By Frank McLean
The Phoenix Suns are this year’s mess in the NBA, a team which has become the salvage project of a once great franchise that has gone into the toilet and will have to “trust the process” to get back to where they once were.
You remember the Suns? The team that had Steve Nash, the mad bomber Dan Marjerle and Kevin Johnson. Then the must-see-TV offense coached by Mike D’Antoni with weapons like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.
Well dysfunction has set into this once proud franchise which looks a lot like the New York Knicks of the last few years or the New York Football Giants the way they have treated their superstar quarterback Eli manning the last couple of weeks.
The season started with Suns losing their first three games. Then point guard Eric Bledsoe started with the “get me out of this mess right now” plea and demanded a trade. The result of that was the firing of head coach Earl Watson after the third game by general manager Ryan McDonough.
McDonough felt the heat and rightfully so. The question was being asked if you didn’t like the job the coach was doing why didn’t you fire him in the off season? Why didn’t you bring in a new guy over the summer?
Talking to people who cover the Suns on a regular basis, they could not answer that question. Their response was that you think they would have made the coaching change in the off season.
Plus another question that no one could answer is, why would you hire a coach, like Watson, with zero NBA head coaching experience?
Watson was replaced by his assistant coach and former Raptors head coach Jay Triano. Triano has been in this position before. He is getting another shot as an NBA head coach because the situation here in Phoenix is the same as when he got the Raptors job where he was an assistant coach to Sam Mitchell and was tapped to replace him by then general manager Bryan Colangelo. Triano has also coached the Canadian National Men’s team.
McDonough was lucky to have someone like Triano on his staff to take over on an interim basis and help in the development of their young talent.
Long time Suns radio play man Al McCoy, who has seen his share of Suns coaches in his over 40 years behind the microphone, was gushing about Triano as a coach and person.
“He’s a great guy,” McCoy said. “More importantly he is a basketball guy, just loves the game and he is great with our young talent.”
Triano came back to Toronto Tuesday night with a Suns team sporting a 9-16 record and coming off a come-from-behind 115-101 win in Philadelphia.
The Suns now are in the major rebuild mode and have taken a page from the team they beat Monday night in the 76ers.
They have become a tanking rebuilding team trying to grab as many high lottery draft picks they can and develop young players.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News Triano said that that the comparison with the Sixers is bang on.
“We are in the same boat. Our young players have the same goals and I have the same aspirations for our young team to keep playing. Find the right way, play hard all the time and eventually we’ll get this thing turned around.”
They picked fourth overall in this past June’s draft and grabbed Josh Jackson and they already have from their first pick in 2015 guard Devin Booker out of the University of Kentucky.
Booker put the Suns on his back Monday night in their comeback win scoring 46 points after hitting a terrible two-of his first 11-shots but then hitting nine-of his next-16 and scoring 32 of his 42 points in the second half.
He is a special talent and this is the guy the Suns are building around.
The Suns lost 126-113 against the Raptors, but the young team didn’t quit. You can see they don’t have the talent to compete on a night to night basis with the top teams in the league right now.
Worst with less than three minutes left in the game, Booker strained his abductor muscle in a bizarre accident where he could not move any part of his body and had to be carried off the floor by teammates and the training staff.
Booker will be gone for the next two to three weeks and without him the Suns will be lost and it will be harder for to the Suns to, as Triano put it, “turn this thing around.” Not that it should matter.
The Suns are copying the Sixers plan of how to rebuild and the hope is they can soon be a force in the Western Conference.
One thing I wonder? Will Suns fans be willing to “trust the process.”
Time will tell.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson