Despite 2,099 franchise wins and the fourth-best winning percentage among active teams, the Phoenix Suns have always been the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. They just don't get any respect. With that in mind, it's time for another installment of Guess Who's Disrespecting Phoenix Now.
This time the honor goes to ESPN and their resident experts Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton with their Future Power Rankings. In short, they have predicted the outlook for every NBA team for the next three seasons using five different criteria, and as usual, they don't hold out much hope for the Suns.
Phoenix ranks 22nd overall on ESPN's list with a final score of 45 out of 100. That is down from 12th just a season ago and behind teams like Philadelphia (17th) and Utah (8th). And with a rationale that comes in at a sparse seven sentences, extrapolating ESPN's reasoning behind the numbers can be a bit of a guessing game. But what the heck. Let's do it anyway.
(To see more of the list for yourself, visit ESPN Future Power Rankings. If you want to see more than Golden State, you'll have to pay ESPN money.)
This category accounts for 50 percent of a team's total score, and with the Suns scoring a 41 out of 100 (19th in the league), it is no wonder they are ranked so low overall.
The main reason for Phoenix's low rating here seems to be replacing Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas with a "downgrade" in Brandon Knight and plugging Tyson Chandler in ahead of Alex Len. While an argument can be made for both points, calling a near-All Star in Knight a downgrade over a near-All Star in Dragic is a stretch, especially when Knight's body of work in Phoenix is so limited. As well, Chandler's presence does displace Len, but he also adds needed defensive presence and provides Len with a valuable mentor the young big would otherwise never have had.
Not helping Phoenix's cause here is that players expected to be key contributors off the bench (T.J. Warren, Sonny Weems, Mirza Teletovic) are mostly unknowns nationally.
It is important to note that this category is supposed to take into account not only the makeup of the current roster but player development going forward. If that is the case, then ESPN must not hold out much hope for the development of Bledsoe, Knight, Len, Warren, Devin Booker, or Archie Goodwin — all of whom will be 25 or younger when the season begins.
This category takes into account the quality and stability of the front office, ownership, and coaching. Resisting the urge to be a homer, the Suns did deserve to lose ground here. The roster imbalance from last season was the front office's doing, and the result was Phoenix being staggered for the final 30 or so games of 2014-15, costing them a shot at the playoffs.
However, the front office also rebounded from that disaster better than could have been expected and nearly pulled off a coup this summer had LaMarcus Aldridge made a better decision. Going into July, no one expected the Suns to be legitimate contenders for his services, so to come as close as they did is at minimum a testament to the preparation and presentation skills of Phoenix's front office.
Meanwhile, the roster is full of good-value contracts, with Chandler's $13-million-a-year deal the only overpay (which stops looking bad by the summer of 2016), and the malcontents and bad influences of years past are all gone (save for one notable exception).
The Suns deserved a knock here after last season, but ranking Phoenix's management 12.5 points below Philadelphia, where Sam Hinkie isn't even trying to assemble a roster capable of winning, is absurd.
The Suns took another dip here from last season, dropping to a score of 50 (16th overall). This isn't surprising after the new contracts for Knight and Chandler ate into Phoenix's cap space, but this particular category feels overly simplistic. It should have taken more into account than simply how much money a team will have available to spend and if that team is willing to spend it. Assessing the value of each contract going forward should also have been included here, as that has a direct effect on a team's financial flexibility going forward.
And not to pick on Philadelphia, but the 76ers are rated at an eye-popping 99.5 here. They received such a high rating because they have money available for days, yet they have shown no recent inclination to spend any more than is absolutely necessary, which again, was supposedly one of the criteria used by ESPN for this category. When ESPN cannot even follow it's own methods for assessment, it calls into question the legitimacy of the entire process.
Yet another slip by Phoenix here, but a 59 out of 100 was still good enough for 11th in the league. This category takes into consideration "appeal to future acquisitions based on team quality, franchise reputation, city's desirability as a destination, market size, taxes, business and entertainment opportunities, arena quality, (and) fans."
Since Phoenix as a city hasn't changed much since last year at this time, the biggest factors in this decline must be team quality and franchise reputation. The Suns fell from 48 wins to 39 last season and have had a few very public spats with players recently. On the plus side, lots of golf courses. Seems accurate.
This, the final category, saw Phoenix fall again to a 65 out of 100 but maintain a spot in the top 10 (7th overall). Simply, this category considers the number of draft picks a team owns and their likely position.
Losing the Lakers' minimally protected first-round pick at last year's trade deadline probably hurt this ranking the most, and the two firsts acquired from Miami don't convey within ESPN's window. That means the Suns' high rating is largely due to the value of its own draft picks, which says a lot about what ESPN thinks of Phoenix's chances going forward.
It's a list, conceived by two ESPN writers through bloodshot eyes in a poorly ventilated room where the only source of light is the dim glow of a computer monitor and where the tapping of keys on a keyboard by one of the men slowly drives the other mad. Take it for what it's worth.