Suns trying to rebound after difficult season


Courtesy of Ash Carter, photo by Tim D. Godbee

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter meets with Alex Len of the Phoenix Suns at the Pentagon, Dec 3, 2015.

Zach Stilgenbauer, Sports Editor, Scottsdale Chronicle

The last few years have been a roller coaster for Phoenix Suns fans. In the 2013-14 season, the Suns played an entertaining brand of basketball under promising new coach Jeff Hornacek on the way to a surprising 48-win season. A roster filled with several young and unheralded players, such as fan favorite and star point guard Goran Dragic, nearly made the playoffs and was expected to compete in the future.

The following season, the Suns added point guard Isaiah Thomas to a backcourt that already included Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in hopes that they could play two point guards at the same time for the majority of the game. This offseason addition backfired due to chemistry issues and injuries and the Suns slowly began to fall apart from there, culminating in last season’s 23-59 record. Hornacek was fired in the middle of the season, and Thomas led the Boston Celtics into the postseason.

Today, many of the Suns once thought to be promising pieces do not remain on the roster. Hornacek was renlaced by former player Earl Watson, while Dragic now plays for the Miami Heat. Brandon Knight was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks and the wheeling-and-dealing helped the team net three first round picks in return. It appeared that the Suns were once again starting over and aiming to reload with fresh, young talent.

But now, at the dawn of the 2016-2017 season, the Suns finally appear to be loaded with that young and fresh talent. Shooting guard Devin Booker, who is quickly becoming the face of the franchise, made first team All-Rookie last season and is now being inserted into the starting line-up for the start of his second season.

“I didn’t know it would be this soon, but I have to put in that work to be one [a starter],” Booker said. “Every day, I’ve always worked like I was going to be that player. Now I’m getting that opportunity, so I’m trying to take advantage of it.”

With Booker being the star from last year’s draft, the Suns look to continue their recent draft success with their two top 10 draft selections from this year, forwards Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Both players are raw but have tremendous potential due to their combination of size and athleticism. Head Coach Earl Watson had this to say about these rookie’s roles for the upcoming season.

“I think [Bender and Chriss] have to have a contributing role,” Watson told Tom Leander and Tom Chambers during Media Day.

Along with the trio of Bender, Booker and Chriss, the Suns also have T.J. Warren, a North Carolina State product who should have an increased role in 2016-17. Warren, 23, is slated to be the starter at small forward with the recent news of P.J. Tucker undergoing back surgery that will sideline him until sometime in November.

Center Alex Len, a former top-five pick from the University of Maryland, is also expected to garner a bigger role after making a career-high 46 starts last season. The 23-year-old Ukrainian is expected eventually to take over for 34-year-old incumbent Tyson Chandler.

The Suns are trying to rise again in the Valley of the Sun. With NBA veterans Chandler, Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley augmented a talented young core, Talking Stick Resort Arena should be home to an improved team in 2016-17. The Suns kick off the regular season on Oct. 26 at home against the Sacramento Kings.