Preview: Phoenix Suns (37-40) at Minnesota Timberwolves (17-61)

Phoenix Suns 108, Minnesota Timberwolves 98



Losers of six of their last seven games, the Phoenix Suns are thirsting for a win. They’ve struggled to gain any traction all season and could use some positivity as they close out a disappointing 2010-11 season and descend into the offseason.

But the reality is, as they’re on the outside looking in with five games remaining, wins and losses mean nothing. In fact, a loss would only give Phoenix more ping pong balls come draft time.

So what should the Suns do from here on out? Don’t tank and lose games on purpose, but play for the future, develop your youngsters and if losses are the end result, so be it.

This isn’t to say the Suns should start Garret Siler and Zabian Dowdell, because they shouldn’t. All it means is that Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat shouldn’t be playing 35-plus minutes — all of them but Hill (33 minutes) did exactly that in their Tuesday night loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Alvin Gentry and every Suns fan knows exactly what that quartet can do, so with Phoenix eliminated from the playoffs and little to gain with victories over the lowly Timberwolves, develop guys like Aaron Brooks, Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, Josh Childress, Dowdell and even Siler.

These next five games can go a long way toward determining if Brooks has what it takes to be Phoenix’s point guard of the future with major minutes (although my assessment is no). Why not see if Lopez can do something positive to close out an absolutely atrocious season?

Gortat is the center of the future and has proven enough, so see if Lopez is even physically capable of playing around 30 minutes per game over the last five, and if not there’s the indication that he shouldn’t be in the future plans — at least as a main cog.

Childress’ playing time has increased, and he’s been a bright spot during the recent slide, averaging 5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 59.1 percent shooting in 18.6 minutes over the last five games. Play him 25-plus minutes a game and make sure he and his $30-plus million contract should be Hill’s heir apparent at small forward.

Let Dudley further prove he can be a starting shooting guard next season, and give Dowdell a chance to make the roster next year and show he’s a legitimate NBA backup point guard (although in my eyes he already has).

And finally, allow Siler to show to the Suns, and other teams in the market for a big man for that matter, that he’s improved this season and is a serviceable player that can help an NBA team.

These final five games aren’t about beating the 17-61 Timberwolves, getting better at the end of games or further proving that Hill should be on the All-Defensive Team, Frye isn’t only a shooter and Gortat is a double-double-machine. Suns fans already know this isn’t a playoff team, that the Suns can’t defend and that they are incapable of putting games away.

This home stretch is a mini-tryout for the lesser players heading into next season, so the Suns should treat it that way. If they happen to go 0-5, they’ll still miss the playoffs, and they get a greater chance at landing the next big-time rookie in the draft.

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