The Phoenix Plan C Is Fantasyland

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.

Plan A failed.  Dragic bailed. Thomas was traded. The Morris twins went rogue. So the Suns went with Plan B. Rebuilding. They hit a homerun with DevinBooker. They drafted Marquese Chriss and Alex Len and Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren.

2017-18 numbers

  • Alex Len. 8.4 points. 8.1 rebounds. 37th ranked center, Real Plus-Minus
  • T.J. Warren. 19.7 points. 5.3 rebounds. 63rd ranked small forward, Real-Plus Minus
  • Devin Booker. 24.5 points. 4.6 assists. 30th ranked shooting guard, Real-Plus Minus
  • Dragan Bender. 5.5 points. 3.5 rebounds. 96th (last) ranked power forward, Real-Plus Minus
  • Marquese Chriss. 7.1 points. 4.9 rebounds. 53rd ranked power forward, Real Plus-Minus
  • Tyler Ulis. 7.1 points. 4.1 asssists. 95th ranked point guard, Real Plus-Minus
  • Josh Jackson. 10.1 points. 3.6 rebounds. 85th ranked small forward, Real Plus-Minus

The Suns GM Ryan McDonough is of the belief the Suns development has reached a point of no longer treading water. Ryan McDonough wants to start thinking of max contracts for free agents. Starting this summer. Hello, Plan C.

Yet. The Suns can’t make shots. 27th in field goal percentage. They are not the worst three point shooting team. Just the second worst. They don’t get to the line. They don’t move the ball, block shots, take care of possessions. They give up the most points in the league, meaning their defense is a catastrophe. They have the worst defensive rating in the league, more abysmal this year than last year. Bank it. The Suns are going backwards. (Is that possible?)  Their offensive rating ranks 27th. Last year it was 22nd. Last year the Suns were better but then they had Eric Bledsoe.

The Devin Booker Era Suns Points Suns FG% Suns 3Pt% Suns Assists Scoring Defense
2015-16 22nd 28th 16th 23rd 28th
2016-17 7th 19th 27th 29th 30th
2017-18 19th 27th 29th 24th 30th

You can’t attract free agents of quality when you present to them and their agents you are worse than the season before. And your attendance sucks. And no one passes the ball, instead it is watch Booker 24-7. His usage rate is 31.3%. And defense has been an F the last three seasons of Devin Booker.  And the reputation of the front office is, how to be polite, garbage.

But back to the team’s woes. The Suns have three players on the roster with a defensive rating under 110. The rest of the team is abysmal on defense, even Tyson  Chandler. It’s the main reason why the Suns have won 17 games. This time last year, they won 15 games. So a two game improvement isn’t what it is going to take to lure LeBron James and Paul George, the only max free agents on the market worth talking about.

“There are certain core pieces that are starting to solidify. I think we’d be foolish or naive to wait forever or be overly patient. We’ve been, I think, relatively disciplined with contracts we’ve given out in terms of length and dollars, but yeah, we’re planning on being one of five or six teams with a decent amount of cap space, and we’ll see if we can improve the team. We’ll probably be more aggressive in June and July than we have been the last couple of years.” Ryan McDonough

First up though is a coach.  Does McDonough understand that part of pitching players is you have to have a coach and a system, an identity, and you have to prove that you have the players who can run that system and actually defend on a nightly basis, they care about it.

It wasn’t that long ago that Goran Dragic said, “I don’t trust them anymore.” It was the drone that ripped the Suns fabric to pieces and three years later they still have not recovered in terms of a team that has the ability to compete for a playoff spot. They have too many players that do the same thing, no one who wants to play defense, and they are immature.

But Dragic’s comments lingered. Can you really trust Phoenix?

After Dragic, the Suns signed Tyson Chandler. 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 comes and goes. In 2014-15, the Suns were 21st in attendance. Aldridge had only been to the second round of the playoffs once. He wanted 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. Aldridge used the Suns for leverage.

No one asked the tough questions and so the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Detroit Pistons for money reasons, hoping to land Aldrige. But hope without a plan is a dream.

It feels like that same head in the sand lack of self-awareness has returned in 2018, as if the Suns never heard those who don’t learn from their mistakes are destined to repeat them. The Suns mistake was in not considering the consequences if Aldridge rejected them.

It’s been a tough three years for the Suns with the exception of having a star on the rise in Booker. But is he going to want to stay with a team that keeps stumbling and bumbling?

And so here we are. The team with such ambitious plans for an exciting guard oriented run and gun m.o. has had to face reality. Plans change quickly. 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. Men follow leaders blindly, it’s the concept of war. Often without complaints, they buy into the vision, they support it and are willing to sacrifice for it.

It’s less an indictment on the Suns current players than 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. There isn’t a vision nor is their realism.

If McDonough wants to change anything, he should start with the front office first. He should start with the man in the mirror.