The Phoenix Suns stuck out a long term rebuilding plan that worked for other teams, but four years in, they still have no obvious path toward contention.
The tried and true way to build a roster from a perennial disappointment to a championship contender is to lose a lot and make a lot of draft picks. Over the last handful of seasons, this is the route the Phoenix Suns have taken. It’s not an easy process, and it comes with no guarantees, but it allows room for error so long as the team eventually hits on a few prospects.
Quite a few years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it look easy, striking gold by drafting a future MVP in three consecutive drafts. In every sense, they got lucky when it came to team building. Unfortunately for them, they failed miserably at keeping such an elite core together, and they never won an NBA Championship (although they did appear in one).
No one expected it to be that simple for the Suns. Especially because they came nowhere near the draft success of the Thunder. They whiffed on Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and probably Josh Jackson. But that’s where the room for error comes in. When a team commits to a rebuild, like the Suns have, there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to draft success.
The Philadelphia 76ers have been in the headlines this week for their acquisition of Jimmy Butler. They’re considered amongst the favorites in the East, and they have an exciting group of young players. The Sixers became notorious for their multi-year rebuild, culminating in a 10 win season in 2015-16. But they still became a good team, even after striking out on top picks like Jahlil Okafor and Markelle Fultz.
So why haven’t the Phoenix Suns shown us more reasons to be hopeful? They stayed the path, and they made some quality draft selections. Devin Booker was a steal at 13, Deandre Ayton is a talented big, Mikal Bridges looks extremely promising, and T.J. Warren has developed into a solid shooter. And yet the team is still playing pathetic basketball.
The Suns lack effort from most of the team, especially from their best players. They’ve had numerous coaching changes standing in the way of player development. Their incompetent management inspires little confidence in the future. Between those factors and the sheer number of losses adding up, it’s hard to see them drawing free agents any time soon.
The Phoenix Suns attempted a long term rebuild, they stuck it out through the hard times, and they eventually hit on some draft picks. So why can’t they win now? Other teams could. The Thunder had the overwhelming talent. The Sixers have less talent, but they have a culture of hard work. The Suns have neither of those, and after many years they’re still stuck in the basement.
So what do they do now? Honestly, I’m not sure. Do they shrug their shoulders and trade for John Wall, likely throwing out championship hope but possibly getting good enough to keep fans around? Do they trade everyone for picks in an attempt to try this whole thing again but with different players? Do they stay on course and hope they can get one more game changing piece in this draft?
I don’t know what they will do or what they should do. I also have little confidence owner Robert Sarver knows what the right thing to do is. There’s always the chance the Suns can turn things around and win with this group someday. But as things stand right now, the Phoenix Suns have no obvious path toward contention.