Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic wrote:For a good NBA team, the agenda is so simple to decipher and make universal.
Just win, baby.
It turns to just win, maybe, when seasons turn complicated for teams like the Suns, who could finish with their worst season since their inaugural season 44 years ago.
At this low point, with nine remaining games, mounting losses are just fine with many fans and many in the organization who have an eye on draft lottery odds to reverse the franchise’s three-year spiral.
Some loyalists could never wish for losses, question how much a weak draft class will help or just disapprove of what a losing atmosphere does to young players.
The Suns players are the most united front. Their futures depend on performance. Some do not have certain returns in Phoenix or even the league. Most players are wired to compete, albeit now with a resigned outlook.
Players are disappointed when the US Airways Center crowd turns purple and gold for a game against the Lakers but understand their fans’ conflicted support in the seaon’s final weeks.
“I understand it because they want us to turn around as fast as possible,” Suns co-captain Jared Dudley said. “At the same time, I think the team with the worst record hasn’t even won the No. 1 pick for a few years (2004). At the same time, individual players are playing for their jobs, playing for next year, playing for reputation. We have to finish it out the right way. Hopefully, we win some games. You can’t always count on making shots. But playing hard and together you can do.”
The timing and the idea of holding out Goran Dragic, the Suns’ best player coming off his best game, for the past two nights said something to fans and players about the lack of importance to win for a last-place team. Dragic did not want to sit out. He was told to sit and it is not like when a 38-year-old Steve Nash did it to save his body for a playoff push.
The Dragic move privately disturbed some Suns who have been trying to adhere to the mantras for all-out effort, no excuses and a winning culture.
The Suns known for high effort — Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Luis Scola and Shannon Brown — have seen recent time reductions. Dragic sat out two games. Tucker did not play in a March 15 game when he was healthy. Scola averaged 13 minutes on a three-game trip that included his Houston homecoming. Brown logged eight minutes in a four-week span.
“It’s a business,” Tucker said of holding out Dragic at Utah, who could help the Suns to a second draft lottery pick if they pass the Los Angeles Lakers. “All that stuff doesn’t matter. We’re going to play regardless of who they play or don’t play.
“I watch college and nobody there could impact the team like what people think. There are no game-changers. That’s so irrelevant to guys in the locker room.”
The post All-Star break missive has changed dramatically. The Suns had a wide-eyed goal of going 19-10 after the break but passed that loss total a week ago.
“We don’t look at it as tanking because we’ve still got to go to practice every day,” Suns co-captain Jermaine O’Neal said. “If you go out there, you really are trying to win. It’s a tough period with nine games to go and everybody wants that draft pick. I guess since the women’s team (the Mercury won the WNBA draft lottery’s No. 1 pick). I wasn’t even here and I heard that a lot last year — tanking the season to get Brittney Griner. If you’re going to do it, then that’s what you do it for because she changes the outlook of that team right away. I don’t believe any college player on the men’s side can have the same effect as a Brittney Griner.
“Based off everything you hear, nobody in the draft could make this team a contender right away. You have to protect your entity.”
Dragic was told that he was being rested to give rookies Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett opportunities and because he could use the rest for how intensely he has played and his upcoming summer duty for the Slovenian national team. Marshall could use the time after sitting most of the year, and Garrett merits a chance but Dragic had no health issues and two games in March will not make much of a difference on the European Championship in September.
“You’re not giving up on the game but you’re telling one of your players who plays a lot of minutes to take the night off,” Dudley said. “I expected Kendall to start a couple games just because why not? You’re out of it. Just see where he’s at with his development. I could definitely see that people are saying the Suns are trying to do this or that, but people in this locker room are giving their best and trying to win every game.”
So if the Spurs were fined for Pop resting his players, why aren't the Suns being fined for not playing a healthy Dragic?