When the Suns decided to rest a perfectly healthy Goran Dragic for the team’s last two games, there was really no question as to the reasons why.
Phoenix is all the way out of the playoff picture, and has been for some time. Winning games is no longer the priority for these Suns, while player development, in the form of giving guys like rookie point guard Kendall Marshall heavy minutes, despite there being better options available on the roster, is the focus moving forward.
That’s the altruistic version of what’s happening. Those more cynical, or perhaps even more practical, may view the Suns’ decision to play lineups featuring nowhere near the team’s best players as a way to tank games to finish the season, thereby earning a better chance of landing a higher pick in this summer’s NBA draft.
That notion, that the organization may not be as invested in winning as it was to start the season, isn’t sitting well with some of the team’s players.
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.”
The one thing that’s unquestionably true is that if there is full-fledged tanking going on, it’s at an organizational level only. Players are simply not hard-wired to go at half-speed, and most are not going to be OK with losing games for any reason, much less because the team isn’t willing to field lineups featuring its best players.
The silver lining in Phoenix is that this is exactly what you would want to hear from the guys in the locker room, especially when considering who should be retained for next year as the team continues its rebuilding effort.