Unlike many local sports fans, I spent Halloween night at US Airways Center to catch the regular season debut of the new Suns.
The announced crowd of 15,000-plus must have included many who selected an empty seat as their costume choice. The last time that few people saw a Suns home opener, fans were given a free ticket to Veterans Memorial Coliseum with admission to the Arizona State Fair (that really used to happen, ask around).
Even though it’s been a few years since that was a halftime score for those two franchises, watching a Suns-Warriors game finally grind to an 87-85 conclusion is still a shock to the system.
The Suns scored 21 points in the first quarter, fell down 17 points in the second. As the 3-pointers continued to clang and the turnovers piled up, you wondered if a book called “Seven Possessions or Less” might be in the offing.
The Suns cleaned up their turnovers and defense and hit a few shots to climb back into the game, but the lack of a reliable scoring option down the stretch made for a painful final minute and a loss on a night when Golden State stars Stephan Curry and David Lee missed 26 of 30 shots. That’s not the kind of “new era” start you’re looking for.
Michael Beasley can score. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat can rebound and Goran Dragic can pass. The Suns blocked 12 shots in the season opener and coach Alvin Gentry will make sure they play hard and don’t quit. But for a city used to a basketball team that wins a lot and looks pretty doing it, the Suns aren’t likely to produce a lot on either count this season.
Even the long-distance hope of luring James Harden to Phoenix, where he played in college and where his mom lives, went by the boards when he was traded and signed a maximum contract with Houston. It’s not unique that names that surface in Arizona wind up landing elsewhere, but unless you’re talking about the weather, most of the selling points the Suns used to offer current and prospective free agents no longer exist — on and off the court.
Whether you like the Chris Young trade or not, whether you think Daniel Hudson will come back from surgery and win 16 games or not and whether you like you like Kevin Towers’ plan to build his team through the bullpen or not, Diamondback fans have to be worried about the team’s future in the National League West.
The Giants have won two of the last three World Series titles and when they pay off their privately-funded ballpark they will have money to burn. Speaking of that, the Los Angeles Dodgers already have it and Magic Johnson and his new team are bound to stumble across the right mix of high-priced talent often enough to be a power in the West. And while Jim Tracy was a very nice guy with a tremendous work ethic, the Colorado Rockies have often been looked at as the talent-packed, sleeping giant in the division. The right manager and direction could be all they need.
Even the seemingly docile Padres owned Arizona in 2012, and the timing of the losses could have been worse.
The Diamondbacks will never be free spenders and their run of ultra-high draft picks from the former general manager Josh Byrnes era has produced mixed results. The Justin Upton saga continues and the left side of the infield remains a sore spot. But Arizona’s biggest problem moving forward might be on what they can’t control – and geography.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.