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Center of the Sun: Another Phoenix Suns Fantable discusses which playoff teams are most vulnerable

Only one question for discussion this week about the Suns' competition in the West

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Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

The lottery is coming up this week (May 16) and where the Suns' first round pick falls after the lottery could have huge repercussions on the future of the team. But even if the Suns wind up with the #1 pick they will still remain in the very tough Western Conference where their future progress will be - at least in part - tied to the strength of the other Western Conference teams. Some will get better, some will get worse. For the Suns to get back into the playoffs sooner rather than later at least some of the top teams in the West will need to weaken... at least a little.

And that leads us to the single question that I've proposed to our Fantable discussion this week...

The Western Conference remains very strong. For the Suns to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later, they are obviously going to have to get better but they are also going to have to hope that some of the teams in the top half of the West start to decline. Which teams in the West do you think might decline in the next 2-3 years... and why?

GuarGuar: The West has been a very strong conference for a long time now and I don't see it losing it's strength anytime soon. However, there are some teams that I believe are on decline and could open the door for the Suns in the future. The first team (I think is pretty obvious) is the LA Clippers. I have a feeling Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be leaving town and severely hurt the franchise. Without those two the Clips most likely become a bottom feeder. The next team is the Memphis Grizzlies. I don't see this happening necessarily next season but their core players are getting up in age now so it only makes sense they will start to get worse in time. Teams like Utah and Portland could get much worse if their stars left in free agency, but I don't see that happening.

My biggest concern with the Suns future playoff chances doesn't deal with "who might start to decline". My concern is that there are too many rising young teams that will compete with the Suns for playoff spots. We all saw who the Pelicans added at the trade deadline, and we know about the great young talent of the Timberwolves, Lakers, and Nuggets. These teams will be our biggest competition in our fight to end the playoff drought. If we don't make the playoffs anytime soon it will be because of these other "youth movement" teams in our conference.

Sun-Arc: Well… the Clippers might drop like dead flies as soon as this summer. Though they might also reload. Hard to know, but I’m going to guess they will continue their modest decline (56 wins to 51 over the past five seasons). Memphis is already in decline, (55 wins down to 42 wins over the past five seasons), which I think is likely to continue in the near future. Portland is not really a really strong team, and won fewer games this season (41) than last (44), and they may not improve next season. But none of that really matters because of two reasons:

1) Teams come and go all the time, but the challenge remains the same. There are teams rising (UTA, MIN, DEN) and others with a long-term strangle hold on the top spots (GSW, SAS, HOU). We’d have to pass all of them to actually contend, which is a really tall order. No matter who is up and who is down- you have to be one of the best to compete with the best. Its kind of the same story for making the playoffs. Though just making the 8th seed provides some good news because…

2) Teams no longer need 49 wins to make the playoffs anymore, as they did in 2014 when the Mavs spoiled our Cinderella Season. Since then the number of wins needed has been 45 wins in 2015 and 41 wins for the past two seasons. Outside of the top five teams, there is not as much difference in teams 6-12 to a degree; 13.5 wins over the past two seasons; versus 25 wins in 2015. So there is more room to wiggle up the ladder somewhat.

We still have to pass up at least 6 teams to reach #8. To get there in 2019, we’d have to increase our wins by about 9 in each of the next two seasons. That seems achievable. Maybe.

SDKyle: The Clippers top the list for me. They don't have a single promising player under 28, nor any particularly valuable draft picks coming down the pipeline. Their best player is on the wrong side of 30, DeAndre Jordan is at the end of his prime years, as is Blake Griffin who may be skipping town soon enough. The Clippers have the advantage of being in Los Angeles so they may be able to attract a decent free agent or two in the coming years, but I think they're definitely poised to be a non-playoff team soon.

Maybe it's just warped hope because I hate them, but I think years of success will finally catch up with the Spurs soon. Unlike the Clippers they have a stud player who has quite a few good years left in him health permitting, but the Spurs are relying on a lot of veterans who are basically at retirement age. This season they got more than 25 minutes a game from Pau Gasol (36) and Tony Parker (34), as well as 19 a game from Manu Ginobili (39). Key big man reserve David Lee is 33, and LaMarcus Aldridge is 31. The Spurs almost always seem able to find just the right free agent and draft just the right guy late in the first, but I think they finally are hitting a point where they'll have too many needs to replace to keep up the unending 60-win seasons.

Last on my list to talk about are the Grizzlies. Unlike my previous two entries, Memphis isn't a destination city or franchise, and it doesn't seem likely that they'll attract a big name free agent soon. No Grizzly player under 29 seems destined to be much more than average, and their three leading scorers are 29, 32, and 35, respectively. The Grizzlies have been on the dreaded treadmill for a few years now, and it's beginning to show. I think they are pretty much at the point of needing to hit the reset button.

Justin: Memphis is the first team that comes to mind. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs every year since 2010-2011, but they have never turned into a realistic contender. The string of playoff appearances has been led by a core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen. The Grizzlies, however, have gone as far as they can with that group and are destined to regress further than they already have.

As a whole, the Grizzlies possess one of the oldest rosters in the NBA. Significantly, some of the team’s older guys are at key positions. Zach Randolph is still productive, but he is 35 years old, is not under contract for next season, and has the impact of 17 NBA seasons weighing on his body. His stats have been dipping over the past few seasons and, last year, he moved from starter to reserve. Even if the Grizzlies bring him back, his decline is sure to continue. Like Randolph, Tony Allen is also 35 years old and, while he enjoyed an uptick in productivity last year, is getting long in the tooth and not under contract next year. The decline of these two guys, coupled with the lack of talent to replace them, indicates that the Grizzlies will continue to fall off.

Of course, it cannot be denied that Memphis has two fantastic players who are in their prime: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Each of them had the best season of their respective careers last year, so it would seem like the team has some positives going for it. The problem, however, is the lack of talent that the Grizzlies have around these two guys and the lack of flexibility the Grizzles have to resolve this lack of talent.

Memphis has about $93 million in contracts for next season. Of that amount, about $73 million is tied up between Conley, Gasol, and Chandler Parsons. Parsons could not stay on the floor last year and, even when he did, he was less than impressive. On top of that, Conley and Gasol to each miss a dozen or so games each season. Beyond these three guys, Memphis’ biggest source of potential is JaMychal Green – who does not exactly leave the front offices and fans of other teams green with envy.

Assuming the Grizzlies go into the offseason with about $8 or $9 million in cap space to work with, they will not be able to add any significant amount of talent for the long term. At best, they may be able to place a band aid on their faults but, long term, with the continuing decline of Randolph, the apparent swing and miss on Parsons, and the lack of cap space to add pieces to help Conley and Gasol, Memphis will undoubtedly fall off. In fact, Memphis very well may be facing a long-term playoff drought like the one Suns are currently experiencing.

Paul: The Golden State Warriors! I’m only half kidding. If GSW somehow loses again, and with Steve Kerr’s health issues, we could see the disease of “me” creep into that team, which is the downfall of all great teams. Kerr has some kind of voodoo that has helped that team be great individually and even better collectively. If he has to step down due to health issues, it could be their undoing. I’m not saying they are going to become the Sacramento Kings, but they may fall off being the juggernaut that they have been for the last few years. Plus you have the issue of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry’s next contracts. One of the main reasons they were able to become what they became was because Curry was on such a ridiculously low deal compared to his production. Adding on the huge salaries that both can command under the new CBA, its going to hinder the team’s ability to keep all the pieces around them that they currently have.

The Grizzlies are a team that I expect to fall off. They are a fringe playoff team as it is, and their main guys are all on the wrong side of thirty (and forty if they bring back Vince Carter). Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are still in their primes, but the rest of their core are definitely on the downswing (some of which are also free agents), they are stuck with the Chandler Parsons contract, and they don’t have first round picks this year or in 2019. They have survived on Grit and Grind for a long time, through multiple coaches, but it’s going to be tough for them to stay competitive with deteriorating assets and limited options to replace them.

The Clippers could blow it up, or they could double down with the full maxes for both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. It’s a double edged sword- either way is dangerous. If they blow it up, who knows how long it will be before they can get back to the top. I mean, it’s the freaking Clippers. Steve Balmer hasn’t yet shown if he is a good or bad owner yet. He is similar to early Robert Sarver, where he basically bought a successful team, and is riding out this stretch. We don’t know if he will actually be a good owner or not. You don’t really learn that until a team has to rebuild. If they bring back both Paul and Griffin, you are looking at a similar situation as GSW with Durant and Curry. Those two contracts will be so big, it will hamper their ability to build successfully around them. Doc has already proven he’s not a great GM, so limiting his available resources even more isn’t going to help that.

For the Suns to succeed, it’s not like you need a ton of playoff teams to fall off, the Suns just need to improve while other non-playoff teams stay stagnant. Once they are in the playoffs then they just need to continue the growth to move up the ranks of contenders. Its going to be tough, because outside of a few teams, a lot of the bottom half of the Western Conference has a lot of potential.

Rod Argent: Just to throw my two cents in, I think that the Jazz are a team with the potential to slip a bit. Gordon Hayward has a player option that he could take and demand a huge new salary. I'm sure Utah will offer him the max to keep him but if he doesn't stay then Utah will definitely slip backward. Perhaps not badly but enough to put them back to being a fringe playoff team fighting for the 7th or 8th seed. And George Hill is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer too. If the Jazz retain Hayward then it might be difficult for them to keep Hill if another team decides to make him a solid offer. Dante Exum has so far been a disappointment and probably isn't ready to step up into a starting role.

I expect Hayward to stay with the Jazz but if Boston goes after him as hard as I expect them to he might decide to jump conferences and head East where the road to the Finals could be easier.

Once again I want to thank GuarGuar, Sun-Arc, SDKyle, Justin and Paul for participating in the Bright Side Fantable.

2016-17 Season Highlights

Suns vs OKC (April 7) Full Highlights.

Marquese Chriss - ALL 103 Dunk Highlights of 2016-17

Quote of the Week

“Last summer in Las Vegas, I was out there a few times with (Harrison) Barnes with the USA team and one of the gyms we were working out at I saw (Devin) Booker. He was in there every night for hours just working on stuff, working on stuff, working on stuff. He’s a guy that’s wired to try to be great, there’s no doubt in my mind, and he’s on his way.” - Rick Carlisle (Head Coach of the Dallas Mavericks, April 9, 2017)

Pre-Lottery Draft Order

1. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn via pick swap)

2. Phoenix Suns

3. LA Lakers (goes to 76ers if not in top 3)

4. Philadelphia 76ers (have the right to swap picks with Kings)

5. Orlando Magic

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (won tiebreaker vs NY)

7. New York Knicks (lost tiebreaker vs Minn.)

8. Sacramento Kings

9. Dallas Mavericks

10. New Orleans (goes to Kings if not in top 3)

11. Charlotte Hornets

12. Detroit Pistons

13. Denver Nuggets

14. Miami Heat

Keep your fingers crossed Suns fans. The lottery happens tomorrow (May 16) at 8:30 pm ET on ESPN.

News & Notes

What should the Phoenix Suns do with Alex Len’s restricted free agency? Hoops Habit

Empire of the Suns NBA Draft positional preview: Point guard. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

The Suns had the dumbest reason for passing on drafting Kawhi Leonard. For The Win/USA Today Sports

Phoenix Suns, NBA invade Chicago for Draft Combine. Arizona Sports

Can the NBA Lottery save the Suns? KTAR News

Suns' lottery picks may not bring quick end to playoff drought. Can fans live with that? Doug Haller/AZCentral

Suns Trivia

Devin Booker is the only active player with a 70-point game, meaning he has the highest scoring career-high of any player currently in the NBA. Booker also has a greater career-high than the top two career scorers in NBA history and three of the top four: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1st, career-high of 55), Karl Malone (2nd, career-high of 61) and Michael Jordan (4th, career-high of 69).

Suns History Video

Some of you may remember this guy.

Previewing the Weeks/Months Ahead

Lottery date, May 16th. (8:30 pm ET on ESPN)

Draft date, June 22nd.

Summer League play, July 1st - 17th.

Free Agency begins July 1st.

Last Week's Poll Results

The question was, "If the Suns can only afford to keep one of Alex Len and Alan Williams (both RFAs) next season, which one should they hang on to?" The results were:

18% - Alex Len

82% - Alan Williams

There were a total of 194 votes cast.

This week's poll is...

Poll

Should opinions of Lonzo Ball's "outspoken" father play any part in whether the Suns draft him?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Yes
    (96 votes)
  • 42%
    No
    (71 votes)
167 votes total Vote Now