“Next Year”, alas, came early for the Suns this year. And it is my sad duty to report that the beginning of “Next Year” got off to an even more dismal start than the tag end of this year.
Although mathematically still alive in the playoff hunt, even the players themselves acknowledge the rest of the season is all about looking ahead to the future. And the preview we got last night was not a pretty sight.
Oklahoma City, thundering through March at a franchise record 14-2 clip, made the Suns look like your prototype Clippers in the process of handing them their fourth straight loss and lowering one of their worst-ever home records to 20-18.
It’s hard to believe this is the same team that won 54 games a year ago will be very hard pressed to reach 40 this year. But of course the main reason it’s so hard to believe that is that it is not even close to the same team. Same franchise, but not same team.
And to be honest with you, I didn’t see this complete unraveling coming. Less than two weeks ago the Suns seemed to be really coming together and were positioned to take a decent shot at a playoff spot. Six games later they have no shot, and leave one wondering exactly how things went so far south so fast.
The search for answers, as with all things Suns, has to start with Steve Nash, who, whether because of injuries, the mental stress of carrying a franchise, or advancing years, simply hasn’t been his All-Star self during the skid. One of the best shooters ever suddenly has no shot, and even seems reluctant to take one.
That the Suns have almost no shot when he’s out has been documented ad nauseam, but what doesn’t get much notoriety is that when he’s not at his best they don’t have all that much better a shot. And if this isn’t yet another reason he belongs in any MVP conversation then such conversations s aren’t really worth having.
And along those same lines, instead of “blaming” him for the skid, we should marvel that he kept this constantly revolving roster at or above .500 most of the season.
Moving right along, whether or not the Suns should have opened their checkbook to keep Amare is a business debate which belongs in another column. And how well or not he and the Knicks are doing in New York, is also irrelevant. What’s relevant for basketball purposes is how much his departure weakened the Suns.
The one thing they did too to provide hope for next year was acquiring Marcin Gortat to fill what has been an almost permanent hole in the middle for lo these may years. Another plus is the improvement in Channing Frye. As far as any other steps to turn things around next year, they have yet to be taken, and won’t be easy.
The Suns will also have to deal with the fact both Nash and Grant Hill be a year older. And while one writes either of them off at his own peril, the years inevitably take their toll, especially late in games late in the season.
But perhaps the most decisive difference between this year’s team and last is chemistry. Last year the Suns had it to a truly remarkable degree. This year, not so much. I thought a detected a glimmer of at one point, but it was a false positive.
The intent here is not to assess “blame”, or paint a picture of a bleak future as a certainty. The Suns, after all, have dug their way out of deeper holes than this, and the nature of basketball is that often it just takes one or two players to turn things around in dramatic fashion.
But this shapes up as the stiffest challenge yet for Team Sarver’s administration.
The bottom line: Steps are definitely needed, and baby ones won’t get it.