The Phoenix Suns refuse to rebuild the "traditional" way. You know what I'm talking about, the dump all your good players and fill your roster with local YMCA talent kind of rebuild. The one where you end up stinking really bad all in an effort to possibly luck out in the draft lottery and hopefully maybe land a high pick that probably might be the next LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant ... you know -- those players that come along once or twice every decade or so.
We've talked about this ad nauseam. The Phoenix Suns don't play that game.
They really haven't ever played that game. "Traditional" in many ways, just isn't the Phoenix Suns' style. Despite not owning an NBA Championship that's one of the reasons the Suns have been such a successful franchise in the sense that they are near the top of the league in overall winning percentage.
The front office has stated their modus operandi and they have executed -- they are going to rebuild in every way possible (through the draft, trades, or free-agency), all while trying to stay competitive. For now at least, gone are the days of selling draft picks for cash. The Suns have around 10 draft picks stockpiled over the next three years, they have displayed their interest and pitching ability in acquiring star players through free-agency and they have signed a wealth of talented players on very appealing contracts that put the Suns in a great comfort zone for potential trades. All of this has been done while maintaining and managing excellent cap space and flexibility.
The Phoenix Suns are doing everything they possibly can to give their franchise an opportunity to land a superstar player in the near future. It's not their fault that there are zero championship-caliber players currently available.
Yet as a long-time Bright Side author and a dude who keeps his ear constantly to Suns fans on social media, I hear a lot of dejection and frustration with the position in which the Suns franchise currently finds itself. I understand it ... but here is my advice -- wake up and get real. This article is for you.
It's curious to me too, because many of those who express their distaste for this off-season's moves are the very same fans that preface or post stamp their opinions with some variation of the expression, "I'm just being a realist."
If you really want to be a "realist," please take the following into consideration. I'm going to start out by rehashing this dead and rotting corpse of horse:
The Suns have stated all along that they are rebuilding and that their goal is to remain competitive while doing it.
There are two ideals up for fan-debate in that statement.
- The way in which the suns are "rebuilding"
- The definition of being "competitive"
Let's iron these down a little.
The traditional method of rebuilding is a sad and potentially franchise-crippling process that takes years of suckage and isn't even guaranteed because the draft is a gamble. It sounds easy on a blog, "MAN, the Suns just need to throw in the towel and suck so we can get a top five pick in the draft."
Effects of Bottoming-Out
Take into consideration the fan culture of Phoenix Arizona. Do you really (and be "real") believe that the Phoenix Suns franchise could survive the financial fallout of 3-5 years of the worst Suns basketball in their history? I think with this ownership and the current state of the economy it can't.
In 2001, the swift departure of Jason Kidd (remember how fast he was ushered out after his domestic abuse issue?) and Cliff Robinson put the Suns in a small rebuilding mode similar to where they currently -- Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway were acquired in an attempt to similarly stay "competitive." Over the next three years the Starbury experiment failed with the Suns only making the playoffs once (and losing in the first round) and culminated with the mid-season firing of Frank Johnson and a 29-53 record in 2003-04, 27 games behind the Pacific Division leaders the Lakers. Here's the important part: over that short quasi-rebuild, arena attendance plummeted to franchise lows (since the new arena was built) and the franchise was sold off.
The rebuilding continued in a similar fashion as to what is happening now, more team assets were acquired through trades, the draft and free-agency. The 2004 Phoenix Suns sported the young unproven talent in Joe Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Quentin Richardson -- mixed with budding young players Shawn Marion and Amar'e Stoudemire and sprinkled in the veteran presence 30-year-old Steve Nash.
The rest was history, the very next season the Suns went on to post a 62-20 record and took a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Arena attendance jumped nearly 10% and the Phoenix Suns scored a league-leading 40 Million in operating profit. That says something to the fan culture here ... and something we all already know -- lot's of fair-weather fans here in the desert. But that's just the nature of the socio-economic and demographic reality here in Phoenix. A lot of snow-birds and imports - so for the Phoenix Suns, going all "Charlotte Bobcats" isn't really a viable option.
Be realistic and ask yourself again -- can the team afford to be traditional?
Tanking Doesn't Always Work
Draft tanking doesn't always work ... in fact a majority of the time it doesn't. Just because you tank, or suck, and get a top five pick in the draft -- in no way solidifies the future of your franchise in a shiny double-rainbow of championship contention. Everyone and their dog wants to point to the OKC Thunder as evidence that bottoming out and rebuilding through the draft really does work but get this, the Thunder are pretty much the first team in the last 20 years to actually strike gold with their high (and some low -- see Ibaka) draft picks. Referencing the traditional model of rebuilding Matt Yoder of bloguin.com says,
"Theoretically, this is how you rebuild a basketball team through the draft... but it's not always that easy. Since the beginning of the 1992 season, 10 teams have held on to Top 5 picks in three consecutive seasons.
That's an incredible opportunity for a franchise, but amazingly, only Oklahoma City was able to reach the Finals with those top picks."
He continues in his article to break down the other nine teams and evaluate what having a top five pick for three consecutive years has done for them. I'll save you the time if you don't want to take a peek for yourself, it's a list riddled with what Yoder describes as, "busts, broken dreams, and ‘what could have beens'".
I'll assume I'm going to hear arguments about "Look at the Spurs! They drafted their big 3!" Very true -- but they sucked on accident for one year (96-97) and magically got the number one pick in the lottery which happened to be Tim Duncan. So COOL RIGHT?
The other members of the SAS Big Three? Manu Ginobili was the 57th pick in the 1999 Draft while Tony Parker was the 28th pick in 2001. By no means did the Spurs need to "bottom-out" in the traditional sense to acquire elite level talent in the draft. Just an additional Spurs observation ... going back 10 years prior to the Spurs 97' 1st pick selection, the only other times the Spurs were bad enough to drop down into the lottery they were ‘lucky' enough to get a #3 pick (Sean Elliott -- 1989), a #10 (Willie Anderson -- 1988) and another #1 pick (David Robinson -- 1987). Sounds like "luck" is a necessity in something called a draft "lottery."
Another obstacle in the way of teams trying to "bottom-out" and rebuild is the prevalence of super-teams in the NBA today. Howard and Nash to the Lakers this offseason, Wade, James and Bosh in Miami, Even Deron Williams and Joe Johnson now on the Nets, or Chris Paul and Griffin and that other Los Angeles team and what they're doing. The Spurs and then the Celtics pretty much started the modern super-team era with Pierce, Garnett and Allen and all that jazz.
It's funny, until Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder a few months ago, for the last 13 years only three teams had come out of the Western Conference to play in the NBA Finals -- the Mavericks, the Spurs and the Lakers.
Why? It's plain and simple; it is because of the quality of their superstars. Let's talk about that -- but first let's clear up that number 2 from our front office's current mission statement.
Being "competitive" is not the same as being "in championship contention."
Being competitive in today's NBA is giving your team an opportunity to win on any given night and to fight for a playoff spot. The prevalence of super-teams like we've talked a bit about (teams with two, three and sometimes four All-NBA and/or All-Star caliber players) only amplifies some factors that haunt teams searching to move from just being "competitive" to "in championship contention"
So what are those factors? Take a look at the following statistics for NBA Championship teams provided by the research staff at 82games.com.
92% of all NBA Champions have had a recent All-NBA 1st Team selection, 81% of NBA Champions have had a recent All-Defensive 1st Team selection and 92% of NBA Champions have had a player ranked in the top eight in Efficiency the preceding season.
That means to have a chance to win a championship in the NBA you must acquire a top five caliber player -- or if you fail to do that, you've got have a top five caliber defender.
The writing is on the wall -- ZERO NBA teams have won a championship without a top five player or a top five defender. That kind of narrows down the list of teams that can actually compete for a championship, eh?
Let's take a look at the last few years' (recent) 1st Team selections (All-NBA and All-Defense):
And let's check the last few years' top eight players in Efficiency:
Do the Suns have any of those players on their roster? Shucks. It doesn't look like it.
How many teams in the entire league this year have a top eight efficiency player from last year? Six. Six teams share the top eight players. The Miami Heat sport two (James & Wade) and the Clippers have two (Paul & Griffin).
Now note the colors -- of all the most efficient players over the last three years, five teams or 16% of the league this year own 88% (21 of 24) of the most efficient players in the league. The percentages are to help you get the idea -- let me explain it another way; 13 different players have taken up the top eight spots in efficiency, five teams share 10 of them. THAT ISH CRAY.
Take a look at those All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. Eleven players make up the 30 spots available over the last three years. How many different teams now own those 11 players? Seven, and newsflash -- the Phoenix Suns aren't one of them.
"Blablabla Leiland hey, but if we had kept Steve Nash..."
Let me cut you off right there, Steve is a great player but he didn't even crack the top 20 in player efficiency last year.
He ended up at 38th with a PER of 20.3 and Marcin Gortat was 30th in the league with a 21.2. You might try to come at me [bro] with the whole, "but he doesn't have the talent around him" argument ... I don't buy that completely -- Look at Kevin Love, or Chris Paul over the last three years. I'm sure more talent would help his efficiency rating some and I bet we'll see his PER rise a bit this year with the Lakers -- but it doesn't matter. He wasn't close to being top eight. Go back and look at the numbers if you think I'm crazy, teams that win championships have players who are in the top echelon of that statistic.
The point is this -- if your expectations of the Phoenix Suns this offseason was to come out this year and compete for a title, you are not being realistic.
The only free agents of note that were available this past season were Deron Williams (still not a top eight PER or an All-NBA/Defense player), Dwight Howard and Eric Gordon (also not a championship player yet).
The Suns went after the only one of those three elite players that they realistically had a shot at. There was zero chance of Howard coming to Phoenix and Williams signed early with the bazillionaire Russian after Joe Johnson's obese contract was gobbled up.
So please ... Mr. Realist -- how exactly did you expect the Phoenix Suns to jump from the "competitive" tier to the "championship contenders" tier this year?
By all accounts the Suns currently stand as the 2nd best prepared team (behind the Cavaliers) in terms of cap space which puts them in a very advantageous position to spend big on free-agents in the coming season/s. Oh, not to mention we also have a very intriguing and talented roster for this year as well with which to remain competitive and entertaining.
This is where we'll take a break my friends, 'tis enough bomb dropping for one day methinks.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a much shorter part two of this essay of awesomeness which will include the following;
- A look at Championship caliber players of the Phoenix Suns rosters past
- A reason to stay positive and spit in the face of "experts"