The Suns have been in rebuilding mode ever since the end of the 2010 season where they were booted in the Western Conference Finals and subsequently lost Amar’e Stoudemire to New York in free agency. There were echoes of the dominant 54-28 team the following year, but the 2011 Suns missed the playoffs with a 40-42 record that began a disappointing stretch that has continued with three consecutive years of Phoenix missing the playoffs.
However, management was “in denial” as it were, trying to milk all they could out of aging veterans in seven-time all-star Grant Hill and two-time MVP Steve Nash. Since 2011 they were trying to piece together too many veteran role players to artificially manufacture a playoff team, which caused chemistry-ruining player turnover.
Only four of the 14 players from last season were on the roster at the end of this year and one of them was Channing Frye, who couldn’t play in 2012-13 due to his heart aliment. With so many new players that have been in the league for differing numbers of years, it creates difficult player dynamics. Each player has a role and a routine that they are used to and adaptation takes time, making a postseason run improbable and maybe even impossible.
Only two circumstances come to mind in recent NBA history where a team fabricated a championship season in quick fashion: the 2008 Boston Celtics and the 2011 and 2012 Miami Heat.
The 2008 Celtics team acquired Ray Allen from the then Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) and Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves, combining them with legendary Celtic Paul Pierce to create the “original” big three. Add in lockdown defender Tony Allen (now with Memphis) in his third year in the NBA and Rajon Rondo in his second, along with Kendrick Perkins (now with OKC) with veteran leadership by Sam Cassell (retired) you have the makings of a championship. The championship may not have happened, but it was the first year that Kobe and the Lakers had teamed up with Pau Gasol so the chemistry wasn’t perfect before they won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
As even the most casual fan of professional basketball knows, in 2012 Lebron James’ now infamous “decision” happened that brought him from Cleveland in conjunction with Chris Bosh from the Toronto Raptors to join Dwyane Wade in South Beach. They came with the sole purpose of winning championships, which was made evident by them all taking significantly less money to come together.
They didn’t have enough chemistry to win the first year, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the finals, but last season won the title after besting the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team rebuilding models that the new general manager of the Suns, Ryan McDonough, and the rest of the organization need to look at is that of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. They build through the draft, which does take time, don’t give free agents over-abundant sums of money just to come to their team. The overarching theme is value. These are concepts that the Suns’ management needs to soak-up as they rebuild.
This season McDonough and the rest of management needs to hire a younger, no-nonsense coach that garners respect from players while not being a big name so that there are no delusional expectations. He needs to “clean house”, getting rid of troublesome players if there are any and aging veterans that would get playing time out of respect, cutting into the young players’ development.
The hire of a young GM is great most of all because it signifies a change in the philosophy from piecing together a team that misses the playoffs to building from scratch that could very well result in a very high draft pick next off-season, which is bursting with superstar talent. That second strategy is the winning formula that could have Phoenix in the conversation for a championship in five years.