Phoenix Suns’ future brighter than it seems


ESPN.com’s future NBA power rankings came out again this week, and to the surprise of nobody who has been following this list over the course of the past year the Suns didn’t do so hot.

These rankings weight players (who count for 40 percent of the grade), management, money, the market and the draft to try to figure out which NBA teams possess the brightest futures.

The Suns have done notoriously poorly in these rankings that attempt to project the next three seasons.

In November 2009 the Suns ranked 27th, in December they moved up to 26th (just ahead of the Gilbert Arenas-led, John Wall-less Wizards) and in March they moved up to No. 25.

So call John Hollinger and Chad Ford nothing if they’re not consistent as the Suns dropped back to the No. 27 spot they held at the start of last season in the current edition of future rankings.

Yes, that puts them juuuuussssttt ahead of the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers and Kaaaaaaaaaaaaahn’s Minnesota Timberwolves.

Here’s what Hollinger and Ford have to say about the Suns:

The enthusiasm over the Suns’ terrific run to the Western Conference finals was seriously dampened by a pretty crappy June and July.

When team president and GM Steve Kerr resigned, owner Robert Sarver took over front-office operations and managed to do a great deal of damage in just a few weeks.

First he lost Amare Stoudemire in free agency, and then he took on Hedo Turkoglu’s huge contract while also overpaying Josh Childress (who plays the same position as Turkoglu), Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick. Sarver eventually brought on respected player agent Lon Babby as the team’s new president, but at that point, most of the damage had been done.

Sarver’s moves will help keep the Suns respectable for the moment, but for the future, the picture is bleak. As Steve Nash ages, it’s hard to imagine how the role players Phoenix has put around him will be able to prevent a Suns slide into irrelevance.

I understand why the Suns would not be ranked in the top half of the league. Their superstar will be 37 midway through the season and they have a team full of quality players but no real star power beyond Nash. Plus, they won’t have significant cap space for the foreseeable future after all the contracts they acquired this summer, and things could get ugly in a couple years.

But I just don’t see how the fourth-winningest franchise in NBA history could have the fourth-worst future prospects of any team in the league.

The Suns possess a slew of cheap young players who are able to develop together. They could field a lineup of young guns in a few years with Dragic-Dudley-Clark-Lawal-Lopez, and that’s not counting guys like Childress, Warrick and Frye who are all in the 27-28 range. Those are six proven quality NBA players, plus a duo in Clark and Lawal who could join those ranks. That’s not to mention that Hedo will be around during this time, and he (theoretically at least) has a few good years in him, as well as future first-round picks.

Sure, there isn’t a superstar in the bunch, but many quality role players at the worst and guys in Lopez and Dragic who have the potential to be very good starters on winning teams one day.

The way I see the Suns’ future is they will need to make one major move when Nash retires to remain relevant (or potentially before he retires). Robert Sarver has said he doesn’t expect the Suns to make that acquisition via free agency, so their early post-Nash era will largely depend on the Suns being able to potentially package some of these young assets into a deal for one star who can take the lead on these future squads.

Steve Kerr often spoke about rebuilding on the fly while remaining competitive, and the Suns have largely been able to do that the past few years.

A couple years back the Suns were an old team relying on vets like Nash, Shaq, Hill and then even J-Rich, and the “young” guys were Amare and LB. Since then the Suns have embarked on a full-fledged youth movement while still maintaining that veteran presence in Nash and Hill while sprinkling in a few vets along the way such as Hedo Turkoglu.

They are in a position to win now and have some nice pieces to help them reload when Nash and Hill leave …. so long as they can find a way to acquire that elusive star.

I know that’s easier said than done and many have complained about Sarver’s propensity to make such a move, but this summer is further proof that he’s not as cheap as his reputation suggests. Yes, he does not like paying the luxury tax and has made some dumb moves with that tax line in mind, but this summer he opened up his checkbook and he has been a willing (if begrudging) payer of the tax the past few years.

Phoenix has always been a prime destination for NBA players throughout the years, the Suns have a solid core of young talent (young talent that is playoff tested), and they are still likely to play a fun style under a players’ coach even after Nash departs (which might not be until the three-year stretch that this survey covers ends).

So while the Suns would certainly prefer to trade futures with the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s hard to believe 26 NBA teams possess brighter futures than Phoenix.

Tags: Phoenix Suns

  • Brian

    idiots

  • http://suns.com JC

    I don't understand why everyone seem so convinced that the suns have to "acquire" star power. I don't think Nash or Nowitski had any more star power than Dragic and Lopez in the early stages of their careers. When Nash came to the Suns he was considered to be a washed up PG on the wrong side of 30 who the suns were paying way to much money for. He definitely was not considered to have very much "star power" at that time. But if you want to take about "star power" potential, maybe you should review game 3 fourth quarter of the Suns and Spurs during the playoffs this year and then look at what Lopez did vs. the Lakers and then we can talk about some serious "star power" potential.

  • Mac

    The future power rankings are idiotic.

    Ford and Hollinger expressly claim the rankings are intended to project on court success for the next three seasons, I don’t know what this means but I don’t see how “on-court success” can mean anything other than W’s and L’s during the relevant period.

    Given this is the case, how can any system that isn’t rigged by monkeys rate the Knicks and Kings over the Mavs and Celtics? Setting aside subjective opinions about cap flexibility, 10-year windows, etc. the Kings and Knicks are not going to win more games than the Mavs and Celtics over the next three seasons. They are just not. Unless something unexpected happens in which case the power rankings will be immediately updated. And there are not 26 teams that are more likely to have more W’s than the Suns over the next three seasons. There just are not. Both the Suns and the Hawks have low future power rankings because they are “stuck” being 50-win fringe playoff teams. Fine that isn’t the best place to be I guess, but for the next three years, how does that make them one of the weakest teams in the league? There is zero logic to this system.

    Frankly, it’s like Ford and Hollinger don’t even understand what their own rules are in setting these future rankings, which probably explains why they are so illogical and haphazard.

  • Mac

    And one more thing, when Hollinger and Ford blithely refer to the “present” and the “future” do they even know what they mean? Hollinger will say something dismissive like “sure, I guess the Suns will be respectable for the present, but won’t be in the future, so their future power ranking is low.” If you asked him what he meant by the “present” I assume he doesn’t mean this very minute, so he’d say something like “this season, maybe next, two years down the line at the most.” At that point all of the “future” is subsumed by the present! Awfully sloppy reasoning by a statistician and a college professor.

  • Phil

    Suns68 – The downside of your logic is that we would have to let Nash and Hedo go as we don't like immigrants…

    Your logic on the rankings is spot on though – it is pure filler. Its also massively subjective (how is management rated for instance) for a man who has made his living from trying to design objective measures. You can't kill the Suns for losing Amare AND for overpaying (in his opinion) Hedo, Childress etc, as Amare was clearly overpaid as well

  • Steve

    Hollinger has always been hot on Amare. I'm not positive why. I think it's because his system typically tends to favor offensive studs more than anybody else (LeBron, Wade, and Paul are always way higher than anyone on his PER list). Amare is an offensive stud. Nowitzki is the only PF in the league that I would say is better than Amare offensively.

    I think that partially explains why Hollinger rips the Suns so badly for "losing" Amare. He loves the guy. Also, every NBA analyst seems to have it out for Sarver. I don't know if I've ever heard an analyst say something good about Sarver.

    All good points from everyone though. The future rankings are quite possibly the worst idea that ESPN group has ever come up with… oh wait, can we ever say that about anything after "The Decision" happened?

  • Lloyd

    I agree with your article. The Suns have some very good young players to build around. And, enough older ones to go deep in the playoffs.

  • martinez

    i just think if the suns get a backup true center meaning a nother 7 footer that is athletic and young like ryan hollins the suns are in a good position no matter what i mean j rich comes off the books soon and theres a number of trade options and assets but its just like every body but suns fans to count the suns out like every year

    GO SUNS!!!!

  • Sumant

    The ESPN rankings are terrible. There was an article about Point Guards and I didnt see Nash’s name on it. I was surprised because leaders choose to make people around them better and Nash did that.

    I am sure he could have made several “Decisions” along the way and he chose not to. I really wish the Suns could provide him with a true winner (not Amare or Hedo). There are several good players in lesser teams who would really flourish in the Suns world.

    Whatever – they are our Phoenix suns – and we know they played as a team and made the WCF. Not sure folks at ESPN were watching.

  • Mike Meez

    The whole premise behind these ratings doesn't even make sense. Biggest thing is that no one can predict free agency moves. As soon as Lebron left Cleveland they fell from 8 to 28 or something like that. Same thing could happen to almost any team over the course of a couple years. Melo could leave the Nugs next summer, CP3 could leave the Hornets in a couple years. If there was no free agency, mayyybeeee you could begin to formulate future rankings.

    Of course, no one knows how teams will play together or how players will develop either. I hate how Ford and Hollinger tried to make these rankings seem objective by using categories like "market" and "management" and listed what is included in those categories when really it's just their own opinions about these things. At least when Mark Stein does his power rankings during the year he freely admits that it is his own beliefs and not an objective ranking.

  • suns68

    Power rankings are nothing more than a way to kill time and fill column space in the off season. We won’t really know anything about the retooled Suns until we actually see them play someone.
    And speaking of Gilbert Arenas, why don’t we go get him? We’re Phoenix. We like guns.

  • Mac

    @Mike Meez

    Couldn't agree with you more. I don't mind this kind of fluff, but it's the contrived attempt to create objectivity and importance by coming up with a smoke and mirrors formula that I strongly object to. It's like a scholar who supports his thesis by citing to a bunch of other documents that he wrote, it's just a shell game and intellectually dishonest. Given Ford is a professor and Hollinger is a mathematician, I am especially disappointed at how they are gaming the system.

  • Steve

    The last two comments are eerily familiar to what I was saying about Berri's system, and I got flamed for that. Watch out, guys.

  • aaeea

    Can’t say I agree with the ranking numbers, but they’re right about the front office, the people leaving, and bringing in large contracts. Don’t forget that we might lose Lou also this year, and we’re still in big need of a big man that bloody rebounds the ball – EVEN before Amare left.

  • JD

    @ aaeea

    “big need of a big man that bloody rebounds the ball”

    I’ve got two words for you: Gani Lawal!

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