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Suns rise up ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

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This marks the Suns highest ranking in this model in six years

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, yes, I know that a 19th ranking is not exciting, but considering the Phoenix Suns have fared SO badly in these ranking for so many years I got a bit excited anyway.

The Suns came in 24th last October 2019 with this same roster and management structure, 26th in March 2019, 22nd in September 2018, 25th in March 2018, 26th in October 2017, 27th in 2016, 22nd in May 2015, 12th in the fall of 2014 and 27th in the fall of 2013.

To recap for those unfamiliar, ESPN uses a formula to predict the value of a franchise among its peers over the next three seasons, through 2023. They rank various parts of the organization, including players, management, cap space (money), market and draft assets.

You have to go back to the preseason of the 2014-15 season — right after the Suns had stunned the basketball world with a 48-34 season — to get a Suns ranking higher than right now’s 19th overall rank.

ESPN’s narrative on this.

There is finally a sense of direction (and hope) in Phoenix. Not only has Phoenix won 26 games this season, the most since 2014-15, but the carousel of head coaches that has paraded through since 2015 has finally stopped with Monty Williams.

How the Suns use the momentum from this season and continue to build around All-Star Devin Booker and former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton will be the result of decisions the Suns’ front office makes this offseason. The Suns have 11 players under contract, will have a lottery pick and are one of a handful of teams that project to have $20 million of cap space this summer. What direction management goes will be based on continuity (retain Dario Saric and Aron Baynes), short-term contracts or exploring the free-agent market.

Taking the conservative approach would set up the Suns with $45 million of room in 2021, but how frustrated would Booker be by that point if he still hasn’t made the playoffs since being drafted in 2015? — Marks

On this list, the Suns ranked just behind the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers, ahead of the Spurs, Kings, Wolves and eight teams from the East.

You will note that the Suns highest ranking on here is in the “money” category because they are one of the half-dozen with any to spend this summer/fall/whenever they call it an off season.

This does not mean the Suns will spend that money, but odds are they will try. Maybe not in free agency, but rather in taking back money in a trade for a high contract.

I am convinced that the Suns, led by General Manager James Jones, will do their very best to add an All-Star-potential mid-career prime veteran to the roster without losing any real assets in return. That’s what you use the money for.

I know this a real bad free agent class, so it’s the trade market I’m looking at. No, I don’t know who that player will be. I just know that Jones is almost certainly targeting this offseason as the one to push the Suns back into playoff contention.

I also believe that Jones has the patience and fortitude that Ryan McDonough never exhibited. When I predict Jones will acquire an All-Star level player, I mean he won’t ruin the Suns future to do it. He will make sure the player fits his mold: smart, humble, high basketball IQ.

Again, I don’t know where this player will come from. I’m guessing. I’m being optimistic. In one year, Jones hired a very good coach and staff, turned over most of the roster and produced the best Suns team in half a decade centered around a 23-and-under core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges among the team’s top six in minutes per game.

For now, though, let’s enjoy the 19th-ranking given by the mother ship.

It fits. The Suns finished the pre-rona regular season with the 20th-best record, 17th-best net rating, 16th-best offense and 19th-best defense. So the ranking makes sense.

Savor this.