This weekend featured fantastic games in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. Of the eight games played there were no blowouts and three lower seeds pulled off a Game 1 upset. It would have been four upsets too if Derrick Rose hadn't gone into Berserker Mode and ripped the still-beating hearts out of the Larry Bird's Indiana Pacers with an insane performance not seen in Chicago since You Know Who.
It was fantastic stuff and a reminder of just how far the Phoenix Suns have to go.
While it's always fun to think highly of the players wearing the laundry of your home team, an honest talent comparison with the playoff squads shows just how far the Suns are from being relevant again.
Fortunately, the Suns front office isn't delusional or dishonest about how bad their team is compared to those still playing (and frankly, compared to some of the younger teams as well such as the Kings, Clippers and Timberwolves).
"I don't think any of us deluded ourselves into thinking it was going to be a year like last year when we started, but we all believed we were a playoff team," President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said at his end of season press conference.
"I think the outcome allows us to (look to see where we can get better) in a way that had we snuck into the playoffs we would have not been honest with ourselves about where this franchise is and where we need to go."
Phew, good thing the Suns traded away Orlando's first round draft pick to get Aaron Brooks so they could get over the hump and make the playoffs which would have caused said team to be dishonest with itself about how far two aging stars could carry an imbalanced squad full of role players.
The future is not bright because the past is dull
Forget about letting Amare Stoudemire walk or the ill-fated Shaquille O`Neal experiment, the Suns are in this position because of mistakes they made with draft picks years ago.
Rajon Rondo could have been Steve Nash's replacement. Serge Ibaka could be filling the power forward role. Rudy Fernandez, still on his rookie deal, could be providing a lot more bang for the buck than the approximately $11 million being paid to wing players Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus.
All those things are "ancient" history, except now we also have to hope the Rockets strikeout with the low-20's pick the Suns' gifted them along with triple-double machine (slight exaggeration), Goran Dragic.
The only recent draft pick the team has left with any hope of contributing in the near future is second rounder Gani Lawal who tore his ACL this season. (Assuming the Suns have given up on Robin Lopez as most near the organization believe.)
It's going to take a combination of luck and the kind of creative skill and patience heretofore not seen by Robert Sarver's franchise to return to the Suns to glory. Even when the Sarver landed Nash in 2004 he already had the benefit of a core group young studs (Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson) to build around. No such core exists now.
No team is perfect and the Suns have had successes too. Channing Frye, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley certainly were positive moves made under Steve Kerr's watch and keeping Steve Nash since 2004 has to count for something (especially considering all the other All-Stars the team has cycled through the revolving roster).
But recent history does not bode well for the future and that's what really matters here.
For example, in just six months last year this organization turned Leandro Barbosa (owed ~$14.7 million) into Hedo Turkoglu (owed ~$39 million). They then parlayed Hedo along with Jason Richardson's expiring contract and the enigma known as Earl Clark into the right to pay Vince Carter and Pietrus a combined ~$32.1 million with the prize being Marcin Gortat's $27.5 million obligation.
Gortat is a guy the team touts as being a center in the tier below elite level which seems a bit on the optimistic side. But still, the reward at the end of all those moves is a guy who's at best, not an elite player. Please take note of how many teams are in the playoffs featuring non-elite players at their core.
To recap, that's $14.7 million owed LB thru 2012 plus JRich's expiring $14.4 million deal into $32.1 million of wasted salary (Carter and Pietrus) all to get a non-elite player (Gortat, $27.5 million) with a limited, but so far impressive, track record.
Throw in the Dragic and Orlando's first round pick for Brooks deal and net result is trading ~$29 million in salary and a low 20's pick for ~$60 million in salary plus a two month rental of Aaron Brooks and his restricted free agent rights. That is not a path to success in the NBA.
Brilliance like that doesn't earn trust which is exactly what the newest front office (the fourth since 2006) needs more than ever from its fans. But as Babby said, "The proof is going to be in the pudding and the pudding is still cooking."
Indeed the pudding is still cooking and probably the best we can hope for now is patience. That commodity has been in shortest supply by the transactionally oriented owner.
Add to all this the prospect of an extended lockout starting July 1 and pro (mens') basketball in Phoenix is set to drop way off the sporting radar. Barring some kind of negotiation miracle, it might be well into 2012 before we even see the Suns play again and it will certainly take a different kind of miracle for the team to be back in the mix of NBA contenders.
Forget contending, let's just hope the next series of moves reverse the trend and start things going in the right direction. That would be some yummy pudding even if it's not fully coooked.