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.

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