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Column: It’s Time for the Suns to Punt the Season and Reload

Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek talks to forward Markieff Morris.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

The hits just keep on coming for the Phoenix Suns. Days after Markieff Morris was suspended by the team for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek, they lost Eric Bledsoe for an extended period of time during a game they dropped at home against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Furthermore, Jeff Hornacek’s job is now reportedly “under immediate threat.”

Fortunately for the Suns, the crisis they’re going through could get them back on track after making several ill-fated decisions that attempted to speed up the rebuilding process that started with the departure of Steve Nash.

Looking at the three problems separately, it’s obvious which one is the most simple to fix. As unfortunate as it sounds, firing Hornacek is a relatively easy decision. He’s not a bad coach, but he’s struggled to keep the locker room under control and there’s nothing special about his schemes on either end. He’s replaceable and is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. If the players have stopped responding to him — and the lack of effort in recent games suggests they have — he should be let go.

The Suns’ front office could then either go for a big-name hire right away to continue in the path they are now or take the rest of the season before committing to someone else. The latter seems to be the best course of action for a team that could make some moves before the deadline and has cap space to add pieces in the offseason. Going with an interim coach would also take away the pressure to compete, which would allow the franchise to see what it has in a couple of young players while Bledsoe is out.

Devin Booker is just 19 years old. He needs to fill out his frame and improve in most facets of the game, but he’s already a deadly shooter. He was billed as the best marksman in this rookie class and so far hasn’t disappointed. He’s shot 20-for-34 from outside for a sizzling 58 percent. While he’s mostly a spot-up shooter at this point, he’s flashed the ability to shoot off screens, off the dribble and as a trailer on the break:

Archie Goodwin doesn’t have the same upside as Booker, as he has no outside shot to speak of, but could become a solid backup going forward. After all he’s just 21 years old and has proved to be a great athlete with the ability to make plays in the open court and get to the rim thanks to his body control:

Minutes at shooting guard have been hard to come by because of the way the roster is constructed. Now that there’s a chance to give these two prospects playing time, Phoenix should take advantage.

If the Suns do decide to go with an interim coach who will push for a youth movement, the next step is obvious. They need to get rid of Markieff Morris to complete the eradication of locker-room cancers that started last trade deadline.

The Suns have been trying to get value back for Morris, a solid player on a good contract, since he demanded a trade in the offseason. It might be time to let go of that hope and simply move him for a young player or a low pick. Whatever they can get for him is better than having him around creating distractions. In the short term it’d decrease the team’s talent level, but it’d also give the next coach the chance to start out without baggage.

These moves all point towards getting worse in the short term, which doesn’t seem to be what the Suns want. It’s understandable for the general manager who built this roster to push to stay competitive. Despite posting a 12-20 record they’re still just two games away from the eighth seed and a playoff berth, something they’ve chased for the past two years. The Utah Jazz are missing key players, the Sacramento Kings are unpredictable and the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves are all young teams that are rebuilding.

Yet a closer look at the standings suggests this is the perfect season to bottom out. The East is suddenly competitive, with only two terrible teams in that conference. Out West, only the Los Angeles Lakers are a disaster. If the Suns go into tanking mode they could realistically land a top five pick in next year’s draft. The eighth seed, meanwhile, means a sweep at the hands of the Warriors.

The best part about tanking the season is that they don’t have to tear it all down. They can keep Tyson Chandler and Tucker for leadership while developing young players and adding a top-flight talent in the draft. They’ll have enough room under the salary cap to offer a max contract to a free agent or add some quality veterans. Their reboot would only take one season.

Right now it looks like general manager Ryan McDonough has two choices. He can either refuse to face the fact that the roster is fundamentally flawed and go into next season with the same group, young players with little experience and a mid-round draft pick, or he can do it with a developing young core, no baggage and a high draft pick. The right decision seems obvious, at least from the outside. Whether McDonough has the inclination or even the autonomy to pursuit that route remains unclear.

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