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.
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.