By Hector Ibanez
The Phoenix Suns have astonished fans and the media with their stellar season this year.
No one was expecting much from the Suns after finishing 25-57 a year ago and stood in last place in the Western Conference.
When 2-time MVP Steve Nash left Phoenix and signed with bitter rival Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, the general consensus among media and fans was the organization was in the process of rebuilding the team. Head Coach, and former Suns player from ‘86-‘92, Jeff Hornacek had other ideas when General Manager Ryan McDonough brought him in to replace Alvin Gentry in the summer of 2013.
“When we’re up or down 20 points, he’s always keeping calm. That gives us security not to panic and that you can always come back. After practice, he’s working with our players for half an hour, 1 hour. He’s a teaching coach.” Said Suns’ point guard Goran Dragic on first year head coach Jeff Hornacek.
After a three-player trade with the Indiana Pacers, the Suns sent forward Luis Scola to Indiana and received forward Gerald Green, center Miles Plumlee and a lottery first round pick which was used to draft University of Maryland center Alex Len with fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
If Phoenix wasn’t done revamping their roster, they struck a 3-team deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers allowing the Suns to send Jared Dudley to the Clippers and acquiring point guard Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler, who was later waived by the team. Also, Phoenix traded center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards in exchange for 9-year pro Emeka Okafor. The 31 year old, has been sidelined for the majority of the season with a neck injury.
With an average age of 26, nobody gave this team a chance at succeeding. In ESPN’s NBA pre-season Power Rankings, Marc Stein categorized Phoenix at 29 of 30 teams. Proving the naysayers wrong has been the name of the game for the Suns this year.
The season was off to a promising start as they defeated the Portland Trailblazers 104-91 on October 30. Suns point guard Goran Dragic finished with 22 points and 9 assists and Eric Bledsoe ended with 22 points. Phoenix lead by as much as 17 points in the game.
The injury bug struck when the Suns played host the Milwaukee Bucks as Eric Bledsoe sprained his right knee. He would be out for 2 and half months. Sitting at 20-12 at the time of Bledsoe’s injury, people once again doubted they’ll recover from losing a key part of the team. Not only did they disprove their theories wrong, but the team stepped up in a big way. Most notably, forward Gerald Green came in to fill the void left by Bledsoe.
During the campaign, the Phoenix Suns exceed expectations when they swept the season series against the Indiana Pacers. In their first meeting from January 22, the Suns blew out the pacers with the score of 124-100 in which their biggest lead was 28. In their second encounter from meeting from January 30, Phoenix Traveled to Indiana and prevailed 102-94. In the game, Dragic lead all scorers with 28 points.
Phoenix has now won over 40 games, doubling their win total from a year ago, and are in the midst of a playoff run.
“We have unbelievable chemistry on the floor and off the floor. Everybody is liking each other. When you start winning everything is nicer. Your personal life, you’re happy to go to practice” said Dragic on the team’s success.
With all their recent success, speculation has started about awards. After Phoenix’s massive turnaround this season, Jeff Hornecek has risen to be the frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award. Also, Markieff Morris’ stellar play has made him a contender for the Sixth man of the Year award. Averaging 17 points a game, Morris has been a giant boost for the Suns.
With a handful of games left, the Phoenix Suns will look to fight their way into the playoffs.