When Marcus Morris arrived in Phoenix to pair up with his twin brother Markieff, everyone thought (or at least hoped) they would "power up" as a duo in the Valley to rise to new heights together.
At first, that's how it appeared. After coming to Phoenix, Marcus played at least 19 minutes in 9 straight games.
Morris was productive and consistent for the first 7 of those games, putting up 12 points (52% on 3s, 48% overall), 4 rebounds and 2 steals in about 24 minutes per game. Every game was 20-28 minutes, 9-16 points. Not all-star numbers, but definitely quality production. Lindsey Hunter appreciated his fire and leadership, mentioning him by name in pregame press conferences.
Then it all went away. Poof.
First, Morris' production disappeared. In the next two games after that quality 7-game stretch (the first two of a 3-game roadie that saw the Suns lose by an average of 20 points per game), Marcus only put up a TOTAL of only 9 points, 4 rebounds a 1 steal in 41 minutes of play.
Then the minutes disappeared. Marcus has played in only 7 of the Suns last 10 games, and gotten more than 10 minutes on the court in only one of those.
"Early on, I was getting a lot of minutes," Morris said to Paul Coro recently. "And I thought I was producing with the minutes, and then it changed."
"I'm upset that it (losing playing time) happened. I felt like I was playing real well. I was showing people what I could do. It happened, and I'm past it. I'm out here trying to have fun and improve."
Listening to Marcus, you would think that it was all hunky-dory and then suddenly he was hit by a train out of the blue.
But what really happened after his last productive game (home loss to Denver in which he scored 16 points) to put him in the dumps?
Quiet rumor is that Marcus began to feel entitled, and that Lindsey Hunter was hearing none of it. The details of what transpired are unknown, but something changed to the displeasure of a 17-year NBA vet who does not understand the feeling of entitlement.
It could simply have been a downgrade in effort, starting on the practice floor. Consistent effort has been a problem for his twin Markieff since he joined the Suns.
"I think a lot of times, I think [young Suns players in general] don't understand what [maximum effort] means," Hunter said in late March in response to a question on Marcus. "We have to show them what that means."
Asked if a feeling of entitlement is common among young players, he said, "A lot of the guys in the league look at it like that. I tell them that the league will go on with or without you."
Lindsey Hunter has consistently and constantly talked about effort, and that the lack thereof will get you out of the league faster than you'd like to think. Hunter is trying to instill a work ethic in these young players that won't hold unless there are repercussions. He feels like that's the job of a coaching staff - to each effort, and hold players accountable for it.
The former part of that statement - teaching effort - is something not everyone agrees a coach can influence.
"You can't coach effort," Dudley said after a game recently. "That's up to the player."
But the latter part of that statement is necessary on a team of young players. It adds no value to preach effort and pride if you still give minutes to guys who don't exhibit those qualities. When you ask why Goran Dragic and Luis Scola are playing so many minutes in losses, ahead of guys like Kendall Marshall and Markieff and Marcus Morris, there is your answer. Plain and simple.
"Young guys, when they are tested and tried different ways, react differently," Hunter said last week. "New guy, first time struggling here, not playing much, it was difficult for him I can imagine. On a losing team, not seeing a lot of things going his way or our way.
"It's not what you go through, it's how you respond going through them that makes you or breaks you. We'll help him through it and hopefully he can come through it with some fight and it will make him better.
On Friday night, Hunter said he feels like Marcus is getting over his funk, and slowly returning to the guy who first arrived in Phoenix. But he's still not letting Marcus off the hook.
"I was challenging him also because he was kinda feeling sorry for himself," Hunter said. "I don't know where he was mentally but we had a good talk and I was like, look if I'm not playing you the best way to [get into games] is to bust your butt in practice and prove to me that you deserve to play. That was my message to him. Nobody's safe here. We haven't proven that we deserve X amount of minutes, you know. If you do what you're supposed to do, you'll get a chance."
Lindsey Hunter has a tough job, trying to instill a quality work ethic in his players as a foundation for next year without the benefit of winning ballgames to show them it works. And without the benefit of a contract that extends beyond the season. They see him as a short-term coach, and maybe they are taking the easy way out by tuning him out.
Mark Jackson, with a multi-year contract in his back pocket, did the same with Golden State a year ago. They won few games, but Jackson feels he laid the groundwork for winning seasons by teaching them "how" to practice and play last year.
"It's moments like this that build a foundation," Jackson said on the Suns struggles. "People look at us [Golden State] now and say we're a playoff team, that we've enjoyed a great season. Well they could have folded the tent last year.
"What you have to understand is, if you stay true to the process, it's going to play itself out. The foundation was laid, even though we won 23 games last year with our approach, our mentality, with our habits. And if you stay true to it, you'll be rewarded."
Asked specifically about Lindsey Hunter, the head coach of Golden State who also took over an NBA without a single minute of prior coaching experience had this to say.
"[Lindsey Hunter has] been great," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Lindsey. One thing that's been tough to do is take over a team when he did and to get them to finish this thing out the right way. He's a guy that's done a heck of a job and he's certainly a head coach in this league."
It remains to be seen if Lindsey Hunter's tough love on his young players will have the desired result, or if they will tune him out long enough to get him fired before they start winning games (if they ever start winning games, that is).
But as a guy who values hard work and "the process" over quick and easy results, I have respect for Hunter's coaching style.
You cannot argue that Markieff and Marcus Morris won't be better players if they focused harder on their effort and their craft. They certainly would improve if that were the case.
In last week's NBA Draft Lottery Watch, I predicted the change in the bottom five standings with the Suns moving into the third lottery position by surpassing the Cavaliers. However, I underestimated the Lakers who I thought would lose to the Grizzlies (and should have), as they have now moved back into the 8th and final playoff seed for the time being.
Today, the Phoenix Suns are currently in the third position for the 2013 NBA Draft. Here is a look at the bottom five teams and their current records, as well as a look at their up-coming games this week, and some predictions on where they could be positioned afterward.
Upcoming games this week: 4/07 vs. Chicago Bulls, 4/10 @ Cleveland Cavaliers, 4/12 vs. Charlotte Bobcats
The Pistons have a tough game against the Bulls and should lose on the road to the Cavs as well, but should be able to beat the lowly Bobcats to finish the week 1-2 overall. The Pistons will probably be 26-54 by the start of next week, and stay in the 5th spot.
Now that Kyrie is back, the Cavs should be able to get at least a couple of wins this week. I expect them to get wins against the Magic and Pistons at home, but lose to both the Pacers and the Knicks. I expect the Cavs will finish the week with a record of 25-54, staying in the 4th spot.
With only seven games left to play in the season, the Suns are effectively playing for the third spot in the lottery with both Orlando and Charlotte refusing to let Phoenix out-suck them. The "good" news is, the Suns are now in that third spot and have a very good chance of holding onto their position with the only possible game I see them having a chance of winning this week against the Hornets. With a three game road-trip to follow, I believe the most likely outcome of these four games would be to go 1-3 overall. The Suns will likely be 24-56 to start next week, and should hold onto the third lottery position.
The Magic are playing terrible basketball right now, and appear to be in full-fledged tank mode competing with the Bobcats for the #1 pick overall. The only game I give them a chance at is against the Bucks at home, though I still think they manage to lose and go 0-3 on the week and finish at 19-61...remaining in the second lottery position.
Upcoming games this week: 4/09 @ Memphis Grizzlies, 4/12 @ Detroit Pistons, 4/13 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bobcats are awful, and even worse on the road. That said, I give them virtually no shot at winning against either the Grizzlies or the Pistons, and only a small chance of winning against the Bucks. I think the most likely scenario is that they go 0-3 on the week and finish with a record of 18-62 overall, good/bad enough to stay in the top lottery spot.
Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers are half a game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks now behind by three games and closer to being eliminated from the race. Here is a look at these three teams' current records, and what they may look like by the end of the week.
Upcoming games this week: 4/07 @ L.A. Clippers, 4/9 vs, New Orleans Hornets, 4/10 @ Portland Trailblazers, 4/12 vs. Golden State Warriors
I expect the Lakers to lose against the Clippers, but win against the Hornets. The other two games are a crap shoot. I think Portland could beat them on the road especially on a back-to-back...and the Warriors could get a win, but I'm inclined to believe the Lakers will pull out a victory against Golden State out of sheer desperation to stay in the 8th spot. I'm betting the Lakers go 2-2 on the week and end up with a record of 42-38; just good enough to hold onto the last playoff spot.
Upcoming games this week: 4/07 @ Golden State Warriors, 4/9 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 4/12 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Jazz are the Suns only real hope at this point. However, with a tough week ahead they could easily slip further out of the playoff hunt. The only game I see them winning this week is against the Timberwolves at home. I think the Jazz go only 1-2 on the week to close with a record of 41-38...and will likely be one game behind the Lakers going into the home stretch.
Upcoming games this week: 4/7 @ Portland Trailblazers, 4/10 vs. Phoenix Suns, 4/12 vs. Denver Nuggets
If the Mavericks don't go 3-0 this week, they probably won't make next week's list. Being three games out of the 8th spot with only six games left to play doesn't make them a very likely candidate...but the possibility still exists, so we can't give up on them yet...at least not completely. I'm sure the Suns will do their part to help the Mavs in their quest, but they will be hard pressed to get wins against Portland on the road, and the Nuggets at home who still scored 132 points against the Rockets last night even without Danilo Gallinari whom they lost to an ACL tear. My guess is that the Mavs go 1-2 on the week for a record of 38-41...and ensure they will be sitting at home when the playoffs begin.
Feel free to voice your opinions and predictions in the comments below!
A Phoenix Suns player will experience the playoffs after all.
The Bakersfield Jam are the top seed in the D-League playoff picture, but need to replace one of their lead guards at the last moment. Jerel McNeal, considered by his coach to be the D-League MVP this season, was signed by the Utah Jazz just before the D-League playoffs start this week. McNeal averaged 18.1 points, 5.5 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 44 games for the Jam.
When the Jam lost McNeal, they turned to another point guard who performed well for them this season. Today, the Phoenix Suns assigned combo guard Diante Garrett to the Jam for his second stint in Bakersfield and this time Diante gets to experience something the rest of the Suns are desperately missing this spring: a playoff run.
In his first stint with the Jam, Garrett averaged 15.1 points, 7.4 assists and 1.7 steals while appearing in seven games (five starts). During his seven-game assignment, the Jam compiled a 6-1 (.857) record, including a season-best six-game win streak.
The Jam play their final regular season game tonight. First round playoff matchups will be announced Sunday evening.