Friday night represented a new low for the 2023-24 Phoenix Suns' season, as they dropped out of postseason contention entirely. A fifth straight win for the Golden State Warriors - taking them to 15-14 on the season - enough to leapfrog the Suns into the 10th spot in the Western Conference.
Prior to this season beginning, most thought the Suns were going to be so good that getting homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs at least was going to be a formality. The word "play-in" wasn't even entertained, yet with the calendar close to flipping to 2024, the franchise wouldn't even make that pre-playoff round of games tomorrow if it were to start then.
It is clear then that the Suns need a minor Christmas miracle in order to get themselves back on track, but this is the time of year when that can happen.
Although this group still in theory has plenty of time to get things right and ultimately come good, the list of teams who have been in the Suns' position after 28 games and gone on to win an NBA Championship is as small as you think it is. Right now there looks to be too much to fix in too many areas, in order to make a legitimate postseason run.
But head coach Frank Vogel wasn't brought on board to throw in the towel in December, and so these three wishes for the organization are ones that should be approached one at a time, in an effort to get right. Should the Suns be in a similar position even one month from now, this season will have fallen off the cliff and become a disaster.
3. Get healthy
The most obvious wish for the Suns is exactly where they should start, and that is by getting healthy so they can give a much better account of themselves in the second half of the season. Bradley Beal is the key miss here, and has been limited to only six games so far this season.
Firstly with a back issue, and right now with a gnarly ankle sprain against the New York Knicks, and the initial report from the Suns would be that he would miss two weeks. That would put him at around the start of January for a return date, but in truth he is likely only going to be re-evaluated then. From that point, he may yet miss some more time with the injury as he steps up his rehab.
To date, the Suns' "Big 3" of Beal, Durant and Booker have played only 18 minutes together on the court. An unacceptable return when the roster has so much riding on the play of their top three guys. They simply must ensure that Beal stays healthy for the rest of the season once he is back, to have any chance of climbing to a top four spot in the West.
On top of that, both Booker and Durant have missed some games with niggling injuries. In the case of the 35-year-old Durant it is more understandable, and really the fact he has been the most durable of their top three players partly explains why the Suns are where they are. But it is on Booker now to go on a tear in the New Year, and show fans he can be a fringe MVP contender.
The knock against the Suns when they put this team together in the offseason was that, on paper, they were a formidable group. To this point the roster has been exactly that, one that exists only on paper. But if the Suns can get Beal back, they would have the best third option offensively in the league. Throw in Booker and an already amazing Durant season, and the team would be back.