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Dissecting the Phoenix Suns' ESPN Future Power Rankings

Prepare to wince, cringe, cry, or do whatever you may whenever the future looks dark.

Chad Ford and John Hollinger released their most recent NBA Future Power Rankings on Wednesday, and if you’re a Suns fan, you probably know what I’m about to tell you.

Let’s just say that if you went to a psychic and they somehow knew everything about your personal life, gave you a very detailed description of how that all could come crashing down, and you could shake your head and say, “Yes, that’s entirely possible,” then you’d be the Phoenix Suns.

Hollinger and Ford ranked the Suns as having the 29th best future in the NBA for the next three seasons, moving them down from their previous rank of 26.

Their thoughts:

Our rankings have been really effective in predicting the rise of certain teams like the Pacers. It’s also been strongly predictive of the catastrophic fall of a few teams like the Suns, who have slipped again from 26th to 29th this time.

They might just stay there a while.

Besides Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, every other player on the roster who gets significant minutes has a PER below the league average. Meanwhile Nash is in the last year of his deal and the Suns continue to insist they don’t want to trade him. The truth is, given how long they’ve waited, it’s doubtful they could get much back in return anyway.

If Nash and Grant Hill bolt, the Suns will have some cap space next summer. But thanks to the senseless contracts owner Robert Sarver gave Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress two summers ago it won’t be nearly as much as it could have been. Besides, who exactly on the free-agent market is going to replace Nash when he’s gone?

Sarver’s bumbling over the past few years has caused us to rank the Suns’ management 30th in the league. Yes, we think even Minnesota’s David Kahn and Glen Taylor could do this better. That’s saying something.

The only good news? The team should have enough cap room to make at least one significant free-agent addition this summer, and the team should have high draft picks in the next few years. There’s really not much more to say.

The rankings are based upon five categories and the final score falls on a scale from 0 – 1,200. The Suns finished with an ugly 350, earning a 50 points out of 600 in their future players (29th in the NBA), an 18 out of 200 points in management (30th), a 140 out of 200 points in money (8th), a 59 out of 100 points in market (10th), and a 83 out of 100 in draft (4th).

**Find a table for definitions of the five categories at the bottom of the story

Charlotte has the least exceptional future, according to Hollinger and Ford. Detroit (28th), New Orleans (27th) and Toronto (26th) fill out the bottom five futures in the NBA.

Clearly, most of the negativity stems from the belief that the Robert Sarver-led management of the Suns is the worst in the league. Bad past signings cramping the cap space and distrust in good future decisions cancel out any advantage Phoenix has in its fairly strong market.

But as Schwartz has written in the past, I’m not of the belief Phoenix deserves that depressing of a future prediction. In the above scenario of visiting a psychic, you could believe them. But no matter how much of the past they know, the future has yet to be written, and a franchise having a strong brand to lean upon goes a long way.

Team and player options aside, it’s not a stretch to say Phoenix will have a solid core of returning role players. Signed through at least next year, Marcin Gortat is one of the better starting centers in the league, Channing Frye is a solid rotation forward to stretch the floor, and Markieff Morris still has time to develop into a potential starting power forward with his surprising skill-set. At the guard spots, Jared Dudley fits as an energy bench player that could fit on any solid playoff team, and Josh Childress could be a Thabo Sefolosha-like, defensive-oriented two guard.

Those are all important roles for championship-level teams, but the clear catch here is the lack of a single All-Star caliber player once Nash is gone.

And thus we come to a future that’s the second-worst in the NBA. With the free agent market not looking very diverse, signing a star will ultimately be very difficult. Still, I’m not certain that teams like Toronto, Detroit, or New Orleans have any better of returning players nor the capability to steal a big-time free agent.

Do the Suns belong in the bottom five of the league as far as future success is concerned? For sure. But with a fairly strong market and fan base, it’s not like Phoenix will all of a sudden become irrelevant when the Steve Nash era comes to a close.

The key probably lies in how much extra cap space — if any — the Suns can dump via trades in order to pick up some decent free agents. They’re not going to hit a home run deal like the Nash signing in 2004, but with a few above-average players added via free agency and some smart drafting in a loaded class this June, at the very least, the future will be brighter than the Charlotte Bobcats and then some.

**

HOW FUTURE POWER RATING IS DETERMINED

PLAYERS (0 to 600 points): Current players and their potential for the future, factoring in expected departures
MANAGEMENT (0 to 200 points): Quality and stability of front office, ownership, coaching
MONEY (0 to 200 points): Projected salary-cap situation; ability and willingness to exceed cap and pay luxury tax
MARKET (0 to 100 points): Appeal to future acquisitions based on team quality, franchise reputation, city’s desirability as a destination, market size, taxes, business and entertainment opportunities, arena quality, fans
DRAFT (0 to 100 points): Future draft picks; draft positioning

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