2013: The Phoenix Suns’ year of redefined hope

It was painful for fans, maybe even hopeless considering Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver wasn’t under their good graces during a good chunk of the Steve Nash era. Although the franchise botched an entire season — the worst of 2012-13 came in 2013 — it was how the Suns reacted that will define this calendar year.

And it might be the most important year of events in franchise history.

That’s arguable, easily. Yet 2013 showed the franchise will, at the very least, admit mistakes and move on. Here are the significant events of 2013 that make 2014 full of hope.

Alvin Gentry is fired

He led the Phoenix Suns on their 2010 Western Conference Finals run and had the ability to motivate and reach a veteran roster. When the roster wasn’t veteran any longer, Gentry struggled to teach a new club the basics, and even with a talented defensive assistant in Elston Turner, couldn’t bring a roster of misfits to be competitive in 2012-13. In January, Gentry was fired.

Michael Schwartz, on Gentry’s run with the Suns:

Red Auerbach himself could not have coaxed a playoff berth out of this current Phoenix Suns squad, and as the losses piled up Gentry continued to implore his team to keep playing hard while talking about how the Suns just needed a winning streak to get back in the playoff race when everyone knew he was only saying it for the sake of maintaining hope.

In the end, Gentry should most be remembered for being a player’s coach and an exceptional people person. He always seemed to have the right message for a player when he needed it most, and he always chose to communicate rather than let an issue fester. His presence lights up a room, and he’s got the kind of engaging personality that makes people just want to be around him, mmm-kay?

Michael Beasley stops listening

The Suns and former general manager Lance Blanks took a big risk by signing Michael Beasley. In the end, his off-the-court issues did him in, but all along the pressure for him to take the opportunity to become the man was too much — even if Beasley said he wasn’t putting that pressure on himself.

The defining moment came in April, when he said he had stopped listening to everyone, including his coaches. At the same time, interim coach Lindsey Hunter was treating Beasley like — this is my description — a young child. That’s how bad it was.

“I’ll randomly just ask him, ‘What did a certain coach just say?’ just to keep him focused,” Hunter said. “And he’s like, ‘Coach, I’m not talking.’ I say, ‘I know. But you’re listening to somebody, you’re doing something.’ ”

Apparently, he’s not listening anymore. Asked to clarify that he wasn’t listening to his coaches, Beasley held true to his words.

“Yeah, definitely (not listening),” he said. “I’m the one out there fighting. The coach can tell me what he see from a third-party perspective, I’m seeing it first-hand.”

Beasley’s season represented the Suns’ dysfunction.

Lance Blanks is fired

This was the beginning of promise. Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby fired their general manager, who had failed draft picks, signed Michael Beasley and done little to show he could handle the rigors of scouting.

It didn’t help Blanks’ vision, poor or not, didn’t mesh well with Gentry. And it didn’t help Blanks seemingly created a player development program that didn’t do its job. And was its job to usher in Lindsey Hunter as a head coach?

There was some good — P.J. Tucker, mainly — but most of it was bad and ugly.

Since Blanks’ departure, the Morris twins have finally shown a lot of progression. While the picks may not have been all that bad, Blanks’ staff didn’t develop them.

Markieff and Marcus Morris: The twins could develop into fine NBA players, but considering all the very good players taken behind them in the 2011 draft, Blanks’ talent evaluation – his strongpoint – has to be questioned. And while the trade to acquire Marcus can’t really be criticized because it’s essentially collecting known players as assets, it doesn’t help that the Morris twins are duplicates and arguably un-tradable without being a package.

Blanks did leave us with some memorable quotes, if only because they were so terrifying.

Suns hire McDonough

This is essentially what set this strong 2013-14 season in motion. And it’s the key piece to hope being renewed in the Valley of the Sun. McDonough was ahead of the curve weeks after being hired, and he’s years ahead of the curve in rebranding and remaking the franchise.

McDonough has already shown he’s not messing around. Through all the gruntwork, he’s proved he’s capable without president of basketball operations Lon Babby holding his hand. He introduced Hornacek – by “he” I mean he, not Babby, who made a quick introduction on Tuesday and relieved himself to watch the two new hires work their magic at the podium.

So much for the Lance Blanks days.

Suddenly the Suns are ahead of the curve.

Jeff Hornacek isn’t just the sexy hire

Phoenix hired Hornacek as a former franchise favorite, but it also helps he meshed well with McDonough in terms of analytics. It’s helped the young roster that Hornacek can teach the little things. He was touted for his communication, but the results are already there. Between Miles Plumlee, the Morris twins and a dual-point guard backcourt, Hornacek’s success sells itself.

On the bench (as an assistant), Hornacek learned NBA players surprisingly didn’t know the tricks of the trade. He spoke often on Tuesday about the lack of fundamentals in the game — by way of the system more than the fault of the players. For someone who initially saw himself coaching at the college level more than in the pros, the revelation made it more appealing for Hornacek to coach in the NBA.

There are still the little things to teach.

“You can’t assume a lot of these guys know what maybe we did in college,” he said. “For me to be able to teach these guys those particular things, those little fundamentals, proper techniques … They really do want to learn. That’s what’s great about the young players I’ve come across these last several years.”

The Suns smash the Clippers

All of the above led to the result of Monday night’s blowout of the Los Angeles Clippers. A team that hired a head coach and traded Eric Bledsoe to the Suns this summer, all because it had title aspirations, fell to Phoenix, 107-88.

Had this game been a Hollywood movie, the story would have focused on Eric Bledsoe’s homecoming and his matchup with former mentor Chris Paul. But this wasn’t a movie, it was a good old fashioned blowout, with more garbage time than the next Transformers sequel. And Bledsoe and CP3 were little more than bit players in this very entertaining story.

On paper, the win against the Pacific Division powers had significance because of the trade and Doc Rivers’ relationship with McDonough.

But in terms of defining the hope within the Suns fan base, the game was significant of how much changed in 2013.

  • GoSuns

    Lets keep it up Suns!

  • http://none Go Phx

    Amen. 2014 will be even better. Time to win a playoff series and become a true contender.

  • http://thehardwoodboreal.blogspot.com m.i.milliman

    Man, what a difference a new season makes. The thought of watching the Suns last year was like mmy wife telling me to do the dishes––not fun. I’ve watched every game this year and enjoyed every one. Even the losses. I love this team. Love ‘em. can’t wait for more.

  • Scott

    Right now it looks like the Suns are headed for the playoffs. As the Suns look to upgrade their roster by the trade deadline, should they be looking for someone with playoff experience who won’t hurt future rebuilding plans?

    Pau Gasol has both experience and an expiring contract. He plays a position where the Suns could use help (PF/C). The Suns could rent him for the rest of the season (by trading Okafor to LA) and Gasol could play the role of elder statesman for the Suns, somewhat in the vein of Jermaine O’Neal last season.

    Alternatively, the Suns could look to acquire young talent in trade. The main problem there, as I see it, is how a trade for a “keeper” might affect cap space in the summer.

    If the Suns don’t upgrade with a trade, probably the realistic hope is for this squad to gain experience in the playoffs and aim to come back again next season with new talent and a clearer idea of what needs to be done.

    My take is that the Suns – failing any better trade – should probably go for Gasol. You never know what breaks might come your way in the playoffs, and it’s best to be prepared as well as you can to take full advantage of the opportunity.

    One other thought on this … if the Suns do trade Okafor for Gasol, it would create an opening for trading the Morris brothers and Kravtsov … if there is an advantageous trade for them out there.

  • Scott

    Oh, one other note … you might be thinking, “Why would the Lakers trade Gasol for Okafor?” Well, assuming the Lakers don’t go into full tank mode (where Okafor for Gasol would make perfect sense), there would have to be some sort of multi-team trade in which the Suns give up Okafor to a team that needs cap or tax relief and in the exchange wind up with Gasol.

    Like, say, Okafor to NY, Carmelo to LA, Pau to PHX.

    Or Okafor to Houston, Asik to LA, and Pau to Phoenix.

  • foreveris2long

    The Lakers are allegedly considering a trade with Cleveland wherein they give up Gasol and take Bynum back in return, which on paper is a better deal for them than receiving Okafur. It should be an interesting few weeks to see what if anything the Suns do.

  • foreveris2long

    I did hear that a Bynum deal if it takes place, will likely happen by January 7 or the Cavs could waive him to avoid being on the hook for his remaining salary.

  • Voqar

    The new FO is doing a fine job.

    I don’t see trading for Gasol, an expensive fading former star who doesn’t fit the young, athletic, up tempo style in any way, as a good fit.

    It’s not like adding Gasol is going to bring home a championship or even better playoff aspirations, so what’s he point?

    Helping the Lakers tank isn’t a goal the suns should be pursuing!

  • john

    I’m torn on the Gasol idea.

    I do think it would help the Suns’ playoff chances (perhaps minimally, and the “chances” are very slim in the first place), but I also think it helps the Lakers’ tanking cause.

    Who owns the Lakers’ first rounder this year? If it’s Phoenix, let’s try to make them as bad as possible. But iirc Phoenix doesn’t get the LA first rounder until next season.

    I would lean toward leaving this core untouched unless someone obviously much better than Pau Gasol becomes available. If no deal comes up, just let the young guys go at it and figure things out.

  • Foreveris2long

    John regarding your inquiry about the Lakers 2014 pick, the Lakers own it and by league rules cannot trade it. The league prohibits any team from trading their 1st round pick in consecutive seasons. Since the Lakers traded their 2013 1st round pick to the Suns for Nash, they cannot trade their 2014 pick. However as you probably know the Suns own the Lakers 2015 1st round pick.

    My opinion is the Lakers, while terrible are not ready to concede the season and want more than an expiring contract for Gasol (I think Gasol’s contract is expiring this summer). I would not give the Lakers a first round pick for Gasol even though he is having a good season rebounding the basketball. Maybe I would part with the Morris twins since I think they role players not future starters.

    The deal I would want if I am McD is Monroe in Detroit as he is young, strong in the paint and should improve. Then again they will likely want more than Morris twins. I would give them a 1st round pick for Monroe.

  • Sunsn7

    Excellent article Kevin. The rebuild began in earnest with the no-nonsense hiring of Ryan McDonough. Kudos to Sarver and Babby for being humble enough to understand the need to bring in basketball wiseguys to help, not only revive the team itself, but also rejuvenating Suns Nation.

    Still admit to wishing we could get a Julius Randle and truly hope the Suns arent considering trading picks unless its a no brainer.

    As WhiskeyMan used to say, “cheers!” :)

    GO SUNS!

  • vtsunrise

    Ah, WhiskeyMan… Memories.

    GO SSOL 2.0!