The Phoenix Suns have had a bad culture for a long time, starting at the very top of the organization. But their recent play shows signs of improvement.
It’s crazy how fast things have started to turn around for the Phoenix Suns. Earlier this season, I wrote about how they had the league’s worst culture. Little did I know it would get worse.
After I wrote that, the team had multiple blowups on the same night: an on-court argument between coach Igor Kokoskov and Mikal Bridges, and a locker room argument between Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
It’s not that arguing is necessarily a bad thing, but when combined with a huge losing streak when they often struggled to bring quality effort, it was looking bad for the Suns.
At one point, Ayton was benched for postgame comments about giving up. That was after the Suns scored just nine points in the first quarter. The next game, they opened with nine again.
Then it got even worse. Robert Sarver wanted money for arena upgrades, and Phoenix didn’t want to give it to him. Greta Rogers got more national media coverage than the Suns team had all season.
Owner Robert Sarver threatened to move the team and then immediately walked it back. Ever since, the Suns official Twitter has been on a Sarver public relations tour, and there has been a very obvious uptick in “we love Phoenix” tweets.
The Suns eventually lost their tenth straight game, dropping to 4-24, the worst record in the NBA and on pace to win fewer than 12 games. Devin Booker had missed five straight. But out of nowhere, the Suns turned it around.
Against the Dallas Mavericks, with Booker out again and the Suns 0-9 without him, it was going to be a tough game to win. But the Suns went out and won by ten. And that clearly sparked something.
Booker returned and the Suns won their next two against the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks, and then in the ultimate heat check game, they went into the TD Garden and beat the Boston Celtics.
The team has gone just 1-3 since, but none of the three losses has been a blowout, and effort has been encouraging in all of them. Earlier in the year, the team said they wanted to win, but their play didn’t convey that desire. Right now, it very clearly does.
More so than anyone, Deandre Ayton has taken his all around effort to a new level. But everyone else is doing his part too. The swap of Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre has brought an edge, especially defensively. And Booker’s return brought much needed talent and leadership.
Players have been getting on the floor for loose balls more than ever, and when things have gotten tough, the team hasn’t given up, keeping games close into the fourth quarter.
There are still questions about the culture. Igor Kokoskov may or may not be the coach of the future – it’s still far too early to tell. And Robert Sarver is still arguably the worst owner in sports.
But over the past nine games, the players have been doing their part to bring a culture of toughness and effort. It’s undoubtedly a major improvement. Hopefully it keeps up.