After a franchise record tying five straight seasons out of the playoffs a more modest goal might be just to reach the postseason, but I like to think big. Hearkening back to the final days of the Nash/Amar'e pick and roll... I began to wonder what kind of track record other teams had since reaching their last respective Conference Finals.
Getting to that point doesn't always indicate a team is truly within grasp of a championship, sometimes the other teams remaining are vastly superior, but it is still quite an accomplishment. After all, every season the Suns have gotten that far is pretty memorable to me. Only a few fan bases are probably spoiled enough for everything to blur together.
But with exactly what frequency and consistency do teams reach this penultimate round?
By the Numbers
The mean is 2005.5, which means that on average teams reach the Conference Finals within a 10 year window. What this would project is that the Suns should be back in the WCF by 2020. Of course that number is precipitously affected by a few outliers.
The median, which is 2009.5, is probably a better indicator and conveniently falls just short of the Suns last appearance. The Suns are just slightly above average in terms of their last visit.
12 different teams have been in the Conference Finals since the Suns made it in 2010. That's 40% of the league and represents a decent variation in representatives over a fairly short period of time. Variation sounds good since the Suns are on the outside looking in right now.
26 of the league's 30 teams have been in the Conference Finals since 2000. Out of the four who haven't been, three have never made it period. With the Clippers, Raptors and Hornets representing franchise futility, only the Wizards are in an extended drought (46 years) since their last rodeo. Let's assume the Suns won't deteriorate into one of the league's worst teams and join this exclusive club.
Feel free to draw any other conclusions you would like to. There are plenty others I haven't expounded on.
Los Angeles Clippers - Although this team is the ultimate outlier, largely based on horrendous ownership, it also reveals how difficult it can be to reach a Conference Finals in certain situations. The Clippers team of the past few seasons is definitely better than some of the teams who have made more recent appearances. Sometimes luck and circumstance play into these situations.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Although Minnesota is only 11 years removed from a Conference Finals under Kevin Garnett that is the only trip in the franchise's mostly terrible 26 year history. An appearance doesn't necessarily indicate a team is on the right path over an extended period of time.
Detroit Pistons - Over a 22 year period the Pistons made 11 trips to the Conference Finals and five to the NBA Finals, winning three championships. The last six years Detroit has been a hot mess and doesn't appear that close to turning things around. In fact, Detroit is one of only three teams in the NBA with a longer playoff drought than the Suns. Previous historical success doesn't necessarily guarantee positive future results.
The Silver Lining
If you choose to look at it this way...
Is that the Suns are very, very likely to be back in the Western Conference Finals in the next 10 years and probably much sooner. There is apparently enough parity and cyclicality in the league to promote this type of trend.
Of course, things are always changing - collective bargaining agreements, inflated salaries and other unknowns may creep into the equation... but over the last 15 years of NBA basketball the outlook is somewhat roseate.
At least by this (simplistic and flawed) analysis...
The Suns turn to be back in the limelight shouldn't really be that far away.