they‘ll have at least one more first-round pick, and perhaps two more.
But the big question facing Arizona’s original major sports franchise: When will the youth movement finally grow up and start winning?