The Phoenix Suns' season hit a new low on Tuesday night, as the team dropped a game to the lowly Portland Trail Blazers, 109-104. This was only the seventh win all season for the Trail Blazers, and it stung even more because two former Suns in Deandre Ayton (game high 40 minutes played) and draft pick Toumani Camara played their part in the win.
To make matters worse, the Suns themselves dropped to 14-13, and didn't even have the excuse of missing some of their best players in the defeat. Bradley Beal of course was not out there, and the latest update on when he will be back for this group is not ideal.
Despite this, the Suns still had Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Grayson Allen, Jusuf Nurkic and Eric Gordon for the game. Head coach Frank Vogel's nine man rotation also featuring guys such as Jordan Goodwin and Chimezie Metu, who have both had standout moments for the organization recently and have stepped up at key times.
With the Suns stranded in the 10th spot in the Western Conference, it is now time to admit that the franchise are wasting an incredible Durant season.
It wasn't supposed to be this way though, at least not to begin the season. The hope was always that Booker could go on an MVP type run in the regular season, leaving Durant to pop up as the second option occasionally, and even sometimes allow Beal and Booker to go to work, only calling on him when necessary.
Beal's inability to stay on the court has been well documented at this point, and as of now the Suns have more games played (27) than they do minutes played by Durant, Booker and Beal together during the regular season (24). They may be a plus 15 in that tiny sample size, but at this point, who really cares about that?
Neither the offensive (115.8) or defensive (114.7) ratings of the Suns have been up to scratch, and it is fair to wonder how much worse off the team would be on both ends without Durant. Booker has had a couple of different injuries which have derailed any momentum he has built - and really, he has looked amazing most of the time when healthy - which has again put the onus on Durant to step up.
So far this season he is averaging over 30 points per contest, which is his highest since the 2013-14 season. On that occasion Durant put up 32 per game, on the way to winning the NBA's scoring title. Having a 35-year-old try to replicate that feat on what is supposed to be a true contender was not what the Suns' front office had in mind when trading for him.
Against the Trail Blazers, Durant poured in a game high 40 points, and gave his team every opportunity to close out the game against an inferior opponent with his shot making ability. Booker himself had 26 points - with the two playing a team high 38 minutes each - and it was still not enough to get over the line.
It would be one thing if this was an outlier on the Suns' season so far, but that is not the case. They are 1-3 in their last four games, with the single win an uninspiring four point victory over the Washington Wizards that was downright ugly at times. Prior to that, dropping a pair to the two teams from New York (with the Nets featuring Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson no less) hit this team hard.
With the Golden State Warriors having won three games in a row to move to 13-14 and come to within a game of the Suns, there is a genuine possibility that they will finish 2023 outside of the playoff picture altogether. Unthinkable for a group that promised so much on paper, but which has failed to solidify their spot in the West early.
With one of these easiest schedules played so far this season - as well as a seven game winning streak in there too - it is hard to see how coach Vogel will be able to turn all of the struggling aspects of this group around, and make even the fourth seed ahead of the postseason.
With the ninth best Player Efficiency Rating (24.4, Booker is 10th with 23.7) in the league and 8.4 free-throw attempts per game (highest since that aforementioned 2013-14 season), none of this is Durant's fault. He is doing everything in his power to lift the Suns as high as he possibly can. But it is currently being wasted by the organization and that needs to change, quickly.