BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Suns have failed over the last season-and-a-half because, in general manager Ryan McDonough’s words, they’ve “rushed the process,” in trying to keep pace with teams like the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder in a very competitive Western Conference.
“They (Warriors and Thunder) built something slowly and painfully, and it took time,” McDonough said. “I think after winning 48 games (in) our first year, we tried to shortcut the process. We don’t make any apologies for that. If we were able to land an elite player like LeBron James, (or) LaMarcus Aldridge, that would’ve changed the trajectory of this franchise. I think once we weren’t able to land those guys, some of the moves we’ve made have maybe unbalanced our roster a little more than it should.”
“We understand that the fan base has been suffering, and we’ve tried to do everything we could to keep bringing in young players who will be the future, and who we’ll continue to develop, but also stay competitive and stay in the playoff mix,” McDonough said.
As well as the team did in 2014 with those 48 wins, they fell short of making the playoffs. It was frustrating for everyone involved, not only because they worked so hard throughout the season to get to the second season, but also because it was the fourth consecutive year that Phoenix failed to make the postseason. The last time the Suns went four straight years without making the playoffs was 1970-74. The organization was in its infancy at the time.
“I think a lot of it (not making the playoffs in 2014) (was) bad timing. I think we were only the second team in NBA history to win 48 games and not make the playoffs, so that was frustrating,” McDonough said. “I take a lot of responsibility. I made some mistakes. We certainly haven’t done everything perfectly.”
You can’t fault the Suns for going after the top free agents, like a LeBron James or a LaMarcus Aldridge. When James and Aldridge were out there and free to sign with whomever, you know each and every team who thought they had a shot at them were blowing up their agent’s cell phones and inboxes, trying to get a meeting with them. So why shouldn’t the Suns be one of those teams in the mix?
A great majority of the teams that are winning in the NBA have one thing in common: They have one or more superstars on their roster. Where would the world champion Warriors be without Steph Curry and Klay Thompson? Would the Spurs have won as many titles as they have if Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili weren’t there? How about the Clippers, the Cavaliers and the Raptors? They wouldn’t be 30+ game winners this season if their highest paid players didn’t perform on a nightly basis.
Phoenix had a budding superstar in Eric Bledsoe, and another one in Brandon Knight, but Bledsoe’s gone for the season after having knee surgery, and Knight’s battling through a groin injury. Right now, the Suns are taking full advantage of the youth they have on their roster with Bledsoe and Knight’s absences. Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker have been getting a lot more run lately in the backcourt. In the NBA, relying on college age players to get you wins is a dicey proposition, but the Suns have no other alternative at this present moment than to go with what they have with guys like Goodwin and Booker, who are two dynamic, young players, who’ve both had their fair share of ups and downs throughout the first half of this season.
McDonough feels the importance of signing a big name free agent depends on each team’s timeline, and how soon they want to win.
“You look at Golden State (Warriors), who’s doing it better than anybody right now. (It) took them a while. They have a great fan base like we do here. Those fans wanted a winner and suffered for a long time,” McDonough said. “They drafted well, and they developed well. Steph Curry today is not who he was when they drafted him in 2009, and Klay Thompson’s a lot better player than when they drafted him in 2011. It took a while, they suffered along the way, but their players developed, and improved, and made some mistakes, and failed in certain key situations, but I think they learned from that, and they developed that experience.”
“We’ve tried to expedite that process as much as we can. We may do that going forward if we have a chance to land an elite player. We’ll be aggressive as we can be in trying to do that,” McDonough said. “If that’s not available for us, we’ll continue to develop our young players, (and) try to maximize their potential, (and) try to teach them to play the right way, and if we keep having success in the (NBA) Draft, I think we’ll be pretty good.”