The Phoenix Suns had a workable plan to usher the organization past the Steve Nash Years: go small, be explosive and fast. Stay entertaining. They hired tough minded, former NBA guard Jeff Hornacek. They maxed out Eric Bledsoe and were willing to do the same with Goran Dragic. They snatched Isaiah Thomas off the restricted free agent market. Gerald Green who had played for six NBA teams as well as in Russia, China and the D-league, was reborn. The Morris twins added front court help, depth and spread the offense. The Suns could score. They were eleventh in the league in points, 102.4 per game.
But what did Mike Tyson say about plans? Everyone has a plan until they get hit.
The Suns couldn’t/ wouldn’t share the ball. They were 27th in assists. They were 26th in points allowed. The Suns didn’t get to the free throw line, they didn’t have any drivers. They were 21st in free throw attempts. What the Suns couldn’t do was hit a high percentage of threes. They were 21st in percentage. They didn’t make the playoffs.
Structurally, the Suns had the look of someone who wanted to eat all of their candy on Halloween night even if it made them sick. Why did they draft Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick in the 2014 draft when every scout said Ennis didn’t have the athleticism to get a lot of playing time? Two weeks after drafting Ennis, the Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a $70 million dollar deal. They followed that up with a $70 million dollar deal to Eric Bledsoe in October. Suddenly their backcourt was crowded with guards who played the same way.
All of it made Goran Dragic feel like an outsider, particularly when he was buried in the corner waiting for one of the point guards to get him the ball. Wait, isn’t Dragic a point guard? Shouldn’t he have been getting players the ball, running the offense?
“I don’t trust them anymore.” (Goran Dragic)
It was the drone that ripped the Suns fabric to pieces and six months later they still have not recovered. In the absence of trust, there is a lack of unity and selflessness. Cohesion takes a vacation and the locker room is at war with itself. Forget commitment. Day to day teamwork is shredded.
Dragic’s five last words pulled the curtain off the Suns feel good story. There was a lack of insight (didn’t they see this coming, Dragic wasn’t shy about his unhappiness). An unwillingness to solve chemistry issues created an environment to fight from within. What the organization lacked in strategic planning was now eating them from the inside out like a disease eats the marrow before it eats the flesh.
The Suns had a winning record on February 19th. They then traded Goran Dragic. They then traded Isaiah Thomas. They gave up a prime asset draft pick from the Lakers to the 76ers. They acquired Brandon Knight, a point guard who is not as good as Goran Dragic, Jeff Teague, Kyle Lowry or Ty Lawson.
After the Dragic/ Thomas trade the Suns had a losing record which surprised just about no one, neither did the impact Isaiah Thomas, a pure scorer, would have on the Celtics. He pulled them out of the gutter and into the playoffs.
In the off-season, the Suns signed Tyson Chandler. Gerald Green, who coach Hornacek had been at war with until he benched him, signed with the Atlanta Hawks. The Suns tried to get in on the LaMarcus Aldridge bonanza and did a Houston Rockets move. They got rid of players to make the money work before Aldridge committed. It was imaginary thinking. Aldridge had the Spurs on his mind for six months; he didn’t keep it a secret. But forget that for a moment. Was there no one in the Suns front office that asked themselves: Why would Aldridge sign here? We haven’t been to the playoffs since Steve Nash. Our fan’s interest is anemic. In 2014-15 we were 21st in attendance. Aldridge has only been to the second round of the playoffs once. He wants to be on a contender with veteran talent who has been there before. Chandler has a ring but he alone can’t make up for a deficient roster.
No one asked those questions and so the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Detroit Pistons for money reasons. It has led them here. There is one more Phoenix Suns bomb they have to deactivate before it totally blows the sky up.
The Morris twins (Marcus, Markieff) had signed extensions with the Suns the year before, expecting to play together for the long term. That one of the twins was shipped out to make money room for LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t sit very well with either twin. When Marcus Morris was introduced to the Pistons he didn’t hold back.
“Everybody knew how bad I wanted to play with my brother. Phoenix knew. For them to trade me without consent or telling or anything like that was kind of like, I would say, a slap in the face, because of the contract I took from those guys and the money I took from them. That was kind of a slap in the face.”
First off, the Suns don’t owe Marcus Morris a damn thing other than his check not to bounce when it gets direct deposited. He is labor. He had a contract. He is part of a league with rules that allow for player trades. He isn’t an All-Star. He isn’t a star at all. He is a role player who suffers the consequences of his limitations: he was moved because he was holding up salary. The Suns don’t represent social services. They are not in the keeping-the-family-together business. They are in the winning basketball business.
On that front, the Marcus Morris trade was a disaster. There was no guarantee Aldridge was going to sign with Phoenix. The Suns were a little ambitious and excited and, dare say, full of themselves because Aldridge’s representatives leaked to the media that the interview went well, and, that the Suns were Aldridge’s second choice.
But the Suns made a grave mistake in not considering the consequences if Aldridge rejected them. What about the twins?
It’s been a tough year for them. In April, they were charged with felony aggravated assault, a charge they vehemently deny. Three months later they were separated due to a trade. It’s easy to reactively feel sorry for them. Anyone who has a brother they are close to understands the bond. But c’mon. It’s a big boy league. They are 25 years old. They are still in the NBA getting paid. Grow up.
Markieff Morris is vowing to never play in Phoenix again. The 6-10 forward feels betrayed.
“One thing for sure, I am not going to be there. If you want to put that out there, you can put that out. I am not going to be there at all. I will be a professional. Don’t get me wrong. But it won’t get that far. I’m going to be out before then.”
And so here we are. The team with such ambitious plans for an exciting, guard oriented team has had to face reality. Leadership is essential to success. It creates a culture where every player feels valued and is willing to sacrifice and understands the impact of their role. Leaders are who men follow blindly, often without complaints, because they buy into the vision, they support it and are willing to sacrifice for it.
In six months the Suns have lost Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green and the Morris twins. It’s an indictment, not on those players, but on the organization’s culture which is not proactive but reactive, not flexible, not adaptable, not able to communicate and not consistent. And especially not leaders.
photo via Wikipedia.org