Some events are bigger than others... This is an example of that.

Every podcast is not created equal. Sorry for not being up-front about that, but it is true. There are going to be episodes (like say, with me and Jim) that are average to bad while others, like this week with an exclusive sit-down interview with Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, are just better.

Sorry.

In this edition of the podcast Babby sits down before what became a home victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night to talk about the current state of the team with our very own Dave King.

Babby was very candid about what it took to get to this level, the expectations now, and the attendance so far this season at home. The crowds have been loud, raucus, and energetic, but the U.S. Airways Center has been far from full through 13 games at home. According to ESPN.com the Suns are 27th in average attendance per game on the season drawing better than only the Philadelphia 76ers (8-20), Atlanta Hawks (15-12), and the Milwaukee Bucks (6-21). Are fans gun shy to support the team?

Here is the full audio podcast with Lon Babby: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 50 an Exclusive Interview with Lon Babby

What did you think Bright Siders?

As the NBA season hits the holidays the Suns have passed the stage of their play being posited as a mere heat check. Instead, this winter heat wave is being fueled by a collection of players who have collectively taken their game to the next level.

Saturday night the Suns beat a Dallas Mavericks team that was in a similar position in the standings. But those two teams are not very similar.  No, I'm not taking the next logical leap by suggesting that the Suns will be the youngsters singing Christmas carols to the geriatric Mavs at the retirement home this festive season.  That may be part of the reason why the dynamic I'm about to suggest exists, though.

The Mavericks just lack growth potential. Of their current core (in terms of minutes played) only Monta Ellis (barely, by way of increased scoring efficiency) and Brandan Wright are exceeding career numbers. The others are plateaued shells of their former selves or declining. Not the Suns. Every single player in the eight man rotation is on the way up or peaking. They are clicking individually and as a whole.

Suns_wsper48_data_12

Every single rotation player for the Suns is above both their last season and career adjusted win shares number. *Frye's middle column is the 2011-12 season.

Suns_wsper48_chart_12

That green line at the top is the Suns this season. It's an entire squad of players at the pinnacle of their careers... with potential for growth.

Goran Dragic

Goran has been unselfish and acclimated well into the system implemented by the new coaching staff.  After being asked to be the primary facilitator last season, he is now sharing those duties.  But Dragic has been opportunistic and is excelling as a scorer with less pressure being put on him to create offense for others. His 18.7 points per game is a career high... well above his previous high from last season (14.7).  Serendipitously, increased field goal and free throw attempts have been accompanied by increased efficiency.  Dragic is currently boasting what would be the highest TS% (.585) of his career.

Eric Bledsoe

Bledsoe was having a hard time stepping into the sun to bask in its warmth while shrouded by the massive shadow cast by Chris Paul. Then he stepped into the Suns. Eric is averaging 19+ points and 6+ assists while shattering his previous marks for offensive efficiency. He has pretty much turned into the best case scenario of what people envisioned for him this season. One year removed from playing 20 minutes a game as a backup he is now a borderline all-star. All of this has happened in only 20 games as a Sun.

Markieff Morris

The consensus from our staff at the beginning of the season was that he would be the team's most disappointing player. Markieff has not disappointed. The biggest reason to me is that he's found his true identity, with a share of encomiums going to the coaching staff for forming the search party.  Markieff is playing like a power forward.  He has cut his three point attempts in half while more than doubling his free throw attempts.  Instead of lingering around the perimeter and hoisting ill-advised long range shots he has been attacking the basket.  In what is becoming a recurring theme, his scoring and offensive efficiency have skyrocketed. Morris has already scored 23 or more points six times this season.  In his first two season combined he scored 23 exactly once.

Channing Frye

After being away from basketball for a year questions abounded about the timeline for a return to form.  But Frye hasn't returned to form, he's exceeded it. Frye has left his 2011-12 numbers in the dust and is nearly mirroring his career year in 2009-10.  His points per game, three point shooting percentage, TS% and even WS/48 are nearly identical. Even better, Channing has been gaining momentum after a (quite understandably) slow start. Since struggling through his first eight games Frye has been shooting nearly 51% from three point range and has hit at least four threes in a game in five of the last 18 contests.

Marcus Morris

Just as his brother's role has become more defined so has Marcus's... and he's also thriving in it.  The Suns have embraced the twins playing together on the second unit with Marcus playing the three.  Add Marcus to the list of players dusting his previous scoring and offensive efficiency numbers as he is fifth on the team in TS% (.574) just ahead of his brother. Marcus is one of three Suns averaging double figures off the bench and is another key component of a perimeter arsenal that ensures the Suns are never out of striking distance. At .424 Marcus is one of three Suns over 40% from deep. He has even upped his rebounding slightly to boot.

Miles Plumlee

He is this season's P.J. Tucker... in a way.  Tucker had recorded 83 career NBA minutes (at the ripe age of 21) before embarking on a world tour to keep his NBA dreams alive, which ultimately culminated into him sticking on the Suns' roster six years later.  Plumlee was a little bit late to the NBA party as a 24 year old rookie doing his own version of P.J.'s tour on the Indiana Pacers bench.  At the age of 25 Miles has gone from 55 career minutes to quality starting center. To claim he is having a career year is embarrassingly easy, since this year is basically his career. Plumlee provides rebounding and a defensive presence which even his 1.8 blocks per game (seventh in the NBA) and team leading DRtg doesn't always fully illustrate.

Gerald Green

Green was another dubious proposition.  Were the Suns (most likely) getting the peregrinating player who never lived up to his extraordinary physical gifts or some semblance of the person who managed to play an efficient season for the Nets? After all, his pit stop in Indiana the year after that hadn't adumbrated auspiciously for his prospects here.  But Green has found a niche by finishing savagely at the rim and bombarding opponents with threes. Dunks and daggers. He has transformed into a volume three point specialist and is the epitome of a heat check shooter this season with 4+ three pointers on eight occasions.  He can singularly shift momentum in a game.  Every time he steps into a shot in rhythm I expect it to go in.

P.J. Tucker

Tucker spent the offseason doing what he's been doing for years, working indefatigably to maximize his limited potential and carve his niche in this league.  In order not to be such an offensive liability he needed to learn to knock down the corner three. Well, P.J. is knocking down threes at a .470 clip. Tucker's numbers will never blow anyone away, but after scoring at least 17 points only four times last season he has done so five times already this time around. Tucker salivates over grappling with the opponents best offensive wing or guard threat and manages to find his way to loose balls in timely circumstances. P.J. isn't a glory guy, he's a guts guy.

----------

Sometimes perception defines reality, but my perception of what this team would be turned out to be chimerical and illusory.  My misgivings surrounding a tumultuous offseason that promised enlarged roles to players who were unproven or previously lacking were prudent but ultimately unfounded.

The reality is that this is a good basketball team.

In some cases the sum is better than the whole of the parts... but I'm not sure whether that apothegm is applicable here, because all of the parts are performing at such a high level. Individual improvement has led to team transmogrification. The coaching staff is getting the most out of the players and the players are getting the most out of themselves. The relationship within the team unit is a form of symbiotic contagion.

Was the land simply fallow, instead of poisoned like I thought it may have been after a dark comedy filled with folly and faux pas? Was the notion of this team building a winning culture, which I scoffed at earlier this calendar year, not so unrealistic?  Did a few moves disseminate this concept and infuse the now fertile soil with some much needed Ryan McMiracle-Gro?

Either way, looking back to what I thought they'd be won't prevent me from enjoying what they actually are or woolgathering over what they might become. It doesn't matter what I thought.  I won't be referring to them as a team that people underestimated or discounted. One that stultifies pundits and critics and is fighting for respect. A team of underdogs. They aren't any of those things to me anymore. They just are what they are.

The Suns are the Suns again.

This was another good stretch of games for the Suns, who went 3-1 overall this week, and have won 8 of their last 11 overall. With so many players contributing, it's getting more and more difficult to narrow down the finalists and select the player of the week. Who deserved it the most this time around?

The Finalists

Goran Dragic aka "Fast and Furious"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 17.25 FG%: .432 Assists: 4.8 Steals: 1.75 Rebounds: 3.0

Dragic had another very solid week. Even though he struggled with his shot over the past two games, his relentless hustle and attacking style of play still gave him double-digit scoring in each, as he was able to penetrate through the defense and get to the rim.

Goran Dragic is proving to be one of the fastest guards in the NBA. He loves to run the floor in transition and attack the opponent in the open court...before the defense ever has a chance to get set. Even when there are a couple of defenders back, he still finds a way to split them and either draw the foul, score the basket, or both. He is undoubtedly one of the best finishers at his position, and when his shot is falling on top of all that, he is an absolutely lethal weapon for the Suns.

Eric Bledsoe aka "The Bled-Show"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 18.5 FG%: .508 Assists: 6.0 Steals: 1.25 Rebounds: 4.75

Eric Bledsoe is proving to be one of the most explosive, yet versatile guards in the league. The secret is out at this point...the Suns have a star in the making. With the exception of his poor showing in Denver, Bledsoe had a great week, and was the biggest difference maker against both the Warriors and the Mavericks. A look at his stat line shows just how many ways he is impacting the game, and he's doing so on a consistent basis.

As potent a scoring threat as Bledsoe is, he isn;'t a volume shooter who stuffs his stats by jacking up 20+ shots a game. He is an efficient and selective scorer who seems to have a great feel of when to take the big shot, but who also does a very good job of distributing for others and running the offense, as well as defending and getting his hands on rebounds and steals as well.

Channing Frye aka "Deep Impact"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 15.75 FG%: .476 3pt%: .595 Rebounds: 6.0

Channing Frye has officially arrived! The ICMF from seasons past has found his groove and has picked up right where he left off before his health scare which sidelined him last season.Channing had a great week all around, and was a big reason for the Suns productive week.

Frye is once again proving to be an invaluable asset to this team. He provides the floor spacing to open up lanes for our guards and wings to drive, and he's also shooting from long range at a very high clip. This week, he shot nearly 60% from beyond the arc...that's huge!


The Player of the Week

Eric Bledsoe

This was a close one, with so many players stepping up in so many games this week. Even players who didn't make the list, like Gerald Green, Markieff Morris, and Miles Plumlee, all contributed in big ways as well.

Likewise, it seemed nearly every player had at least one off night this week, and for Bledsoe that game was against Denver. However, Bledsoe bounced back and had one of his biggest games of the week on the very next night, when his teammates needed him most.

Eric Bledsoe is still figuring things out, no doubt about it. But what he's providing the Suns on a consistent basis is more than anyone could have hoped for when the trade was made to bring him here. He is exceeding expectations in every way, even with his unquestionable talent and potential.

It's still early, but he's proving that he has a chance to blossom into the superstar player that the Suns have been searching for.

Poll
Who do you think deserved to be named the Phoenix Suns Player of the Week?

  373 votes | Results

No longer do the Phoenix Suns have a rabid fan base that fills the arena every night. Even now that the team is playing well, the fans still have not turned back to face the sun.

Just three years removed from nearly fifteen straight years of capacity crowds, the Phoenix Suns no longer come close to selling out any of their games.

In fact, the Suns are seeing fewer fans - just 14,203 per game per ESPN - than at any time since 1988-89 season (more on this later). Never has this stadium been so empty.

Think about this: The Suns are selling 1,200 fewer tickets per game than LAST SEASON - otherwise commonly referred to as the worst Suns season since the 80s drug scandals.

"It's an inevitable cycle that you go through in this business," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said before last night's game. "And it's hard to do it without enduring some pain."

The Suns are paying for that pain this season.

It's quite the study in social behavior, and seems to indicate that human nature is a little bit lagging in turning inaction to action. While the level of play dipped from 2011-2013, attendance declined at a slower rate than the team's record. When the team was worst last year, attendance barely dropped from the year before. But now, a year later, the fans seem to be getting back at the team by turning their heads just when the team is worth watching again.

But the true answer to the lagging attendance is in the business model.

First of all, games are played nearly every other day and can occur on any day of the week. It's not like the NFL, where there are only 8 games to choose from and nearly all of them occur on a Sunday. This is the NBA, with 41 games to choose from various nights over a six month span.

Second, fans are generally lazy. With so many games to choose from, they are most to attend a game for which they already have tickets. That's why teams in all sports sell up to 90% of their seats as season tickets, asking fans to prepay for the entire season (or a portion) before it even starts. If you leave it up to fans to get off their couch for a 4-hour commitment on a weeknight on a whim, versus just watching the game on their TV, you'll be sorely disappointed with the results.

And finally, season tickets are sold before the season starts. So, the level of tickets you sell is more a product of expectations than actual results. Fans came into this season expecting poor results. National pundits and Vegas oddsmakers tabbed this team as one of the worst in the NBA.

It could be that higher attendance is a full year away. Back when Hornacek and KJ began the Suns' revival after the drug scandal in the 80s, fans didn't start coming to games in droves until the 1989-90 season. The exciting 88-89 team finished 55-27 but saw only 12,465 fans a night (about 3,000 below capacity), barely 1,000 more than the low water mark in seasons prior. But that was the year after the scandal, and fans needed time to re-acclimate and buy new season tickets.

These 2013-14 Suns are in a similar boat to the 1988-89 Suns team. Just like then, this younger, faster team is now 16-10, producing a season's worth of exciting highlights - timely threes, thunderous dunks, skyscraper blocks, speedy fast breaks - in every fun-filled game.

"We play at a faster pace," Babby said, comparing this team to last year's team. "And we're dramatically more athletic. I think it's fair to say it's a more enjoyable product to watch."

And here is the Phoenix Suns' current conundrum. Even with an exciting team on the floor, too few season tickets were already sold to guarantee solid attendance every night. And as a result, this exciting young team is playing in front of at least 5,000 empty seats a night.

I asked Lon Babby when they thought fans would start showing up again in droves.

"I hope soon," Babby said. "The fans that have come out have been very enthusiastic. I've noticed TV ratings are up. I would imagine after the holidays, attendance will pick up. I know if people come out here and watch us, it's a very entertaining product. If you like NBA basketball, you're going to like the Phoenix Suns."

The problem is the lack of season tickets sold. Lon's right that attendance picks up every spring. Even during last year's horrible second half, attendance rose a great deal after the holidays, enough to increase the overall season average by more than 800 fans night by the end of the year.

"When the fans are ready to give us that, we will definitely embrace it," Babby said. "All I can do in my job is say we are putting out a product that is worthy of that support. We're through a dark tunnel. And we're out the other end of it. I'd say that the Sun is shining now. I would hope the fans would embrace that as we begin that journey."

Right now, the Suns are competing with the NFL, the local Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils (both football and basketball), and hockey Coyotes for attention. All of them are winners this year, so it's difficult to get the attention of a jilted fan base.

But the signs are there, if not in ticket sales quite yet.

"As I walk around town, I feel much more enthusiasm, much more supported. People think somehow over the summer I got smarter," he quipped, with a chuckle. "I like that. At my age, it's good if you can get smarter over a summer."

Now it's time to support the team on the court. It's time to come down to the arena and watch the team grow right in front of you.

"That's a good team," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said last night. "To come back from 21 down to beat Denver in Denver, you have to be good."

These Suns are winning. They're now 9-4 at home, so you're very likely to watch a great game and come away charged up with their performance. A young team loves the support from the fans in the stands, too.

"To be honest with you, we need that fan support to buoy our performance," Babby said. "We need a genuine home court advantage. You run into that on the road, whether you're in Golden State or Utah or Portland, you're walking into the lion's den. We need to have that environment here."

Get down to the game, folks! The Suns host the Lakers on Monday, and then the Philadelphia 76ers (who actually ARE tanking the season) on Thursday.

No longer do the Phoenix Suns have a rabid fan base that fills the arena every night. Even now that the team is playing well, the fans still have not turned back to face the sun.

Just three years removed from nearly fifteen straight years of capacity crowds, the Phoenix Suns no longer come close to selling out any of their games.

In fact, the Suns are seeing fewer fans - just 14,203 per game per ESPN - than at any time since 1988-89 season (more on this later). Never has this stadium been so empty.

Think about this: The Suns are selling 1,200 fewer tickets per game than LAST SEASON - otherwise commonly referred to as the worst Suns season since the 80s drug scandals.

"It's an inevitable cycle that you go through in this business," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said before last night's game. "And it's hard to do it without enduring some pain."

The Suns are paying for that pain this season.

It's quite the study in social behavior, and seems to indicate that human nature is a little bit lagging in turning inaction to action. While the level of play dipped from 2011-2013, attendance declined at a slower rate than the team's record. When the team was worst last year, attendance barely dropped from the year before. But now, a year later, the fans seem to be getting back at the team by turning their heads just when the team is worth watching again.

But the true answer to the lagging attendance is in the business model.

First of all, games are played nearly every other day and can occur on any day of the week. It's not like the NFL, where there are only 8 games to choose from and nearly all of them occur on a Sunday. This is the NBA, with 41 games to choose from various nights over a six month span.

Second, fans are generally lazy. With so many games to choose from, they are most to attend a game for which they already have tickets. That's why teams in all sports sell up to 90% of their seats as season tickets, asking fans to prepay for the entire season (or a portion) before it even starts. If you leave it up to fans to get off their couch for a 4-hour commitment on a weeknight on a whim, versus just watching the game on their TV, you'll be sorely disappointed with the results.

And finally, season tickets are sold before the season starts. So, the level of tickets you sell is more a product of expectations than actual results. Fans came into this season expecting poor results. National pundits and Vegas oddsmakers tabbed this team as one of the worst in the NBA.

It could be that higher attendance is a full year away. Back when Hornacek and KJ began the Suns' revival after the drug scandal in the 80s, fans didn't start coming to games in droves until the 1989-90 season. The exciting 88-89 team finished 55-27 but saw only 12,465 fans a night (about 3,000 below capacity), barely 1,000 more than the low water mark in seasons prior. But that was the year after the scandal, and fans needed time to re-acclimate and buy new season tickets.

These 2013-14 Suns are in a similar boat to the 1988-89 Suns team. Just like then, this younger, faster team is now 16-10, producing a season's worth of exciting highlights - timely threes, thunderous dunks, skyscraper blocks, speedy fast breaks - in every fun-filled game.

"We play at a faster pace," Babby said, comparing this team to last year's team. "And we're dramatically more athletic. I think it's fair to say it's a more enjoyable product to watch."

And here is the Phoenix Suns' current conundrum. Even with an exciting team on the floor, too few season tickets were already sold to guarantee solid attendance every night. And as a result, this exciting young team is playing in front of at least 5,000 empty seats a night.

I asked Lon Babby when they thought fans would start showing up again in droves.

"I hope soon," Babby said. "The fans that have come out have been very enthusiastic. I've noticed TV ratings are up. I would imagine after the holidays, attendance will pick up. I know if people come out here and watch us, it's a very entertaining product. If you like NBA basketball, you're going to like the Phoenix Suns."

The problem is the lack of season tickets sold. Lon's right that attendance picks up every spring. Even during last year's horrible second half, attendance rose a great deal after the holidays, enough to increase the overall season average by more than 800 fans night by the end of the year.

"When the fans are ready to give us that, we will definitely embrace it," Babby said. "All I can do in my job is say we are putting out a product that is worthy of that support. We're through a dark tunnel. And we're out the other end of it. I'd say that the Sun is shining now. I would hope the fans would embrace that as we begin that journey."

Right now, the Suns are competing with the NFL, the local Cardinals, ASU Sun Devils (both football and basketball), and hockey Coyotes for attention. All of them are winners this year, so it's difficult to get the attention of a jilted fan base.

But the signs are there, if not in ticket sales quite yet.

"As I walk around town, I feel much more enthusiasm, much more supported. People think somehow over the summer I got smarter," he quipped, with a chuckle. "I like that. At my age, it's good if you can get smarter over a summer."

Now it's time to support the team on the court. It's time to come down to the arena and watch the team grow right in front of you.

"That's a good team," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said last night. "To come back from 21 down to beat Denver in Denver, you have to be good."

These Suns are winning. They're now 9-4 at home, so you're very likely to watch a great game and come away charged up with their performance. A young team loves the support from the fans in the stands, too.

"To be honest with you, we need that fan support to buoy our performance," Babby said. "We need a genuine home court advantage. You run into that on the road, whether you're in Golden State or Utah or Portland, you're walking into the lion's den. We need to have that environment here."

Get down to the game, folks! The Suns host the Lakers on Monday, and then the Philadelphia 76ers (who actually ARE tanking the season) on Thursday.

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