San Antonio Spurs see Phoenix Suns’ rise as inspiration

San Antonio Spurs see Phoenix Suns’ rise as inspiration
San Antonio Spurs see Phoenix Suns’ rise as inspiration

Nineteen months ago, the Phoenix Suns arrived in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida to wrap up the pandemic-punctuated 2019-20 season.

They were a team with nothing to lose.

The suns were 28-39 years old and on their way to a tenth consecutive post-season campaign.

Everything that has happened in the short time since then – eight straight wins at the end of the season in Orlando, followed by an NBA Finals trip last summer – should draw attention to other recovery teams across the league.

Including one in San Antonio.

“Seeing teams like Phoenix rise from what they were gives us a lot of hope,” said Spurs guard Devin Vassell.

The Suns visited the AT&T Center on Monday night and brought with them an unlikely blueprint from which to rebuild a title contender.

After the Suns baffled the league en route to the club’s first final game since 1992-93 before losing six games to Milwaukee, the Suns have continued to burn rubber this season in the Western Conference.

Before the game against the Spurs, Phoenix had won 12 games in a row, the longest active streak in the NBA.

The Spurs hit a 4-11 mark, their worst in 15 games since starting 2-13 in 1996-97.

“As everyone expected, we’ll have our ups and downs,” said Spurs watcher Lonnie Walker. “We have to learn from them. These losses are not losses. These are lessons. “

If the Spurs are looking for tips to speed up a rebuilding project, they come in abundance this week.

Monday’s game against the rapidly rising suns began with a four-game home stand that also included visits from former ground residents who became league favorites in Washington and Atlanta.

With Phoenix first, the Spurs got a close look at a team that looks little like the one that’s been lost in the wild for a decade.

“That goes hand in hand with years of commitment, of course,” said Walker of the Sun’s turnaround. “They got some great pieces and things went their way.”

Between 2011 and 2020, the Suns finished only once better than 10th place in the Western Conference. Four times during this period, Phoenix produced the worst record of the conference.

The way back for the suns was arduous.

The roster consists of a young all-star in Devin Booker, an aspiring center in DeAndre Ayton, and a hesitant future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul.

Monty Williams, a former Spurs employee, has proven to be the right coach for this group. General Manager James Jones, a 41-year-old former NBA journeyman, has continued to surround the core with a productive sideline.

Veteran Spurs striker Thad Young says he expects other teams to try to mimic the Sun’s recipe and calls the NBA “a copycat league”.

“Phoenix is ​​one of those teams that teams are trying to copy,” said Young. “GMs put their teams together and say, ‘OK, how can we become like Phoenix? How can we become like the Golden State? How can we become like Milwaukee? ‘”

The way of the suns will not be easy. The project is not a painting by numbers.

After several years of mismanagement – the Suns blew seven coaches through their 10-season playoff drought – Phoenix finally stumbled upon a formula for success.

The first step was to design Booker and transform yourself into one of the NBA’s most unstoppable scorers.

The former Kentucky standout finished 13th overall in 2015, later than the Spurs’ last two lottery picks (Vassell finished 11th in 2020, Josh Primo 12th that year).

Booker has averaged at least 22 points each season since his rookie year.

The next key step on the Suns to-do list was winning the top spot in the 2018 Draft Lottery.

Phoenix picked Ayton of Arizona, bypassing a pair of future all-stars in Luka Doncic and Trae Young.

Nonetheless, Ayton became an anchor for Phoenix ‘finals last season.

The final step was to add Paul, who jumped from Houston to Oklahoma City in 2017 after leaving the Los Angeles Clippers.

At the age of 36, the NBA’s active career assistant has proven himself to be the opposition to Phoenix’s rebuilding plan.

“That extra piece right there takes them to a whole new level,” said Thad Young. “He understands how to play the game and how to win.”

Since the suns are the suns, the franchise couldn’t help but make its turning story a bit messy.

Earlier this month, the NBA opened an investigation into owner Robert Sarver, who was accused of making racist and misogynistic comments and creating a hostile work environment.

Sarver denies these allegations.

In a deal more pressing on the Suns’ job of keeping pace in the west, the team was unable to reach an agreement with Ayton on a contract extension last month. The 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer.

So far, that hasn’t stopped the suns from gaining victory after victory.

“Guys don’t take this for granted,” said Paul. “The changing room is great. Sometimes you can win games and it feels like you’ve lost the dressing room. But the changing room is great and the mood is right. “

In the early stages of their own rebuilding efforts, the Spurs could look to the AT&T Center locker room for inspiration on Monday.

With the aftertaste of a final appearance still in the mouth, the Suns are now the team with expectations. The Spurs are the team that has nothing to lose.

If the Spurs want to prove how quickly a sour season can lead to a winning season, Phoenix has the receipts.

“They just stayed patient and stuck with the keys they had,” Vassell said. “We are a young team. They are kind of a young team. We have to learn a lot and grow up. I think we can learn a lot from them at the end of the day. “

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN