Utah Jazz 103, Phoenix Suns 88 — Tanking tryouts


Used to be that the Suns would frustrate their fans with inconsistency.

Not a problem anymore. Phoenix is on a roll, one that has onlookers predicting (and lottery optimists hoping) loss after loss after loss.

Wednesday’s 103-88 setback at Utah marked the Suns’ fourth loss in a row. It’s the sixth time this season Phoenix has reached a dubious mark, and the usual factors were present, even if the players involved keep changing.

The biggest change that led to the same result? The absence of Goran Dragic, who head coach Lindsey Hunter admitted before the game is simply being “shut down” with the Suns well distanced from playoff contention. He also admitted to Dragic’s absence providing an opportunity for the younger players to show Hunter what he’s got, essentially making the rest of a lost season into a tryout session for the Suns’ younger pieces.

It’s hard to be encouraged, however, when bright spots — whether it’s Wesley Johnson’s recent 3-point shooting spree or Kendall Marshall’s 13 assists at Utah — continually don’t matter.

It didn’t didn’t matter on Tuesday because Johnson’s brief hot streak was met by something far more consistent: Al Jefferson’s low-post production. The veteran big man shredded Phoenix’s interior on his way to 25 points, and there’s no guarantee that would have changed even had center Marcin Gortat been healthy. Given the sit-Dragic decision, Gortat may not have been on the floor anyway.

The result is a Suns team capable of what happened on Tuesday: briefly competing against a middle-of-the-pack team. Puff-out-their-chest wins over the Lakers this season don’t prove much different, even if the name and rivalry make fans forget about Los Angeles’ actual place in the standings (eighth in the West).

Speaking of the standings, it’s hard to ignore the Suns’ best hope of landing a coveted Lakers lottery pick might be the same Jazz team they just played. The decision to sit Dragic that particular game was convenient in that regard.

What’s not convenient is the Suns’ luck in the lottery, luck that has recently produced the likes of Markieff Morris, Earl Clark, Kendall Marshall and Robin Lopez. Phoenix’s chances will be infinitely better this summer, even more so if the Lakers lottery balls are added to their own.

The Suns’ focus, however, isn’t just the value of their  around-the-corner lottery picks. It’s the ones they’ve already got on the roster, too. Johnson appears to be worth something, at least, though whether that worth can shine on a winning team has yet to be proven. Marshall can dish the ball, but can he ever do more than that? More importantly, will he ever get a consistent shot on a team already boasting Dragic for the foreseeable future? Are the Morris twins more than a cute story?

One former lottery pick who already appears to have blown his “tryout”: Michael Beasley. On a night without Dragic, Gortat and with Marcus Morris not pulling off the warmups at all, the former No. 2 pick saw just five minutes of action. It’s becoming more and more apparent the Suns think they made a mistake signing him.

Better can be said of the other young players, both from the Utah game and in general. But enough to provide real encouragement from the future?

They have 10 more “tryout games” to find out.

  • DBreezy

    The moment of the game for me was with about 30s to go in the third when Kendall tried a spinning layup on a fastbreak that missed almost everything and ended up on the other side of the hoop in the hands of the Jazz. Neither Albert, nor EJ said a word about the play before or after. Priceless.

  • foreveris2long

    Sitting Dragic the rest of the year should net us a top 3 lottery pick. Are they doing this to try and land Noel?
    Wes Johnson seems to becoming more and more comfortable at the 2 spot.

  • foreveris2long

    DBreezy I gave Marshall an E for effort on that move though very funny.

  • DBreezy

    It would have been a great night Foreveris if Jeff Green hadn’t made that last second layup to lift Boston over CLE tonight or as you said they called the foul for Rubio.

  • Azbballfan

    I give Marshall an A for effort tonight

    7 points, 1 steal 5 turnovers 13 assists

    not too bad for 1st career start

    too bad when the Suns somehow manage to injure utah chances even when giving them a win when they assasinate al jefferson with a seperated shoulder

    Lakers won, so oh well

    lets hope they implode without metta world peace

    johnson and scola played well, plus we lost our 49th game of the year

    i still dont see marshall starting in the NBA though longterm, not until his fixes holes in his game

    the NBA point guard position right now is the deepest i can remember, and even the 4 worst teams in the NBA have very nice point guards

  • Michael Beasley

    Coach aint playin’ me dawg. Motha fuka blowin’ my high.

  • DBreezy

    Azbballfan,

    I think it was Kanter, not Big Al who’s shoulder was injured.

  • DBreezy

    So they’ve got home games upcoming vs SAC and NO, which probably won’t be gimmes, and a road game in Minny who just throttled them. The other 7 games are all against teams jockeying for playoff lives and/or seeding. So watch out Cleveland you’ve got competition for the 3rd worst record!

    In other news, looks like history is repeating itself once more in the Babby/Blanks era. Much like Brooks, looks like Lance has once again made a midseason trade for a Houston player who looks to be ending the season falling out of the rotation.

  • Azbballfan

    I could have sworn the highlights i saw showed Jefferson tangled up with one of the Suns players

    Yeah looks like Marcus Morris and Beasley arent getting any burn right now

    You gotta wonder what Beasleys’ role is on the team if he cant even get minutes when the Suns are in full on kendall marshall is starting mode

    with atleast a few people leaving after this season it maes sense to me that the Suns cut him and use the stretch provision

    he has all the talent in the world but the effort seems to be not there all the time

    if the Suns can ship him out for a 2014 pick i would be exstastic

    i still dont understand the Marshall experiment.

    o thought Telfar did a great job as a backup pg, and unless the Suns totally gut the team on draft night by say, sending dragic to Sacto for thier lottery pick.

    I dont know what to tell you

    I can tell you though if Sarver decides to clean house this summer and cleanse the demons of babby and blanks, marshall would be probably shipped out and beasley too because those players were the most *their guy’ thing

    it probably wont happen though, knowing sarver

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    The Suns are really low this season, but without Gortat AND Dragic they are below NBA-level, really.
    Plus, I wouldn’t draft Noel, because imo he is too small and weak to play center and doesn’t posess the jumper for a good PF. What do you think?

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    @ Sillmarillion

    Yes, I would take Noel in a heartbeat.
    I think he has the most upside of any of the alleged lottery players.
    Noel may seem small & weak now, but remember he is only 18 years old.
    In 3-4 yrs he could be the dominating presence in the paint that the Suns have always coveted.

    However, I doubt he will last until the 3rd pk in the draft.
    I’ll be shocked if he does not go 1 or 2.

  • Sunspots

    13 dimes from Butter with the lineup he had on the court is stout. Against a team fighting for a playoff spot to boot. Kid will only get better with more floor time.

  • mileHighfan

    Go kendall marshall!

  • Mike

    Even with the number one pick in the whole draft, I just don’t see that much to go after this year. It sucks that the Suns having such a horrendous year doesn’t even ensure a real player at the end.

  • mileHighfan

    And now, rooting for a true AZ team who wont tank, wish U0fA the best today! Beat OSU!!!

  • azbballfan

    Yeah i also would take Noel if i could

    yeah he is not gonna play most of the year but who cares

    people that can defend and reobund and block shots like he can dont com along all the time

    and with the way the Suns are going, they should get a high draft pick in the much better 2014 draft

    obviously i want oladipo and franklin as well but Noel has to deserve consideration.

    if the Suns ge tthe 1st pick they will probably draft Mclemore which isnt a bad idea either

    we need help everywhere, so as long as we get someone that actually produces thats what matters

    The Suns front office needs to prove themselves in this draft, if they draft a couple of busts expect them to get the axe

    3 drafts is enough to show a team you can draft quality players or you cant

    besides Suns, if Oladipo isnt there just trade for him

    we have expiring contracts and ahoard of draft picks we need to use those to get help if he is the right guy for the team

    btw what are the chances the Suns trade Gortat and the Morris Twins in a package for a pick in the draft?

  • Azbballfan

    Gortat and the Morris Twins to Sacto for Fredette and Chuck Hayes and Sacto’s 1st rounder appears to work in the NBA trade machine

    i would do that deal if Sacto approached me

    Hayes is undersized but a quality defender

    Fredette is young and could be a valuable contribution off the bench

    that would be heck off a draft for the Suns

    something like Len, Oladipo, Franklin

    that would give us a lineup of Dragic, Franklin, Oladipo and Hayyes and Len with Fredette, Marshall, Dudley, Wes Johnson whoever else (patric young?) coming off the bench

  • DBreezy

    @azbballfan,

    While there will always be trade talk come draft time, I don’t know how many actual trades will occur this year. It is a weak draft which is usually conducive to teams moving 1st round picks as they seek to avoid paying a guaranteed salary and losing a roster spot to a player they don’t think much of relative to other options. However draft picks and the low, easily predictable salaries that come with them have been at a premium this season as team seek financial certainty with respect to their tax structures going into the first season with the new luxury tax kicking in.

    I’m beginning to wonder if over time, possibly starting this summer, if we aren’t going to see some changes to the traditional ways do business because of the new rules. The ability to salary dump someone down the line to avoid the tax seems to have been hampered. Teams aren’t as willing to do so because if it puts them over the cap, there are new restrictions as to what they can do in trades and free agency and also the neutering of extend and trade rules really gives teams pause. You could give a lot of assets for what is a short term situation with no guarantees. The Sixers experience with Bynum and the fact that a premier destination franchise like the Lakers hasn’t been immune to being held hostage to a Dwightmare has probably been noticed by many a GM/PBO around the league.

    If teams don’t trade their draft picks on or before draft day, they typically hold onto them for at least their rookie seasons. There are a bunch of league rules that effectively make it nearly impossible to trade a player between the time after the draft and when the meat of free agency occurs. By the time they could be traded, most teams have done much of their business for the summer and often have fallen in at least temporary love with their picks after meeting them and getting them into summer league(everything looks great in the summer!)

    Perhaps stuff like this begins to change going forward. Maybe teams will get a better look at their projected luxury tax structure for the upcoming season after the main part of free agency in July and then start to make a series of later summer moves to adjust from there. Perhaps they consider trading recently drafted players for a guy like Scola or Gortat later once they have a better idea of what their potential tax bill is. In addition I have a feeling that we aren’t going to see a lot of amnesty, option, and stretch provision moves until after the July free agent period has concluded, possibly all the way up to camp for some guys.

    Seems like over time that we’re going to see more of a late summer ‘secondary’ free agent and trade period than we’ve typically seen in the past. Last summer we had productive veterans still looking for jobs all the way too camp. Instead of mostly the Lou Amundson’s and Brian Skinner’s of the world still looking for jobs in August we had guys like Barbosa and Kenyon Martin which had been atypical before that. We had young players with upside like Mayo and Nick Young signing short deals with options for far less money than they would have gotten in the past and all of this was for the season before the luxury tax gets really nasty.

    A lot of the Beasley’s and Shannon Brown’s of the world may not like it, but I could easily see a situation where they don’t get there walking papers until late in the summer, forcing them to scramble for a new gig with far fewer suitors and dollars left on the table. Reducing the salaries and contract lengths of those types of players was one of the real goals of the lockout so I’m sure the league is happy there and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind having offseason transactions occur over a longer period than they do now. It keeps them in the public eye longer, and the more transactions that occur in the offseason mean fewer at the deadline which the league seems to dislike. They seem to be happier with Harden moving before the season and not hearing nearly as much about Dwight, Bynum, and CP3 than we would have under the old rules.

    Seems like a team like the Suns will be doing most of it’s offseason work post-draft, later in the summer than earlier, but we’ll see how GM’s decide to play the new rules. I suppose the league could even view that as a little benefit as it could keep a little more offseason buzz/interest around the franchises that are presently struggling.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    Long story short: there don’t seem to be as many bad contracts out there, and it looks like there will be pressure to keep contracts smaller. (?)

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    Quite true, but since the Suns are awful the details are something to talk about about other than the on-court ‘product’. I do think that as the cba unfolds, the timing of transactions will change from what it has been in the past.

  • Tony

    I’m just wondering why there isn’t much outrage about Babby being caught in yet another lie? He’s said for the past couple seasons that tanking is bad, it’s unconscionable, it’s not what Suns basketball is about; but now, the Suns are holding Dragic out so that the team can finish with as bad a record as possible. Hmm….that sounds an awful bit like tanking to me!

    This Suns franchise will never be an elite team again with these clowns running the Organization. Heck, people like Babby can’t even be honest! I’m still amazed at anyone willing to trust the Three Stooges, especially after Sarver’s henchman Babby constantly lies!

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  • DBreezy

    @Tony,

    I almost mentioned it yesterday after I saw Coro’s second tweet about Goran. The first one just said that he was being held out for rest and to look at Kendall and Diante, but the second one 50 mins later said that it was by the brass’ choosing.

    While probably the proper call, and I don’t have a problem with it at this point, by the standards that Babby set for himself and the organization it absolutely is a lie. Back on the AZC board, I used to have a lot of discussions with one poster about what I feel is the organization feeling it always has to ‘sell’ everything they put out there. It often leads to definitive statements that are either outright false or you could see having a good chance of being false going forward. The Suns aren’t the only organization who’s fans and media have asked about tanking, but most manage to avoid or massage the answer without saying something as definitive as Babby and Sarver have. They’ve made the right call for the organization, which is most important at the end of the day, but any heat they get over their previous statements is deserved imo.

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  • Tony

    @Dbreezy,

    I agree with everything you said. I too think it’s pointless to continue giving Dragic minutes, and even potentially counterproductive in terms of lottery standing. However, as you alluded to, the issue isn’t whether it was smart for the Suns to shut Dragic down, but rather, whether doing so was inconsistent with their often-stated refusal to “tank.”

    Moreover, what’s really troubling is that not only are Sarver, Babby, and Blanks totally inept at their respective positions, but that they seem to have no quarrels about lying. With that in mind, is it at all reasonable to expect these same individuals to turn this franchise around? Considering they are the same ones who put the Suns in this position, it’s even more disheartening to know that nothing they say should be trusted. I’m sure their tendency to engage in lying won’t go unnoticed to star players and/or their agents.

  • john

    If you take a politician/lawyer/PBO at his word, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when you realize they don’t ACTUALLY mean anything you say.

    You can go ahead and pretend to be outraged that a sports executives obviously overstated universal claims turned out to be lies… or you can just realize everyone should have taken those comments with a grain of salt in the first place.

  • Tony

    Haha, so lame. The dummy who thought the Suns would make the playoffs defends the Three Stooges no matter what. I hope you’re just somehow related to one of them or work for them, because otherwise, your loyalty has crossed into a deranged and creepy infatuation with them.

    As far as Babby’s word is concerned, there’s a major difference between not being completely upfront or overstating with outright lying. Babby’s remarks have crossed into the latter category often enough. For example, adamantly proclaiming that the Suns don’t believe in tanking and will not do so, followed by subsequently tanking by ordering Hunter to “rest” Dragic, when he even Dragic said he’s feeling fine, is not merely an instance of “overstatement.” Just like calling Nash the “Sun, moon and stars” of the organization, then not even offering him a contract is more than just an overstatement. Or, saying he couldn’t imagine Grant Hill not playing for the Suns this season and yet, Hill later disclosing that he didn’t receive any interest from the Suns FO to resign him.

    But I really don’t expect a simpleton such as yourself to recognize the distinction between a lie and an overstatement and how obvious it is to most reasonable people that Babby’s statements have repeatedly crossed the line separating overstating with material deception.

  • DBreezy

    Personally I’m not outraged or surprised, but that doesn’t mean the comments aren’t what they are just the same. My contention whether it be Babby or his predecessors is that a lot of comments that they’ve made were just best left unsaid which is what many of their contemporaries have done. Instead we get guys like Sarver saying that they aren’t going to trade Shaq for nothing before doing exactly that almost immediately after. It’s not a crime or the end of the world, but it does make you look foolish.

  • john

    @Tony

    Wait, who thought the Suns were going to make the playoffs? Or are you just simply trolling as usual?

    And I’m not defending anyone. Babby lied. I equated him to politicians and lawyers – not exactly the most-loved crowd. They say what they need to say to push their agenda. How is that defending him?

    My guess is you’re just trolling and you’ll ignore a reasonable request at a polite conversation, but I’ll be happy to be surprised.

  • Azbballfan

    Yeah i agree Dbreezy

    maybe teams will use stretch provision more often?

    it kinda gives them a way out of a bad deal and they dont hae to convince another team to take on a usually expensive under performing player

    that will make salary dump deals less likely, especially next year and the year after when almost all the players are signed in the new era

    still, this is good for the NBA

    it seems not long ago trades we more about saving money than getting talent

    Babby, Sarver and Blanks should just not say anything anymore unless they make a trade or sign a player

    you cant make promises in the NBA there are too many variables

    so either way you look bad no matter what they should just not come out and make sweeping statements like we will never tank ect, alvin gentry isnt being fired ect

    but yeah we need talent and the suns have assets make a move front office

  • Scott

    You could also say Blanks lied when he said he didn’t expect any trades before the deadline. And yet the Suns waived Zeller, added Marcus Morris, and traded Telfair away. Wasn’t Blanks actively seeking to make these trades before the deadline, and thus lying to the fans?

    Perhaps. But it’s also possible his assistants were seeing if there were any deals to be had, and they’re the ones who made the arrangements for the trades and reported them to Blanks, and Blanks made the decision to go ahead with the trades after he made his public statement.

    Likewise, Babby may be philosophically opposed to tanking, but his GM, Blanks, may be fine with it. When Babby finds out Dragic is sitting for two games, he might ask Blanks, “Are we tanking?” Knowing of Babby’s philosophical objection, Blanks might hedge, saying, “Dragic has been playing his heart out for several weeks now, and opposing teams have been beating him up. He’s got bruises all over. Since we’re not in the chase for the playoffs, I want to rest him for two games to let him recuperate and show that we care about his wellbeing.” So Babby says, “All right; he’s our best player, but we can play one home game without him. Let’s do what we can to keep him healthy and keep his loyalty.”

    That’s all conjecture, but keep in mind it was VotS that said the Suns were officially tanking, not the Suns. That the Suns are tanking is their opinion – and it’s a fair call – but it may not represent an actual directive coming from Sarver or Babby.

  • bill.thomas

    Markieff often has a nice stat line, but I’m guessing that over his last 10 games as a starting player, he has a worse shooting percentage than any other NBA player’s last 10 games starting. Can someone tabulate this?

  • bill.thomas

    @Tony: take the pizza away, and Markieff will be all world.

  • bill.thomas

    I’m gonna buy a pizza franchise midway between Butter’s house and Markieff’s.

  • bill.thomas

    @John: hey, give the lawyers a break a little. I mean, a Sarver comparison??? Next time you will be talking concentration camps.

  • bill.thomas

    I’m goin for a Dominos. Best bang for the buck.

  • bill.thomas

    The proof of the pudding is, as long as Markieff sticks with pizza and Lon with pastrami and rye, Markieff obviously outranks Lon. Right?

  • bill.thomas

    I know, we feed all our players pastrami and rye ahead of all games, and go on to sweep the Thunder and Heat next season.

  • Tony

    @John,

    I’ve unsuccessfully tried on many occasions to engage you in polite discussions without any reciprocation on your part, thus I no longer feel obliged to be courteous or otherwise respect your opinion at all. Moreover, your tendency to chastise those disagreeing with your point of view has not been limited to just me, but to others on VOTS.

    Since posting on VOTS, you have not once been critical of Sarver or Babby, but rather, you have defended them ad nauseum, even to the point that I would not be at all surprised if you were somehow related to one of them or worked for them.

    Yet once again, you are defending them by attempting to characterize Sarver and Babby’s previous stance on tanking, a position they have staunchly stood by for the past couple years, as nothing more than an “overstatement” to “push their agenda.” In essence, your point is obviously to discount or mitigate the inconsistencies between Sarver and Babby’s two-year insistence on being adamantly opposed to tanking with the obvious contrast that they are engaged in now. But what you fail to grasp or are ignoring, is that by so assertively and publicly denouncing any notion that the Suns would “tank,” for over two years nonetheless, that Sarver and Babby have deceived all Suns fans, including myself, who took pride in the fact that although not very good at their jobs, at least they had enough pride to avoid resorting to the bush league strategy of “tanking.”

    @Scott,

    The blatant manner in which Dragic was held out these past two games amply demonstrates the FO’s sudden shift to tanking. Firstly, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reported that the decision to rest Dragic came from the front office. Secondly, Dragic himself said he wanted to play. So from these facts I think it can be reasonably inferred that the Suns FO now has not only completely abandoned their previously-stated opposition to tanking, but is actively pursuing tanking.

  • john

    So, you wanted to troll.

    You could have just said that and been done with it, you know.

  • Tony

    @John,

    typically loser response. You have nothing of substance to say, so you resort to character attacks. But I take responsibility because I should have learned by now that it’s pointless to try debating with an ignorant loser like you.