Preview: Indiana Pacers (46-27) at Phoenix Suns (23-50)


Time: 7 p.m. MST

TV: NBATV / FSA

Pacers

Pacers

Suns

Suns

This is little about the Phoenix Suns and the Indiana Pacers. Moreso, the rest of the Suns’ season is about building a culture and standing for a cause. At this point in time, Phoenix is testing the trust between the franchise and both its fans and players.

Sitting Goran Dragic two games in a row has caused a stir. While it made sense at Utah against a Jazz team that could help earn the Suns a second lottery pick in the upcoming draft, sitting the point guard at home Thursday against the Sacramento Kings said it all.

The Suns are not just tanking for another asset, but they’re tanking for the best asset that could be acquired. If Nerlens Noel is on the mind, Michael Schwartz this summer made a great case for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury’s decision to take their tank to the bank in order to nab potential superstar Brittney Griner.

There is a dark underbelly of tanking that results in games that make a mockery of the sport, and nobody wants that. Something must be done to shift the incentives so tanking isn’t so enticing.
But today the Phoenix Mercury are set up as a future juggernaut, which proves once again that when the prize is good enough it’s only rational for bottom-dwelling teams to do what’s necessary to improve their odds at hitting the jackpot.

Chasing a top pick is coming at a cost, however.

Paul Coro’s story out of Utah spelled out the dissatisfaction in the locker room because of the decision. In fact, center Jermaine O’Neal and forward P.J. Tucker both mentioned that nobody in this year’s draft class appears to be a game-changer similar to — there it is again — Griner, who will by all accounts be selected by the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury after their own tank-job.

And as Schwartz mentioned, it’s a matter of the “jackpot” being worth it.

Ryan Weisert and I talked about the lack of star power coming to the NBA in 2013, and outside of Noel, tanking would appear to make minimal difference unless Phoenix is for some reason drooling at the chance of grabbing a winner of a player — say Victor Oladipo or Marcus Smart — despite nobody in this year’s draft being clearly anything more than a role player even through development.

Tanking to do so? It’s coming at the cost of building that same winning culture that Lindsey Hunter is riding his own coaching performance upon.

So those Pacers chasing the Miami Heat and the rest of the Eastern Conference contenders matters little. Where the Suns will be focused upon in the present will be the development of their own players and the fight to convince those in the locker room that this season means a little more than playing for self — Wes Johnson will need a new contract next year, after all.

  • Ty-Sun

    I really just don’t see this as tanking. From everything I’ve seen from this team all season long, the Suns had a shot at winning 2-3 of their last 11 games of this season. Even if they loose all 11, they’re not going to pass Charlotte or Orlando to get the one or two pick although they do increase their chances in the lottery.

    Playing Dragic does nothing except increase the odds that he has a serious injury in meaningless games. If they are really just trying to tank, why are they still playing Scola? Why don’t they just let Beasley play 30+ minutes a night and tell him to fire away? That would be the easiest way to tank.

    While I admit that the Suns aren’t concentrating on actually winning, I do believe that at least part of it actually is trying to evaluate some of the younger players through real game experience. I expect the Suns to at least attempt to make some big changes during the off-season and they need to do the best they can to evaluate the talent that they have and their potential.

    And all this playing time is probably doing Marshall a world of good. Hopefully playing against other NBA starting point guards will be what really motivates him to improve his game.

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    I agree. The whole “oh, the Suns are tanking now” meme is more of a media thing to nab page views and sell ads than it is anything of significance. It gives sports writers something to talk about.

    Borrowing from what you said, I think a person could make the case that signing and playing Beasley was the clearest indication of tanking so far, NOT sitting Dragic for 2 games. The two year contract given to Beasley could even be taken as a sign that the plan is to tank for 2 years.

    Beasley is like a poison pill that a team swallows to lose. Shannon Brown is not much better (oh look – another 2 year contract!). Blanks signed both. Gentry gave Beasley major minutes over Wes Johnson, and played Brown as well. Neither Beasley nor Brown is better than Johnson; Johnson plays better defense, and his scoring and rebounding are reasonable.

    Come to think of it, you could even make the case that Blanks himself is a poison pill that a team swallows to lose. But if that was the case, we’d probably see him replaced with a quality GM this summer before the draft, so the Suns would have the opportunity to climb out of their hole.

    Anyway, as anyone can see, what the Suns are doing now is more valuable to the future of the team, and that is developing their younger players. How the Suns fare in the next year and the years after could have a lot to do with how the young Suns play now.

  • Ty-Sun

    @Scott – You may be right. Signing Beasley might have been a move to tank this season without actually trying to look like they were tanking. If it actually worked and Beasley finally lived up to his potential, great and the FO looks like great for signing him to a relatively modest contract.

    I just finished watching Dallas come from behind to beat Chicago and stay only one game behind the Lakers for that 8th seed in the playoffs. The Lakers and Utah are tied for that spot now but I think that Dallas really has the best chance of beating the Lakers out for that spot which would give the Suns an extra lottery pick. :)

    True, there are no sure fire NBA franchise players in this year’s draft but there’s no way of really knowing until they actually start playing in the NBA.

    I know that this may be frustrating for some of the Suns’ current players but what they are doing now is best for the future of the franchise.

  • Tony

    @Ty-Sun,

    what you and Scott fail to understand is that the Suns FO, i.e., Sarver and Babby, were so publicly adamant about their opposition to tanking that they set themselves up for this kind of negative pr they are receiving. If they never pretended to hold such disdain for tanking in the first place, then I highly doubt as many people would be so pissed off by suddenly shifting to tanking. Below I posted a quote made by Lon Babby and reported on VOTS on October 8th, 2012. Notice the absolute hypocrisy of what Babby stated then and what’s really happening now….

    “How do you go to work every day and how do you lead a group of people both in an organization and players playing to make their living when either the conscious message or the subliminal message is ‘We want to lose’?” Babby asked. “I don’t know how to do that. So does that condemn us to purgatory for longer? I hope not. Could you come to work every day if you thought your boss was trying to be bad? How long does that take and how many front offices use it as an excuse?”

  • Forever is2long

    Ty and Scott, I hear you guys and both of you might be right. However I think most non-Suns fans would see a team who sits their healthy point guard who is playing his best basketball, for the rest of the season, as tanking to secure a better draft pick. I think they are tanking but I think the Spurs do not mind sitting their stars for a variety of reasons which also compromises regular season games as well. As Tony pointed out the front office looks like hypocrites but if they get a number 3 pick instead of number 6, I can live with it.

    Now if I was GM, I would not sit Dragic out as he has not reached his prime and has things he can work on. He would not play more than 20 minutes a game but I would try to send a message to my team to put my best guys out there if they are healthy. I think Westbrook would blow up a front office if they tried to sit him out 10 or 12 games. Just my opinion but you should never break a person’s competitive spirit and sitting Dragic has to kill him inside. Knowing the Suns would pull a stunt where the league questions if they are tanking will hurt them in trying to secure a good free agent.

    They could have disguised this a lot better as I think the evidence of tanking is overwhelming.

  • Tony

    @Foreveris,

    well-stated. As far as tanking is concerned, I’m generally not that opposed to it and I understand the argument for it. But what makes the Suns case so bad is that once again they are essentially going against their publicly stated position against tanking.

    Regarding Dragic, I also agree he should be playing 20 minutes per game because (1) he’s still young 26 and (2) he still has much to work on in developing his individual game. For instance, he has to get better going right, he needs to still work on shooting and individual defense.

  • Forever is2long

    Thanks Tony. We absolutely agree on all points. Dragic does need to work on parts of his game and the front office opened their mouth so someone can stick their foot in it.

  • http://none Keith

    Lol, it’s clearly tanking. Are you guys blind? Come on. And as for the draft, that’s a crapshoot. No one knows how these guys are going to turn out. Saying there is no superstar in the draft is plain retarded. How many people had Lillard as the best player in the draft and a superduper star? Certainly not the top 5! And that’s one of many, many examples. Draft projections are completely overrated.

  • Scott

    From what I’d read, I gathered Dragic would only be out for the Sacramento and Utah games.

    You guys are talking like he’s out for the rest of the season.

    Dragic is one of those young guys that needs to play to get better. So he certainly does need more minutes as the season winds to a close.

  • Azbballfan

    It doesnt really matter if its tanking or not

    the NBA rewards teams with higher chance of getting a good lotto pick the more they lose

    The Suns have been out of any hope of a playoff spot since basically December

    So in my opinion if they were gonna start playing the young guys they should have started in January

    if people want to complain that the system rewards losing, then fine

    It is supposed to create a more level playing field

    the teams that are good right now already had their lottery drafts or in some cases, free agent bonanzas

    no one seemed to complain when Denver and C:leveland were terrible in 2002-2003 Season and Cleveland got Lebron

    The way the system works is fine unless you have some philosophical reasoning that says teams should try to win no matter the cost even if the game is meaningless

    Dragic should not be playing

    We dont want another Derick Rose case where the team is up by 16 and a freak injury happens and Dragic blows out his knee and is done for next year

    We know what the dragon brings to the table so its not like theres some evaluation that needs to happen with him either

    Get Marshall out there and keep him

    Make him start every game

    best case scenario is that he improves so much he makes dragic expendable (teams dont draft lottery picks so they can play 17 minutes in back roles right?)

    i dont really think that will happen but the people running the team chose him in the draft and they are all still here

    If the 3 stooges were gone i would say Marshall is gone too but thats not what the situation is right now

    Id rather have marshall tear an ACL than dragic right now (no i dont want that to happen)

    unless the NBA starts suddently rewarding teams for mediocrity, theres no reason bad teams shouldnt be in evaluation mode with 9 games left in the year

    There are so many variables during a season that determine team success in a given year, i think the system is fine

    no one thought the Lakers would be battling for the last spot in the playoffs with 9 games to go

    had they made the steve nash trade without giving away their 2013 pick they would have been rewarded with something for a season no one oould predict

  • Scott

    Markieff put together his best game in a looooong time. Or maybe his best game so far; not sure.

    In 32 min he was 8-12 shooting, he did not attempt any 3s, he was perfect from the FT line (2-2), he got 4 rebounds (okay, that’s not so great), 2 assists, 2 PFs, 2 steals but 2 TOs, and 1 block. His +/- was -2, which was pretty good for how many minutes he played.

    So 18 pts, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Now if only he could string together another 80 games like that in a season ….

    Hopefully he and his brother spend this summer in a shooting competition, or something, to get their accuracy up.

  • Scott

    BTW, I’m looking at the mock Draft Express and marveling at how well the picks have fallen at the moment for OKC.

    DX has Rudy Gobert and possibly Giannis Adetokunbo going to OKC in the first round. As it turns out, Presti has been in Europe to view both players.

    In the 2nd round, DX has OKC taking Lucas Nogueira.

    So that’s 2 centers and 1 SF, all with freakish wingspan, and young, who can be stashed overseas. Amazing. I don’t know if the draft will really go like this, or if OKC even wants these players, but in a way it looks like this is Sam Presti’s reality and we just live in it.

  • Scott

    Also … I was miscounting in earlier posts where I said the Suns would be taking 4 players in the draft.

    They’ll be taking 2 first rounders and 1 late second rounder (unless they buy picks or acquire picks in trade).

    As for the Lakers, from now till the end of the season they have only one easy opponent: the Pelicans.

    Their first game of this stretch is against Dallas, April 2. If Dallas beats LA, it will go a long way toward securing that lottery pick for the Suns.

    Dallas has an easier schedule from here on out, facing the Pelicans twice, plus their game with Phoenix on the 10th.

  • DBreezy

    As far as the tanking stuff goes, I said my overall piece on it on another thread, but it’s kind of funny to hear the players whine about it publicly. It’s not like the results were better for the overwhelming majority of the season that the vets had to play the bulk of the minutes. You had your say boys and it was far from good enough, now stiff upper lip and ride this thing out quietly.

  • john

    @DBreezy

    Agreed. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    And as far as the fan reaction to the “tanking” goes, I honestly don’t know what else a fan could expect. They were playing .300 ball all season… it’s not like the vets would have been doing any better. I can see how sitting Dragic could be viewed as an effort to tank (and I agree), but I also see how it’s equally plausible that the reason for sitting Dragic could have been that he has yet to play a full season with this kind of pressure and he was wearing down, or that the Suns wanted to protect him from disaster since he’s their only valuable asset moving forward (with Gortat and Dudley being semi-valuable), or maybe he’s nursing a few bumps and bruises the fans and media aren’t aware of. Whatever the case, there are explanations besides, “They are TRYING to lose.”

    I agree that Sarver’s and Babby’s comments about tanking have been disingenuous, and I agree with the sentiment that they should just keep their mouths shut for the most part. I think most men would be wise to follow such advice. If you’re always talking, you have no time to listen. And listening is always much better.

    And with that, I’ll leave in shame after all this talking I’ve just done. :)