Camaraderie, Bond at Center of Suns’ Success

Goran Dragic walked out of the Suns’ locker room, less than 24 hours after a win in Sacramento giving them 48 wins on the season without making the playoffs (tied for the second-highest mark in NBA history). Fatigued, but still smiling, he approached the media hoard awaiting him.

“I guess this is it, huh?” he said before exhaling. “This year has been an amazing journey. It was probably my second favorite season to 2010 when we made the Western Conference Finals. Every day we worked to get better and raise the bar higher.

“I’m really going to miss the guys.”

At their core, exit interviews at the end of each season can be somber, even melancholy.

After all, only one of the 30 teams in the league gets the honor of winning an NBA Championship.

Yet, the overriding theme during exit interviews this season had nothing to do with sadness. Certainly not pessimism.

Instead, it was the indelible bond of the team.

Players were disappointed that they fell just short of the playoffs, sure, but their collective sense of pride in each other seemed to trump everything else.

“It still hurts,” P.J. Tucker said with a caveat. “It’s hard to believe it’s over. But I’m proud that we stuck through it all and fought together. As a team we made it through all kinds of adversity. We knew what people were saying about us before the season but we didn’t listen to it. We went out and just played.

“This season was more about proving something to ourselves rather than to anyone else.”

As Tucker mentioned, the Suns battled through several injuries and rough patches, yet still found themselves in a dramatic hunt for a playoff spot. To put this accomplishment in perspective, when the Suns had their starting five (Tucker, Frye, Plumlee, Dragic, Bledsoe) all available and starting in 2013-14, the team was 23-11 (.676).

This winning percentage over the course of the entire season would’ve given the Suns the 4th best record in the West and the 2nd best record in the East.

“I still have a bad taste in my mouth knowing how far we came as a team this year,” said Most Improved Player candidate Gerald Green. “Our heads aren’t down, but it’s still disappointing based on how good of a team I think we are and how we clicked together. We’re going to use this as motivation and come back better.

“I give a lot of credit to the guys on this team for how they stepped up and helped encourage myself and each other all season long.”

With so many diverse personalities on a team, it’s almost unheard of for every player to go out of their way to profess how much they enjoyed their time with one another.

Ultimately, however, that’s what made this Suns team a fan-favorite.

Even Shavlik Randolph – who joined the team midseason – felt the interminable strength of their bond.

“This year has been a major blessing for me,” he said with conviction. “To be part of arguably the most exciting team in the NBA was a privilege and honor.

“The camaraderie between the players and coaching staff was unbelievable.”

Had the Suns listened to the so-called experts before the season, they would’ve bought into their own demise. Rather, an acceptance of a mediocre season most certainly would’ve happened before they even stepped out onto the floor.

But they made a conscious choice to unify together and believe in what they could accomplish together.

And it resulted in one of the most exciting seasons in Suns history.

“It’s bittersweet,” Channing Frye added. “The guys on this team are so close to each other. We’ve shown we can be successful.

“I’ve learned to re-love the game again.”

It’s been said that “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success.”

There is, perhaps, no greater example of that creed than the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns.