Pre-season rankings are in. Everyone from HoopsHype to Sports Illustrated has chimed in on their team rankings and across the board, the Phoenix Suns are projected to be last place in the Western Conference.
Why is Culture Crossfire doing another article on the Phoenix Suns?
I am a card-carrying season ticket holder.
The card-carrying is true. Apparently the NBA is pushing season ticket holders to have all their ticket holders use a member card as part of the league green initiative.
A lot of faces came and went during the off-season following the second worst season in franchise history. Boston Celtics’ front office wiz-kid Ryan McDonough became General Manager and shortly after he would hire former NBA sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek as head coach.
Bigger names brought in last year such as Luis Scola and Michael Beasley as well as franchise favorites like Jared Dudley were out the door and the team restocked with younger players, most notably landing the coveted Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers.
The preseason madness began for me on October 7th, as the Suns opened at home against the defending champions of the Israeli Super League – Maccabi Haifa.
Maccabi Haifa featured former NBA player Donta Smith, who was a rookie with the Hawks in 2004, as well as former Illinois forward Brian Randle and member of last year’s NCAA Cinderella story FGCU team, Sherwood Brown.
The Suns played well. The star guard combo of Dragic and Bledsoe looked good together. Marcin Gortat was back from injury and playing well. Athletic Suns Shannon Brown and Gerald Green threw down some of their trademark crowd pleasing dunks. Rookie Archie Goodwin had limited minutes but ended with one of the top performances in the game.
The Suns crushed the defending champions (of the Israeli Super League) with a final of 130-89.
Phoenix would go on the road. The first stop included a six-point win in Portland over the Trail Blazers but the preseason magic would really be in effect for game three.
The Suns visited San Antonio and led by 19 points from Gerald Green, the Suns would get the win over Gerald’s cousin Danny and the Spurs.
Now, several losing teams have great preseasons and crash to Earth but for the Suns, it still felt good. After the disaster last season, the Suns still seemed to be heading in the right direction. Since Jeff Hornacek took over, the Suns only lost in the championship game of the Summer League and were 3-0 in the preseason. Games that don’t count but at least the players could try to get a sense of what winning was like.
The Suns headed home to face the Clippers and held steady. Even with a strong performance from Chris Paul, the Suns had the game within one-point with around thirty seconds left. Second year point-guard Kendall Marshall tried to take over and struggled. The Suns would lose by six, trying to get back in the game with late fouls.
A few nights later, DeMarcus Cousins came to play, Goran Dragic sprained his ankle and the Suns would lose their first game by double-digits, 107-90.
Phoenix brought their preseason record to 3-2 with two more games left – a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a game in Denver against Brian Shaw’s Nuggets. As a treat over the weekend, the Suns held an open practice for their fans.
I used my season ticket holder perks to get in and have the privilege of sitting courtside.
It was a standard practice: some drills and a quick scrimmage. It was good to check out some of the guys who had been getting limited minutes, as the roster stood at eighteen players, seventeen on guaranteed contracts. The league maximum for the regular season is fifteen, so practice provided some extra insight into the decisions.
Practice wrapped with a halfcourt shooting game, won at the last minute by Coach Hornacek and the players tossed out autographed balls. While all the players were represented on the balls, I somehow managed to catch three Eric Bledsoe. I traded one of my Bledsoe’s to a small kid behind me who had gotten Gerald Green but still crazy to grab three of the most sought after player.
The Suns took the floor against Oklahoma City a few days later. The Thunder sat superstar Kevin Durant and the Suns were able to capitalize on the Thunder testing out the end of their bench, winning 88-76. During the game, projected starter Markieff Morris landed an elbow to the jaw of Serge Ibaka and will be suspended for the regular season opener.
The next night, the Suns were in Denver and were trailing early on. A 38-point fourth quarter led to the Suns winning by 19 with the final score of 98-79.
The Suns wrapped preseason with a 5-2 record. Meaningless games but a step in the right direction.
Phoenix will open up its regular season on Wednesday, October 30 at home against the Portland Trail Blazers. As the Suns brace for young stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to come to town, there are a few decisions to be made.
On Thursday, October 24th, one day after preseason play ended the Suns made their first cut by waiving James Nunnally. Nunnally had produced big for the Summer League team of the Miami Heat, who beat the Suns in the finals of the tournament in Vegas. The Suns brought the former UCSB player to camp but as the only player on a non-guaranteed contract, he was the easiest to cut first.
The Suns will need to cut two more players before the start of the season, two with guaranteed money. With Dragic and Bledsoe expected to get a bulk of the minutes, guards Dionte Christmas, Ish Smith and Malcolm Lee seem most likely to be on the chopping block.
Christmas, who had a productive Summer League for the Suns (after being featured in a Spotted on the Pine article), got a partial guarantee when joining the Suns for preseason. Smith and Lee came over in trades this summer but have guaranteed deals under $1 million dollars. Ish played much more in the preseason, while Lee is still recovering from injury and is a few years younger.
After the cuts, the Suns will still have several storylines with their roster entering the season. The rookie extension is being negotiated for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has been dubbed “Mini Lebron” by some but hasn’t had much real exposure while sitting behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles. He is expected to get a deal akin to what the Utah Jazz just gave Derrick Favors, a deal inflated slightly more toward the potential that is present than production to date. Word traveling if the extension goes through, Goran Dragic may start being shopped.
Several league reporters also keep putting Suns center Marcin Gortat on their list of likely trade deadline suspects. With the Suns using the 5th pick on Maryland big man Alex Len, it only adds fuel to the speculation that Gortat was on his way out last season before getting injured.
The season is not likely to be pretty. This year’s team slogan is “Ignite the Future”, clearly focusing on the beyond. While the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes is much more likely than a playoff berth, the 2013-14 Suns have the potential to be very entertaining in their losses, and not in the hilarious way like last season.
Author’s Note: The afternoon after this article was written, the Suns made their move.
Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Malcolm Lee were traded to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor and a conditional 1st round pick. This allows the Suns flexibility to make no cuts and have a potential four first-round picks in 2013, the deepest draft class since 2003.
Gortat was expected to linger until the deadline but the Suns pulled the trigger early. Brown was a question mark but likely to not get minutes with Bledsoe and Dragic getting the bulk at the guard spots. Kendall Marshall has been rumored to be a throw-in for every deal, as he simply has not shown signs of being special at anything specific on the court. Lee avoids the cut with the Suns but may find himself in a similar position in Washington.
Okafor suffered a neck injury in Wizards preseason and according to sources like David Aldridge, he may never suit up for the Suns.
The Suns may very well have their Opening Night roster set, with possibility of much more.