The Phoenix Suns are about to enter a crucial phase of their season, where we will find out if they are for real this season or not. A 19-18 record and an inability to appear near the top of the statistical categories that matter would suggest they are not, but they still have time to turn things around.
They look to be finally healthy in all of the key areas of their roster, although one issue that has been painfully apparent in recent games has been the lack of scoring punch off the bench. When Bol Bol is being missed because of what he can do on the offensive end, then you know you are not in a good spot.
One former championship winning head coach has seen enough though, and does not think the Suns are serious contenders to win it all this season.
That would be Doc Rivers, who has had many stops around the league, and who won a championship with the Boston Celtics back in 2008. Rivers also holds the less coveted distinction of losing the most NBA Playoff series from a position of being up three games to one in league history, but he does still know winning basketball.
Rivers was on The Bill Simmons Podcast recently, and when the discussion turned to the Suns and how they have gotten on so far this season, he did not hold back with his blunt assessment of the franchise, saying;
"Man, they've been disappointing to say the least... you know (Bill) I don't know, I watch them because I really think on paper when you look at them, they're pretty good. They're a paper team right now. They're not a very tough team... and that's just how they're built in some ways."- Doc Rivers
That statement alone is not how the Suns wanted to be thought of by a former head coach - and current member of the media - as we approach the midway point in January. If you were to talk to Devin Booker about this as well, he would almost certainly disagree as well. Booker is tough, always looks up for a battle, while the likes of Grayson Allen and Jusuf Nurkic don't shy away either.
The paper team part stings, but that is because there is an element of truth to that. Before the season began, everybody felt that the Suns looked good on paper. They had three elite offensive players, not a ton of depth, and there were question marks over how they could defend superstars. Nearly halfway through the regular season, all of that is essentially true.
If anything the Suns have been a little better than some thought - mostly thanks to the consistent play of Nurkic - on the defensive end, while offensively there have been more struggles than anticipated. They cancel each other out though, to make this a roster that looks at its best when it is written down on paper. Rivers didn't stop there though.
"There's something going on (with the Suns). They're not happy. There's times you can watch teams and the best time to do it is whoever wins it and you watch how they play, they play with a certain joy. When you watch Denver play, there's a joy to their game... you watch Phoenix, you don't see that. You see everybody wanting the ball, a lot of pouting, a lot of disagreements."- Doc Rivers
As Rivers also mentioned to Simmons, he has been to see the Suns three times this season - and although Beal was missing from all three contests - he has seen enough of this team in person to know they're in trouble. In fact Rivers' former team, the L.A. Clippers, are an organization the Suns could actually learn from with how they've implemented James Harden this season.
Not words we expected to hear, but the Suns find themselves in a dire situation right now. The callout from Rivers wasn't totally out of the blue in that he was asked about not only the Suns' season, but also the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. Two other veteran led rosters that are also languishing in the bottom half of the Western Conference.
Rivers certainly left his most scathing remarks for the Suns though, and he believes the other two teams mentioned do still have time to change their fortunes this season. As for the franchise from The Valley though? Cooked as far as he is concerned and unfortunately for Suns fans - to have watched them stumble through this season - you know he's kind of right...