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The Phoenix Suns and the lottery limbo: How low can they go?

Tip off time for the 2013/14 NBA season is just a couple hours away. While the league will be showcasing its premiere teams and superstars, Suns fans may be keeping a watchful eye on a different group in addition to the pantheon. While teams like the Bulls and Rockets are fighting for supremacy, teams like the Suns will be involved in a different battle. It will be a skirmish to see how low they can go. So how does Phoenix stack up?

Goran is going low.
Goran is going low.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte Bobcats

Front Office: Likely some combination of owner Michael Jordan, Director of Player Personnel Larry Jordan, PBO Rod Higgins and GM Rich Cho

Coach: Steve Clifford (first season).  Previous: Orlando Magic assistant coach 2007-12.  LA Lakers assistant coach 2012-13.

Assets/Veteran Talent: Al Jefferson

Assets/Young Talent: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo

Other: Ben Gordon, Brendan Haywood, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Jeff Taylor

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $41.6 million 2015/16: $40.6 million

Draft Picks: In: First round pick from Portland, top 12 protected 2014 and 2015, unprotected 2016.  First round pick from Detroit, top eight protected 2014, top one protected 2015, unprotected 2016.  Out: First round pick to Chicago, top 10 protected 2014, top eight protected 2015, unprotected 2016.

Outlook: The front office section is cluttered here since Jordan has been historically meddlesome, including recently naming his brother the team's director of player personnel (a la Lindsey Hunter)... raising suspicions of nepotism. The acquisition of Al Jefferson has also raised eyebrows, as some see it as a desperate attempt by a traditionally dysfunctional franchise to reach for the pinnacle of mediocrity.  The team has put together an interesting young core, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Kemba Walker continue on the ascending trajectory he established last season.

The Bobcats may face a bit of a dilemma as the season winds down.  Unless they are in the thick of a battle for the privilege of getting brutalized by the Heat/Bulls/Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, they have incentive to lose and keep their draft pick (which is owed to Chicago top 10 protected).  I foresee the Bobcats keeping it, while possibly getting one or more from Detroit and Portland, and building through the draft for at least one more year.  Ultimately, the duo of Jefferson and Walker don't provide enough punch in terms of top end talent and the rest of the squad is either not ready to or incapable of contributing at a high level.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 29-53

Sacramento Kings

Front Office: GM Pete D'Alessandro (new owner Vivek Ranadive)

Coach: Michael Malone (first season).  Previous: Golden St. Warriors assistant coach 2011-13.

Assets/Veteran Talent:  Greivis Vasquez

Assets/Young Talent: DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore

Other: Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, John Salmons

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $49.2 million 2015/16: $17 million

Draft Picks: In: None.  Out: First round pick to Cleveland, top 12 protected 2014, top 10 protected 2015-17, then expires.

Outlook: Ding, dong the witch is dead! With the Maloofs in the rear view mirror the Kings finally have a chance at building with a sense of stability. Unfortunately, the Kings are a step behind many of their rebuilding brethren.  With no extra draft picks stockpiled and veteran role players still eating up cap through next year, Sacramento promises to be mired in mid-lottery purgatory for the near future.  Much like the Bobcats, they have surrounded two above average (non-all stars) players with middling role players... Unlike the Bobcats, who selected Kidd-Gilchrist in the 2012 draft, the Kings wasted a draft year on Thomas Robinson (#5 overall)... who apparently wasn't even good enough to play on the Kings.  Digest that.

The best immediate hope for the franchise is the enigmatic, but uber-talented, Cousins.  He could anchor this team as a perennial 20/10 all-star if he could get his sh** together, but I'm not holding my breath.  Adding the play-making Vasquez (#1 in total assists -704, #2 in assist % - 44.9 and #3 in apg - 9.0) as a facilitator is an upgrade, but the pack of teams Sacramento is chasing seem to have improved more than they have.  The Kings defense, perhaps their biggest flaw, doesn't seem to have been addressed, either. Expect them to be in a battle for most points allowed (which they led last season) with cohorts such as the Sixers and Suns.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 28-54

Orlando Magic

Front Office: GM Rob Hennigan

Coach: Jacque Vaughn (second season).  Previous: San Antonio Spurs assistant coach 2010-12.

Assets/Veteran Talent: Arron Afflalo

Assets/Young Talent: Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo

Other: Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $45.1 million 2015/16: $18 million

Draft Picks: In: First round pick from Denver, least favorable between Denver and New York.  First round pick from Philadelphia, top 14 protected 2016, top 11 protected 2017, top eight protected 2018, then becomes two second round picks.  First round pick from LA Lakers 2017, messy restrictions.  Out: None.

Outlook: Jacque Vaughn has tenure in comparison to many head coaches on this list... with a total of five rookie coaches ready to be beaten mercilessly develop young rosters. And the Magic have a group of ready to play, precocious youngsters ready to be developed under his tutelage. Vucevic (23), Harris (21) and Harkless (20) return and are expected to make a significant impact, while many consider Oladipo to be the most NBA-ready player from the 2013 draft.

They'll need their prodigies to excel, because the veteran talent on this team is pretty much rancid, fetid garbage.  Arron Afflalo is the best of the upperclassmen, but he will need to revert course after his shooting numbers were in thedoldrums last season. Replace Nelson, Hedon't and Davis, who is a particularly terrible basketball player in his own right, with real basketball players and this team would be in business.  As it is, the potential of adding two more first round picks and (hopefully) shedding some dead weight next summer leave this team poised to be the most ready to make a jump on this list.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 26-56

Utah Jazz

Front Office: GM Dennis Lindsey

Coach: Tyrone Corbin (third season).  Previous: Utah Jazz assistant coach 2004-11.

Assets/Veteran Talent: None

Assets/Young Talent: Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward

Other: Brandon Rush, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, John Lucas III, Andris Biedrins

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $17.5 million 2015/16: $3.8 million

Draft Picks: In: Two unprotected first round picks from Golden St. (2014 and 2017).  Out: None

Outlook: Organizationally, this may be the most stable team on the list.  Head coach Tyrone Corbin has been a fixture with the team for quite some time. The roster, however, has been much more mercurial.  After winning 43 games last year (the treadmill of mediocrity) the Jazz bid farewell to four of the top five players in minutes played per game from that incarnation. They replaced those departing veterans with... absolutely nothing.  I wasn't completely sure who to put in the other section from this band of misfits. The Jazz may vie for the biggest drop off in wins from last season to this season (I've got them at -20).

A meteoric rise from Kanter and Favors, who seem like a great tandem in the frontcourt, could help make up for the loss of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but even then the bench is threadbare. I expect Hayward to be solid, but the Jazz might have some of the weakest point guard play in the league.  Not good considering that is such a deep position across the league.  The good news for Utah is that the rest of their crappy "depth" falls off next year. Yes they're paying the trio of Jefferson, Biedrins and Williams a combined $28 million, leaving them with basically just the contracts of their core (Kanter, Hayward and Favors).  The Jazz also have two first round picks coming up (everyone on this list except Sacramento will probably have at least two when the dust settles).

Predicted 2013/14 record: 23-59

Boston Celtics

Front Office: PBO Danny Ainge

Coach: Brad Stevens (first season).  Previous: Butler Bulldogs head coach 2007-13.

Assets/Veteran Talent: Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green

Assets/Young Talent: Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk

Other: Brandon Bass, Jordan Crawford, Kris Humphries, Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $59.6 million 2015/16: $38.1 million

Draft Picks: In: Three first round picks from Brooklyn (2014, 2016 and 2018) and one from the Clippers (2015).  The 2014 pick is the least favorable between Brooklyn and Atlanta.  The other three are unprotected.  Out: None.

Outlook: The Celtics did what the Suns were unwilling/unable to do.  They jettisoned players firmly ensconced in the team's vaunted history to accelerate a rebuild.  Well, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce at least. Jason Terry is more of a tool in the annoying sense than the useful one.  Rather than keep the trio of wizened old men (by NBA standards) for another run at a first round exit, they hit abort and absorbed a bunch of crappy players from the Nets.  The Celtics loaded up on draft picks in the exchange, but also got saddled with bad contracts, such as three years of Gerald Wallace for the low, low price of $30.3 million.

Rondo (who's hurt right now anyway) doesn't seem to fit this team's new direction, which appears to be at least two to three years of doleful despair in the NBA's dungeon.  With him MIA the team is basically Jeff Green, some fringe starters and generally useless refuse.  The Celtics lost all of their leadership, toughness, defense and scoring.  At least the exit of Boston's veterans may keep the voice of new coach Brad Stevens (37 years old) from being drowned out.  I can see this team struggling to score points and being damn near unwatchable at times. Oh yeah, that least improved (most regressed) win total... I've got Boston -21.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 20-62

Phoenix Suns

Front Office: GM Ryan McDonough

Coach: Jeff Hornacek (first season).  Previous: Utah Jazz assistant coach 2011-13.

Assets/Veteran Talent: Goran Dragic

Assets/Young Talent: Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len

Other: Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker, Miles Plumlee

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $35.8 million 2015/16: $17.6 million

Draft Picks: First round pick from Minnesota, top 13 protected 2014, top 12 protected 2015-16, then expires.  First round pick from Washington, top 12 protected 2014, top 10 protected 2015-19, unprotected 2020.  First round pick from Indiana, top 14 protected 2014-19, unprotected 2020.  First round pick from LA Lakers, top five protected 2015, top three protected 2016-17, unprotected 2018.

Outlook: The Suns new GM eviscerated a roster that only won 25 games and collected young assets and picks while reconstructing a new roster that will only win slightly less.  The Suns are near the bottom of this group in young assets, though, as they are still much closer to the beginning than the end of their rebuild.  Miles Plumlee, who only managed to wrestle away 55 minutes from Ian Mahinmi last season, appears to be the starting center. Markieff Morris has a chance to be one of the worst starting power forwards in the NBA... and has barely flashed any signs of hope for improvement. There are only a handful of teams in the NBA Tucker could start for (one is a handful, right?).

The only stable veteran presence, Dragic, is being displaced from the role he played last season as the primary ball handler so that the key off-season acquisition, Bledsoe, can step into a role he hasn't played in so far in his career.  The team will try to run under new coach Jeff Hornacek, but ball control, shooting and defensive issues (along with lack of overall talent) will make this a long season.  The Suns will have plenty of rooting interests this season, though, as they await the fate of up to three protected first round draft picks they may receive.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 16-66

Philadelphia 76ers

Front Office: GM Sam Hinkie

Coach: Brett Brown (first season).  Previous: San Antonio Spurs assistant coach 2007-13.

Assets/Veteran Talent: Thaddeus Young

Assets/Young Talent: Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel

Other: Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, James Anderson, Lavoy Allen

Guaranteed Salary: 2014/15: $22 million 2015/16: $17 million

Draft Picks: In: First round pick from New Orleans, top five protected 2014-2020.  Out: First round pick to Miami, top 14 protected 2014 and 2015, then becomes two second round picks.  First round pick to Orlando, top 14 protected 2016, top 11 protected 2017, top eight protected 2018, then becomes two second round picks.

Outlook: The 76ers have been castigated for egregious tanking, but I don't know that I'd necessarily put them at the top of the list.  The reality is that Philly already had a pitiful roster headed into last off-season.  The deal that sent all-star point guard Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for future assets definitely diluted the talent pool, but the only other significant loss was Nick Young.  I would argue that teams like Utah and Boston evacuated more talent, they just had more to begin with.

It's hard to even find enough NBA talent on this roster to fill 240 minutes a night.  I've already quipped that this team is a Thaddeus Young injury away from being the worst team in NBA history.  Hopefully Brett Brown is an inspirational motivator, because this team will be overmatched every time they step foot on the court and it will be easy for them to become disengaged.  To compound the dearth of talent on this roster, Philadelphia actually owes a couple of their first round picks (protected) to other teams. They better get lucky in next year's lottery.

Predicted 2013/14 record: 13-69

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