Is There Light At The End
Of The Suns' Dark Tunnel?
By Rene Gomez
Modern Times Magazine
May 3, 2016 — The 2015-16 tank job of a regular season regular season ended up being both a forgettable and memorable disaster for the Phoenix Suns. Forgettable because of the team’s franchise-worst 23-59 record and sixth consecutive season in the draft lottery. Forgettable because of the Markieff Morris situation and the Jeff Hornacek firing. But still memorable because the Suns must remember this part of the team’s history lest they be doomed to repeat it.
It’s been a fairly eventful few weeks since the season ended as the Suns held a live press conference that it broadcasted on social media officially naming Earl Watson the head coach of the team after naming him the interim head coach in February.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough opened up the press conference and offered an informative look into the process leading up to the decision.
“Over the past two and a half months, we gathered information about candidates from every aspect of basketball, every level of basketball,” McDonough said.
Since taking the reins in Phoenix, Watson led the Suns to a 9-24 record. Despite how that looks, McDonough and the Suns are comfortable moving forward with Watson for the 2016-17 campaign because of the respect it appears he has earned from the players and his ability to keep the team playing hard throughout a disappointing season.
Still Watson’s three-year contract may have some Suns fans scratching their heads as it is for three years, and McDonough admitted he did not formally interview any other candidates. Apparently, Watson thoroughly impressed the Suns GM enough in his short time as interim head coach.
“He reminds me of a young Doc Rivers,” McDonough added. That could get laughs from cynical fans as Rivers is among the upper echelon of the NBA coaching tree and Watson’s 9-24 record hardly conjures images of the Clippers coach. But fans looking through purple and orange colored glasses will love that comparison as Rivers does have a championship ring, something no coach has brought to Phoenix since the Suns inception in 1968-69.
Watson’s hire does make sense in the context of the recent NBA hiring trend that has seen team’s give several former players with little experience the chance to lead teams. Apparently, today’s GMs don’t think NBA teams need a coach with tons of experience like the coaches who historically led teams in decades past. Names like Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher and Erik Spoelstra all got head coaching jobs without any experience. At least Watson has a small sample size to look at, and the players seem to approve of him.
“I think the players have been great, the ability to teach, nurture, and also love them and allow them to grow,” Watson said at the press conference. “You have to give them an opportunity to fail, and they understood that, they embraced it.”
McDonough mentioned the team was supportive of the decision, and some asked if they could attend the press conference. Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, Mirza Teletovic and Ronnie Price were there to support Watson.
The Future Awaits ... Again
The Suns held exit interviews on April 13 and gave fans a glimpse of that process by sharing some candid videos on the team Facebook page.
Sure, this season had its fair share of cringe worthy moments, but it also gave some positive glimpses into the future that should provide some hope for fans. Booker shined as a 19-year-old rookie once his minutes increased, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin showed some solid production once the roster thinned out due to injuries, and some players from the rotation (Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren and Brandon Knight) should have a clean bill of health for next season.
The Suns had moments of severe dysfunction this season (especially when Morris was still in Phoenix), but the players did appear to exit the season with a more positive mindset despite all of the on (and off) the court struggles earlier in the season.
“Losing a lot of games on the road this year, you know, we were fighting a lot, but I think we just, we weren’t as talented as a lot of teams, you know, we were missing a lot of our best players,” Booker said at the press conference.
Speaking of best players, finishing 26 out of 30 teams places the Suns in an opportunity to obtain a high draft pick and add another young, talented player to the rotation. The team’s draft position is not official until the NBA Draft Lottery takes place on May 17.
Another potential positive going into next season is that the salary cap increases to a projected $92 million, according to an NBA memo obtained by USA Today. The league requires every team to spend 90 percent of the cap, so the Suns should be expected to wheel and deal for free agents as the team currently only has just over $64 million in contracts on the books for 2016-17.
One thing is certain. The Suns were once the professional team Valley residents put on a pedestal Since those day, they have been pushed off because the winning pedigree has disappeared and other teams like the Cardinals have seized the spotlight by winning the right way.
However, there are plenty of fans around Arizona just waiting for the Suns to regain their former glory. The vision and opportunity is there, but the blueprint has yet to rebuild this once proud franchise. Perhaps redemption is close, but McDonough, Watson and the team better study their recent history and avoid past pitfalls, or it could be a long time before Phoenix fields a winning NBA team again.
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