The Phoenix Suns are the NBA’s surprise team of the season so far. They’ve already racked up 17 wins, despite certain sports websites predicting that they’d win 19 the entire year (note: I hesitated to even link to that season preview, but when you’re wrong, you’re wrong). Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are a fantastic backcourt duo. Gerald Green looks like a complete player nowadays. Generally speaking, as the fifth seed in the West, they’re just good.
We weren’t the only ones who thought they’d stink, of course — especially when they traded away their best proven player, Marcin Gortat, and their other best proven player, Luis Scola, and received young, raw talent (Miles Plumlee) and draft picks in return. All of their dealings resulted in possibly four first round draft choices this offseason, and with the 2014 class as loaded as it is, it seemed obvious that the Suns were gearing up for next year instead of playing in this one.
Except the Suns totally weren’t tanking, you guys. At least not according to their general manager, Ryan McDonough, formerly of the Boston Celtics (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports):
For all the suspicions about the Suns chasing a draft lottery tanking strategy, McDonough made it clear to Babby and Sarver that he’d never be a part of it. In working with the Celtics, in studying the NBA, McDonough had learned that pursuing pingpong balls isn’t a strategy to get out of the lottery – it’s typically a ticket to return year after year.
When the Celtics missed on Kevin Durant and Greg Oden in the 2007 lottery with the fifth overall pick, Ainge had the assets to make deals for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics had cultivated young prospects and gathered picks to make the trades. McDonough was part of it all, as he had been the failed free-agent courtships to come play in those cold New England winters. For all of the Celtics’ tradition and history, Phoenix has been a far more appealing professional and lifestyle destination for players.
“To have a season where everything goes wrong and you’re just hoping for the pingpong balls to bounce your way – and then hope you draft the right guy, who then turns into a great player – that’s not something I’m comfortable doing and Jeff, Lon and ownership wanted no part of it,” McDonough told Yahoo Sports.
Something about hearing this after the Suns start off 17-10 rings a little hollow. Might we have heard a completely different tune had the Suns were 10-17, or 0-27? It’s easy to believe in the process and say, yep, we planned this all along! when the team is winning. Hindsight is 20/20.
But McDonough has a point. Tanking is a low-enjoyment, high-risk strategy. And hopefully, the NBA will at some point implement a strategy that makes pinning your hopes on ping pong ball dreams a thing of the past.
Photo via Getty