PHOENIX (AP) — Maybe, just maybe, the worst is behind the Phoenix Suns.
Their 50th anniversary season was awful, even worse than the two that came before.
For the eighth season in a row, the Suns won’t make the playoffs. The win totals the past three seasons: 23, 24 and – this year 21. That 21-61 mark is the worst since Phoenix went 16-66 in its inaugural 1968-69 season.
The season devolved in the final months, with injuries depleting the already exceedingly young roster, leaving a contingent of G League transfers to fill out the lineup in the final days. The Suns lost a franchise-record 15 straight in one stretch.
Now, everyone involved is insisting, enough is enough.
“I’m done with not making the playoffs,” rising star Devin Booker said as the players cleaned out their lockers and conducted exit interviews Wednesday. “I’m serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that’s putting pressure on myself, I’m going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn’t happen again.”
His goal is “turning the franchise around and getting it back how it used to be.”
“You watch the highlights of Barkley, Nash and them and how alive the arena was,” Booker said. “So one of my goals is to get it back that way.”
Booker, T.J. Warren and rookie Josh Jackson form the core of the young talent the Suns have accumulated. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss could be part of it, too, although their development has been uneven.
But Phoenix needs experienced players, and not just old guys to cheer on from the sidelines.
“The voice in the locker room or the voice when they’re teaching carries a lot more weight when the person is contributing,” interim coach Jay Triano said, “not just there as a teacher. … They need those guys on the court to follow.”
General manager Ryan McDonough agrees the time is come to ratchet up investment. To begin with, Phoenix has the most ping pong balls in the May 15 lottery and a chance at the No. 1 overall pick. At worst, the Suns will draft No. 4. They will have one, and maybe two, more first-round picks.
“We’ll be one of five or six teams with more than $10 million in cap space,” McDonough said, “and I think we have the ability to create significantly more if we want it.”
So the assets are there if they can be translated into needed players, and not teenagers, except that early first-round pick.
Three years of concentrating on acquiring this young talent is long enough, McDonough said.
“If you go beyond that I think the losing starts to set in and the guys start to become accustomed to that and the bar is lower,” he said. “Next year we’re going to try to raise the bar. We’re going to try to raise our standards. We won’t be as young. We won’t have nearly as many young players as we had last year.”
A couple of things to consider after the Suns’ miserable season.
COACH SEARCH: McDonough said the search will begin immediately for a head coach with a list of five to 10 candidates in mind.
Triano would like the job. He took over after Earl Watson was fired just three games into the season.
McDonough said he would like to have a coach in place before the draft combine and lottery in mid-May.
BOOKER’S CONTRACT: The Suns would like to have Booker sign a maximum contract extension in the offseason and he’s open to the idea.
Triano knows that Booker is tired of losing and believes things will get better for his budding star with more experienced talent around him.
“He looks around the locker room and sees what it is and he knows that it’s time,” Triano said. “I think the growth that he’s gone through individually as a leader and the capability he’s been able to show as a scorer has set the tone to make this an attractive place and to have him be the focal part of that. People around the league want to play with Devin Booker.”
KNIGHT IN WAITING: One of the biggest needs for the Suns is at point guard, and they’ve had one watching from the sidelines all season.
Brandon Knight, left over from the old days of three point guards with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, missed the entire season with a torn ACL. Once stuck at the end of the bench with no playing time when he was able to go, he’s being talked about as the starter alongside Booker next year.
“As a competitor, as a winner, I just love to play the game,” Knight said. “I had the game taken away from me by the injuries and due to other things. … I’m just trying to help the Suns in any way I can.”