The results of the NBA 2015 All-Star voting reveal that the Suns are remarkably bereft of celebrities during a rebuild that has them fighting to avoid missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
It seems like it's been eons, but it was just 2012 when Steve Nash was the team's last representative at the All-Star game. An absence the previous year (2011) concluded an era where the Suns had 14 selections in six seasons. That was a pretty good run.
The Suns aren't currently enjoying such good fortune.
Phoenix didn't even have a player among the leaders in the final vote totals for the 2015 All-Star game in New York. That includes 15 frontcourt players and 10 guards.
The guards in order were Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Jeremy Lin and Mike Conley.
Amusingly enough, Nikola Mirotic of the Chicago Bulls received more votes than either Eric Bledsoe or Goran Dragic.
Statistically, Bledsoe makes a strong argument for inclusion. Eric is one of only four players in the league averaging at least 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game. The other three are LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Not too shabby.
Dragic, meanwhile, is averaging less points, assists and steals than last season when he garnered a third team All-NBA selection. Dragic is also struggling with his three point shooting, down from .408 to .346, and really seems to be the player sacrificing the most in the team's three point guard scheme.
Based on their seasons to date Bledsoe should seemingly get the nod over Dragic, but even subtracting the injured Kobe Bryant Eric would likely be eighth at best among Western Conference guards in the same group as Monta Ellis and Ty Lawson.
Despite his solid numbers, though, Bledsoe hasn't managed to build up the type of name recognition that tips the scales in fan voting.
In the 2013-14 season the Suns didn't have a player in the top 15 in jersey sales according to a report on Forbes. They were also not among the top 10 teams in merchandise sales.
Is this because an introvert and a foreigner with borderline All-Star talent are just not that marketable... or that the Suns just aren't marketing them properly?
This definitely plays into the apathy of the fanbase over the last few seasons. Perhaps some of it is culture shock based on a paucity of playoff appearances that is threatening to extend into record futility. The Suns are 23rd in home attendance this season at 16,402 despite having the league's 13th best record. Dave King wrote about the declining attendance at the conclusion of the 2013 season. While ticket sales are ascending from a recent trough, they are still a far cry from a seven season stretch from 2005-2011 when the team drew well over 17,000 a game and capped out at 18,422.
Winning can be a panacea for attendance, but the Suns are creeping up in the win column with a stockpile of very good, but not great players. There just isn't a Nash or Stoudemire on this current squad to sell to the public. Many casual fans I know can't name players on the team. Others just know them in passing. The other day during a game I was asked, "Who's the good one, Goran or Zoran?"
Despite the lack of sex appeal the Suns may have multiple players heading to New York for All-Star weekend on February 13th-15th. In the interest of increasing representation the Suns do have a few players who could participate in ancillary events.
Gerald Green is 10th in the league in made three pointers with 101 (2.2 per game) this season. Green is also first among reserves and takes pride in the fact he has expanded his game beyond highlight reel dunks. His selection in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest doesn't seem far fetched with six spots to fill.
Alex Len fits the bill as a world player in the new USA vs. World BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that showcases first and second year players. Alex has been a force in the paint since his insertion into the starting lineup 21 games ago, averaging 7.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Len is actually fourth in block % behind only Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge also provides the NBA an opportunity to do the Suns a solid. In a format that includes four two-man teams why not put Eric and Goran together on one? At least one of the two should probably be a participant. Last season Dragic was teamed up with Reggie Jackson in this event.
That's about it unless unless Markieff Morris is invited to attend a new event involving drawing technical fouls.
Still, these consolation prizes don't move the needle much. Bledsoe and Dragic are buried beneath a pile of elite guards in the Western Conference and Len, the team's most coruscating young talent, is still not quite ready for prime time.
Alas, the one that got away in recent years, James Harden, headlines the glitterati in a season where he finds himself firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation. His talent manages to transcend his flailing and flopping... and even his ridiculous beard. He's exactly the type of player the Suns have been missing since Amar'e Stoudemire left after a Western Conference Finals run in 2010.
With no players to showcase in the actual All-Star game the Suns will turn to a stretch run where a playoff berth could foment the interest of a fickle fanbase. The postseason is an even bigger stage for teams and players to make names for themselves.
Ryan McDonough can continue to focus on the draft, trades and free agency. Jeff Hornacek can try to develop the neophytes of today into the stars of tomorrow.
These are the things that can help bring the next star to the Suns and help recapture the attention of the fans.
Because right now the starless Suns are quite entertaining, but a lot of people are missing out.
Here's what the coach and the players had to say after the game last night, following another rough loss.
The Phoenix Suns played a hard fought game against the Los Angeles Clippers that turned ugly in the fourth quarter. The Suns had another slow start to the game, scoring only 16 points in the first quarter and falling behind seven points to the Clippers who scored 23.
However, the Suns bounced back with a terrific second quarter; scoring a total of 41 points behind the play of Marcus Morris, Goran Dragic, Alex Len, and Eric Bledsoe. The Suns were able to take a two-point lead of 57-55 going into the half.
The third quarter was another bad one for the Suns, much like the first. Phoenix was outscored by 14 points, shooting just 35% from the field and allowing the Clippers to shoot 60%, and scored 34. The Clips headed into the fourth quarter with a 12 point lead, up 89-77.
Also during the third quarter, Markieff Morris was given a technical foul after Matt Barnes was called for a personal foul. At first it seemed like Markieff was T'd up for arguing with Barnes, and that he would be allowed to continue playing, but Hornacek pulled him out of the game and sent him to the bench after talking to the ref and hearing that Keef was arguing with the official...on a call that they got the benefit of.
We didn't know it at the time, but this may have been another key moment of the game that could have once again had lasting repercussions.
The Suns once again responded with inspired play in the fourth quarter, sans Markieff, with some big three-point shots from Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green. Eric Bledsoe also did a great job of attacking the defense and getting to the rim. At one point, the Suns pulled within two points of the Clippers, 96-94, with seven minutes remaining in the game, and it looked like the Suns could pull out another big come-from-behind victory.
But it wasn't meant to be.
After the Suns all but caught up with L.A., they completely imploded with missed shots, turnovers, and even missed free-throws. Late in the game, you have to wonder how much of a difference having a key player like Markieff, who has been not only a clutch shooter, but a stabilizing force, could have made. But we'll never know.
The Suns continued their slide downhill for the rest of the game, eventually waving the white flag and putting Archie Goodwin, Zoran Dragic, Reggie Bullock, and T.J. Warren in the game with around two minutes left.
The Suns ended up being blown out by the Clippers 120-100...Oh, what could have been.
After the game, Suns coach Hornacek was noticeably upset, the most I've ever seen him, at the podium. But he wasn't upset about the loss as much as Markieff picking up another technical.
"It’s driving us all crazy with the technicals. We’re going to get it straight, whether they like it or not." Hornacek continued, "We’re not just in this for this year, this is for the next few years and trying to be a team that in a couple years can try to win a championship and until we show these referees that we’re not going to argue and or continue to do this."
Hornacek also mentioned the Suns history with technical fouls and his resolve in doing whatever it takes to fix the issue.
"We had a stretch before that and then they went technical crazy and three or four more, then they did it again." He continued, "So something is going to have to be done; we don’t play them, we continue to sit them like this or we get new guys in here that want to win a championship."
Strong words from the coach after the game who seems intent on sending a message and establishing a long-term culture of players who know how to control their emotions on the court, and not cost the team because of a lack to do so.
Here is what the players had to say (Thanks again to Evan Wendt for editing the videos!):
Goran was upset with the loss, but he also made it a point to support his coach in his decision to bench players for technical fouls. Dragic was on the receiving end of a benching just last game for this very issue, but he understands that the players need to change this behavior if they are going to be a playoff team.
Isaiah mentioned that it's natural for a players' emotions to sometimes get the best of them. However, he also seemed to understand that Hornacek has to do what's necessary for the good of the team as well. Isaiah was also frustrated that they made a comeback but that some key mistakes down the stretch prevented them from getting the win.
Markieff didn't want to talk about the technical foul or the benching, but give him credit for makings himself available to talk to the media after what had to have been a frustrating situation for him. Markieff talked about having opportunities to win the game and get back in it at the end, but that even DeAndre Jordan's free throws were going in tonight.
Another game in the books...and another game the Suns need to put behind them. I have little doubt that the team will be hearing more from coach Hornacek about the technical foul situation, after how noticeably upset he was about the issue.
However, the Suns will have another chance to redeem themselves Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, and a win would sure do a lot to help everyone bounce back from a couple of tough losses that maybe could have ended differently.
Regardless, the team will have a couple of days to rest and then prepare for the Wizards before playing again on Wednesday.