The Phoenix Suns are not in an enviable position, but that's nothing new. Since losing the coin flip in 1969 the team has played second fiddle to the Los Angeles Lakers when it comes to landing the biggest stars and that cycle seems perfectly poised to repeat itself again.
But does it really matter?
The Suns have been quite successful for many decades and have had plenty of talented and exciting players. The franchise has an impressive record of regular season wins and playoff appearances despite missing out on the ultimate prize.
It's been fun, and unlike in other cities, it's been consistently fun as evidenced by the fourth-best NBA franchise winning percentage (.559).
Only one time, however, were the Suns able to land a player on the list of the NBA's 50 Greatest (via trade) and it's no coincidence that Charles Barkley led the team to the NBA Finals in 1993 only to fall to an even greater star, Michael Jordan.
The Lakers on the other hand, have seven players on that list (including Kobe Bryant who will be added when it's next updated) and have 11 NBA titles since the coin flip.
In the NBA, superstars win rings. No secret there.
So it's not that the Suns have been bad, they've just not been able to compete with the endless cycle of superstars that the Lakers have been able to land.
It's not the end of the world if that doesn't change, especially considering how hard it is to get one of the coveted elite players.
We are now entering a transition period for both the Lakers and the Suns. Both teams have aging stars and are looking forward to the next generation of leaders for their respective clubs. Unfortunately for Suns fans, all signs point to a repeat of history with the Lakers getting the top guy and the Suns left trying to land a few All-Stars so they can at least compete.
The Suns didn't trade Amare Stoudemire for up-and-coming players and draft picks like the Utah Jazz did with Deron Williams and they choose to hang on to Steve Nash past the point where he could have brought back considerable value. It's easy to be critical of those decisions but at the time, the alternatives weren't exactly obvious. The team Steve Kerr did assemble made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 which is nothing to sneeze at.
What's left now, however, is the price for that run. Amare was allowed to leave as a free agent and Nash is an aging great with one year left on his contract. The rest of the team is a group of nice players that lacks the star power to land a top free agent like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard.
On the other hand, according to multiple reports, the Lakers are poised to offer one of their top players (Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum) to land either Howard or Paul.
Are Chris Paul, Dwight Howard in race to L.A.? - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
In the end, the Magic and Hornets will be searching for teams that can satisfy Paul’s and Howard’s desire for a championship contender, and that list is painfully short when you consider those with the players and assets to fulfill the return on the trade. It won’t be New York, but 3,000 miles away, in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are forever searching for a twentysomething star to be the next in line, where the race to trade Chris Paul and Dwight Howard for a package centered around Andrew Bynum has all but officially started.
The fact that the Lakers were even able to assemble so much talent around Kobe Bryant says more about their ability to spend $40 million more on payroll than Phoenix. Now they appear ready to leverage what they have for something even better.
As Randy Hill of Fox Sports Arizona points out, the Suns will be facing an uphill battle between the dynamics of the new CBA, the lack of high-end trade pieces and the inherent disadvantages of this market compared to the four teams in Los Angeles and New York.
Suns likely to postpone major shopping
Well, the unrestricted list will yield ... nobody else of major consequence. Sure, there are a lot of pretty good players who would be considerable upgrades from what we now see on the Phoenix roster. But superstars? Not so much.
The history of the Phoenix Suns is filled with "pretty good players" who aren't superstars and in the end, that's not such a bad thing. This market has enjoyed many years of competitive basketball which is far better than plenty of other cities can claim.
Maybe the Phoenix Suns know something about the 2012 free agent market that isn't clear to the rest of us. Maybe they can trade what they have for one of the big stars and convince them to re-sign with the Suns.
Or maybe we are in for another decade of competing and but falling just short of the richer cousins across the Colorado River.
Instead of being envious of what they have, hopefully we can appreciate what's been a pretty decent run and hope it can continue in some form or fashion. Let's just try and not delude ourselves and set the expectations bar too high.
Losing enough games to get lucky in the draft lottery is a price this city won't pay. It takes years of pain for that to work and the fan base here hasn't shown enough loyalty to stick through the bad times. And this team has never landed a top-notch free agent outside of Steve Nash (and those circumstances were very unique) and doesn't have the pieces to trade for one now.
Another run of competitive but not championship basketball seems to be our destiny. Is that really so bad?