The Phoenix Suns came into the offseason with a clear plan in mind. They intended to replace the current faces of the franchise - 38-year old PG Steve Nash and near-40 SF Grant Hill - with new, younger ones. Specifically, they focused on 20-year old PG Kendall Marshall, 26-year old PG Goran Dragic, 24-year old SF Michael Beasley and 23-year old SG Eric Gordon.
Marshall came via the draft, and all three free agents signed immediately (though Gordon's offer was matched by New Orleans).
Suns' master plan A:
Out: Steve Nash, Grant Hill
In: Kendall Marshall (R), Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, and Eric Gordon
Gordon never made it to the Suns, leaving a big hole in the "face of the franchise" discussion. If Gordon had come to the Suns, then a clear roadmap to the future would have been in place.
Without Gordon, the Suns quickly had to make a new plan in order to stay off the "playoff bubble" treadmill: (b) dump contracts aggressively to fight for the #1 pick in the next draft, or (c) aggressively work to acquire a game-changer via trade to fight for a #1 seed.
As a franchise, the Suns immediately ruled out (b) because they just are "not into tanking". Plus, their entire front office only has one year left on their contracts. Go figure.
That leaves (c) and the search for a game-changer via trade or free agency. In the 5 weeks since then, the following players better than anyone on the Suns' current roster have been traded: Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Andre Iguodala and Joe Johnson. Though only Howard and (maybe) Bynum are true franchise-changers.
Whither the Suns' franchise-changer, then? Plan (c) appears to be in trouble.
A quick look to the 2012 draft reveals that #1 pick Anthony Davis is also predicted to be a franchise-changer, while no less than three other 2012 draftees would be projected to start immediately ahead of their counterpart on the Suns' roster.
But the Suns don't want to "fight" for a top-5 pick. They proved this by the remainder of their moves this summer (after Nash/Hill for Dragic/Beasley).
Out: PG Ronnie Price, SG Michael Redd, SF Josh Childress, PF Hakim Warrick, C Robin Lopez
In: PG Marshall, SF Wesley Johnson, SF P.J. Tucker, PF Luis Scola, C Jermaine O'Neal
Returning (ie. not dumped): Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris
While the Suns' top-end talent got worse, their supporting cast seems to have at least remained steady if not improved. Luis Scola is better than Hakim Warrick. Kendall Marshall is better than Ronnie Price. If healthy, Jermaine O'Neal is better than Robin Lopez.
It appears that, collectively, the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns are too good to earn a top-5 draft pick. That means the 2013 draft is an unlikely place to find a game-changer, unless your scouting department gets lucky.
It also appears that, collectively, the 2012-13 Phoenix Suns are not good enough to earn a home-court playoff seed for a deep playoff run.
They are still on that 8th-10th seed treadmill, knocking on the playoff door through March, they hoped to avoid when letting Nash and Hill walk out.
Suns fans have to hope the FO's makeover is incomplete. Lon Babby, Lance Blanks and personnel man John Treloar (as well as the entire coaching staff) are all on the final year of their three-year contracts.
If their only job was to initiate the "changing of the guard" to transition away from Steve Nash, then their tenure has been a success. If their job was to leave the franchise in a better place than when they arrived, their tenure has been a failure.
If/when the Suns underwhelm again this season, the next FO will have a very easy job. There are young guys with the talent to get better. They have 10 draft picks (including six mid-to-low first rounders) in the next three years. There is still $6 million in cap space this year, and up to $15 million next summer without dumping any players they don't want to dump. And there are a fistful of reasonable (tradeable) contracts on hand.
Strap in, Suns fans. This bumpy ride is not over.
Whether it's the current FO or a new one next summer, the building blocks are there for improvement.
There's really no long-term plan that wouldn't be received better than the current (incomplete) one.
In the meantime, we can root for the 8th playoff seed and potentiality of a Cinderella season.