Jan. 30, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver sits courtside during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at the US Airways Center. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 122-99. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A Sign Of Things To Come

Oct. 22, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry against the Sacramento Kings during a preseason game at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Typically when a team is struggling as bad as the Suns during mid-season, and the head coach is removed a day after discussions have taken place within the organization about “Giving young players more playing time” It should be realized that, that’s a sign of major changes to come.

I elaborated on an article earlier this month regarding the Suns position and whether or not they should consider the idea of tanking the rest of the season, and it seems like the Suns as an organization is beginning towards that direction. The Suns are 13-28 on the season, owning the 4th worst record in the NBA, and with the New Orleans Hornets getting healthy even they have moved ahead of the Suns in the western conference standings making the Suns the worst team in the west at this moment.

With the firing of Gentry, little signs of life being displayed by the team, and are currently the worst team in the western conference for the first time in a long time expect major shake ups for the Suns in the upcoming weeks. At this point I’m sure many of you are wondering “Well, what should we be expecting?”

The first thing that should be expected is as mentioned, increased playing time for younger players like Wesley Johnson, Markieff Morris and perhaps even Kendall Marshall. In the modern NBA the concept of tanking is “Frowned upon” Because it’s not good for the game but nonetheless teams who are headed nowhere in hurry often heads that direction in order to salvage the future. However nowadays they don’t refer to it as “Tanking” But rather they call it “Giving young players more opportunities”.

Oct. 12, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Kendall Marshall (12) reacts on the court during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 104-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s an example, last season when the Golden State Warriors were plagued with injury and owned an 20-32 record in early April, they began giving players such as Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler, and Mickell Gladness heavy minutes. Jenkins averaged 9.2 minutes per game before the all-star for Golden State but averaged 21.7 minutes per game post all-star break. Jeremy Tyler averaged 4.6 minutes before all-star break and 18.4 post all-star break. Gladness averaged 3.5 minutes before the all-star break and averaged 14.9 minutes in the month of April last season. Not to disrespect those players, but they had no business being starters on an NBA team however in an attempt to secure a high draft pick, the Warriors decided to give those guys heavy minutes anyways. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, with Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler and Mickell Gladness in your starting line-up wins will be very scarce. 

Had a team like the Golden State Warriors choose not to head that direction late last season but instead attempted to remain “Competitive” They could have missed out on a player like Harrison Barnes in the draft, or had a team like the Portland Trail Blazers choose to remain “Competitive” Instead of going the direction of “Giving younger players more opportunities” They could have potentially removed themselves from the position of being able to draft Damian Lillard who’s currently the leading candidate for rookie of the year.

In the NBA, teams don’t get rewarded for being competitive if you don’t believe that, just take a look at what’s happened to the Suns the last two seasons. In past two seasons they missed the NBA playoffs by a hair but ultimately wound up with late lottery picks which turned out to be Kendall Marshall and Markieff Morris; not bad players by any means but no one is confusing them with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

In professional sports, there are only two places a team should be, on the top or on the bottom, being in the middle is no-man’s land. When a team is in that middle ground it shows that they aren’t good enough to compete with the big boys like the Thunder and the Heat but at the same time they’re not bad enough to secure a top five draft pick in June to draft a player like Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.

Jan. 8, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns point guard Shannon Brown (26) is congratulated by teammates center Marcin Gortat (4) and small forward Jared Dudley (3) while playing against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Bucks 109-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports.

Secondly, expect at least one trade to take place before the NBA trade deadline on February 21st. Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair have all been hot names in trade rumors. Sam Amico of Fox Sport Ohio reported earlier this season that according to sources no one on the Suns roster is “Untouchable” Meaning every single player currently on the Suns roster is NOT off limits in a trade.

At this point, the Suns don’t have many valuable trading assets outside of Marcin Gortat. According to Chad Ford from ESPN this is what he had to say about Gortat in one of his recent articles:

“The Suns are a mess and there’s no clear way to fix this team right now. They parted ways with head coach Alvin Gentry on Friday, but Gentry wasn’t the person who put together this mismatch of assets, and it’s highly doubtful any coach is going to make a major turnaround. The Suns are going to need to make some trades. The truth is there aren’t a lot of players on their roster with a ton of trade value.”

“Gortat may be the exception. Teams are always looking for tough, productive big men. If the Suns decide to blow things up and try to collect young assets, I think they can get a draft pick and a young prospect in return for Gortat. Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta are all on speed dial.”

The Suns are loaded with draft picks at this very moment as they own the rights to six 1st round draft choices over the next three drafts. However like the great Jimmy Johnson said “The key is not getting the picks, the key is picking good players with the picks.” Something the Suns haven’t done lately.

Finally, losing should be expected; perhaps even more so than recently. The Suns are the 4th worst team in the NBA in the standings. The only teams they are currently better than in terms of wins and losses are the Wizards of Washington, Bobcats of Charlotte, and the Cavaliers of Cleveland. Keep in mind both Cleveland and Washington have been dealing with big injuries all season long and once they get healthy they can very well surpass the Suns in the standings.

But have no fear Suns fans! The losses are a gift in disguise, for each loss will give the Suns a chance to move up in the draft this June which will ultimately give them a greater chance to draft the next great player. 

In regards to Alvin Gentry, I’m sure one of the biggest the reasons to why he was dismissed by the Suns was because he didn’t want to be the coach of a team that’s headed in the direction of “Tanking”. Gentry is certainly a fine coach and it’s almost a given that he’ll find a coaching job somewhere else should he desire to do so.

Much like a person who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs, the Suns are finally admitting the problem and accepting the fact that they are no longer one of the top dogs in the NBA. Now they can finally take the first step into once again becoming one of the best teams in the league, and to get to the top, a team has to climb its way up from the bottom.

According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, the Suns will land the #1 overall pick in the draft in June 12.5% of the time. Should the Suns end up with the number one overall pick in June, it’ll mark the first time in franchise history that the Suns will get the number one overall selection.

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