by Chris O’Leary / @olearychris
When a team is under .500, bold moves have to be made.
For the Phoenix Suns, some of their bold moves—like Michael Beasley’s seemingly imminent move to the bench—make sense (we’ll get to that).
Then there’s Satisfaction Guaranteed Night. Another bold Suns move, but one that carried with it a risk that was much higher than the reward.
The Suns announced last week that they’d refund any fans that didn’t have fun at Thursday’s game at US Airways Center against the Dallas Mavericks. Fast-forward to a week later and the Suns limped home on a four-game losing streak, completely vulnerable to a worst-case scenario and 17,517 fans enjoying a game on Suns president Jason Rowley.
It didn’t play out that way, exactly. Dallas held off a late Suns rally, where Beasley watched from the best seat in the house as Phoenix’s losing streak stretched to five with a 97-94 Mavericks win.
The Suns went out of their way to be clear they weren’t guaranteeing a win. In a press release that greeted reporters pregame, it was noted that the guarantee was “solely based on the overall fan experience.”
As the Suns and Mavs seemed to work in unison to put the guarantee to the test in a sleeper of a first half, I started to think about how risky that guarantee could be. Because “fun” is a subjective term, and there could easily have been over several thousand different definitions of the word floating around in that building last night.
Is it fun to watch your team lose its fifth game in a row? Is it fun when the Mavericks are playing without Dirk Nowitzki and struggling to build a temporary identity in his absence? It’s probably only slightly more fun than watching the Suns drift forward in the post-Steve Nash era. It’s definitely not fun to think about the long road that the Suns have in front of them on their journey back to contending for a Championship. Where do those issues fit into the fan experience?
Strictly talking butts in seats, the guarantee worked. The turnout was a season high, and the crowd came to life in the fourth quarter when the Suns inched back into the game’s final minutes. Whether the fans remember the fun of the near comeback win more than Goran Dragic blowing the tying layup with 24 seconds left (not so fun) remains to be seen.
You can’t say Markieff Morris wasn’t fun. Watching him hustle his way to 15 points, 17 rebounds and 2 blocks was the only consistent highlight that the Suns had against the Mavs. He logged 34:41 of playing time, well above his season average of 21.9 mpg.
“I thought Markieff was terrific,” Gentry said.
The second year power forward’s minutes took a bump with Jermaine O’Neal leaving the game late in the third quarter after getting poked in the eye and with Marcin Gortat sitting late in favor of Luis Scola.
“Scola’s just been great and hard working and I thought those guys did a great job and that’s why we went with them out there,” Gentry said. Scola and Morris combined for 28 points and 26 rebounds.
All of this was happening with Beasley on the bench. Now for the other bold move: Gentry confirmed after the game that change was likely coming to the starting lineup and it could be as early as Saturday when the Suns are in L.A. to face the Clippers.
“It’s something we’ll talk about,” Gentry said, holding his player accountable but not throwing him under the bus.
“I wouldn’t say [he’s] hurting the team. We’ve got to have more production out of him but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s hurting the team. We’ve got to get more production out of that spot.”
The Suns erased a terrible third quarter with their late rally but couldn’t get past OJ Mayo. As they crept from 11 down to tying it up late in the game, Mayo was there to keep the Suns at distance. When needed, he stuck a tough 20-footer with 34.6 seconds on the clock to put his team in front for good. Four clutch free throws from Vince Carter put the game away.
“You know (the Suns) are going to continue playing hard at home, with the crazy ticket thing,” Mayo said. “The fans want to see them make it exciting.”
A sprained left ankle ended what could have been a monster night for Chris Kaman, who had 15 points and 7 boards in 20 minutes. Busy trying get his team a win after a blowout loss on Wednesday against the Clippers, Carter didn’t notice the injury.
“I don’t know if it makes me a bad teammate, but I had no idea Kaman was out,” he said. “I saw him (after) and said, What’s wrong with you? and he told me he rolled his ankle. I didn’t know that.”
Also worth noting: Dirk Nowitzki came through the Mavs locker room just over an hour before tipoff, drenched in sweat after a workout. He greeted his teammates, grabbed a Gatorade, made a that’s-what-she-said joke and was on his way.