A look at Suns-related news floating around the internet from the last week. Also an open thread to discuss anything and everything.
The Suns are on a 4 game losing streak, with three of them coming in a nail-biting, heart-breaking fashion. The last loss - a 113-106 defeat at home to the Sacramento Kings - was definitely the ugliest one. The Suns looked out of sync for most of the night, reminding us of the atrocity of a team we watched all of last year. The game itself was pretty wacky - the Suns scored a season-low 12 points in the third quarter and followed with a season-high 44 points in the final period.
So the last week included a two-point loss to Brooklyn, and two losses to Sacramento by a total of 10 points. It definitely wasn't the best week for the Suns, but there were some positives to take away (other than the obvious good news for fans of "tanking"). Eric Bledsoe didn't play in either of the games against the Kings and the Suns clearly missed him.
In the first game, Dragic didn't have any help at the end of the game and as a result had about as awful of a quarter I've ever seen him have. The following night, Dragic ended up with 31 points but didn't get much help from teammates not named Gerald Green. Lastly, the Suns stormed back at the end of the game when the game was all but over, displaying their tenacity and unwillingness to quit (hence the 44 point outburst). Phoenix will go on the road and try to break this losing streak in Charlotte Friday night.
Anyway, it's time to take a look at some random Suns-related content that floated around various parts of the internet this last week.
Most of these power rankings were published earlier in the week, so keep in mind that they haven't accounted for the two losses to Sacramento.
CBS Sports (Nov. 18) - #12:
Still look like a team that plays well early and runs out of ammo, but they're also very fun and stay within striking range at most times.
Sports Illustrated (Nov. 18) - #12:
The Suns were three points away from a 7-2 start, but suffered two heartbreaking losses last week. In fact, all of their four losses have been by seven points or fewer, a painful rite of passage for a young NBA team.
ESPN (Nov. 18) - #13:
Interesting theory volunteered last week by ex-Sun Marcin Gortat, who says the new defensive coordinator in Phoenix -- Mike Longabardi -- is as much of an impact newcomer in the desert as Eric Bledsoe or boss Jeff Hornacek. All four losses by just 13 points combined for the Cinderella Suns so far.
USA Today (Nov. 17) - #13:
Eric Bledsoe refuses to let general manager Ryan McDonough rebuild in peace.
NBC Sports (Nov. 18) - #14
They keep playing close games — every one of their games has been within five points in the final five minutes. That’s fun to watch, and while that’s not how you win sustainably it’s better than we expected from them preseason.
Good god, Utah. I think it's now obvious who the real tanking team in the West is...
Check out Marc Spears' profile on the Morrii over at Yahoo Sports.
Archie's steal and slam against Sacramento
Goran Dragic's dish to Gerald Green for the high-flying flush
Bledsoe said his shin "definitely got a lot better" and is about to test it. He said "I almost bit my nails off" watching last night's 4th.— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) November 21, 2013
Am I having more fun watching Goodwin play, or is Goodwin having more fun playing? Tough to say.— Jack Winter (@ArmstrongWinter) November 20, 2013
Suns have dropped their last three games by a combined six points. Ironically six is also the number of years they've taken off my life.— Espo (@Espo) November 20, 2013
According to a GM, the Suns will do everything possible this summer to sign Gordon Hayward to an unmatchable offer sheet....— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) November 21, 2013
Thanks a lot PJ and Gerald 😑😑😑 http://t.co/Ew8t9vfxEM— Archie Goodwin (@A1Laflare10) November 18, 2013
The third Bright Sider award of this season goes to someone who delivered my favorite comment of the week. Congratulations, Alex Skinner! And thank you for your eloquent, much-needed comment about the levels of insanity we often encounter on this website:
And on that note, the runner-up award goes to dooder for providing some of the said insanity. Thank you for the hilarity, dooder. Unfortunately, you don't win the award because you are not a singular Talent worth the price of admission in and of yourself. So it’s not like you inspire awe the way MJ did in his infancy. Better luck next time, buddy.
Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below!
A year after the Suns made a max offer to Eric Gordon, which was quickly matched by New Orleans, the Phoenix Suns are "reportedly" planning to overpay Utah SF Gordon Hayward next summer.
First, here's the tweet:
First of all, make what you will of a rumor like this. It's just a tweet and those are free - and don't need any attribution.
Second of all, even if this was totally true, unless the "GM" was McDonough himself, it's 100% pure speculation.
Third of all, even if the source was McDonough himself, July 1 is a LONNNNNNGGGG way off. Gotta think that if the Suns get a great SF in the draft next year, Hayward wouldn't be such a priority.
Fourth of all, even if the source was McDonough and the clock moved forward to July 1 by magic today, it's tough - if not impossible - to make any RFA offer "unmatchable".
The CBA only allows
In fact, Utah is hoping someone does all the work for them next summer and just has to match. That's what New Orleans did - to the Suns in fact - last year.
But hey, it's a good rumor.
Hayward is a potential All-Star at small forward, and has been healthy his whole career. So at least he's a better bet than Eric Gordon. But that makes him a better bet for Utah to match too.
Nothing to see here. The smartest thing the Suns could do is trade for Hayward this season, and become the team in the driver's seat just like they already are with Eric Bledsoe.
Whether he is starting, coming off the bench, creating posters, or draining threes... The Phoenix Suns found a utility player in an unlikely form this year.
The one thing about the Phoenix Suns this year, more than anything, is the fact that none of the difference makers on the roster have ever been in the position they are in now. Everyone is new to their role and responsibilities.
There were a lot of questions as to how each individual would react to their new roles whether they would rise to the occasion or struggle under the pressure.
So far, with the exception of a few, everyone has taking this opportunity head on spearheaded by the rise of Gerald Green.
Rise may not be the correct word, but it punctuates the play of Green so far this season. He has risen up in every scenario and moment thrown at him as a starter, reserve, mentor, and hired gun of Coach Jeff Hornacek to score points in bunches. On this roster Green is one of the few players with the athleticism to rise up in transition, rise above the rim, and have the shooting acumen to rise up as a threat from three-point range. Offensively he is a weapon that can change the momentum of a game if used appropriately.
"Gerald can shoot the ball," Coach Hornacek on Green. "He can finish plays and offensively he really adds something to our team. He spreads the court out; he's not a guy who has any problems about taking shots. Sometimes you have to live with some shots he takes, but he can make some of those crazy shots too so you kind of just let him go. He's kind of our Jamal Crawford-type guy. You like to see him be that aggressive guy because he's one of the guys on this team that can put up points in bunches."
Those are all things that Green has been able to do his entire career.
Green is an offensive weapon. His athleticism and offensive potential are what led to him being drafted 18th Overall in the 2005 Draft by the Boston Celtics.
In his first four years in the NBA Green hung up four different jerseys in four different locker-rooms before heading to Russia for a two year stint. He was unable to find a coach or an organization that gave him stability and consistency. At 23 years old Green went from high school phenom -- the last first round pick to come straight from high school to the NBA, to trade chip, to flame-out, to out of the league.
Those two years in Russia gave Green the fortuity to mature as a basketball player and find his role on the court.
Over the years he was more of a fill-in star than a regularly used rotation player.
In Boston the only opportunity Green received with any consistency was as Paul Pierce's replacement in the starting line-up for 26 starts to showcase him for an eventual blockbuster trade. That was a bad Celtics team that finished 24-58 and was 2-24 during Green's run as a starter. Overall Green has started 47 games in his career before landing in Phoenix between the Celtics, Mavericks, Nets, and Pacers with a combined record of 13-34 in that role.
All of those opportunities were as Band-Aid's for injured starters like Pierce in Boston, Josh Howard in Dallas, and Lance Stephenson in Indiana. Green was never the man because he was the man, but here in Phoenix the Suns are giving him a unique opportunity to make that type of impact.
"I do not think I was trying to resurge my career here... I am trying to win," Green on coming to Phoenix with an eye on a career resurgence. "I am here to try and get this team back to what they used to be when I got drafted. That is my goal. I came from a team that was one game away from being in the NBA Finals, even if I was playing or not playing; I was a part of that team. You always have to reach for the moon and fall among the stars, that is what I have always been taught."
The renaissance may not have been planned, but it is happening.
When you watch Green practice before games or on off-days it is ever-apparent that he is just dripping with raw athletic talent. He is so smooth with the ball as a shooter and has great fluidity as an athlete that allows him to make plays on both ends of the floor.
Early on he has consistently been one of the last guys on the floor and leaves the most sweat on the court after working out.
Sample size and all, Green is having a career stretch for the Suns as a utility player for them. He has started two games for the injured Eric Bledsoe, four for the injured Goran Dragic, and come off the bench for the other five providing the same level of play no matter the situation. He is playing this season like a veteran who has seen the ins-and-outs of every form of basketball from the dregs of the league to title contenders.
"I have been on teams that do not help you," Green said of his previous experiences. "I have been on teams where people do have egos and this is not one of those teams. I love the direction we are going in because of that."
Green has never had a stretch of nine games like he has to start this season playing 30 minutes per game, scoring 16.9 points per game, and shooting 49.5% from the field (47.5% from three) mixing in starts with his bench role.
His role as a utility player has been key to the Suns success. Last season the team had zero players that had the ability to finish in the paint (62.9%) and stretch the defense (46.9%) to the three-point line extended.
Those offensive numbers have been invaluable this season.
None of which had the same intimidation as Green attacking the rim.
With teams having to honor Miles Plumlee at the rim, the attacking nature of Dragic and Bledsoe, it opens up scoring opportunities for Green. He has been put in a position to take advantage of his athletic abilities with highlight plays above the rim and game changing bombs from behind the arc. This season Green has checked off his gamely quota of a highlight dunk and a big three every game, sometimes multiple times a game. The season though is a marathon and the nine game sprint will be tough to keep up with, no question, and will be the biggest question as the season grows longer and longer.
Going forward, that is uncharted territory for Green and the Suns.
This nine game stretch has been terrific, but this is something that Green has not done before. The play of Plumlee, Bledsoe, and even the coaching of Hornacek has not been tested for an 82 game season.
One thing will not change is the coaching message to Green from his head coach. After a road loss to Sacramento on the bus ride to the airport Green approached his coach with a rhetorical (statement) question: Coach, I have never had a coach that kept telling me to shoot it every time.
"Well," Coach Hornacek replied. "Gerald, that is what you do. You are a great shooter, that is why we run the stuff we do with Eric and Goran, Miles rolling hard, and if they throw it out to you just catch it and shoot it."
Whether Green is shooting for the moon or, with his freak athleticism, trying to jump over it he has succeeded in falling in with the stars as well as with fanbase here in the Valley.
In a welcome departure from last season, the 5-6 Phoenix Suns may still be losing more than they win, but they like the direction they're heading and they feel connected in the locker room.
A year ago at this time, the Phoenix Suns were 4-7 and still feeling positive about the prospects of the season.
"Last year we were feeling good about ourselves too," P.J. Tucker warned of taking too much stock in early-season vibes. "We thought we were a good team."
After a 3-1 home start, the 2012-13 Suns lost their next two at home before righting the ship. This season, they started 4-0 at home before losing their next two.
Last year, the Suns started 1-4 on the road in their first eleven games, while this year's road record after 11 games is also 1-4.
Sounds like a broken record, right? So many parallels: the record, the quality feel-good start before the train derailed completely.
So many times point guard Goran Dragic took post-game media sessions with a frown on his face, just like last night after their worst loss of the season - a 7-point loss to Sacramento that only got close at the end thanks to a barrage of three-pointers.
Is this the same team, just different players? Does it feel like the same thing is happening?
"No it doesn't feel the same," Goran Dragic said emphatically after the loss to Sacramento dropped their record to 5-6. "Not the same. Last year, on paper we had a pretty solid team but we just didn't have that chemistry."
A year ago, the players were already frustrated after a few games, saying "I don't know what's wrong" to the media, not believing in each other or the scheme. SuperCoolBeas as your go-to guy can do that to a team.
They still tried to say it was early in the season and it might get better, but Luis Scola was already warning that they were getting behind too many times in games to consistently come back.
Last year, the Suns built a reputation of getting down 10+ points in nearly every game as a rule of thumb, and the question was how many of those they could win.
This year, the Suns have rarely been down ten points at all, the only NBA team to lead in the 4th quarter in each of their first ten games, and are one of only two teams not to lose by 10+ in any game this year.
Only four players return from last season's debacle, and only three of them (Tucker, Markieff Morris and Dragic) were around for the high water mark of the season: Media Day.
They know how to compare to last year. Last year's locker room was a drag. Too many veterans wanting to win, yet knowing there wasn't enough talent to keep up. Too many young players who thought they were better than they really were. That led to frustration, which led to division among the ranks.
Now, the Suns boast a really inexperienced group - the second "youngest" team in the NBA, in terms of playing time. That right there will help the team keep a positive attitude.
"With this team, we already show that chemistry," Dragic said after the Suns' worst loss of the season, by 7 to Sacramento, "Even now, we lost a little bit. But still even now it's a lot of positive energy. Players are supporting each other."
He finished with, "It's a totally different story than last year."
Dragic discussed how the young players were handling losses, since there's always the chance they get used to throwing out the excuse of youth and inexperience as an explanation for losses.
"Nobody was laughing," Dragic said of Wednesday's loss. "Everybody was talking to each other what we can do better, what we can improve. I think good teams do that."
Despite a four game losing streak threatening to shake the spirit of a young team, veteran holdovers P.J. Tucker and Goran Dragic have faith in the team and just want to help them grow up a little bit.
In the meantime, it's important to make sure the kids don't accept their youth as an excuse to lose.
"I don't think that's going to be our habit," Dragic said confidently. "I still think we have that poise that we can play. When Eric comes back it's going to be that much easier."
The Suns have only been able to start their two best players, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, in three of the season's first 11 games, whereas a year ago they were completely healthy as searching for answers.
This year, they know exactly what the problem is: execution.
"Sometimes we don't know what's happening," Dragic said. Sometimes after a timeout, he said, "some guys go one direction, some go the other. Some plays we knew we had to do, but just out of desire they take us out of that play and we need to go a different direction."
But it's not for lack of effort. Rather, it's lack of confidence in running the secondary options.
The team is not quite ready to show the patience it takes to get a better shot. In last night's loss to Sacramento, the Suns had fewer assists (12) than turnovers (17) and three-point field goals made (15). That's really hard to do. Lots of late starts into the offense and isolation plays after things break down.
"That's how we get into trouble," Goran Dragic said. "We try to force that first option and we are not going to the second or third options, or trying to move the ball and get something else."
Guys see the first option limited, especially as the other team ramps up their efforts, and instead of finding the open man on another set they either try to force the play, resulting in a turnover, or go into hero-ball mode with a one on one play.
Yet, the Suns still have a lot of fight in them. And even on a night they didn't have their customary energy, they still found a way to come back from a 20-point deficit to cut the lead to 6 with three minutes left.
"We were right there," Tucker said of the second Sacramento game, despite playing poorly as a group.
But Goran Dragic, who had 18 points in the fourth quarter alone as he and Tucker tried to bring the team back, was called for a late foul when Vasquez air-balled a three. Quickly, what could have been a 3 or 4 point deficit had the Suns scored instead ballooned back to a 9 point deficit when Vasquez made all three shots.
"That was a heart breaker," Tucker said.
But the game wasn't lost on that play. It was lost in the first three and a half quarters when the Suns couldn't get into their half-court offense with any regularity - a season long problem. After a hot start (11 points in 4.5 minutes to open the game), Dragic was nearly scoreless for 2.5 quarters of play before erupting for 18 in the furious fourth.
"We're a young team, learning on the fly," Tucker said last night. But you can count him among the players not satisfied with getting close.
"At the same time, we gotta get a couple of them."