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What we learned about the NBA from the 2013-14 Suns: Part 1

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PHOENIX — The NBA playoffs roll on without the Phoenix Suns. While the results could add to ideas of where the league might be or should be headed, we can take a lot of lessons from the Suns themselves to apply to the NBA as a whole.

Here’s what the 2013-14 version of the Suns taught us.

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The West is tough, but conference or playoff re-alignment is something to think about

Forty-eight wins and the Suns are sitting at home.

The 1-8 and 2-7 playoff matchups to kick off the Western Conference postseason action doesn’t include the Suns, but if it had, there’s a good chance it’d be as good as San Antonio facing Dallas and Oklahoma City grinding with Memphis. These are, at-worst, conference semifinal games in terms of entertainment value.

So is conference re-alignment, or probably more easily, playoff re-alignment, are serious points that commissioner Adam Silver will look at.

“When you look at the teams in the East and see where you’d be seeded in the East, it kind of irks you I think,” Phoenix center Miles Plumlee said. “But I think the landscape in the NBA might change in the future and maybe it might just be the top-16 teams that are in it.”

Re-alignment could take a number of different forms, but it’s hard to say if that will ever come true. Logistically, it makes sense for Eastern Conference teams to stay out east. Business-wise, it’s not great for the NBA to tell most everyone east of the Mississippi to shove it.

Still, it’s easy to complain if you’re the Suns especially. Then again, the Hawks are giving the Indiana Pacers as much trouble as the Suns would. That’s a whole other story.

There are different ways to “tank”

Basketball players learn by trial. It’s often pretty clear when players have topped out, hit their peak.

When looking at the failed experiment of the 2012-13 Suns, it was clear who’d done that. So Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and even Caron Butler were shipped off. Phoenix got Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Ish Smith in return.

Nevermind draft picks. This was about opening up the floor for guys who were set on realizing their potential, though trading for players who were good teammates and keeping those that already were — Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker — was a different route than the one the Philadelphia 76ers took.

Channing Frye said he first saw the team’s potential not during the season, but after the preseason trades finished up the offseason.

“I saw it – and this is no knock on the guys that got traded – after they got traded I saw that everything opened up for everybody,” he said. “You know, it was kind of like a breath of fresh air. I saw what had come out of Miles and Markieff (Morris), I seen Gerald kind of flourish a little bit. Guys have stepped up this year.”

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton put it succinctly in this article from January.

… the lesson to me is in the Gortat trade. Had they kept the veteran big man, the Suns would probably be as successful as they are now if not better, but their future would not be so bright because Gortat has already maxed out his potential. Better to have those minutes going to Plumlee, who might be around for years to come.

The beauty of going young as part of the rebuilding process is that the franchise wins no matter what. Either the young core overachieves, as in Phoenix’s case, or a rough season is rewarded with a lottery pick. The franchise’s long-term outlook improves in both scenarios.

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