The Phoenix Suns have missed the playoffs in six of the last seven years, and fairly soon the maths will make it seven of the past eight years.
In the six non-playoff seasons over the past seven years, the Suns rewarded themselves with a middling record borne of middling, middle-aged players that resulted in a middling draft pick.
The problem in the NBA is that when you're an "okay" team you only get an "okay" chance at improving via the draft. The Suns have had a hit-and-miss record in the past several years' drafts.
- 2015 Draft: 13th pick - Devin Booker - rotation player, potential long-term starter
- 2014 Draft: 14th pick - T.J. Warren - rotation player
- 2012 Draft: 13th pick - Kendall Marshall - barely hanging on in league
- 2011 Draft: 13th pick - Markieff Morris - proven starter
- 2009 Draft: 14th pick - Earl Clark - out of league (with Bakersfield in D-League)
These guys are not going to win you a championship. That's one proven starter (with attitude issues), another potential long-term starter, a rotation player and two basically out of league.
*Note on 2013's pick of Alex Len at #5: that was a historically bad draft, and Len has been disappointing to be sure. But remember how long it took Robin Lopez to grow into a complete player? I'd rather hang onto Len for his mid-20s years than give up now when he's still just 22 years old.
If you recall the 82games.com chart, the Suns got exactly what they played for with those middling seasons.
At the 13th and 14th picks, there is historically a better chance that the player is a deep bench player or bust than there is that he becomes a star. The 14th pick is as much a roll-the-dice pick as any in the entire first round.
For the Suns to have found two starting-caliber players (Morris and Booker) and another potential 10-year supersub or starter (Warren) out of five picks, that's pretty good. Not great. Not awesome. Not awful. Pretty good.
But for the Suns to get out of these doldrums, they HAD to get off the treadmill. Two years ago when they tried to bottom out, the players outplayed their expectations. This year as they tried to stay on the treadmill, the players have underplayed their expectations.
Either way, the Suns are going to get a Top-5 pick again and it can't come too soon. I'd rather have a 60+% chance at an NBA star than a 20-25% chance. I'd rather not watch 12 teams pick their favorite player before the Suns even get to choose.
Unfortunately, to get there you have to lose a lot of games. Just like those teams did.
While a romantic would dream of 60 close, competitive, spirited losses like the one to the Cavaliers two weeks ago, it's unreasonable to expect a team on track for 60 losses to be fun and spirited every single game.
For 60-loss teams who draft in the Top 5, clunkers like last night's dud in Boston are going to happen. And if they only happen half the time, you're in good shape.
Scott Howard and Sreekar had fun on their recent 'Intentionally Foul' podcast ranking the depth of Suns losses recently. I'd wager this Celtics loss would not even rival the Kings and Lakers losses from a couple weeks ago.
Apathy sets in. Fans can't take watching their team get pounded, sag their shoulders and play soft. But teams that draft in the Top 5 have that profile. As an outsider, you might think the Sixers' 1-30 start this season was loaded with 31 spirited games, but you'd be wrong. You might think every Orlando Magic loss the last few seasons was incredibly exciting with all their youth, but Magic fans would tell you it was a grind. And you might think recent Cavaliers' seasons that netted them top picks were full of vim and vigor every night, but you'd be wrong there too.
Frankly, this is the pain a big time losing team endures. But to get off the treadmill, you have to deal with that pain.
Settle in, Suns fans. Accept the losing. Watch the kids for growth, however inconsistent it is. Lower your expectations.
Devin Booker is only 19. He won't make 65% of his threes every game. T.J. Warren will be up and down. Alex Len will be up and down. Archie Goodwin will be up and down. Even Brandon Knight - just weeks older than C.J. McCollum, for example - will be up and down.
Enjoy the ups and shrug at the downs. There's always next year.