With the Suns’ season over and the offseason already in full swing as the team searches for a new general manager and a head coach, questions are aplenty. So instead of the traditional 5-on-5 to recap the season, we’re going to — like the Suns — start from scratch and work through five 5-on-1 sessions. Because if you can’t run an offense during a walk-through with a coach, no chance it’s working against five defenders.
Let’s not even get into how much we all overestimated the Suns — even the admittedly negative Dave Dulberg overshot the win total estimation — but what’s one word to sum up the year?
Michael Schwartz: Transition. We all knew this was coming, right? We may have all been overly bullish on the Suns, but before the season I posed the question of which team was definitively going to be worse than the Suns in the West? Perhaps Sacramento, maybe New Orleans, even possibly Houston before the Rockets pulled the trigger on the James Harden deal. But unlike in prior years when the Suns were a lock to at least battle for a playoff spot, they seemed to need some good fortune just to stay out of the West cellar.
With the way the last few years were spent trying to fine tune a Steve Nash roster to get as close to the playoffs as possible without any star successor on the roster, we knew it could get ugly when Mr. Two Time finally left town, and of course it was. Every team cycles through losing seasons eventually, even a team like the Suns with the fourth-best winning percentage in NBA history (I at least think that’s still the case). This year will be known as Year 1 post-Nash and the start of the rebuilding project.
Ryan Weisert: Necessary. After an incredible four-year run which redefined the franchise, the Seven Seconds or Less Suns were slowly dismantled. First Shawn Marion was traded away for Shaquille O’Neal. Then coach Mike D’Antoni bolted for New York. Then, following their miraculous run to the Western Conference Finals, the Suns let Amare Stoudemire walk. Through all of those losses, Steve Nash almost single-handedly kept the Suns close to contention. But his efforts served only to prop up a house of cards. The Suns were always going to collapse in the wake of the SSOL-era. That style of play required specific personnel and vision to execute. Once key players started to leave, the system started to crumble. The fact that it took five years for it to completely fall apart is a testament to Nash and former coach Alvin Gentry.
This hard fall, though painful for everyone associated with the team to endure, was necessary and inevitable. Now the franchise can find a new identity and move in a positive direction. Unless the lottery balls fall against them, the Suns should have a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft. They have cap space and a few pieces, like Goran Dragic, to build around. So long as this abysmal season hasn’t ruined the team mentally, the Suns, having taken their licks, are definitely in a position to improve next year.
Kevin Zimmerman: Directionless. As great as tanking is for the future and as expected as it might’ve been, the Suns didn’t treat the post-Nash era like things would go this way. There was accumulation of assets and the open belief that Phoenix could be somewhat competitive. Though the Suns aren’t exactly the youngest of teams, there was somehow discussions about player development and a head coach, Alvin Gentry, who was going to go down swinging — by playing his veterans. Then, the Suns brought in Lindsey Hunter and still took a good chunk of time to finally admit that it was time to call it a lottery-bound year.
The confusing decisions and poor handling of everything from Gentry’s firing to the Shannon Brown playing time debacle sent a confusing message to fans and even the Suns players. In the end, all that might have been the basic reasoning behind the parting from general manager Lance Blanks. The end of the Nash era was easy to criticize and, to be fair, hard to conduct. But to call the 2013-14 season the first year of a rebuild seems contradictory to what happened this past season.
Dave Dulberg: Necessary. Whether they want to admit it or not, the Suns front office wasn’t really rebuilding these past few years. With a roster good enough to compete for the No. 8 spot out West and back-to-back No. 13 picks in the NBA Draft, the Suns were more or less floundering on the fringe of being competitive and on the fringe of rebuilding.
With likely a top-5 pick, a new GM and potentially a new head coach, the Suns can finally start planning for their future. The team was bad, even by my preseason standards, but they needed to be. And sadly, they’ll likely need to be again in 2013-14.
There’s no guarantee they end up like Memphis or Oklahoma City at the end of the process, but in a star-driven league, unless you can somehow acquire one in free agency/trade, the best place to look is the draft. Well, most drafts that is.
Matt Petersen: Painful. Planet Orange was in for a rough year, but I don’t think anyone thought 2012-13 would be the embarrassing plummet that it was. Other than Goran Dragic, everyone performed worse than hoped, particularly the high-profile “x-factor”, Michael Beasley.
The consolation prize: After years of slow deterioration, a lot of fans got the tank job they wanted. A potential top-3 pick would go a long way toward soothing fans’ frustrations. Still, it’s hard to have confidence in a franchise that hasn’t nailed (or kept) a good draft pick since Amare Stoudemire way back in 2002.
Either way, the reputation of the Suns as a franchise has gone from a source of pride to a source of shaking heads around the league, which may be the biggest reason fans are irate with management right now.