Phoenix Suns' future not as bleak as future power rankings say, although stars still needed

It’s become a tradition for the Phoenix Suns to fare poorly in ESPN’s future power rankings, and the edition released this week provided no exception.

The rankings by ESPN’s John Hollinger and Chad Ford slotted the Suns’ future 29th for the next three years thanks to a No. 28 ranking in players and No. 29 for management. The Suns did much better in draft (fourth), market (ninth) and money (12th), but since players are graded on a 400-point scale, management and money 200 and market and draft just 100, Phoenix is weak in the wrong areas.

The Suns originally fell to 29th in February’s edition, but they have been in the bottom fifth of the league since ESPN started publishing these rankings in Nov. 2009 when they were 27th. The Suns also ranked 26th in December 2009, 25th in March 2010 (albeit with fewer points than they have in the current edition), 27th in August 2010, 26th in December 2010 and 26th in March 2011.

The original projections were for the three-year period encompassing 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, and in that time the Suns have been two games under .500 thus far, which is the definition of mediocre rather than bottom-five bad.

For this point in time, Hollinger and Ford wrote:

The Suns have bottomed out, falling from 26th to next-to-last.

Our prediction in February was that they “might just stay there a while.” Six months later, despite a flurry of offseason moves, very little has changed.

Steve Nash and Grant Hill are gone. So are Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. In their stead, the Suns have brought in Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson.

Dragic was a nice pickup. Scola, obtained via the amnesty waiver wire, came at a bargain. And obviously both Beasley (the No. 2 pick in the draft in 2008) and Johnson (the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2010) have talent. Marcin Gortat remains a bright spot. Markieff Morris showed some promise as a rookie. Kendall Marshall was the best pure point guard in the draft his year, though taking him at No. 13 seemed like a reach.

Nevertheless, we believe that only the Bobcats and Magic are in worse shape from a players perspective.

We’re pinning much of the blame on owner Robert Saver. He’s the worst type of owner — both a spendthrift and a meddler who doesn’t really know basketball. It’s virtually impossible for us to rate the job GM Lon Babby has done because of Saver’s influence on basketball decisions.

The only good news for Suns fans? The team should have its own high draft pick this summer and is due picks from the Grizzlies and Lakers in coming years.

I understand the Suns are not exactly in the best spot for future success, but after what I consider a productive offseason I don’t get how only the Bobcats could have a worse future. Orlando, for example, just traded its franchise center for scraps and still has a host of cap-clogging contracts on its books and no impact youth. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better for them.

The Suns, meanwhile, are in an enviable cap situation and have brought on a host of talented young players. They likely possess six first-rounders in the next three drafts, and this offseason management has shown a penchant for making cap-smart moves. Add in a very tradable Luis Scola contract next summer, and I feel the Suns are positioned to be a playoff team in the near future.

The big question mark to me is how can the Suns acquire a star-caliber player? Until they do that (and then acquire one or two more), they don’t have much of a shot at legitimately contending for a championship in this super team era.

Had the Suns landed Eric Gordon to be a B-level star (a move I supported very much, by the way) with the bulk of their future cap space, I was thinking the Suns were locking themselves into an old Atlanta Hawks-like future whereby they could grow into a No. 4 or 5 annual team in the conference with a fun young squad that did not have much of a shot at a championship.

I have been in favor of almost all of the Suns’ moves this offseason with the one caveat being they came no closer to acquiring the kind of star that can lead a team to a title, and in some ways the solid signings could hurt them since it could prevent them from truly bottoming out and taking a chance in the lottery.

This summer was tangible proof that the Suns never plan on tanking their way back to respectability, which is probably a good thing after seeing what losing does for the average lottery team.

All that being said, I feel the Suns are in a great spot to rise to respectability post-Nash much quicker than could have been expected, and they possess a nice core of young players that should gel into an annual playoff threat.

With their combination of talented young players, cap flexibility, draft picks and a front office that deserves kudos for the job it did this summer, I don’t understand how 28 teams could be blessed with a brighter future than the Suns.

Preseason schedule announced

The Phoenix Suns revealed their preseason schedule that will include three home games, three roadies and one neutral site contest to gear up for the season.

The full schedule is as follows:

 Suns offseason grades

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper gave the Suns a C+ for their summer, writing that Phoenix “has something real developing” if it gets solid point guard play.

ESPN’s Ford handed the Suns a C but was not as optimistic, writing:

The one bright spot this summer was the addition of Dragic. He’s not Nash, but he is a good, young point guard who fits the Suns’ system. If you ignore the fact that Phoenix traded Dragic away to the Rockets a year ago — and gave the Rockets a first-round pick to take him — he was a solid pickup.

The addition of Scola should also help though the Suns interest in him is a little puzzling. Scola can play, but he’s 32 and can’t be thrilled to be landing on a rebuilding team at this point in his career. Scola is better than the Suns’ other options at the 4 — Markieff Morris and Channing Frye — but he’s not enough to put them back into the playoffs in the West.

The rest of the team is a work in progress.

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