There is a useful gauge of an NBA franchise’s sanity levels sweeping through the league this off-season. It’s coming in 140-word character limits and occasional grass emojis. The Sacramento Kings were appropriately first on the twitter-block with perhaps the finest collection of passive-aggressive tweets involving DeMarcus Cousins and non-Kings Andre Iguodala and Carmelo Anthony.
One hoped the off-season insanity that ensued – the Spurs reloading, the Woj Bombs and DeAndre Jordan’s change of mind – wouldn’t end so abruptly. One hoped that the offseason would have one more stinging ‘What You Gunna Do?’ moment.
And so, this happened…The Suns and Markieff Morris are seemingly drifting towards a foul breakup. It’s difficult to read Markieff’s discontent as anything other than a statement of complete resentment towards the Suns’ decision to sacrifice his brother Marcus for cap space. Sure, Markieff can be a prisoner of the moment, but there’s almost always more to a story than the reports suggest. Ultimately, though, the question of why Morris’ feud exists doesn’t really matter. What matters is where this leaves the post-Nash Suns.
Phoenix weren’t meant to build from the middle, but their near-fairytale run in 2014 shifted the game. With the intriguing Morris twins, sneaky MVP-candidate Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and serious cap room, Phoenix boasted both assets and appeal. They swiftly evolved from a desert project to the league’s most interesting team. And they still are, only for different reasons.
The Suns may still swing around that awkward 9-12 spot in the Western Conference next season, but those fun, league-pass alert days will be trickier to spot. General Manager Ryan McDonough was right to throw the valley and the sun at LaMarcus Aldridge, even if the former Blazer didn’t quite fit with the roster’s age profile.
Luck plays a decisive role in a team’s rebuild. Attempting to kick-start a rebuild from the middle of a nuclear Western Conference requires a Kawhi Leonard-type draft steal, sharp player development and patience. Daryl Morey and the Rockets is the model here. Just as Morey mustered together a gallery of friendly contracts and assets that ultimately delivered James Harden, the Suns will hope its sleight of young players, and Miami’s 2018 and 2021 first rounders lurk into play as interesting building chips down the line. Again, amassing a billboard of assets and cap space is nice, but eventually those niceties have to gravitate toward something tangible. Every team with cap room and rebuilding hopes grapple with the same question: How soon do we pull the trigger and lay the cards naked on the table?
Once Markieff gets his wish, only Eric Bledsoe remains from the original core that jolted the post-Nash era into a promising light. The Suns have lost its shine. They dangled a Lakers protected pick, Isiah Thomas’ super friendly contract and Goran Dragic’s 2014 season for right to overpay Brandon Knight. Indeed, it didn’t help that Dragic demanded an in-season trade and that Thomas was an irrational confidence guy. Let’s be honest: Cobbling three chefs together in the one kitchen was certainly going to test the team’s fabric.It’s tempting to suggest the Suns are a slightly less talented version of the 2012-2014 Denver Nuggets; a team laced with positional depth, an elite point guard prospect and a blitzing helter-skelter identity.
Seriously, those situations aren’t so different, especially in regards to the point guard positions.
Ty Lawson was the Nuggets’ best player. And at least under George Karl, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He was the engine of a mostly competitive, feel-good team. And yet, he could never quite muster the appropriate levels of consistency that Denver desperately required.
Bledsoe is also now the Suns’ undisputed premier act. He’s a young high-speed driver, and a defensive brute with undefined potential. Again, there’s nothing quite wrong or counter-productive with having Bledsoe as your best player. Indeed, there will be nights when Bledsoe seems every bit of an elite player on both ends of the court, particularly if he smoothens his disastrous turnover rate. He might well evolve into a genuine leader, but we just haven’t seen it yet. Heck, not everyone discovers comfort in the driver’s seat. Joe Johnson never did.
Thanks to the NBA’s warped conference system, the Suns are likely to achieve mediocrity next season and pick something around 10-15 in the draft, which is a difficult pill to swallow when they were damn near close to nabbing Aldridge. A laundry list of questions faces the franchise in both an immediate and big-picture sense. Tyson Chandler should help sooth the dickhead-barometer in the Suns’ locker-room, and serve as a sort of steadying shoulder for Bledsoe to lean on. Even still, Chandler’s arrival only really fit perfectly with LMA’s signature.
The Suns could end up a better, smarter and more fortunate version of the Nuggets. One star shifts the landscape. GM McDonough missed out on one star, and he’ll dance down the wicket again for another one.
Players improve, of course, and the Suns boast two players – Alex Len and TJ Warren – with mini breakout potential.Len’s evolution has been particularly interesting. Something clicked for the seven-foot center last season after a fumbling rookie season. But with Chandler around on a four-year deal, there just aren’t as many minutes for Len anymore. That’s not discerning, by the way; playing behind veteran leadership could pay huge dividends for Len’s long-term outlook.
Still, the Suns are guaranteed none of these things, and they are, to some degree, leaning on what might become available on the market in two or three years. There’s plenty of ‘maybes’ floating around its rebuild. Continuity is the tonic to success in the NBA. Oh, and yeah, so is a star. They forfeited the former during last season and missed out on the latter over the offseason craziness.
It’s been a wildly fun, bizarre and trying two years for the Suns organization. In many ways, Markieff Morris was at the center of all this, with his unexpected rise on the court, the technicals and alleged off court altercations.
They had something brewing. But maybe Markieff is right: #thatisall.