Phoenix Suns are a mess that requires a bold solution: Steve Nash

Chris Mannix
The Vertical
Steve Nash is respected throughout the league. (Getty Images)

The only thing more surprising than Earl Watson being fired three games into the Phoenix Suns‘ season is that he was ever hired to begin with.

Seriously: Explain to me how Watson, fresh off a 9-24 stint as an interim coach with the Suns to end the 2015-16 season, was the right man for the job? How was Watson, with less than a full season as an NBA assistant coach under his belt, more qualified than Mike D’Antoni, Dan Majerle or the bevy of seasoned assistant coaches who were available?

The answer: He wasn’t.

Earl Watson wasn’t the leader the Suns needed this season, which was apparent last season when he was Phoenix’s interim head coach. (AP)

Phoenix asked for this. Even if the Suns really liked Watson in 2016 — and not his low salary demand, reportedly $2.5 million per year — they should have pulled the plug at the end of last season. The Suns were a national embarrassment. They played with no structure. Most nights, they looked unprepared. The offense was simplistic. The out-of-timeout plays stale. Said a Western Conference scout: “They were the easiest team to prepare for.”

The start to this season was laughable. They got beat by 48 in the opener, at home, by a Blazers team playing without C.J. McCollum. They surrendered 132 points in a loss to the Lakers. The Clippers beat them by 42 the next night.

At 0-3, the Suns have a cartoonish point differential of minus-30.7. The next worst: Philadelphia, at minus-16.3.

An hour before Watson was let go, Eric Bledsoe, the Suns’ highest paid player, tweeted, “I Dont wanna be here.”

It’s a mess. And it’s easy to point the next finger at Ryan McDonough, the embattled general manager. McDonough should have fired Watson months ago. He publicly undercut McDonough last March, when he declared the decision to shut down Bledsoe a “management decision.” He created a divide between the front office and the players when he informed players on at least one occasion that it was management, not him, that was determining in-game rotations, two sources familiar with the situation told The Vertical.

Still, league sources, both inside the organization and out, don’t see McDonough as the problem. He’s whiffed on a few trades (Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic) but his draft record is solid (Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss) and he has had to battle through the systematic dysfunction caused, in part, by an owner, Robert Sarver, who routinely injects himself into basketball-related decisions.

More than ever, the Suns need adult supervision. Which brings us to Steve Nash.

Nash is an icon in Phoenix. He has spent the past two seasons as a player-development coach in Golden State. He parachutes in a few days a month to work with players. Kevin Durant is his most eager pupil. It’s a comfortable gig, one that lets him divide the rest of his time between parenting in Los Angeles and his duties as the general manager of Canada’s men’s national team.

Maybe that’s all he wants to do. Phoenix needs to find out. In a president-type role, Nash would bring instant credibility. League-wide, he remains revered. He would energize the fan base and bring a level of leadership that has been sorely lacking. He could work with McDonough, whose contract was extended last summer, and begin to restore the reputation of the franchise.

They need to. Jay Triano is expected to lead the team for the rest of the season, but finding a reputable coach willing to come to Phoenix in the current climate won’t be easy. A veteran coach with options will pass and the most coveted assistants (David Vanterpool, Stephen Silas) won’t listen unless a five-year deal is on the table.

The time to be bold is now. For Phoenix, a fourth straight sub-.500 season seems inevitable and an eighth straight without a playoff berth foregone. Success has never seemed so far away.

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