I’m an idiot.
Before the season started I immediately wrote off the Phoenix Suns. A rookie coach, two point guards starting in their backcourt, no true center, zero depth and a tough conference and I said in our preview that all the Suns fans had to look forward to was Andrew Wiggins. Stupid, stupid me.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone in writing off the Suns, overlooking how pesky a backcourt of two long and rangy, fleet of foot guards could be. I had no clue that while undersized, the speed of the Suns team would hold opponents to the second lowest three-point percentage in the league and finish top 10 in forced turnovers. Their offense, much like their defense, was built around their speed and three-point shooting, and was good enough to finish seventh in points per game (105.2) and three-point shooting percentage (37.2%).
Goran Dragic was the biggest All Star snub of the season, yes even bigger than Boogie Cousins, and has a good shot at being named Second Team All NBA. Rookie coach Jeff Hornacek is as good a choice for Coach of the Year as there is (especially since Gregg Popovich is seemingly ineligible for the award) and thrice resurrected Gerald Green will win the award for Most Improved Player if his teammate Dragic doesn’t.
Long story short, the 2013-14 season was overwhelmingly successful for the overachieving Suns, even though they were officially eliminated from playoff contention Monday night in their 97-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The loss was especially painful for Dragic, whose ugly turnover with less than a minute to go was the dagger, effectively ending the season for his team despite the fact that he is the player most responsible for giving it life in the first place.
“It’s really tough to say something positive right now,” Dragic said. “Nobody expected us to play so good. We built some good chemistry with this team. A lot of new faces, a lot of young guys, new coaching staff, new GM, so I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The loss caps off a run of three straight losses for the Suns, all three were must wins as they chased a playoff spot in the West, and all three were painfully close in the waning minutes and all three were to playoff teams. The sellout Phoenix crowd gave the team a loud ovation as the exited the court, and deservedly so. This team gave them a reason to show up to the final home game of the season besides free tee shirts and a chance to be on TV. The Suns are the catalyst for many arguments for a playoff format change in the NBA, and, if they beat the Boogie-less Kings in their final game, they will tie the 2008 Warriors for the most wins for a team that missed the playoffs with 48.
But don’t pity the Suns just yet.
With youth on their side, Dragic is right, the future is brighter in Phoenix than some of the teams above them in the conference, especially immediately above them. The Mavs and Grizzlies rely on aging power forwards with bloated contracts and will probably be experience some regression in the near future. Phoenix has Green and Eric Bledsoe signed through next season on cheap deals, and a now underpaid Dragic through the following season at just $7.5 million per season.
Now with a pick in the lottery this season (and if there is any justice the Suns should win the lottery for anti-tanking) and a slew of Lakers picks – courtesy of the Steve Nash sign-and-trade – in the next two years (which, given the state of the Lakeshow become more valuable by the day) they have plenty of opportunity to add inexpensive upgrades to their already impressive team.
Not that money matters much, since Phoenix slyly acquired Emeka Okafor and his $14.5 million expiring deal just days before the season, leaving the Suns with an estimated $26 million in cap space this summer, good for fourth most in the league.
With a shrewd coach, two menaces on both sides of the court in their backcourt and loads of draft picks and cap space the Suns have shockingly become one of the most entertaining, talented and promising teams in the league. I’m completely fine with the fact that all of that makes me look like a dunce, at least Alex got the Bobcats thing right.