Earl Watson Out, Eric Bledsoe Is Next

In the spring of 2016, it was good to be an unemployed NBA coach. Tom Thibodeau was the glamour free agent that everyone was gravitating towards and talking about. Next on the list was Jeff Van Gundy. Scott Brooks was on the short list because Brooks, many thought, had the inside track to Kevin Durant. But nowhere on the list was Earl Watson’s name who had never been a head coach. And yet the Phoenix Suns removed the interim label from his job description. The Suns named Earl Watson to succeed Jeff Hornacek. Watson, like the man he replaced but who was fired, had no NBA head coaching experience. Now Watson is the coach who was fired after 18 months.

With Watson, the Suns went the less expensive, not a household name route.  At the time, Watson was considered a viable candidate because he was able to develop rapport with his young core. Eric Bledsoe’s season ending injury deprived Watson of figuring out how to use Bledsoe with rookie guard Devin Booker who took off once he was inserted in the starting lineup. Booker ended the season with an impressive stat line of 13.8 points which was more points per game than fellow guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, whose rookie campaigns netted them 13.2 points and 12.8 points, respectively.  Booker also made 42% of his field goal attempts.

But Watson could not last on a team with only two veterans (Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler). Once the Suns decided to do their version of The Process, Watson’s time was limited. Unlike Philadelphia’s Brett Brown who had his apprenticeship under Gregg Popovich, Watson was relying heavily on his experience as a player but the Suns needed an experienced coach. Young players need to be taught. As the Suns brought in Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson, they needed a teacher. Watching the Suns play was like watching a bunch of players out for themselves.  Worse, they played with no defensive intensity.

The Suns accepted rebuilding but you cannot rebuild with a coach who is a rookie too.  Aside from giving Booker the ball and say have at it, what exactly where the Suns trying to accomplish?  Last season they took a lot of shots but bricked threes, were near the gutter in assists, were the worst three point defense and had five of their rotational players, Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and Alex Len make less than 40% of their shots from midrange. They were easy to guard. Just run them off the three point line.

This season, they were embarrassed in the home opener against the Blazers who were without  C.J. McCollum.  It was the worst season opener loss in Suns history and, in hindsight, it was the predictor of things to come.

“If the Phoenix Suns were a Broadway show, they’d close for good after opening night.” (Bob Baum, AP)

Even that didn’t sum it up. No team had lost a home opener like the Suns. Earl Watson could barely say they words “embarrassed.” The problem was what Watson said next. “They [Blazers} didn’t have no sympathy.”

Sympathy for what? This is the NBA. It’s about winning and devouring your opponent when you can. Why should anyone have sympathy for the Suns? When you trail by 58 points in the first game of the season, it is bleak.

2017-18 FG% 3-Point % Assists FG% Defense 3-Point Defense
Phoenix Suns Last (30th) 19th Last (30th) Last (30th) Last (30th)

The next game, the Suns played a Lakers team who featured two rookies (Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma). The Suns were so disgusted by their previous game disgrace they were comatose on defense. Their offense sputtered into selfishness as Devin Booker played for himself and not the team which is pretty much who the Suns are. Individuals who care about me, not we. There is young talent but no leadership and zero heart.

Game three which sealed the Earl Watson you are fired deal was a 42 point loss to the Clippers. The same Clippers who don’t have Chris Paul.  When Eric Bledsoe tweeted I don’t want to be here anymore, this experiment was over.  Bledsoe has leverage in that he is represented by Rich Paul. If Bledsoe indeed wants out or if it was a power play to get Watson out, either way he is in the driver’s seat.

What has made the situation more humiliating for Bledsoe is that he was traded from the Clippers to the Suns in 2013. He had to go back to his old stomping grounds, in front of his old coach and suffer like Daniel in the lion’s den. Today, he met with Suns management and was sent home while they work out a best trade scenario that will benefit Phoenix.

The Suns are no one’s idea of a model franchise. They trade good players away. The drafting of Booker was their one lone accomplishment since they were in the Western Conference Finals in 2010. The players they passed on in the draft were Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, Giannnis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Jusuf Nurkic.  Now they are passing on Earl Watson. And admitting failure with Eric Bledsoe. Which follows failure with Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic.

Earl Watson was a second round pick, drafted by the now defunct Seattle Supersonics in 2001. He played for 7 NBA teams and was an assistant coach in the D-League (Austin Spurs) before he was an assistant coach and head coach with the Suns.

Watson, on every level of basketball, was considered a player with leadership intangibles. But it doesn’t matter what kind of leader you are. You need talent, skill, gritty and gusty players and veterans to exhibit professionalism to the young guys. None applies to Phoenix.

And so it goes for the worst team in the West. A merry go round with players like Eric Bledsoe wanting to jump off head first.

 

 

 

photo via llananba