NBA Column: Why Has Phoenix Become The Worst Franchise in the NBA?

Phoenix Suns head coach Jay Triano yells during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Phoenix. It was Triano's first game as the Suns' head coach. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The NBA’s fourth winning-est all-time franchise has been making history for all the wrong reasons lately.

Until Sunday, the NBA had gone 533 days since firing a head coach, the longest such stretch in NBA history. The Phoenix Suns caused that streak to end just three games into the 2017-18 season when they fired Earl Watson, a product of an 0-3 record and a 30-point differential.  Watson’s three game stint into the season is the quickest firing of a head coach in league history.

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Suns were battling with the Spurs and Lakers for conference supremacy, instead of earlier this decade. Now, the only headlines coming out of Phoenix are their best players asking for a rescue mission from the team.

Since their 2010 Western Conference Finals appearance, the Suns have yet to return to the playoffs. In the time since, the Suns have seen two of the greatest players in franchise history walk out the door and averaged 33 wins a year.

Only the Timberwolves and Kings have longer active playoff droughts.

The Suns have been terrible for so long that it’s almost surprising that it took Bledsoe over four years to send out an SOS signal.

So, how did the Suns go from a premier franchise to the most toxic team in the NBA?

Like a bout of flu, the Suns’ problems start up top and trickle down from there.

Robert Sarver is one of the cheapest owners in the NBA. He has never been willing to pay big money to keep talent. The same year that Phoenix won back Steve Nash in free agency, the Suns had a chance to lockdown Joe Johnson to a steal of deal. Johnson’s camp wanted $50 million. Sarver wasn’t willing to go any higher than $45.

Because of a $5 million difference, Johnson ended up getting a max deal from Atlanta and made six All-Star teams in seven years.

Sarver’s penny pinching isn’t limited to just marquee free agents. He’s has also repeatedly sold first round draft picks for cash considerations, unwilling to pay rookie contracts.

Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng and Marcin Gortat are some of the players that the Suns had the draft rights of but ultimately shipped out of town for future picks or cash.

While Sarver’s cheapness has hindered the Suns, the organization has also had a stunning lack of ability to utilize talent.

Teams like the Kings and Knicks might be dysfunctional, taking on bad contracts and whiffing on draft picks, but Phoenix is the closest thing we have to a basketball black hole.

The Suns are a team so broken and malfunctional, they suffocate talent and skill until nothing but mediocre basketball can escape.

In 2015, the Suns had Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic on the same roster. While the Suns ended up missing the playoffs, both Thomas and Dragic’s careers have taken off their trade out of the desert.  

Thomas eventually became an MVP candidate in Boston and Dragic has become the offensive and emotional leader of a Miami Heat team poised to be in the playoffs for the next several seasons.

Even Steve Kerr, on the fast track for the Hall of Fame, couldn’t bring the Suns to the promised land, stepping down as GM and president in 2010 after their elimination in the conference finals.

GM Ryan McDonough also hasn’t exactly stocked the roster with young talent.

Alex Len hasn’t lived up to the expectations that a fifth overall pick should have. The pick looks even worse when it’s taken into account that players like Giannis Anteokounmpo, Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert were all still available.

Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss might eventually develop into quality big men, but as the Suns’ track record shows us, it probably won’t happen until the two are flipped to another team for pennies on the dollar.

So what needs to change for the Suns? Just about everything and there’s not an easy fix.

They need to find a new owner that knows how to operate a basketball team. They need a GM and coach who can assess and utilize the little talent they manage to acquire and keep on time. They need to dig up the bones of the indian burial ground their arena is buried on.

At this point, the Suns might be best-served packing up shop and fleeing the city; a true fresh start. Just make sure Devin Booker gets to a good home.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.