Is the Phoenix Suns' future as bleak as ESPN's future power rankings say?

ESPN’s future power rankings have become an exercise in torture for Phoenix Suns fans.

For the fifth straight time since John Hollinger and Chad Ford started publishing this look into the future, the Suns ranked in the bottom fifth of the league, this time moving up a spot from the August rankings to No. 26 in the edition published Thursday.

In November 2009 the Suns ranked 27th, in December they sat at 26th and in March 2010 when they were rolling on the court they held their all-time high position of No. 25.

When the August rankings came out, I found it hard to believe that 26 teams could be positioned for a sunnier future than Phoenix in a system meant to project production for the three seasons after the current one.

But after watching the Suns stumble to a .500 record while a 36-year-old Steve Nash has been their best player by far (shocking, I know) when looking at plus/minus and Grant Hill has been among their best, it’s easy to worry about Phoenix’s future.

Here’s what Hollinger and Ford wrote:

The new-look Suns aren’t that much different than the old-look Suns. Steve Nash continues to orchestrate the offense like the maestro he is, and he’s surrounded with a number of athletic wings that excel in the open court.

The problem for Phoenix is one of diminishing returns. Without Amare Stoudemire, it lacks a significant low-post presence. Their wings – Jason Richardson, Grant Hill and Hedo Turkoglu — are all solid, but because of age or contracts they don’t have a long-term future with the team.

New pick-up Josh Childress has been a bit of a disappointment. Hakim Warrick has been solid, but averages just 4.4 rebounds a game. Robin Lopez, their big-man project in the middle, has been a disappointment.

Given that Nash (who turns 37 in February) can’t do this forever, it’s hard to get excited about the long-term prospects in Phoenix. When Nash starts slowing down, this team quickly becomes one of the worst in the league with very little in the pipeline to give it much hope. The team is capped out until 2012, will have middling draft picks, and has an owner with a penchant for pinching pennies. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for long-term success.

I don’t wholly agree with this assessment. I don’t think the Suns will ever fall this far for more than a year or two, and I would call a Dragic-Childress-Dudley-Frye-Lopez core with Warrick and probably Turkoglu off the bench more than “very little in the pipeline.”

But I’ve been saying it since Amare left, and I’ll say it again. You can contend in the West with that group being your future core, but only if you add a future No. 1 and hope a guy like Dragic develops into your future No. 2. I know, No. 1 options don’t exactly fall out of the sky either for .500 teams.

Pretty much all of those players project as future role players, and while many of them are very good role players with the potential to get better as we learned last season, I understand why Ford and Hollinger rank the Suns so low without any real star power to speak of.

The hope heading into the season was that the offseason additions of Turkoglu, Childress and Warrick would be enough to help the Suns contend in the West with Nash and then become part of that future core. Thus far Turkoglu and Childress have been disappointments (although perhaps Turkoglu is not so much a disappointment because this was expected) and Warrick has flashed the same inconsistency he has his entire career, with Amare-like performances one night and disappearing acts the next.

The Suns’ fast-strike summer without a GM takes them out of the running for more than a mid-level guy next summer, and they already have about $33 million in commitments in 2012-13 and 2013-14, which doesn’t include potential deals for Lopez and Dragic or anything for Richardson.

That means’ the Suns only way out of the future power rankings dungeon (aside from rapid improvement from their young guys) would come in the trade market or luck in the draft.

The Suns could probably get a nice piece for Jason Richardson’s expiring deal, but it’s unlikely that addition makes a huge dent in the Suns’ future rankings. This is where dealing Steve Nash comes into play.

I’m still on the record in opposition to a Nash trade, because as this Hollinger/Ford examination points out, there might not be much to look forward to after Two Time departs. But at some point — and maybe that’s this summer — if the Suns can swing a deal that dramatically changes their future they would have to consider it. Such a deal would be easier to consummate during the offseason when draft picks are more readily in play.

It’s easy to see why Hollinger and Ford paint such a grim picture of the post-Nash Suns, but the Suns have been a quality organization forever (fourth best winning percentage in NBA history entering the season) and they possess a handful of quality young assets that should develop into a nice unit.

Whether Lon Babby and Lance Blanks can acquire that star to make this superb supporting cast relevant will determine if the Suns’ future is as bleak as these rankings paint it.

Tags: Future

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