The Phoenix Suns have had one of the most chaotic beginnings to an NBA season in recent memory. Last Tuesday, they finalized a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks to trade point guard Eric Bledsoe for center Greg Monroe and a first round pick, and a second round pick, bringing a dramatic chain of events to a close.
The saga began on October 22nd at 3:44 p.m. when Bledsoe tweeted: “I Dont wanna be here.” This short, cryptic sentence sent shockwaves through the NBA. Bledsoe, who had been involved in trade rumors in the past, appeared to be requesting a trade through Twitter. At that point, the Suns had already set the record for worst opening game loss in NBA history and were sitting at 0-3 after one week of play. Oddly enough, according to Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, Bledsoe attempted to convince everybody that they had misinterpreted his message. He claimed that the tweet was in reference to his wanting to leave a hair salon. McDonough dismissed this justification and announced that Bledsoe would not be with the team going forward.
That same day, the Suns fired head coach Earl Watson. Watson, whose firing was the earliest in a season in league history, coached the team to a 33-85 record during his one and a half season tenure. Jay Triano, who began the season as an assistant, has assumed head coaching duties.
With Triano at the helm and Bledsoe watching the games from home, the Suns were able to temporarily put their disastrous first week behind them. They won four of their next five games, including a resounding six-point victory away at the Washington Wizards, and got to a .500 record on the season. In the meantime, McDonough was searching for potential trade partners to deal Bledsoe.
It is unclear exactly what other offers were on the table, but the Suns had seemingly lost any sort of leverage in trade negotiations after McDonough announced with conviction that Bledsoe was no longer going to be on the team. In the end, the return on the trade was lackluster. Monroe is a 27 year old center out of place in a changing NBA that no longer values back-to-the-basket big men. He is unlikely to figure into any sort of long term plans for the Suns who are clearly in rebuilding mode with seven players under the age of 23. According to ESPN, they are already looking to trade Monroe or buy him out of his contract if those negotiations are unsuccessful. The first round pick they acquired is not going to be especially valuable as it is protected and the Bucks are a virtual lock to make the playoffs this season.
After refusing to trade him for years, the Suns ultimately got little in return for Bledsoe, who averaged 21 points and six assists per game a season ago. The direction of this team is unclear and the early season success is long gone at this point. The Suns have lost four of their last five games and now sit at 13th in the Western Conference. To make matters worse, their young core is struggling. Point guard Tyler Ulis, power forward Dragan Bender, and fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft Josh Jackson are all shooting under 40 percent from the field this season. Marquese Chriss, whom many expected to compete for Most Improved Player this season, has seen his points per game drop to a lowly 7.2.
Of course, the one bright spot for this team that has not been to the playoffs since the days of Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire is star shooting guard Devin Booker. The Kentucky product just turned 21 years old and is averaging 22.3 points per game this season while hitting over 44 percent of his field goals.
With Bledsoe out, Booker is now the undisputed face of franchise. That being said, the Suns need to find some direction soon. With a contract that expires in 2019, there is no reason why a player of Booker’s talent would want to remain in such a disorganized situation. The Suns cannot risk allowing their dysfunction to continue much longer.
Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP