We have not yet hit the end of the calendar year, but already the NBA's 2023-24 regular season is going to be known as one which the Phoenix Suns limped through. Injuries to Kevin Durant and Devin Booker popping up at inopportune times, as they have for most teams in the league.
Then there is Bradley Beal - the big offseason acquisition for the franchise - who was limited to three games up until December 13th, as a result of a back issue which had wrecked the start of his time in The Valley. Just when it looked like he was going to contribute in a big way going forward, a gnarly ankle sprain has taken him back out of the lineup.
The latest update on Beal is that he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, making this a big blow to the Suns and their hopes of climbing up the Western Conference.
Beginning with the obvious, and losing one of the team's three best players for even more time is a nightmare scenario for the Suns' front office. The key phrase being used by the organization is that Beal will be re-evaluated at the turn of the year, which does not mean he will be back on the court at the beginning of January.
Given the ugly nature of the ankle sprain which Beal suffered, he could then be judged to be two weeks away from playing again once he is looked at in January. At that point, playing a total of six games out of what will be nearly half a season, was absolutely not what the team would have had in mind when trading Chris Paul for Beal this summer.
In fact it is the other player who was a throw-in to that deal - Jordan Goodwin - who has been a much more reliable contributor for the Suns so far this season, albeit a more limited one in his role. Goodwin has also added a nice layer of defensive ability to the guard rotation when on the court, and this is an area the Suns are going to have to lean into with Beal gone again.
He was never going to make a difference on that end, and now the hope is that head coach Frank Vogel can cobble together a rotation in the absence of Beal which can be more competitive defensively. On the offensive end - while the Suns have been far from crisp and lag behind the elite teams in this category - having Beal and Durant means they will also get good looks each game.
In the short-term though, the Suns really need Beal so that they can start winning some games. Sunday's four point win over the Washington Wizards - who themselves have only won four games all season - felt like a new low for the group, even though they won the game. They looked disjointed and struggled to put away a bad team, having lost the previous two games at home before that.
The 14-12 record the Suns have put together has them sitting at 10th in the West right now, which is just barely holding onto a play-in spot. The Golden State Warriors, 12-14 and one spot behind the Suns, have won two straight and are chopping and changing rotations in the hopes of finding a winning formula.
This is an approach the Suns can't take with Beal out, and instead they are having to rely on their star power and the hope that some role players such as Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon can outperform expectations, just to keep their heads above water. This was supposed to be the part of the season where the group really started to gel, and Beal's inability to play has hindered that.
There is still plenty of time in the regular season to get this right. But it is also fair to point out that a team sitting 10th in the West, and which ranks 12th in offensive rating (116.3) and 18th in defensive rating (115.0) and has been without one of their three best players for long stretches, can turn things around as much as the Suns need to in order to win it all. History says that will not happen.