"We have tried to turn over the team and infuse the team with young talent, but also stay competitive." - Ryan McDonough at exit interviews.
Con(tending) while (re)building.
That has been the vision of the Suns front office.
The problem with conbuilding, though, is the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity.
In this case the Elysium of conbuilding becomes the purgatory/hell of stagbuilding (stagnating while rebuilding).
One of the more salient symptoms of stagbuilding is missing the playoffs year after year, but continuing to pick late in the lottery.
Is that where the Suns find themselves mired right now? Are they stagbuilding?
Was this past season just a speed bump, or is it a full on detour?
Record - 48-34
Under Contract - Goran Dragic, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin
Free Agents - Eric Bledsoe, Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker
Draft Picks - 2014 #14, #18, #27 & 2015 Lakers pick
Record - 39-43
Under Contract - Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, Bogdan Bogdanovic
Free Agents - Brandon Knight, Brandan Wright, Gerald Green
Draft Picks - 2015 #13, 2016 Cleveland pick, 2017 & 2021 Miami picks
I don't want to be a complete doom merchant here. The Suns still have good developing players (especially Len), other good young players under long term contracts (especially Bledsoe and Markieff), all their own picks plus some additional first rounders and some salary cap flexibility with no dead contracts.
There are some reasons to be a stormy petrel, though.
All of the Suns good players have significant flaws. Lack of discipline, in particular, was pervasive and internecine this past season. Will that be resolved through maturation and the addition of veteran leadership?
McDonough admitted that the team was too young and inexperienced this season, that he failed to create the right balance between young, developing players and veterans in their late 20's/early 30's.
The lack of leadership on the team last season was a recurring theme.
The cap situation, while not problematic, could also be more favorable.
With the cap holds on Knight and Wright the Suns only have about $6 million to spend in free agency. That probably isn't going to land the team a player that impels a paradigm shift.
The sardonic spin on this situation is that the Suns could cap themselves out just to return a 39 win team.
But that's pretty unlikely to happen.
Still, the front office is preaching patience. They hope the fans understand these processes can take some time.
The team has departed from clinging to marginal success with a veteran laden squad (the final Nash seasons), but doesn't want to take the easy route of blowing things up. Demolition is pretty easy work, rebuilding from the ground floor is not.
But at least "tanking" increases the chances of drafting a franchise type player with a better draft pick.
McDonough understands the importance of finding an elite talent.
"That's one of the challenges for us, trying to win in a very difficult Western Conference without a superstar player. We have some very good players, but we don't have an MVP candidate or perennial All-Star and obviously we'd love to get one of those guys." - Ryan McDonough at exit interviews.
Can the Suns get one of those guys? Are they even positioned to if one becomes available?
The Suns don't have a top five lottery pick to dangle. Their best young player, Alex Len, hasn't even separated himself from his peers as a possible renaissance of centers might be in its embryonic stage. Can Bledsoe, playing at the deepest position in the league, be the cornerstone of a deal?
Are the Suns assets better than what other teams may offer?
Do the Suns even know what its assets are? Can Knight coexist in a backcourt with Bledsoe? We all just witnessed the pitfalls that can result from a bad fit. Perhaps Knight is even a better long term solution at the point... or perhaps a team makes the decision to retain him difficult by offering him a lucrative free agent deal.
There are more questions than answers for the Suns right now. The picture is hazy.
Do the Suns appear to be in better position than they were a year ago at this time? Are they closer to competing for championships?
Or are they poised to miss the playoffs for six consecutive seasons... seven... eight?
I think that Dave King (Bright Side of the Sun) had the best outlook on the situation when he said, "Right now we don't know what it is. I'd like to think that it's a speed bump, but I'm worried that it's a detour."
"A lot of the time you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes." - Ryan McDonough at exit interviews.
Hopefully this means that Ryan McDonough learned a lot from this past season.