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Humbled Suns spare no effort in quickly ushering in a new era

Humbled Suns spare no effort to quickly usher in a new era

POSTED: Aug 22, 2013 9:54 AM ET

By Jeff Caplan

BY Jeff Caplan


New uniforms jibe with the Suns' transformation, which includes a new coach and new GM.

This is the latest in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2013-14. For a look at other teams in the series, click here.

It seems an eternity ago when cocksure owner Robert Sarver was all smiles, clapping and hooting from his floor seat as his juggernaut of a basketball team served the best entertainment in the league.

Even after Mike D'Antoni packed his seven-second offense for New York, Steve Nash and the Suns had one last hurrah in 2010 with a third trip to the Western Conference finals in six seasons. That one ended in defeat like the other two. Since then the Suns, pardon the pun, have set.

Robert Sarver Interview

After not selling out a single game in 2011-12 and finishing at .500 (33-33), Nash was traded to the Lakers. The post-Nash era has buried fan interest like a sand storm. It was so bad last season that the club offered a money-back guarantee for their Dec. 6 game against the Dallas Mavericks. The promotion guaranteeing fans a good time or a ticket refund was the first of its kind in the NBA. Dallas won 97-94.

Sarver has been humbled, acknowledging that many of the team's poor salary-cap decisions came when he was involved. He's taking a back seat to new general manager Ryan McDonough, 33, a first-time general manager who cut his teeth for a decade beside Danny Ainge in Boston.

McDonough hired former Suns guard Jeff Hornacek as coach and has shaken up a stale roster. Phoenix is heading into a new day, but one in which the sun might not yet fully shine.

Where they've been

It's been four years since the Suns had a winning season, bottoming out with last season's 25 victories. The club fired coach Alvin Gentry mid-season and controversially promoted Lindsey Hunter, who brought no boost in performance.

Inside the NBA: Suns Hire Hornacek

The piecemeal dismantling of the D'Antoni order was sad to see with Joe Johnson chasing the money in 2005, Shawn Marion shipped to the Heat in the nonsensical trade for Shaquille O'Neal in 2008, and D'Antoni himself checking out to coach the Knicks. Amar'e Stoudemire was sent to New York in a July 2010 sign-and-trade and Nash's time as the face of the franchise came to an end last summer with the stunning trade to the team's Pacific Division-nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Perhaps with fewer injuries and a little luck, D'Antoni's run-and-gun Suns would have won a title that they came so close to playing for in 2005 and 2006 and even 2007, when the Spurs took them out in the second round in six controversial games with the help of a Robert Horry hip check.

Where they are now

Starting over. It's a fresh start with a new GM, coach and even uniforms. McDonough has done about as much with the roster as possible in just a few months on the job. He drafted Maryland big man Alex Len and promising Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin and converted Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick into potential-filled guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler.

Luis Scola, a poor fit for Hornacek's up-tempo offense, was dealt to Indiana for athletic journeyman Gerald Green and project center Miles Plumlee.

At first glance, the Suns put a pretty decent starting five on the floor: Goran Dragic, Bledsoe, Butler, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, who missed the last two months of the season with a right foot sprain. Off the bench is a supporting cast that includes Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris, Goodwin, Green and Kendall Marshall. How the organization handles troubled forward Michael Beasley remains uncertain.

The Suns are hopeful that 6-foot-11, 3-point threat Channing Frye is able to return from a heart problem that sidelined him all of last season.

Biggest hurdle

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Cohesion. Hornacek got off to a good start implementing his schemes thanks to the Morris twins and Tucker joining Goodwin and Marshall on the Suns' Summer League team in Las Vegas. The group advanced to the title game, losing to Golden State.

The most significant issue when talking cohesion remains Beasley, a problem on and off the court. He had a terrible first season in Phoenix and in May he was investigated for sexual assault. Earlier this month he was arrested after being pulled over for speeding when officers caught a whiff of marijuana.

The last thing Hornacek needs in a challenging maiden season is a bad apple contaminating his locker room and sabotaging his team on the floor with lack of effort and discipline. Beasley still has two years and $12 million -- $9 million guaranteed -- left on his contract. The organization has remained quiet since his latest arrest.

Otherwise, this club has the appearances of one ready to work and begin to pull a proud franchise out of the ditch.

Where they're going

It's not asking much for Phoenix to go well beyond the 25 wins of last season, but that doesn't mean they'll climb in the standings. The West is exceedingly strong up top, and all but Utah among last season's lottery teams can honestly claim that they're better.

The Suns won't make the playoffs, but this group should put a better product on the floor and help recharge a fan base with hope of brighter days to come.

Jeff Caplan has covered the NBA since 2005. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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