The Suns were the surprise team in the NBA last season, winning 48 games and finishing just outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
This year, whether due to the new pieces not fitting as well or due to the other teams simply seeing them coming, Phoenix is off to a start of just 12-11 — still good enough for the eighth playoff spot out West, but far below internal expectations.
The Suns have managed to go just 6-5 at home, and the team’s president of basketball operations, Lon Babby, believes at least part of that is due to a lack of home court advantage.
Babby joined Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s “Bickley and Marotta” show on Thursday and talked about the Suns fans.
“We don’t have a home-court advantage for a whole number of reasons right now and that’s hurting us. We’ve played well enough on the road. I think we’re 6-6 on the road but only 6-5 at home. That (Clippers) game in particular drained us for the Miami game but that’s the NBA schedule. … I think we have a certain bonding and camaraderie on the road.
“I think our team stays more focused when we’re in a hostile environment. And quite candidly, the games here – I think we’re putting on a great product – but the games here are not as well attended as I would like and the fans aren’t, you know, boisterous enough in my mind. You go other places and they can raise the level of their team’s performance. That’s our problem. It’s not the fans’ problem. It’s a reality that we haven’t generated the kind of – I mean, I remember last year, the Oklahoma City game, the fans won that game for us. It was just electric in the arena.”
I spent more than five years covering Suns games while living in Phoenix, and can attest to the fact that what Babby is saying is 100 percent accurate.
While Suns fans would turn out in big numbers and get up for games against perceived rivals like the Lakers and the Spurs, the reality is it’s a challenge to get that kind of animosity out of the home crowd on anywhere near a consistent basis.
Just as Babby was careful not to slam the team’s fans when making his comments, I would lean the same way. It’s up to the organization to put a product on the floor that inspires a level of love and protection out of the hometown crowd, and until a tradition of winning is built around one or more players the fans can get behind, it’s going to be a struggle to build the kind of local advantage that the team may ultimately be seeking.