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The Pacific Division is stacked, with the Phoenix Suns buried at the bottom

The road to improvement became even tougher for Phoenix.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After the Los Angeles Lakers acquired 25 year old Top-10 NBA player Anthony Davis to join one of the two best in league history in LeBron James for a heated playoff run the next two seasons in the Wild West, the Phoenix Suns just became even less relevant than they’ve ever been.

Just look at this division:

  • Golden State Warriors — five consecutive NBA Finals, still have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green healthy and will get Klay Thompson back for the stretch run
  • Los Angeles Clippers — won 48 games without any stars; Doc Rivers deserves coach of year; will always be relevant
  • Los Angeles Lakers — two of the top five players in the entire NBA, flanked by the KUZ; playoffs every year barring injury to the top two players
  • Sacramento Kings — young and exciting, already proven ability to win with young talent
  • Phoenix Suns — sigh...

Sure the Suns have some nice pieces. Deandre Ayton will be a top-10 center for the next decade. Mikal Bridges is the Suns best hope for a Pascal Siakam skill-growth spurt. And of course Devin Booker, who might already be a top-20 player in the league who goes under the radar because ... 19 wins.

But what else do the Suns really have?

Josh Jackson is playing himself out of the league entirely. He’s got his off-court issues for sure, but his biggest problem is right there on the court when he throws up liners at the rim from 5-10 feet out with three hands in his face like a weekend sportsball fanatic hopped up on a dozen Red Bulls.

All three 2016 picks have played themselves out of the league, for the most part. THAT WAS ONLY THREE YEARS AGO.

T.J. Warren is a nice role playing piece, but quietly declined to play through deep ankle pain last spring, prompting questions of his commitment to the Suns organization and their commitment to him. Yet now after seeing Kevin Durant’s Achilles pop after coming back too soon from a lower leg injury, you have to give T.J. more credit for being patient. A sore ankle equals losing this season. A torn Achilles equals losing next season as well. Still, rumors abound that owner Robert Sarver demanded Warren’s contract be moved less than a year after signing him to that affordable extension and whispers around the team indicate the relationship between Warren and the front office has soured.

Backup point guards De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo are okay pieces, but they are only “okay” if they turn their potential into performance in short order. There is at least a 95 percent chance that neither Melton nor Okobo becomes a five-year NBA starter. Yet can one of them simply become a solid backup who produces a positive net result on the court? That’s the most realistic hope here.

Ayton. Bridges. Booker. Jackson. Warren. Melton. Okobo.

You might be sad to realize that I’ve just named every Suns player under contract for next season, except for the expiring contract of Tyler Johnson. The only value Johnson brings this off season is his cap number in a potential deal for another league player with a big contract.

The Suns do have bird rights on Kelly Oubre Jr., who is very likely to come back, and Richaun Holmes, who is not.

Let’s put those guys into a value chart for the 2019-20 season:

All-Star caliber; Top-30 NBA player (1)

  • Devin Booker

Starter on majority of NBA teams (1)

  • Deandre Ayton

Starter on less than half the other NBA teams (4)

  • Mikal Bridges
  • Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • T.J. Warren
  • Tyler Johnson

Only-in-case-of-emergency starter on any NBA team (3)

  • Josh Jackson
  • De’Anthony Melton
  • Elie Okobo
  • No. 6 and 32 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft

The Suns have only two players that the majority of NBA teams would consider starting-quality for the 2019-20 season. By this I mean that teams with Ayton or Booker on their roster would be looking to build around them, not replace them in the starting lineup. Both are under contract for the foreseeable future and both have the skills and productivity to justify their starting status.

No one else on the Suns roster fits that bill.

Bridges has a nice future, but he has to develop a LOT more to become a sure-fire “build around him” guy.

Oubre, Warren and Johnson are good but replaceable and would never prompt a GM to say otherwise. It’s just that $10-15 million per year is the going rate for replaceable, quality rotation players in today’s NBA who sometimes start and sometimes don’t. This is the most likely place where Bridges lands once he fits free agency himself.

If the Suns stand pat and enter July 1 with their $11 million in spending money (assuming they keep the No. 6 pick, and Oubre/Holmes cap holds), that target will be someone who profiles just like Warren, Oubre and Johnson — good but replaceable.

Can a Suns team with two pure starters and a handful of mid-salary role players win more than 30 games next year, considering the competition in the Pacific Division alone?

As we wrote on Bright Side earlier, the Suns will at some point need to get aggressive. This slow build isn’t going to win a lot of games because the foundation of build-around stars is not quite assembled yet.

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