Suns point guard Tyler Ulis reacts to Friday’s home loss to the Magic.
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Kent Somers and Jay Dieffenbach discuss the Suns’ decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season and the possibility of them getting UCLA’s Lonzo Ball? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick tells us why the Spurs will be hard-pressed to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
USA TODAY Sports
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HoopsHype writer Alex Kennedy discusses some of the players who will be free agents this summer.
USA TODAY Sports
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Suns center Alan Williams, who scored 14 points and had 11 rebounds, explains why he thinks he should have played better.
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Portland Trail Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum discuss how they were affected by playing with Suns coach Earl Watson, following Sunday’s Portland win over Phoenix. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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Suns guard Devin Booker discusses his game-winning play to beat the Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday. Doug Haller/azcentral sports
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azcentral sports’ Sarah McLellan and Doug Haller discuss the Suns’ loss to the Lakers, tanking for best possible draft pick and the Pac-12 basketball semifinals.
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Suns guard Devin Booker reacts to Thursday night’s loss to the Lakers.
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azcentral sports’ Jay Dieffenbach and Dan Bickley break down the NBA MVP race and a possible reunion in the Cardinals defensive backfield.
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Jose Calderon made 415K for two hours and he didn’t even play. Veuer’s Nick Cardona explains why.
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Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams watches his mother, Jeri Williams, sworn in as Phoenix police chief in Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Paul Coro/azcentral sports)
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Hosted by head coach Earl Watson, who says the Suns “embrace and celebrate our youth.” Video: Phoenix Suns
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Tyler Ulis on Suns’ loss to Magic
Shot Clock: Eric Bledsoe is out, maybe UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is in?
Why the Spurs desperately need the No. 1 seed
Big-name free agents this summer
Alan Williams on why he was disappointed in loss to Kings
Blazers guards Lillard, McCollum on Suns coach Watson
Suns’ Devin Booker on buzzer-beater to beat Mavericks
Shot Clock: Suns-Lakers, tanking, Pac-12 picks
Devin Booker on loss to Lakers
Shot Clock: NBA MVP debate, Cardinals DBs
NBA player makes $415,000 for two hours
Alan Williams watching his mother’s police chief ceremony
Suns ’embrace youth’ in WeArePHX ‘Momentum’ video
There’s been an unfortunate addition to the NBA lexicon, a word that started out as insidious and insulting, only to earn an accepted place in the sport’s dictionary.
Tanking. And the Suns have finally embraced this dastardly game.
Entering the final month of the NBA season, the Suns have shut down three healthy players, including two members of their starting lineup. They say they need to test and grow their younger players. They are also protecting their haul of ping pong balls in the upcoming NBA draft lottery at the expense of team morale and fan experience.
Good for them.
In theory, the practice stinks. When the 76ers embarked on “The Process” in 2013, they were blasted for their long-term tanking strategies. They won 71 games in the next four years, two fewer than the Warriors won last season alone. They became a pariah in NBA circles, a team that was openly mocking the integrity of athletic competition.
Now, it’s everywhere. The Lakers are doing it, shutting down two players (Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov) who are on the books for well over $100 million in the next four seasons. The Magic are doing it, although not nearly as obviously as some. Certainly not like the Suns.
The decision to stop playing Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight came with an airtight alibi. The Suns needed to find out what they really have in backup center Alan Williams and rookie point guard Tyler Ulis. That experiment has yielded very useful, encouraging information.
But the decision to shut down Bledsoe has created internal friction. Bledsoe wasn’t happy about the decision. Head coach Earl Watson laid the blame on management, telling the media that no coaching staff would hold back a player like Bledsoe. And when the short-handed team needed Knight to come out of mothballs to back up Ulis for one game, he simply refused to take the court, citing back spasms.
That’s garbage. A player who is earning over $12 million a season, a player who hasn’t played since Feb. 15 and is allegedly one of the team’s hardest workers, should’ve found a way to give his head coach some minutes.
But that’s not the issue. Knight needs a change of scenery and will be traded in the offseason. Bledsoe said he supports management’s decision, although that might change if the Suns are protecting their lottery status to draft his replacement. And I’m hearing that everyone in management was fully behind the strategy to shut down Bledsoe, from Watson to General Manager Ryan McDonough to owner Robert Sarver.
Watson’s protest was only a ploy to protect the room, to cushion Bledsoe’s disappointment, to let the players know he’s on their side.
There could be damaging consequences. The 2016-17 Suns have grown considerably over the course of the season. Bledsoe and Devin Booker have found a comfortable co-existence. Valley fans have been attracted to the team’s youth movement and fighting spirit, a group that has produced a number of memorable conquests.
Shutting down Bledsoe could conceivably change the way the locker room feels about management’s commitment to winning, and to them. Former Suns star Dan Majerle said you simply can’t ask a big-time competitor to shut it down and watch games from the bench, only to ask them for 100 percent at all times when the new season fires back up in October.
Alas, that’s a risk the Suns have to take. They won three of their final four games in 2015-16, a stupid act of defiance that cost them draft status near the end of a 23-win season. This year, a strong finish could set them back as many as four slots in the draft. Remember, as much as you like the makeup of the current team, McDonough admitted they are two elite players away from real contention.
They need to finish the job in 2016-17, losing as much as possible down the stretch.
The concept is nauseating. Both Lakers coach Luke Walton and Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek are among many who believe that tanking angers the basketball gods, inviting bad karma into your locker room. Ticket buyers can’t be all that thrilled, either. And NBA Commissioner Adam Silver better find a solution before his regular season becomes a total joke.
But it’s also become common and standard practice, and it’s the only way for downtrodden teams to rise out of NBA quicksand, finding the right player that can change a franchise overnight.
Sarver has taken a lot of heat over the years. ESPN once ranked him 120th out of 122 owners in North American sports. His business decisions haven’t always gone over well, from refusing to pay Joe Johnson to selling off draft picks. But this decision is appropriate and intelligent, regardless of the feelings that might get hurt in the process.
It’s about time the Suns get hardcore about winning, and not just making money.
Reach Bickley at [email protected] or 602-444-8253. Follow him on twitter.com/dan.bickley. Listen to “Bickley and Marotta” weekdays from 12-2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.