As the Phoenix Suns get officially knocked out of the playoff hunt, where is the hope for the future?
I'll be right up front with you; this isn't going to be a post with answers.
Though the Suns were practically eliminated from the playoff hunt over a week ago, yesterday's nationally televised beating at the hands of San Antonio made it official. This season will mark just the fourth time since 1989 that the Suns have failed to make the playoffs - not a bad run. Only the Lakers and Spurs have missed the playoffs less in the same period (twice each) while Utah is even with Phoenix as they are also headed to their fourth missed playoff berth.
1989 serves as a pretty solid barometer for me since that's right when I became a basketball fan and since then I do remember the other missed playoff berths quite well. Considering that background, this one just feels different. This time it feels almost hopeless.
I won't go totally history on you like I usually do but here's a quick look at the three other missed playoff years:
2009 - Steve Kerr made the enormous gaffe of attempting to have a team spearheaded by Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire be coached by Terry Porter. Once Porter was fired the Suns may have been able to recover from the damage caused but Stoudemire went down for the season in just the second game of the Alvin Gentry era.
So, though the Suns missed the 2009 playoffs by two games they were heading into the next season with Nash and Stoudemire, along with a guy like Jason Richardson who would get a full off-season with the team. Perhaps the biggest help of all though was the addition by subtraction of the trade of Shaquille O'Neal. Expectations weren't sky high but most Suns fans expected at least a solid playoff team the subsequent year.
2004 - The 2003-2004 Suns were a putrid 29-53 but during the year they were able to dump the contract deadweight of Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway and switched coaches to the up-tempo Mike D'Antoni. Even before knowing that the Suns cap space would be able to bring in Steve Nash, the team had a 25-year-old All-Star in Shawn Marion and two other high potential pieces in Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson. 29 wins may have sucked but there was young talent to be excited about.
2002 - The Suns certainly weren't looking superb after a 36 win season but fans were able to at least rely on the fact that the team had a 24-year-old All-Star point guard (Stephon Marbury) and an athletic small forward who was coming off a season where he averaged 19.1 points per game (Shawn Marion). Robbing Boston of a 20-year-old Joe Johnson - who was able to give the Suns 31 minutes a game - also looked pretty solid. None of this mentions that the team was able to draft Amar'e Stoudemire with the ninth pick in that summer's NBA Draft.
Look at those seasons and then look back at what's going on with the Suns after this season. What do we have left to cling to? There's the awesome fact that the team will pay Vince Carter $4 million dollars to go away but besides that, the remaining roster certainly doesn't have the ability to impress like it used to.
The best player on the team is Steve Nash - who is currently 37-years-old and will turn 38 just before the All-Star break next season. The second best player on the roster is arguably Grant Hill - who will be 39-years-old by the time next season begins. Nash is signed through next season while Hill becomes a free agent after this year but has indicated he wants to re-sign.
What both Nash and Hill share in common is that neither is what you'd consider a future building block. Beyond that, while each can certainly be key cog on a contender, neither is able to carry a team like in their respective primes.
How about the rest of the roster?
The portion of the roster that most people would agree is the next generation of Phoenix Suns basketball is comprised of Jared Dudley (25), Channing Frye (27), Marcin Gortat (27).
Each of those three are locked up at least through 2014. Yet as far as those three players have come this season - can any of them be a top three player on a contender? As much as I like those guys, I think the answer is probably no.
There's a reason the Suns are 1-7 when Jared Dudley scores 20 points; it's because if you have Jared Dudley scoring 20 points your basketball team isn't very good.
I don't doubt that Gortat can be (and already is really) a good starting center in the NBA but best case scenario he's a 14/10 guy. Don't get me wrong - that's excellent but it doesn't make you a top three player on a contender.
Frye has spent the season proving he's capable of starting on a fringe playoff team but it remains to be seen whether he can consistently be the 17/8 guy he was in the month before his shoulder injury.
Everything else on the roster appears to be just walking, talking, basketball player question marks. Odds are Robin Lopez doesn't survive the fact that the organization and head coach don't seem to like him. Aaron Brooks has failed to show even a modicum of leadership in his brief time with the Suns and the team needs to make a contract decision on him this off-season. Josh Childress hasn't been able to gain a whole lot of traction this season after signing a five-year deal last offseason but since he signed that five-year deal, he's stuck here. The question for him is whether he can actually become a real contributor.
Did you think I forgot Hakim Warrick and Mickael Pietrus? Well I didn't, but what more is there really to know about the two? If you've watched them play you know exactly what each guy does and it's probably not going to change.
Also if you're putting your money on the development of Gani Lawal, Garret Siler, or Zabian Dowdell then you can just send that cash to me instead because I'll put it to good use. Feel free to hit me up at ScottHowardSBNAZ@gmail.com and we can set up a PayPal arrangement.
If you followed through that entire run through the roster then you probably realized that the roster has no stars or potential stars under 37. That's bad. If you think I'm wrong I'm happy to place a bet on which of these guys you think develops into a star.
So how do you get those necessary stars?
That's where it continues to look hopeless for me. The draft, free agency, and trades are the existing ways of player acquisition. From a drafting perspective the Suns are going to be in the lottery but unless they get lucky with the ping pong balls they'll be around the 12th or 13th pick and as I showed the other day - that's not exactly a star factory.
You can take a trip to the free agency line but if you're thinking about the 2011 class, even if there were a star player on the market, the Suns wouldn't have the money to make it happen. So that leaves you with 2012 and the slim hope that you can convince someone in the Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard class to come lead a group of role players. With the new super team concept the NBA has going I'd like to wish the Suns best of luck with that one.
Trading is another possibility but that's the acquisition method where your team is going to need luck and a desperate trading partner to land a star. Kevin Garnett's and Pau Gasol's don't often come on the market for cents on the dollar.
Like I said above, this isn't supposed to be a post with answers. What I'm seeing right now is a franchise in flux with no clear path back to success. Many will suggest a trade of Steve Nash but what's the best you getting in return - a young rotation player and late first round draft pick at best? Sounds like more role players to me.
I guess what I'm saying is that most times you can see the future and see the approach of an organization - with this franchise I just can't see it. Obviously the team of Lance Blanks and Lon Babby deserve a little time to get ramped up but they've got their work cut out for them.
I'm open to suggestions for where we can derive hope from yet I have a feeling most of the suggestions will be something to the effect of "we'll get lucky...somehow."