The Suns fired GM Ryan McDonough on Monday. Firing McDonough makes sense, as he has proven himself to be very bad at building a coherent NBA roster, let alone one capable of winning more games than it loses. Firing him nine days before the start of the regular season is just more flailing absurdity from a basketball operation that makes the Griswold family look functional by comparison.
Their roster hasn’t made sense since 2014. McDonough torpedoed the good vibes and telegenic basketball of that 48-win season, first by leaning too far into the Can’t Have Too Many Ball-Dominant Point Guards philosophy, then by shipping out Goran Dragić and Isaiah Thomas in lopsided trades, and keeping the least durable of the Dragić-Thomas-Eric Bledsoe trio. The Suns lavished expensive contracts on the likes of Tyson Chandler, Brandon Knight, and Jared Dudley, and then weirdly crammed them into a prolonged tanking project. Bad moods and resentment festered when McDonough nickel-and-dimed Bledsoe and traded away only one of the Morris twins. In two seasons the Suns went from a cutting-edge 48-win team to a 23-win disaster. The Suns have now finished in the bottom eight in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons. Last season they managed to finish dead last in both.
And McDonough has a draft history to rival Ernie Grunfeld’s worst stretches: he spent a top-five pick on Alex Len; he spent a top-five pick on Dragan Bender; he spent the eighth overall pick on Marquese Chriss. While the Suns were burning away all the hope and good will accrued by that 2014 squad, they were also not stocking the cupboard for the next great Suns contender, because McDonough sucks at scouting and drafting players.
This offseason the Suns turned Knight and Chriss into Ryan Anderson; turned free agent Trevor Ariza into a $15 million immediate buyout candidate; paid Devin Booker like a superstar a full year before he hit restricted free agency; and neglected to sign or draft one single rotation-grade point guard. The point guard problem is bad enough that other teams know they have the Suns over a barrel in any trade talks:
The Suns are a team built to lose 50 games while regretting that they didn’t lose more. It is appropriate that McDonough should be fired, but the time to fire him was four months ago, or three years ago. Firing him so close to the season acknowledges the crappy job he’s done building this roster, while also leaving his replacement no time to figure out a respectable way of addressing its shortcomings. The next general manager is going to have McDonough’s draft picks, McDonough’s overpaid veterans, and McDonough’s new head coach, and all orbiting around McDonough’s hand-picked centerpiece, locked into a massive long-term deal. It will be a lot to untangle, and will make hiring someone who hasn’t bought into at least a few of those pieces difficult, bordering on impossible.
This the second time in two seasons the Suns have fired a key figure within ten days of the start of the season—last year they fired head coach Earl Watson after three spectacularly shitty games. The Suns are a mess. There’s no evident rhyme or reason to any of this shit. It’s not impossible the Suns fired McDonough not for all the bad shit he did over the last four years, but because he wouldn’t trade an unprotected pick for a workable point guard to go with this wacky roster. This is supposed to be the season when the Suns stop being awful, but they’re now going into it with a hand tied behind their back. Robert Sarver runs a screwy basketball shop, and they somehow managed to turn the firing of an underperforming executive into another giant step toward organizational chaos.