It used to be an afterthought... a given.
It was never a question of whether the Suns would make the playoffs, but how far the team could go once they got there.
Things have changed.
There are a number of reasons why the Suns went from a paragon of sustained success to their current playoff famine. Many of them were rooted in the summer of 2010, which saw the exodus of Amar'e Stoudemire and GM Steve Kerr. Owner Robert Sarver, with his vast knowledge of the inner workings of the NBA, took advantage of the situation by making three comically misguided moves that brought in Hakim Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress.
An aging Steve Nash stuck around a couple years, trying to drag the team to the playoffs... but all this ended up doing was delaying the inevitable rebuilding process. By the time the Suns pulled the plug on the Nash era they had a pitiful amount of talent left on the roster.
In 2012 Michael Beasley and Luis Scola joined the fold, but somehow that didn't work as the Suns muddled their way to 25 wins. Alvin Gentry was unceremoniously jettisoned in the process, apparently due to a cabal perpetrated by Lance Blanks and Lindsey Hunter. Amazingly, these two clowns met their demise soon after the carnival ended that season.
The Suns hired new GM Ryan McDonough and headed into the 2013 season braced to duplicate their dismal record, but hopefully not the opprobrium, from the previous campaign. A funny thing happened, though, and the team did much better than expected... partly due to a few shrewd moves by McDonough, the most impactful being the acqusition of Eric Bledsoe. Unfortunately, this unsustainable spike may have actually set back the organization's rebuilding process.
In 2014 the circus came back to town, with some new acts, rekindling the dysfunction of 2012. It's actually kind of impressive that a team with as many personality disorders as the Suns managed to win 39 games. It felt a lot worse.
That's a very terse review of the five seasons that constitute the fourth longest playoff famine in the NBA. Feel free to add your own lowlights, there were plenty others. The end result is that only the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons have plodded along more ineffectively than the Suns.
What is the endgame here? Are the Suns poised to overtake these teams and become the league's punching bag?
The Minnesota Timberwolves have reasons for optimism as they will add a third #1 overall selection to a 22 and under core of Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine. Ricky Rubio (24) and Gorgui Dieng (25) aren't exactly senior citizens, either. If Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic come back healthy next season the outlook changes, but possibly only enough to lift the Wolves from the bottom of the barrel up to trying to wrestle the 13th pick away from the Suns. I like Minnesota's overall talent situation better than the Suns, but the young players there are even younger than the Suns young players and will need some time to burgeon.
The Kings will probably be the hardest to overtake in the race to the bottom. Despite having a generational talent like DeMarcus Cousins - who became only the fourth player ever to average 24 points, 12 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals for a season (Kareem, David Robinson, Olajuwon) - the Kings can't seem to turn things around. Ben McLemore made salient improvements from year one to year two, but there just doesn't seem to be a lot of other young talent that can help the team out of the doldrums. They also have the daunting task of climbing up the ladder in the Western Conference.
As horrible as Detroit's situation is, 50 losses is still nearly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Andre Drummond is a beast in his own right, but is also determined to beat out DeAndre Jordan for the title of worst free throw shooter in NBA history. What else is there to be brimming with hope about... the guy with no heart (KCP)? Being a Pistons fan must be really depressing. But... since they're in the East it's perfectly reasonable to think they might sneak into the playoffs any given season.
There it is. The hopes of the Suns avoiding the nadir of the league might rest on the Kings continuing their reign of terror. The Suns could also exclude themselves from this conversation by, you know, making the playoffs someday.
In the interim I think we would all be wise to prepare for despair as the suck dances across our skin like a zephyr on a crisp summer night... that cozy familiar feeling of the 13th pick nestled up against us like an old friend.
The Suns may very well give these teams a run for their money as the prime example of what not to do.
"Be careful or you might get stuck in a perpetual rebuild... just like the Phoenix Suns."