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ESPN shines Bright on Phoenix Suns future, for a change of pace

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Available again are the mothership's annual predictions for the Future of each franchise, including your own Phoenix Suns. Their predictions have smelled bad recently, but so have the Suns so they haven't been that far off base.

Predictions are like poop in a toilet bowl. Somewhat interesting to look at, ever changing as they swirl, and quickly forgotten once they are flushed.

Let's take a moment to look at old poops anyway, and then even more moments sniffing the latest version because it smells a whole lot better than previous editions.

ESPN's explanation

The Future Power Rankings are ESPN Insider's projection of the on-court success expected for each team in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

Each of the NBA's 30 teams received an overall Future Power Rating of 0 to 100, based on how well we expect each team to perform in the next three seasons.

To determine the Future Power Rating, we rated each team in five categories. As you can see, we determined that the most important category is a team's current roster and the future potential of those players -- that category accounts for 50 percent of each team's overall Future Power Rating.

At the same time, we looked at many other factors, such as management, ownership, coaching, a team's spending habits, its cap situation, the reputation of the city and the franchise and what kind of draft picks we expect the team to have in the future.

For the first few years, it was John Hollinger and Chad Ford. Recently, Hollinger exited for an NBA front office and Ford was joined by Amin Elhassan, Kevin Pelton and Tom Haberstroh.

History of the Suns Future Power Rankings

Entering the 2009-2010 season, ESPN ranked the Phoenix Suns 26th in their Future Power Rankings. The Suns went on to make the Western Conference Finals in the spring of 2010 and barely miss the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, so throw that prediction of "on court success over the next three seasons" in the crapper.

Entering the 2010-2011 season, ESPN ranked the Phoenix Suns 27th in their Future Power Rankings, citing a terrible offseason when Amare Stoudemire left for greener pastures and was replaced by a handful of spare parts.

The enthusiasm over the Suns' terrific run to the Western Conference finals was seriously dampened by a pretty crappy June and July.

When team president and GM Steve Kerr resigned, owner Robert Sarver took over front-office operations and managed to do a great deal of damage in just a few weeks.

First he lost Amare Stoudemire in free agency, and then he took on Hedo Turkoglu's huge contract while also overpaying Josh Childress (who plays the same position as Turkoglu), Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick. Sarver eventually brought on respected player agent Lon Babby as the team's new president, but at that point, most of the damage had been done.

Sarver's moves will help keep the Suns respectable for the moment, but for the future, the picture is bleak. As Steve Nash ages, it's hard to imagine how the role players Phoenix has put around him will be able to prevent a Suns slide into irrelevance.

(Previous rank: 25)

This time, they were closer to correct. The Suns did fall flat on their faces within three years, though they were middle of the pack in the two seasons before that.

Entering the 2011-12 season, ESPN ranked the Phoenix Suns 26th in their Future Power Rankings.

Given that Nash (who turned 37 in February) can't do this forever, the long-term prospects in Phoenix continue to be pretty bleak. The Suns should have a little money to play with this summer once Carter comes off the books, but it won't be enough to land a major impact player, thanks to the senseless contracts owner Robert Sarver gave Warrick and Childress last summer. By the time the Suns do have real cap space, Nash will be slowing down. Most likely, the team will explore trading him this summer. If they can get back significant assets, their future should brighten. But for now our outlook remains decidedly pessimistic.

Again, they were pretty dead on here whether we wanted to believe it or not. A three-year window did not look good and the Suns proved it in the 2012-13 season, their first without Nash.

Entering the 2012-13 season, ESPN bottomed out the Phoenix Suns at 29th in their Future Power Rankings.

Nevertheless, we believe that only the Bobcats and Magic are in worse shape from a players perspective.

We're pinning much of the blame on owner Robert Saver. He's the worst type of owner -- both a spendthrift and a meddler who doesn't really know basketball. It's virtually impossible for us to rate the job GM Lon Babby has done because of Saver's influence on basketball decisions.

The only good news for Suns fans? The team should have its own high draft pick this summer and is due picks from the Grizzlies and Lakers in coming years.

Again, they were pretty right on this, except that the listing was supposed to a FUTURE Power Rankings, not a present power rankings. If you project a team to be one of the worst in the league then you need to give them credit in the draft category. But alas, the Suns had not shown any acumen to use their assets well. The rebuild was beginning, but no one was willing to admit it yet.

Their predictions on the 2013-14 season were no better. ESPN kept the Suns in 27th (Bright Side link here) despite a flurry of positive moves that would bode well for THREE YEARS down the road if not the current season. They only really gave credit for the projected draft picks, but otherwise tanked the Suns everywhere else. ESPN was having fun at the Suns expense once again.

Well, it looks as though we were right when we said the Suns had hit rock bottom in May. The Suns move up two spots in this year's rankings thanks in large part to how bullish we are about their draft prospects. They are on pace to have a very high pick in the next couple of drafts plus they own future first-round picks from the Pacers, Timberwolves and Lakers. That pushed them into the top spot in the draft category.

We also are a little more bullish on their roster thanks to the addition of point guard Eric Bledsoe and rookie big man Alex Len over the summer. Those two have the potential to be the cornerstones that the Suns begin to build around.

We also gave their management a small bump thanks to the hiring of Danny Ainge's protégé, Ryan McDonough. If he can provide the same sort of talent evaluation he did in Boston, the Suns, for the first time in a while, might actually draft one or two players worth keeping around.

The Suns are still a long ways away from being a playoff contender, but for the first time in several years, the team is finally on the upswing.

Dawn...err the Bright Side... has arrived!

Finally, the Future Power Rankings are beginning to shine bright on the Suns. After years of putting the Suns future in the bottom five of the league - something proven correct only ONCE in the last six years - the big boys at ESPN have seen fit to recognize the Suns as a player. At this point, it's looking more like a referendum rankings, rather than a three years down the road ranking.

Chad Ford finally helps put the Suns as high as 12th, though he still finds a way to close out with a zinger.

It's time to eat some crow. Last year, I -- and the rest of our panel -- blasted the Suns, ranking them No. 27 in our Future Power Rankings. The only thing we really liked about them was their potentially high draft position and their warm, Arizona market. What a difference a year makes.

After our rankings, the Suns went on to move center Marcin Gortat (one of their best two players) for a broken Emeka Okafor and still managed to nearly steal a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. It turned out Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe had career years. Gerald Green also had the best year of his career. Ditto for Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris. And Channing Frye basically made the comeback of the year.

All of that led us to double the Suns' score on their roster from 20 to 41. That score might be even higher if the Suns had managed to lock up Bledsoe to a long-term contract this summer. If he bolts the desert next year, that number will take a hit. We also increased the Suns' management score (we're big Jeff Hornacek fans) and still give them pretty high marks for the draft thanks to future picks they own from both the Lakers and Wolves.

While the Suns aren't necessarily contenders in the West, they aren't the bottom-dwellers we thought they would be. But the biggest question in my mind then is: Have they gone from underrated to overrated? I wouldn't be shocked to see the Suns settle into the late teens or early 20s next year.

So they are saying over the next three years, the Suns might be the 12th best team in the league. A playoff team. Or, they might decline a bit or stay level, which is out of the playoffs. But hey, at least the Suns are not last!

Here's hoping they are further along than a first-round ouster, but I see where these guys are coming from. The Suns don't have a proven marquee guy on the front line for three years from now, and all their hope only has one shown it for one really good year in which they didn't make the playoffs.

Yes, the Suns are rightly pegged as a potential flash in the pan. Teams have done that before.

My hopes for long-term shine are in Jeff Hornacek's ability to get the most out of his guys year in and year out, and Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby's ability to improve the talent on the team even more in the coming years.

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