The 2017-18 National Basketball Association (NBA) campaign represents the 50th for the Phoenix Suns. It has been one to forget with an 0-3 start, and they have played as abysmal as one can play on both ends of the floor. Their last was a 130-88 setback at the Los Angeles Clippers, where they were outscored 72-44 in the second-half. That was not the only shoe to drop for the youngest roster in the NBA as we begin a new week.
On Sunday, the team announced that it fired head coach Earl Watson, and associate head coach Jay Triano will take over on an interim basis.
Triano, who was beginning his second season as an assistant on the Suns’ bench had spent the prior four seasons as an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, which includes one where Watson was a player. He also spent parts of four seasons (2008-11) as head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
Watson, who spent 13 seasons in the NBA, was starting his second full-year as head coach after being promoted from being an assistant when now New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek was fired on Feb. 1, 2016. Watson had signed a three-year contract as head coach on Apr. 19, 2016. The Suns were 33-85 under his guidance on the bench.
He joined Chick Reiser, who was ousted during the 1952-53 season by the then Baltimore Bullets for second on the all-time list of coaches to be fired after just three games into a season before a coaching change, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes is the record holder being given the boot after just one game by the then Buffalo Braves in the 1971-72 season, with Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown getting fired by the Los Angeles Lakers back in the 2012-13 season after just five games.
On Monday, Suns’ General Manager Ryan McDonough said that starting lead guard Eric Bledsoe would not play in their Monday night tilt against the Sacramento Kings (1-3), that they won 117-115, and has likely played his last game with the team.
The Suns (1-3) brass met with the 27-year-old Bledsoe before shootaround on Monday morning, and after the discussion was sent home. Multiple reports state that the team is actively engaged with several of the other 29 teams in the league about trading them Bledsoe.
“The whole team is embarrassed,” He said after the Suns second 40-point loss of the season two nights ago. “I think I have to do a better job of being a leader, and a floor general out there.”
Unfortunately, as stated earlier, Bledsoe will not get that chance as he is very likely on his way out of the “Valley of the Sun.”
To put this awful beginning to the Suns’ season into historical context, their scoring margin of -92 is the worst through three games in the history of the NBA, which tipped off its 72nd season last Tuesday night. Their 124-76 loss versus the Trail Blazers (2-1) last Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, was the largest margin of defeat in an NBA season opener ever. They did manage to play a lot better on Friday night, losing by just two points (132-130) versus the Los Angeles Lakers 132-130, behind the 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists by the No. 2 overall pick in June Lonzo Ball, out of UCLA, who would’ve become the youngest player ever at age 19 to record a triple-double.
While it seems like the Suns’ collapse is something that just popped out of thin area, it has been something that has been brewing over the past few years under owner Robert Sarver, who been the Suns owner since 2004, after purchasing the team for a then NBA record $401 million.
Mismanagement of this nature very often begins at the top with the front office. In an area where teams have a two, to three-year period where they basically throw away a season, i.e. “tank,” to raise their chances to getting a high lotter pick, the Suns could not even get that right a season ago. When they were giving time to some of their young players, expected to lead them to better days in the future, Bledsoe expressed frustration last spring when he was benched during said period of “tanking,” in the middle of a career-season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday morning that Bledsoe met with Sarver, and asked to be traded back in the preseason.
Before being sent away by the Suns, Bledsoe summed up his frustrations about what has occurred to the Suns in a tweet @EBled2 on Sunday afternoon that said, “I Don’t wanna be here.”
A source said to the ABC affiliate in Phoenix, AZ “ABC15 Sports,” about the situation, that Bledsoe’s camp said that the tweet was about him being stuck at his wives at a hair salon. McDonough did not believe it to be true, and said, “He won’t be with us going forward.”
While that excuse for the tweet is very suspect, Bledsoe’s feelings should not be. Over the past three seasons, he has seen three of his former teammates in Isaiah Thomas, the Morris twins, “Markieff, and Marcus,” and Goran Dragic move out of what is considered NBA purgatory to be with championship, or serious playoff contenders in the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat respectably.
It is that kind of continuity that takes you from Western Conference Finalists in 2010, where the Suns lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games, to a team that has the third longest current playoff drought of seven consecutive seasons; three head coaches in that time, since the four-year stint of now New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry with Lindsey Hunter, and the previously mentioned Hornacek before Watson.
It begs the question, if the organization was going to have such a short rope with the head man on the sidelines, especially with Watson, why not make the change over the summer so that the new head coach could at least have their own training camp?
Well that is what a team like the Suns, and their owner in Sarver do when they have no idea of what it takes to go from the basement of their conference to be a playoff perennial. They make the promise to their fans, season-ticket holders, and sponsors a fresh start, or a new direction, both he, and the folks he hires find a way to screw it up.
How they are handling Bledsoe is another example. There are several teams that could use Bledsoe services right now, like the Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Clippers, the team that acquired Bledsoe’s draft rights as the No. 18 pick in the 2010 draft, and the Cavs have the assets to make a deal to acquire Bledsoe.
On top of that, as ESPN’s Senior Writer said on Monday afternoon’s edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN 2, only 70 percent of the league can make a trade, while the other 30 percent must wait until Dec. 15 to make a deal.
The Suns did stop the bleeding for one night though with their previously mentioned two-point victory versus the Kings, thanks to the eventual game-winning field goal by undrafted lead guard Mike James out of Lamar College, who had 18 points, and seven assists in the first start of his young career. His backcourt mate in emerging star Devin Booker led the way with 22 points, and five assists, while forward Marquese Chriss had 19 points. Rookie forward Josh Jackson had 15 points off the bench, and second-year guard Tyler Ulis chipped in 11 points off the bench as well.
“Everything that happened in the last 24 hours should have been eye-opening to us,” Booker said after the win on Monday night. “I’m proud of the team how we responded. Came out, and fought.”
The reality is nothing is going to change for the Phoenix Suns until Sarver sells the team, or takes himself out of the equation from day-to-day decision making.
Until then the futures of the Suns’ brightest star in Booker, Jackson, forward T.J. Warren, who signed a four-year $50 million contract extension in the off-season, Chriss, and fellow second-year forward Dragen Bender will be filled with more tough losses, and another couple of years at least of no playoffs.
“I’m happy for our players,” Triano said following his first win as the Suns’ interim head coach.
He added on by saying about the approach he’s going to take for the rest of this season, “We’re going to learn on the fly, and I’m going to stop the game. If I use all timeouts to teach, I’m going to use all timeouts to teach.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 10/23/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN 2 with Rachel Nichols, ESPN’s Senior Writer Brian Windhorst, and Israel Gutierrez; 10/23/17 5:30 p.m. ESPN Bottom Line news crawl; www.nba.com/20171023/SACPHX#/preview/recap/boxscore; www.espn.com/nba/player/_/id/2528096/mike-james; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Bledsoe; and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_Reiser.