NBA Stories: Rising from the Ashes - Phoenix Suns

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns

It has been an erratic first week of the season down in Phoenix. While there has been much lamentation (and column inches) about DeAndre Ayton’s 25-game ban for a failed drug test, on the court they have been somewhat of a revelation.

An opening night 124-95 dismantling of the Sacramento Kings was followed by an encouraging 108-107 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets and, on Saturday night, a stunning victory over Kawhi Leonard and the much-vaunted Los Angeles Clippers. 

Before the start of the season, most NBA fans would have expected Phoenix to be taking part in next year’s draft lottery rather than the playoffs. But given their 2-1 start, and the way that they have played in those games, Phoenix is forcing people to ask questions.

Are the Suns for real? Or is their rapid start just false dawn?

Now, it’s important to remember that the Phoenix Suns have been bad for a LONG time. They haven’t made the playoffs for nine years and over the past five seasons, their record is an abysmal 126-284 (tied worst with the New York Knicks). They wasted multiple top-5 lotteries picks on players who didn’t pan out and ended up being traded for pennies on the dollar.

Basketball media noticed. Labelled as ‘abject disappointments’ (Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN), a ‘dumpster fire’ (Gerald Bourguet, Fansided), and ‘maybe the worst team in NBA history’ (Kareem Gantt, Fansided), the Suns stumbled their way to a 4-24 record to begin the 2018-19 season.

Things were so bad that there were genuine concerns that the franchise might end up relocating, before the dispute about funding for their arena was finally settled in December last year, ensuring the Suns’ future in Phoenix for the foreseeable future.

But it seems as though securing their stay in Arizona is exactly the shot in the arm that their regeneration needed. Since then, the Suns have made a series of moves to improve the franchise both on and off the court.

On the court, Kelly Oubre Jr has had a career renaissance since arriving from Washington, putting up 21 points and 7 rebounds per game to begin the new season, Ricky Rubio is averaging a double-double having signed as a free agent, while both Frank Kaminsky and Aaron Baynes are doing an excellent job in Ayton’s enforced absence. 

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

However, it is off the court where the Suns arguably made their most important change, with the appointment of James Jones as their GM.

Perhaps best known among more casual NBA fans as LeBron James’ favourite teammate, Jones has brought a knowledge of the game to the Phoenix front office that seemed to be previously lacking. Where the franchise previously lacked direction, Jones brought with him a pathway for the Suns to follow out of the NBA basement.

Gone are Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and all those other young lottery picks whose games never developed. Gone are the free agency mistakes (Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza) that he inherited from his predecessor. Jones has remoulded this Phoenix roster to finally contain the depth and experience that McDonough failed to put around superstar Devin Booker.

The Suns haven’t made the playoffs since 2009-10 and the drought is likely to continue for at least one more year. But just three games into the season, the NBA is on notice. This year’s Phoenix Suns aren’t going down without a fight. Just ask the Clippers.

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