Even with No Superstar Suns will Finish Out of the Top-3

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

This is going to be a looooong rebuild…

With DeMarcus Cousins now on the New Orleans Pelicans, the only major superstar seemingly available who may have fallen within the Phoenix Suns’ budget of trading anyone except Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe, it looks like the Suns will not be making a splash trade anytime soon and will have to re-focus entirely on the draft lottery this summer (and possibly next summer as well).

It now seems all but certain that if the Suns make a move between before the Trade Deadline on Thursday at 1pm, it will be a small one and the core of roster is otherwise already set for the final stretch of the season.

The problem is, focusing on the draft lottery may become harder than we wish.

Yes this is a bad Suns team. But it’s not historically  bad overall (although the Suns’ Defensive Rating is currently the worst in franchise history…), and the rest of the regular season schedule plays out such that unless the Suns win  the lottery itself then they will be stuck with the 4th or 5th pick again and miss out on the three seemingly for-sure stars in Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Jackson.

Phoenix is currently slotted to draft second in the lottery this summer, but is surrounded by teams more desperate to lose than them.

The Brooklyn Nets have nothing to play for since their first-round pick this summer is transferred to Boston, so why even try. They  are historically bad.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in full-tank mode and will undoubtedly pass the Suns for the second

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  • worst record in the league. There is a chance that they may not win another game this season because they have nothing to play for other than to keep their draft pick. (If their pick falls outside of the top-three then it transfers to the Philadelphia 76ers).

    To build on that, the Suns and Lakers meet up once more this season, and the Suns already lead the season series 2-1 including the biggest drubbing by the Suns of the Lakers in franchise history. The Lakers are going to want to absolutely lose their final head-to-head match-up to guarantee a one game pickup in the standings, as well as give the Suns the tie-breaker should the two teams end up with the same record at the end of the season. That not only guarantees the Lakers a better spot in the draft, but also a better position that the Suns.

    Orlando has already traded away one of their best players in Serge Ibaka and too are in full-tank mode. The Philadelphia 76ers are likely to sit out Ben Ingram for the entire season, and it is unlikely that they bring back Joel Embiid from his slight meniscus tear to smooth his transition into next season as healthy as possible. They may yet also trade Jahlil Okafor centered around draft picks which further depletes their roster guaranteeing more losses than wins the rest of the year.

    Facing the Suns the rest of the way is a not so hard schedule.

    Phoenix is only 7-32 against the Western Conference to this point (their worst record against either Conference in their history) but only have 13 more games against the West the rest of the year. What’s worse, is that they play several games against teams that the Suns should now  beat fairly easily. I have already pointed out the Lakers, but the also play the now DeMarcus Cousins-less Sacramento Kings twice more.

    Furthermore, of those 13 games, only 6 are against current Western Conference playoff teams. The Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers once each, and the Oklahoma City Thunder twice. Fortunately for Suns tankers, Phoenix is winless against those teams so far. However, of the remaining teams, they have a winning record of 5-4, with one of those losses to the Sacramento Kings who at that point still included Cousins.

    The other 12 games are against the Eastern Conference whom the Suns have played a lot better against this season than their Western opponents, holding an 11-7 record. Of their remaining Eastern opponents the Suns are 5-3, although they have yet to play Boston, and eight of the twelve games are on the road. That being said, the road has not been a major obstacle for the Suns against the East as they are currently 4-3.

    Overall the schedule does seem to set up well enough for the Suns to make a little bit of a run (at least hover closer to .500 during the remaining games) raising their odds of slipping as far down as the 5th worst record by the end of the season. And while this isn’t a guarantee of anything, last season the Suns did finish their final 25 games 9-16, 8% better than their overall regular season record hurting their draft positioning causing them to slip to 4th worst having held the 3rd worst record before that final stretch.

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    Unless the Suns do make a dramatic trade in the next 24 hours or Devin Booker and/or Eric Bledsoe suffer a minor injury that the team can milk out for the rest of the season (ala Joel Embiid), they are going to play hard and play to win. Heck, even the expiration of the NBA trade deadline might open some of the players up who had been living in a gray area wondering as they would wake up each day if this was their last in Phoenix.

    The Phoenix Suns could easily find themselves winning about ten more games this season, finishing the year 28-54, potentially a good 3-5 games better than they would need to be to finish the regular season holding onto their current 2nd worst record and a better lottery pick.

    If this happens and they miss out on the major stars in the top-3, it will only further the time that this franchise will have to suffer through in their long and painful rebuild.