All of that was bad enough. But the coup de grâce came Sunday afternoon, when guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted, “I Dont wanna be here.”
I Dont wanna be here— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2) October 22, 2017
An hour later, head coach Earl Watson was fired.
There’s little evidence to suggest the move, which was first reported by ESPN, was the wrong one. Watson had gone 33-85 since taking over for Jeff Hornacek midseason two years ago, and the absurdly poor performances to start the season — particularly on defense — quickly took what was already going to be a long season and made it even longer. Even just a few days into the season, there were already rampant rumblings around the league this weekend that Watson’s job status was tenuous — and that was before both Saturday’s blowout loss and Bledsoe blowing up basketball Twitter on Sunday.
The obvious question, though, is where do the Suns go from here? The answer, unfortunately for Phoenix, is far less obvious.
The Suns have been stuck on a treadmill since a stunning first season under General Manager Ryan McDonough in 2014, when Phoenix, expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA and competing for a top spot in the lottery, instead went 48-34 and nearly made the playoffs. The Suns have steadily gotten worse.
Signing Isaiah Thomas to what turned out to be an incredible contract that summer — and, at the same time, creating a three-headed monster at point guard between Thomas, Bledsoe and Goran Dragic that left all three unhappy – eventually led to Thomas being dealt at the February trade deadline for Brandon Knight as part of a multi-team deal. That was an ill-fated deal that has since seen Knight completely fall apart in Phoenix and Thomas go on to be a star in Boston (and that’s not including the Lakers’ pick Phoenix sent out in that same deal, a pick that is unprotected this year and likely will result in a top five or six pick going to either Philadelphia or Boston).
In addition to Knight’s struggles, the team has now gone through two coaches in just over two seasons and has three former top 10 picks (Alex Len from 2013 and both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss from 2016) currently coming off the bench for what was already expected to be one of the NBA’s worst teams even before the events of the past week.
Now, to be fair, the Suns did draft Devin Booker with the 13th overall pick in 2015 — a move that looks to have delivered a future all-star shooting guard to Phoenix. And it is far too early to make any judgments about Josh Jackson, the fourth overall pick in June’s NBA draft who is already starting next to Booker on the wing.
But even if both of those pieces pan out, it’s hard to look at this Suns team as being anywhere closer than three years away from being a real contender. That’s especially true in the Western Conference, where Phoenix has miles to go before even getting in the same ballpark as teams such as Portland, Denver and Utah — all young teams that are already on the fringes of playoff contention or better.
Add in that the team’s owner, Robert Sarver, is seen as someone who isn’t thrilled about the prospect of spending big money on a proven coach, and this could wind up being a situation in which Phoenix takes another chance on an inexperienced coach, like it did with Watson, to go with its equally inexperienced roster.
Watson found himself as the fall guy Sunday after a dismal opening week in Phoenix. And while it was a more than justifiable decision, it isn’t going to change the fact that the pain has only just begun for the Suns this season.