All good things must come to an end.
I love the Phoenix Suns and I've loved the Phoenix Suns for the last 25 years of my life.
Some of my happiest moments have involved watching Suns teams win 50+ games and compete for championships, so for me the 2012-13 edition of the Phoenix Suns was basically the beginning of a dark ages for my basketball fandom.
Last night as I watched the final seconds of the competitive portion of the Suns season tick away my wife asked me how I was doing. Without as much as flinching a smile came over my face and my response was direct and to the point - I feel great.
And there are so many reasons I feel great.
For one, those dark ages I referenced above? They ended almost as quickly as they started. I know a small faction of this community did think this was a good basketball team from the start - and bully for you - but the vast majority of us did expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-30 wins. Frankly I didn't expect the Suns to be in a position like THIS until the 2015-2016 season at the earliest - and even then I thought we'd be fighting for the 8 seed with 43 wins and a gaggle of developed lottery picks, not nearing 50 wins with a dynamic backcourt.
Then there's Goran Dragic. The Slovenian guard I used to watch dribble into the corner like a middle schooler in 2008 is now a fire breathing destroyer of worlds who's bound for his first All-NBA team.
And Eric Bledsoe. From the shadow of Chris Paul, Bledsoe is a flashback to a time where Kevin Johnson would roam the backcourt for the Suns, knife his way through the trees, and slide in for a seemingly impossible layup.
Perhaps more important than any of that there are Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek. For the first time in seemingly forever, the Suns have a coach and GM who are on the rise and seemingly of the same mind. Both guys seem ready to guide the Suns to the next level.
Really there is so much more - the meteoric rises of Gerald Green and Markieff Morris come to mind - so this morning I just want you all to be happy. Be grateful. The rosterbation and the endless summer discussions of what it's going to take to see the Suns go from good to great can wait a couple days.
Appreciate these guys. Appreciate what they've done.
Monday April 14th Key Western Conference Results:
Memphis Grizzlies 97 Phoenix Suns 91 (Recap) - For the first 22 minutes of the game last night it really looked like the Suns were a broken and defeated team. The quotes from the aftermath of the Mavericks game gave way to a matching effort and the Suns trailed 46-33 with 2:27 left in the 2nd quarter. Then it what was probably the last of many "Suns flashes" we watched in the previous 80 games, the Suns went on a 20-4 run to take a 53-50 lead in the early part of the third quarter.
The game basically settled into a slug fest. In the 4th quarter alone there were a ridiculous 17 lead changes - including one on an improbable Miles Plumlee jump shot (are those words allowed to be used together like that?). In the end a few ill advised turnovers and a barrage of missed shots put the Suns away but they competed their asses off.
Zach Randolph led Memphis with a million points while Mike Miller hit every three pointer since the dawn of the three point shot. Markieff Morris led the Suns with 21 points off the bench.
Current Western Conference Standings:
|2. Oklahoma City
|3. LA Clippers
|4. Houston||54||27||.663||8||5-5||WON 2|
|6. Golden State
Tuesday April 16th Western Conference Games of Significance:
None. As you may have noticed the Suns are eliminated from playoff contention. Since that is in fact the case, this will be my last Western Conference Playoff Report of the season. I appreciate you all opting to suffer through my unique brand of ridiculous writing and go on this journey with me. This is probably a good time to tell you that the last 3 days of "recap" links have just been stupid videos of things completely unrelated to basketball. Good job not clicking them.
How expectations changed after this night in October... Opening night in what will be remembered as one of the most fulfilling seasons of basketball in Arizona in a long while.
This morning as you are rubbing the sleep off your face and getting your morning coffee brewing, take a moment to appreciate what has happened this season. This year was supposed to be the bog of eternal stench for the Phoenix Suns coming off of the worst season in franchise history since the first season in franchise history.
By now you are awake enough to remember that last night the Suns were eliminated from playoff contention. While it is disappointing that the Suns fell short of the playoffs and will be back in the lottery for the fourth year in a row this season was a resounding success.
On all fronts.
Last season the team was leaderless after the leadership cut Alvin Gentry off at the knees and made him a lame duck coach before letting him go mid-season. It was a virtually impossible situation for Gentry being asked to win, groom the young players, and also not look over his shoulder at Lindsey Hunter and Lance Blanks laughing about something in the distance.
The team cleaned house removing nearly all the dead weight from last season and starting a new with a fresh face at General Manager in Ryan McDonough and hiring a dynamic first year Head Coach in Jeff Hornacek.
Both are in the running if not the favorites for Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year. Gerald Green is a candidate for 6th Man of the Year. Goran Dragic is as well for Most Improved and Channing Frye for Comeback Player of the year. While those are all individual awards and do not change the playoff fortunes it is symbolic of how this team really turned things around this season.
Excitement was there for a potential future... Maybe two or three years down the line.
Instead the team surprised everyone in a very positive manner going from 25 wins to to 47 with one more game to add to that total. Slide them into the Eastern Conference and they would have been battling for the the three seed every night. They did that with an exciting brand of basketball and a roster reminiscent of the island of misfit toys. Just call Gerald Green "Charlie in a Box" on any other team, but in Phoenix he is Green Lightning in a Bottle. Miles Plumlee and Ish Smith are buried on any other bench, but contributors in this system.
Hindsight allows us to go back and remember the over/under of 19.5 wins for the Suns that Vegas had. It allows for us to remember the Suns being picked no higher than 29th Overall in the NBA in pre-season Power Rankings across all affiliate networks. The disparity from last year to this year will end being no worse than the third biggest turnaround year-over-year in Phoenix Suns franchise history. In 1988-1989 the Suns won 27 more games than the previous season and in 2004-2005 they won an astounding 33 more games.
This year the Suns will win 22 (or 23) more games than last year.
Lottery or playoffs, pour a shot of perspective in your coffee with your breakfast and enjoy what the team is doing and has done this year.
Of all the teams in the lottery the Suns would willing trade places (situations) with right about zero of them. No team in the lottery has a brighter near future than they do and every team at the bottom is there for a reason. Those teams will be down there looking for an Eric Bledsoe talent while the Suns have one and need to find more P.J. Tucker types or Channing Frye types to sprinkle around him.
Obviously they are not in a position to draft an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker type with the 14th Overall Pick, but they can add another piece. No team has moved up even one slot in the NBA Draft Lottery from the No. 14 position, but there is a chance... Not to win, but to add another piece to this puzzle.
There is no doubt that missing the playoffs after the team re-wrote the book on who they really were back in December, but have some perspective on how "disappointed" you really are. Would you have rather watched 82 games of the quality of the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers?
Coach Hornacek and McDonough will take the 14th Overall Pick, turn nothing into something, and aim for the playoffs next year. If nothing else they have proven they can do that already.
The Island of Misfit Toys found a home in the Valley... We all enjoyed the ride and knew that this was a potential final destination. The team made it through the bog of eternal stench and the future looks bright. As you finish your coffee take a moment to appreciate exactly what this Suns team did and represents going forward.
Many of the Phoenix Suns players set personal milestones in a year they might finish with the most wins by a non-playoff team in league history, since instituting a 16-team playoff format.
Before we start rosterbating, let's review a few milestones the Suns reached this season, courtesy of the Suns stats guys who get to spend oodles of time finding this stuff.
Goran Dragic had 14 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists tonight. His five steals tied a career-high (fourth time doing so) and also tie a Suns' season-high. Dragic would need 12 assists in the finale at Sacramento on Wednesday to reach 6.0 assists per game for the season, and thus join LeBron James (2012-13-MVP) and Larry Bird (1984-85-MVP, 1986-87, 1987-88) as the only players to post at least 20 points, 6 assists and 50% field goal percentage and 40% three-point percentage in a season. As it stands, by exceeding 20/5/50/40 for the season, Dragic joins James, Bird and his head coach Jeff Hornacek (20.1 points, 5.1 assists, .512 FG%, .439 3FG% with the Suns in 1991-92) as the only four players in NBA history to post at least 20 points, 5 assists, 50% field goal percentage and 40% three-point percentage.
Those are just a few of the milestones reached this year by Suns players, not even mentioning Channing Frye's amazing comeback from a heart ailment and the fact that every player has had career years under the tutelage of Jeff Hornacek and his staff.
Coach Hornacek, after the loss on Monday night:
"Obviously we are out of the playoffs now, so we just told them that they had a great year. They proved a lot to us as coaches, the organization, and they probably proved a lot to themselves of what kind of players they are. We basically told them that we were proud to coach them because they listened, they tried to do everything we asked, they came in and worked hard the whole year and that's a great sign and a great foundation that we put together for going forward."
Big cheers for the 2013-14 Suns!