In an Era of Superstars, the Suns Play it Smart


The 10/11 season is only weeks away now, and the common consensus is that the Suns will yet again be somewhere between good and very good, but not great. Well yeah, what else do you have to share with us? It's not like we haven't seen that before, and we're still here aren't we? Still here and still hopeful, ready to see what the last chapters of the careers of Steve Nash and Grant Hill will behold. Ready to see what El Dragon and the Flying Fropez will do next. Ready to see the what the colorful additions of Hedo, Hak and JChillz will bring.

The grumblings can be heard as well. People are tiring of the organizational model of the Phoenix Suns. Rebuilding is an idea that has been offered more than once, others want to mortgage everything for the mythical Dominant Big Man. I hear this stuff and I wonder, "do people not see what's happening in the league at this very moment?"

The Clenver Nuggaliers

Note: I realize that reporting on the demise of the Carmelo Anthony-era Nuggets is premature, but since we still have a little bit of summer to trudge through I'm going ahead and assuming that Carmelo will leave Denver in ruins, in the interest of offseason filler.

Let's first dissect the fallacy of the "Five Year Rebuild", or in layman's terms, sucking hardcore in hope of getting lucky in the draft lottery. It amazes me that people still think this is a good idea, even as we watch the Cavs and Nuggets fall to pieces under the weight of their prized "franchise saviors" from the 2003 draft.

Cleveland and Denver had followed very similar paths in obtaining LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, respectively. Specifically, they were two of the most insignificant franchises in the NBA. They sucked for years and were fixtures in the annual draft lottery. If a game between the Nugs and Cavs pre-2003 were televised, a Full House rerun would get better ratings. So they fiddled around and they lost a bunch of games, a bloated Shawn Kemp sighting here, a Nick Van Exel appearance there, one crappy season ran into the next. The two teams combined had a bevy of lottery picks, and in the interest of exposing the fool's gold that is the NBA draft lottery, here are some of their selections prior to 2003, Cleveland in red and Denver in blue.

Year  Player Selection #
1996 Vitaly Potapenko 12*
1997 Tony Battie 5
1998 Raef LaFrentz 3
1999 Andre Miller 8
1999 Trajan Langdon 11
2000 Chris Mihm** 7
2001 DeSagana Diop 8
2002 Nikoloz Tskitishvili 5
2002 Dajuan Wagner 6
2002 Nene 7

*Selection was immediately followed by Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic and Steve Nash  **Draft day trade

If you're scoring at home, that's ten high draft picks and only Andre Miller and Nene could be called good NBA players (and even still, neither has played in an All-Star game). Pretty simple math - that's a 20% success rate. For all the bad Nuggets and Cavs teams from 1996 to 2003, only two decent players were found in the draft. However, in 2003 both teams finally had draft picks that simply could not miss.

The Trojan Horse of LeBron and Melo

A draft for the ages, LeBron and Melo entered the league as the very definition of can't-miss prospects. These guys were NBA-ready as teenagers, and by NBA-ready I mean they were ready to own the freakin' NBA. Instantly, both players made their teams relevant. Melo *gasp* took the Nugs to playoffs, everybody was tuning in to Cavs games to check out this LeBron kid, both teams mercifully updated their uniforms and logos, and people were actually marking Cavs vs. Nuggets on their NBA calendars. However, both teams would eventually learn the price of drafting that superstar player.

The Weight

LeBron is in Miami, Carmelo's departure from Denver seems inevitable, and holy shit what a mess those two organizations are now. Cleveland, ironically, now has a roster full of overpaid guys that were acquired in attempts to placate their savior-turned-destructor. Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams are two possibly immovable contracts that will likely ensure the team's failure in the immediate post-LeBron era. The Nuggets are capped out and field a team of overly-tattooed, immature players like J.R. Smith, Birdman and Kenyon Martin. Unfortunately, their overly-tattooed, immature leader can't wait to get out of that mess. Carmelo has reportedly done what any egotistical athlete is prone to do and listed the teams that are sufficient for a player of his caliber. Not surprisingly, you won't find any small markets on that list.

The Cavs are right back where they started before LeBron was drafted, and the Nuggets are likely to join them.

For years, Denver and Cleveland served as the model of success for rebuilding through the lottery. Now, they serve as the model of failure for trying to play the superstar game, and superstars like LeBron and Melo listen to their agents first with everyone else at a distant second. They have a brand to consider, endorsements to score; they're only young once, after all. They have proven that once you hedge your bets on a superstar, the inmates will take control of the asylum, and often will burn it to the ground.

For every feel-good San Antonio/Duncan or OKC/Durant story, there is a Nuggets and Cavs story, where the organization that drafts their superstar player really only serves as a vessel for that player's legacy until the contract ends.

The Suns' Model

I'm very relieved that the Suns aren't a star-chasing franchise. They're not going to hedge their bets on superstar players or lottery balls. The consequence of this is that they have never really achieved greatness, but nothing in this league is guaranteed, as the Cavs and Nugs will tell you. Nothing in this league is guaranteed, as Rick Pitino will tell you, after he hedged his bets on the Tim Duncan draft lottery and consequently flushed his future in the NBA down the crapper. What we can safely expect from the Suns, now and moving forward, is teams with class and character. Teams that are easy to root for. Teams that are good, and the possibility of greatness is always there.

No Suns player is bigger than the team. It's not financially possible or otherwise conceivable that any member of the roster could pull the ole' screwjob and leave the team in ruins. The Suns are smarter than that. They will live and die as a team, and you can expect the same in the future. What's not to like about that?

Happy hunting everyone.

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