Luis Scola has always been honest to the media, albeit bereft of specifics, in his season with the Phoenix Suns. His words emanate with authenticity and purpose. When Scola talks, people listen and nod.
More than any other player or coach this season, Scola has been open about saying what we were all thinking.
"We just don't know how to play well," Scola told Craig Grialou on Sunday night after the loss to the Hornets. Grialou, with arizonasports.com, is the intrepid reporter who finds time with players outside the "normal" media sessions. "We don't know how to play basketball and that's why we lose. Until we learn how to play 48 minutes of basketball, we're not going to win games. I'm surprised we won (23) games playing this way. Many of the games we won, we did the same thing. We just overcame it somehow.
"I'm also surprised we didn't fix it. We saw the problem pretty much the first week and we couldn't fix it. It's very frustrating. It's a bad year."
Scola has been telling us the problem all season long. Back when the season was young and Alvin Gentry was trying to rally the troops into a winning record, Scola already saw the writing on the wall. He was the first to speak openly of what would become a very long season.
"There's only one way to win games and that's playing focused for forty-eight minutes and play hard and hustle and do all the little things," he said after just the second game of the season, a good win against a bad Detroit team.
"It's not going to be pretty a lot of times," he warned. "But that's just the way it has to be."
"I am discourgaged," Luis Scola said, about the ongoing deficits. "I know we are going to lose a lot more games than we are going to win if we put ourselves 15, 16, 18, 19 down. We are going to lose most of those games."
The Suns started the season allowing 10-point deficits in 11 of their first 13 games. And remember, this was the EASY part of their season schedule.
"We need to change the dynamic, we need to change our attitude, we need to change our minds," he said. "We're in the kind of dynamic where everything goes wrong. We just can't get it going.
"We need to start thinking like a winning team. We need to start believing in ourselves and winning games."
"I don't know," Luis Scola said once again to a throng of reporters after the game, his response as honest as it can be to the media. He was not angry or defensive or evasive. He was, and always is, open and forthcoming and willing to talk to the media after every game. He apologizes for not having better answers.
"We don't have a day off anymore," he said about Monday's off day after the back-to-back. By his tone, you could tell he was grasping at straws. "We need to practice. It's not going to happen by talking. I think a lot about it, I just don't know."
After we left him alone, he just sat there in his shorts at least ten more minutes. He didn't go take a shower or talk to any other players. He just sat there, staring at the floor.
Since that game, Luis Scola's presence after games has been fleeting. He and most of the other Suns players prefer to hang out in the hot tub until long after the media give up and go home for the night.
Only diehard reporters like Paul Coro and Craig Grialou have gotten the occasional soundbite from Luis at off hours and times.
The writing was on the wall early, folks. It has clearly had little to do with the coach, since the Suns have burned through two of them. One was 13-28, the other has been 10-26. One had a full compliment of players, the other has had to go without Marcin Gortat since starting 8-13.
Both had to deal with virtually the same roster of players though, and the frustration has been high all year. Everyone is frustrated, not just Luis Scola. Dragic has called out unnamed teammates for lack of effort. So has Marcin Gortat. Both head coaches have bemoaned lack of consistent effort as well.
It's been a bad, bad season. Luis Scola knew it from day one.
Let's not absolve Luis of all blame here. He has not been able to help lead a charge in the right direction. He says he's surprised the Suns haven't figure it out, yet part of that can be attributed to the leadership on the court.
But amid the turmoil, Scola has been a model of consistency. He has earned consistent minutes despite a youth movement because he exemplifies what the coaches have wanted all season: effort every second.
When you start a marathon you know it is going to be long and tough, but nonetheless you have to finish the marathon. For the Phoenix Suns (23-54), they gasped for air, felt their lungs burn, drank their share of water, and knelt down hands on knees through 94% of the season.
But they are nearing the finish line.
@ Los Angeles Clippers- L (126-101)
vs. Golden State Warriors - L (111-107)
vs. New Orleans Hornets - L (95-92)
This is the time of year where teams like the Suns are judged and evaluated on effort and toughness. The team played tough in all three games, even getting in a shoving match with the Clippers who are fighting for a Championship this year.
In the two other match-ups the Suns had leads and the potential to win the game, but didn't have the talent to hold on for victories.
The losing streak has reached nine games overall as the Suns hit the road to try and get a win. On the season they are 7-30 on the road leaving the underlying question for the remainder of the season as; Can the Suns win another game to avoid reaching even more franchise futility?
2013 NBA Draft Update
For as bad as the Utah Jazz (41-37) were during their stretch of losing 12 of 15 games right after the All-Star Break, they have been equally as good winning 7 of 8 to position themselves firmly ahead in the race for eighth. With four games remaining against the Thunder, Grizzlies, and a home-and-home against the Timberwolves the Jazz have the opportunity to slam the door on the Los Angeles Lakers (40-37).
The Lakers have five games remaining against the Hornets, Blazers, Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets. They need to finish ahead of the Jazz since they have the tie-breaker.
Right now the Suns are slotted securely in the 3rd spot in the Draft Lottery. With four games remaining the Suns have a 1.5 game lead on the Cavaliers while "trailing" the Magic by 4.5 games. With the Lakers pick they would have two slots in the Lottery at 3rd and 14th. The third slot has won the lottery five times including last year.
Was there one?
To compound the current losing streak, the Suns have another streak within the streak with seven straight home losses. That is a franchise record in the worst of ways. The Suns have one more game at home to try and end the season on a high note for the fans, season ticket holders, and for their general pride.
A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.
Player of the Week:
Goran Dragic - 18.3 PPG 2.7 RPG 5.0 APG 0.7 SPG 48.6% FG
The rest paid off for Dragic as he has played 48 minutes per game since coming back from his late season siesta. Since the All-Star break Dragic has been fantastic scoring, facilitating, and doing everything he can to push the team to victory. The Suns could use about 5-7 more Dragic's on the roster.
Previewing the Week Ahead:
Tuesday, April 9th @ Houston Rockets (43-33)
Wednesday, April 10th @ Dallas Mavericks (38-39)
Saturday, April 13th @ Minnesota Timberwolves (28-47)
I've seen the Phoenix Suns list of "crimes" include signing Eric Gordon to an offer sheet knowing the Hornets would match. That never made sense. The Suns forced a rival to pay market value for their own player and got a PR boost from a relatively top-tier free agent expressing his desire to play in front of Robert Sarver, Lon Babby and The Gorilla.
Gordon's definitely had a crazy season since all that went down this summer. Early on, there was the mysterious knee situation with the team seemingly throwing the player under the bus for not coming back despite being medically cleared (hello, Chicago Bulls, we see you too!).
More recently, there was a public blow up between Gordon and coach Monty Williams.
Eric's undoubtably a great talent. Perhaps not coincidentally, he put that on display on Sunday against the Suns putting up a solid 17 points, six assist game and showed his ability to get to the rim. Put him in the backcourt with Goran Dragic and you've got something really nice to build on.
Well, it might be possible according to this teasingly enticing report from The Big Easy:
New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon likely to return to starting lineup Sunday against Phoenix Suns | NOLA.com
The Hornets were unable to pull off a trade involving Gordon before the February trade deadline, but the franchise is still likely to remain open to trading him after this season ends, according to sources Saturday.
The question is: what would it take to get him from the Hornets?
The Suns don't have much to offer in the way of backcourt talent but they could (and should) certainly offer the Lakers late-lottery pick (GO JAZZ!). Beyond that, what would the Hornets want? Scola? A Morris or two? Tucker? Dudley?
They seem set in the front court so maybe it is Dudley that they would want and I would definitely do Dudley and the Lakers pick for Gordon although I'm not sure that's enough.
hard impossible to know what gets deals done, but the Phoenix Suns should absolutely be on the phone with the Hornets to try and make this happen...and I'm sure they will be even if we don't hear about it.
Since these issues were raised....
1) Obviously, I don't advocate trading for Gordon without a full medical evaluation. He's missed a lot of time, but hasn't had major surgery (like Amare, Derrick Rose, Shumpert, Rubio, etc.)
2) Per Larry Coon's respect NBA CBA FAQ, the Suns are able to trade for Gordon one year after they signed him to the offer sheet
NBA Salary Cap FAQ
If a team matches an offer sheet and retains its free agent, then for one year they cannot trade him without his consent, and during that year cannot trade him at all to the team that signed him to the offer sheet. They also can't trade the player in a sign-and-trade transaction (see question number 89). A restricted free agent's resulting contract (whether with the new team or the contract is matched by the player's prior team) cannot be amended in any manner for one year.
That means the Suns can trade for Gordon in early July. I don't see anything that prevents the Suns and Hornets from negotiating ahead of that date and having a deal in place in time for the draft in late June, however, that would require some mutual trust since it would remain unofficial until the one-year deadline passed.
The Cardinal Rule of communication is quite simplistic in it's most basic form; keep everything in house. On the surface that is easy, but in the world of professional sports with reporters shoving microphones and recorders in your face 24/7 it can be difficult to keep everything in house.
After the Phoenix Suns (23-54) dropped a tough game to divisional rival, the Golden State Warriors; embattled, polarizing, and at times misunderstood forward Michael Beasley offered his take on how he has improved his focus as of late.
"Everybody. I don't really read articles. But you know, just everybody. My friends, my family, teammates, coaches. Just everybody. Everybody telling me 'you need to do that' or 'do that' or this gets you open. I'm the one playing. I'm the one controlling my fate. It's just trusting my instincts, being aggressive and doing what I know best. -- Beasley
Those comments can be taken in different contexts depending on how you personally view the enigmatic player that has been a lightning rod for controversy for years. Remember, early in the season, he claimed there were "Gremlins" on the rim knocking his shots out of the hoop...
In a world where Twitter, YouTube, and social networks spread news and gossip faster than kerosene on a fire those comments simply cannot happen.
Beasley's retort came on the court a mere 48 hours later in the form of the worst shooting performance of his career, on any level, shooting 1-11 from the field.
To compound the situation, interim head coach Lindsey Hunter did not come in with a fire extinguisher, but rather a bucket of gasoline with his nonchalant, lackadaisical approach to the subject. What could have been brushed off as a simple, "we talked about it and it is a non-issue today" would have ended all of the talk, but instead Hunter came back with a shot of his own ignoring the basic principles of communication.
"Consider the source," Hunter said when asked about the comments, the source being Michael Beasley while adding clothes pins to the the laundry hanging out in the open at U.S. Airways Center
Hunter continued on saying, "it's Mike. I don't pay attention to Mike. If he isn't listening he better figure out what we are trying to do defensively or he won't play."
The continued safety net this season for Hunter has been the notion of if you don't play defense you will not play. Whether that is pointed at Beasley in this instance or the Morris brothers lack of intensity earlier or any other unsavory situation during his 36 game tenure.
Under the new regime the message has been that this is going to be a defensive team, but the play has not met the message halfway and this is simply a theory being tested out on the fly without the correct pieces.
In his 36 games as interim head coach the team has surrendered 100+ points 21 times and has won 10 games total. Through the first 41 games under Alvin Gentry the team had 20 games where they gave up 100+ to their opponents. Same results, different voice. The rotations have been poor, still, and the players simply do not fit the mold of Hunter's vision of the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons for the 2012-2013 Suns.
This could have all been said in jest, but the inclination was not conveyed in a clear and obvious manner taking this back to the underlying theme of the second half of the season; Lindsey Hunter is learning a lot on the fly. This week it is communication.
Pot shots like "consider the source" or playful poking with "I don't pay attention to Mike" is laughed off when a team is winning or when a clear culture has been established between the player and coach. Neither of those exist.
"For Mike to say he doesn't listen to anybody... we don't listen to Mike. He better figure out how to guard people in this scheme or he won't be playing. I don't care who he is listening to he better figure that part out."
Again, minor pot shot, lackadaisical on the whole, and the pretense of a threat that has no merit for a player that has not found a coach that can reach him since Frank Martin unleashed the abilities of Beasley on the Big 12 for his only season in college.
That was one of the primary reasons Hunter was chosen for this job: to reach Michael Beasley.