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Where do the Phoenix Suns rank among the Eastern Conference lottery teams?

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The Suns finished outside the playoffs (again) and are poised to keep their stranglehold on the 13th pick. Phoenix was 10th in the West this season, but what is the team's outlook compared to East lottery teams with the salary cap explosion looming?

The beasts of the East.
The beasts of the East.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is an easy exercise.

How do the Suns compare to the Eastern Conference lottery teams based on each team's roster, salaries, draft picks and other factors?

The time frame is between now and the summer of 2016, when the escalating salary cap will have cataclysmic effects on the league's landscape.

When we're all waiting with bated breath for the July Moratorium to begin in July of 2016... how roseate will each of these team's futures be?

The methodology for the analysis should be lucid in the following team by team capsules.

**An analysis of the Western Conference lottery teams has already been published in this separate article.**

All salary cap numbers are from NBA Contract Index on Basketball-Reference.com. Numbers include player and team options, but not cap holds.

All draft pick information is from Future Traded Pick Details on RealGM.com.

Indiana Pacers (38-44)

Players

Paul George, Roy Hibbert (PO), David West (PO), George Hill, C.J. Miles

Salary Cap

2015: $64 million

2016: $34 million

Picks

2015: #11

Incoming: None

Outgoing: None

Outlook

The Pacers have no money to spend this summer because they are basically capped out if Hibbert and West opt in to their sizable player options (they will). So far the Pacers only have three players under contract for next summer - George, Hill, Miles.

The Pacers have a huge building block in Paul George. They should be back in the top half of the Eastern Conference next season and can contend for years to come if they can convince another star player to come play with George.

Verdict

Pacers > Suns

Miami Heat (37-45)

Players

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade (PO), Luol Deng (PO), Goran Dragic (PO), Hassan Whiteside

Salary Cap

2015: $81 million

2016: $32 million

Picks

2015: #10

Incoming: None

Outgoing: 2015 top 10 protected to Philadelphia, 2017 top 7 protected to Phoenix, 2021 unprotected to Phoenix

Outlook

Miami is well over the cap with its players options, not including what would be a much larger payday for Dragic if he stays (which I think is a dubious prospect). The Heat only have about $30 million committed for the summer of 2016.

Miami has frittered away their draft future while assembling a patchwork roster of aging players that couldn't propel the team into the playoffs... but it doesn't matter because of Riley and South Beach. Chris Bosh will likely age well and the team has a chance to reload around him in a putrid Eastern Conference.

Then again, it's always possible that Riley's arrogance and presumption will fail in Knicks-like fashion in the free agent market. There are only so many stars with wanderlust and other heavy hitters, like the Lakers, will be recruiting them, too.

Verdict

Miami (barely) > Suns

Charlotte Hornets (33-49)

Players

Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson (PO), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh

Salary Cap

2015: $66 million

2016: $31 million

Picks

2015: #9

Incoming: None

Outgoing: None

Outlook

The Hornets are pretty much capped out including their player options, but as it stands only have one player (Kemba Walker) on a guaranteed contract entering the summer of 2016. Take that for what it's worth.

The Hornets are likely in for another hopeless season. After that the team can effectively hit the reset button, but will it even matter? The Hornets are the poster child for what can happen to a team when it drafts poorly - (2) Emeka Okafor, (5) Raymond Felton, (3) Adam Morrison, (8) Brandan Wright, (9) D.J. Augustin, (12) Gerald Henderson, (9) Kemba Walker, (2) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, (4) Cody Zeller, (9) Noah Vonleh.

Those are the Hornets lottery picks over the last 11 seasons. Nine in the top 10. Five in the top 5.

Verdict

Suns > Hornets

Detroit Pistons (32-50)

Players

Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson (RFA), Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Salary Cap

2015: $46 million

2016: $25 million

Picks

2015: #8

Incoming: None

Outgoing: None

Outlook

A microcosm of how well things are going for the Pistons is the Josh Smith debacle - the Pistons signed Smith for 4 years, $54 million... but had enough of him less than a year and a half into the marriage and waived him. The divorce ended up with Smith signing a one year deal with the Houston Rockets for about $2 million and proceeding to be the de facto nail in the Clippers coffin in one of the biggest comebacks in NBA playoff history.

Houston might want to send a thank you note to Detroit.

With Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince coming off the books the Pistons have some money to spend this summer, but it might not be the easiest of tasks to find someone to take it. Nothing about Detroit's situation is that attractive right now.

Drummond is a beast, and might become one of the league's best players (especially if he can figure out how to shoot better than 39% from the free throw line), but nothing else on the Pistons' roster screams bright future. Instead, Detroit may be facing the grim prospect of running their current streak of seven consecutive losing seasons into double digits.

Verdict

Suns > Pistons

Orlando Magic (25-57)

Players

Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris (RFA), Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon

Salary Cap

2015: $48 million

2016: $35 million

Picks

2015: #5

Incoming: 2018 top 5 protected from Lakers (see RealGM.com for exact details)

Outgoing: None

Outlook

While Orlando has a sanguine cap situation the figures can be a bit misleading since the team is going to pay north of $10 million per year if it plans on bringing Tobias Harris back. If Orlando does retain Harris, Vucevic will be the only player older than 22 on a burgeoning core poised to add another top 5 pick this summer.

Vucevic, Oladipo and Harris all appear to be solid NBA players at worst, even as NBA toddlers, and Orlando is getting plenty of minutes to its young players as it stays the course with a methodical rebuild since the departure of Dwight Howard.

While Orlando is compiling an impressive war chest of young talent it is still missing the crown jewel, but appear to be in a pretty good position asset-wise to pounce on the right opportunity.

Verdict

Draw.

Philadelphia 76ers (18-64)

Players

Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Tony Wroten, Robert Covington

Salary Cap

2015: $30 million

2016: $16 million

Picks

2015: #3

Incoming: 2015 top 10 protected from Miami, 2016 top 3 protected pick from Lakers, 2016 top 15 protected from Thunder

Outgoing: None

Outlook

Even after all the deck shuffling the Sixers still only have one player with really high upside (Noel) who played for them last season. Things could change quickly, however, if Embiid becomes a dominating force in the paint and Philadelphia hits on this season's draft pick.

My biggest question is whether the Sixers pull the cord on the upcoming season and do everything they can to ensure a top 5 pick in 2016. Since Philadelphia is so far under the cap they'll have to find some way to spend money. Will it be on a free agent to help build the team up, or will they find a way to absorb a bad contract or two for more future assets?

At least the Sixers' fans have the Ballin' Ben logo to fall back on.

Verdict

Suns > Sixers

New York Knicks (17-65)

Players

Carmelo Anthony

Salary Cap

2015: $35 million

2016: $37 million

Picks

2015: #2

Incoming: None

Outgoing: 2016 unprotected to Denver or Toronto - Denver has right to swap picks and Toronto receives the least favorable of the two

Outlook

With its inherent geographical advantages the Knicks should be a juggernaut... instead they're just naut.

Time and time again the lore and mystique of Madison Square Garden is supposed to lure free agents to play for the team, but it never does. Although a great player in his own right, Anthony just doesn't seem to make players around him better and doesn't appear to be a great recruiter. Maybe he's just a crappy superstar.

New York has had three winning records in the last 14 seasons. At least this time they've finally sunk low enough to have a chance to draft a franchise player.

Ultimately, a series of bungled mishaps give me no confidence the Knicks are ready to turn this thing around and become a perennial contender.

Verdict

Suns > Knicks

Phoenix Suns (39-43)

Players

Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight (RFA), P.J. Tucker, Alex Len, Brandan Wright (RFA), Markieff Morris

Salary Cap

2015-16: $44 million

2016-17: $44 million

Picks

2015: #13

Incoming: Cleveland 2016 top 10 protected, Miami 2017 top 7 protected, Miami 2021 unprotected

Outgoing: None

Outlook

The Suns will be capped out if they retain RFA's Knight and Wright. If Phoenix re-signs them they would have around $60+ million allocated to existing contracts entering the summer of 2016. That would actually be as much or more than any of the other teams on this list. That could be viewed in different ways. One would be that the Suns already have valuable future pieces secured going into the future. Another would be that the Suns have basically capped themselves out to build a mediocre team.

Phoenix doesn't have a star player, high lottery pick or great cap situation entering this summer, so the best bet is for them to explore any and all trades. The Morris brothers' legal situation doesn't help.

The Suns are in a better position than several of the teams in the East. A compelling argument could even be made that Phoenix is in better shape than all of them, except perhaps the Pacers. Unfortunately, that isn't really saying much because the Eastern Conference is pretty much a grease fire in general.

The Suns also don't play in the East, so the general putrescence of basketball doesn't help the Suns much without some kind of realignment.

At least in the terms of looking at rebuilding teams, though, it shows the Suns could be doing worse.