Whatever happens from now on, Ishbia’s Suns will look nothing like the team that made it to the finals in 2021
The latest iteration of the Phoenix Suns was an on-court manifestation of head coach Monty Williams. Quiet, yet cheeky. Uber-ready. ‘Pounding the rock’ as a systematic lifestyle. Stubborn. Head strong. And yet, ultimately too prepared, too stubborn to adjust properly when faced with unexpected moves by opponents.
That iteration of the Suns is gone.
- Owner: Away
- Williams and most of his coaching staff: Away
- All-Star culture-driving point guard: Away
- Fun-loving twins totally loyal to the Williams Way: Away
- Overall, 9 of the 12 players who appeared in the NBA finals: Away
What remains from that Finals team less than two years ago can be counted on one hand: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and Kevin Young.
That is it. Two starters. A backup. And an assistant coach.
And the four-person list could shrink to two by the end of this week. When free agency opens on June 30 at 3:00 PM AZ time, the Phoenix Suns may have just two people left – a player, an assistant coach – from the Western Conference Champs just two seasons ago.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
How quickly we go from insane continuity to sheer insanity.
While the old Suns were a model on the court by Monty Williams, the new Suns might just be a model on the court by new owner Mat Ishbia. Boundless, yet ruthless. Underprepared for the moment. ‘Dunk the bank account’ with fervor. Aggressive. Relentless.
Can’t you just see this new product on the field playing like that?
Committing over half a billion dollars to just three players while trading the entire roster, the entire coaching staff and mortgaging the future to win a championship for the next three years is certainly a bold move. And ruthless.
Owners are by definition impatient. But not as impatient as Mat Ishbia. Most new owners bought their teams at a time of distress and showed patience as the team was rebuilt to relevance.
Ishbia took over a border competitor and committed to spending every possible dollar to make it a sure thing. Except it’s not that easy. Competitors need time to percolate a bit. Build chemistry.
Within six months of buying the team, Ishbia has jettisoned the coaching staff and most of the roster around Devin Booker. He left the front office staff untouched, but regularly has Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas — former coach and executive with New York Knicks with really bad and embarrassing results – talking in his ear. Chris Paul went out of his way to postulate to America that it was “Matt and Isiah” who wanted to go in a different direction to replace him with Bradley Beal and that he had just spoken to team president James Jones the night before the trade . and got no indication from Jones that a trade was on the way down*.
*Chris Paul said he was surprised on Sunday with the trade news, but weren’t we all just living a 24-hour news cycle just five days earlier where Chris had been told something like this would happen very quickly? He wasn’t surprised. Nobody was.
Look, Mat has the best and greatest intentions.
What more can you ask from an owner than to use like crazy? They now have the two highest paid complementary players in the game (Durant is 2nd, Beal is 6th in the entire league), and two of the highest paid assistant coaches in the league.
I can love what Mat Ishbia has done since he took over and I can still rightly call it ruthless.
We’ve seen this before – an owner makes a big splash out of the gate – and it never worked.
Remember, it takes four playoff series wins in one year to win a championship.
Mikhail Prokhorov committed piles of money, traded all of his first-round picks and guaranteed a ring within five years of buying the New Jersey Nets. He got a foursome (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) with 35 All-Star appearances between them. They went on a 10 year winning streak before he quit and sold out.
Steve Ballmer spent like crazy after buying the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. He bought at the peak of the Paul era, quickly switched to new stars as they got old and has spent an insane amount of money as well as the entire Clippers draft capital and young future All Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is trying to build a new champion from scratch. They have won four playoff series in his nine years as owner, one of them with the roster he inherited from Donald Sterling.
Then there’s the guy who bought out Prok in 2019. Joe Tsai helped orchestrate massive cap space in the summer of 2019, and when he took majority ownership of the team, green-lit the acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with that cap space (no draft was involved , only D’Angelo Russell signing and trading). It was when they later added James Harden that draft capital and good young players flew out the window: 3 straight first round picks, 4 pick swaps, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Looks familiar right?
Mat Ishbia does the same thing that Joe Tsai did.
Tsai traded three young starters and 7 first-round picks (four of them traded) to put Durant, Harden and Irving together.
Ishbia traded two young starters and 7 first-round picks (three of them traded) to put Durant, Booker and Beal together.
Will Ishbia’s effort work better than Tsai’s?
I’ll take my popcorn. Can’t wait to find out.
But whatever happens from here on out, we won’t be seeing Monty Williams’ Suns anymore. Instead we will see Mat Ishbia’s Suns. For better or worse.