The Phoenix Suns have a roster full of potential, but unlike in NBA 2K, that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Suns aren’t done building yet.
If this were a video game, everything would be so simple. The Suns are overflowing with former lottery picks approaching their primes, and there’s no doubt their losing days are coming to an end. In NBA 2K, that would mean a roster filled with All-Star talents in just two years. But in real life, it doesn’t guarantee a thing.
Other than Devin Booker, not a single Suns players has established himself as a consistent, valuable NBA player. Other guys have shown potential to be anywhere from good to great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get there. And the Suns should be prepared for the fact that their roster, as is, will likely never be good enough to win a championship.
The following is a list of every Suns player drafted in the lottery over the past five drafts:
- T.J. Warren, Pick 14 in 2014
- Devin Booker, Pick 13 in 2015
- Dragan Bender, Pick 4 in 2016
- Marquese Chriss, Pick 8 in 2016
- Josh Jackson, Pick 4 in 2017
- Deandre Ayton, Pick 1 in 2018
- Mikal Bridges, Pick 10 in 2018
This is a roster that NBA GM’s dream of, and it’s the reason the Phoenix Suns have arguably the best future on any current lottery team. But it’s nowhere near being a sure thing.
There’s no guarantee that Jackson’s shot improves, or that Bender or Chriss make the improvements they need, or that Bridges will ever be able to put the ball on the floor. In the most likely scenario, maybe one of these players reaches All-Star level, while the rest turn into role players. And that’s okay! But the Phoenix Suns must be prepared.
If the team counts on every single one of these players developing into the most they can be, they’ll either be the greatest team of all time or (more likely) wildly disappointed. Top draft picks miss. All the time. Teams don’t need a drafting success rate of 100 percent to win titles.
What they do need, however, is the ability to build through avenues outside of the draft. Signing veteran free agents or trading for an established star has a far higher success rate than any individual draft pick working out.
And that right there is the issue with a win-now mentality. If you put all your hopes into the current roster, what happens if Jackson or Bridges or even Ayton doesn’t pan out? Then what do you do? Because the odds strongly suggest at least one of them will be a dud.
The Suns don’t have enough guaranteed talent on their roster to be rounding out the edges with long-term players and trading away assets. It’s the reason the trade up for Bridges was so questionable.
The Phoenix Suns need to have plenty of backup plans in place because it’s almost certain that a few of their top picks won’t work out. And the best backup plan is flexibility. The Suns should do everything they can to create future cap space and stockpile their assets, giving them optionality when it comes to trades and free agency down the line. That means no long-term deals dished out this summer.
In the most likely scenario, the Suns will very shortly be in the same position as the Sixers and Celtics are now. Both had hoards of lottery picks, some of which panned out and some of which didn’t. But neither assumed their draft picks were the end of their rebuilding.
The Celtics jumped from a team with a few talented young guys to one in contention by signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving. The Sixers hope to do the same this summer with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. And two years from now, the Suns can follow their lead, hopefully doing it with even better talent.
But it’ll only be possible if they realize that nothing is guaranteed. The best way for the Phoenix Suns to turn this group of rising stars into a championship team is to keep their options open until they have more certainty about how their draft picks will fare as NBA players.