Three years ago the Phoenix Suns were a very good basketball team. They had the league’s best offense (averaging an ungodly 115.3 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com), and were led by two-time MVP Steve Nash; a 27-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire; and an explosive bench that featured Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, and Jared Dudley.
Summing up their season, the 2010 Suns were less than a handful of plays away from breaking into their first NBA Finals since 1993, making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before succumbing to the Lakers.
Fast forward to present day and the team has been completely renovated. Nash is playing for the enemy in Los Angeles and Stoudemire is nursing a slew of injuries on the sidelines of New York. The only two players who remain are Dudley and Dragic (who was traded from Phoenix to Houston in February 2011, but later signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the Suns as a free agent this July).
As currently constructed, the Suns have no superstar caliber players, which are integral to contending for an NBA championship. This summer they made a hopeful run at the perpetual mirage that is Eric Gordon, but were foiled when New Orleans matched their maximum contract offer sheet.
The money saved was probably for the best, as Gordon remains on the sideline with a lingering knee injury, but it doesn’t help Phoenix’s current situation from a talent standpoint.
The way I see it, there are three reasons this team can get back on the right track towards the first championship in franchise history faster than anybody might expect.
1. Cap Space: Next summer the Suns will be approximately $13 million under the salary cap—more than enough money to upgrade their athleticism by buying low on a player like Tyreke Evans. (Or, if they want to get clever, clearing enough room for a bigger fish like Andrew Bynum by dealing Michael Beasley for a second round pick.)
The summer after that they’ll have at least $24 million to spend in an off-season that could feature LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, and Greg Monroe as free agents. The roster looks rocky right now, but there’s no reason to believe the picture won’t be rosier sooner than later.
2. Assets galore: The Suns roster, both this season and next, is a collection of talented pieces that don’t fit all that well together. They have very little three-point shooting (their 32.2% is currently ranked 21st in the league) to space the floor, and their talent in the backcourt is severely lacking. They have almost no relative athleticism playing a sport that requires copious amounts of it.
What they do have, however, are all these players tied down to contracts that can easily be moved in
the right package. Of Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Dudley, and Beasley, nobody’s making more than Gortat’s expiring $7.7 million. All of these players (even Beasley) could be useful for a contending team, and all of them are relatively useful assets to possibly swing a deal for a high impact player, especially when you throw in the extra draft picks Phoenix acquired from Los Angeles in the trade for Nash.
3. Training Staff: Obviously this isn’t as tangible a reason as the others, but the Suns training staff is widely renown as best in the league at keeping their players on the court (honestly, who knows where Gordon would be, health-wise, if he landed in Phoenix). Guys around the NBA are more than aware, and as an underrated factor they could make sunny Arizona a desirable location for game-changing talent looking to find a new home.