My colleague John Gambadoro posed an interesting question late last week.
Essentially, he was asking what people would choose between the Phoenix Suns making the playoffs and likely losing in the first round or missing the postseason and earning a better draft pick.
Unlike previous seasons when the Suns were a fringe playoff team, the difference in draft picks with a playoff appearance and without is pretty drastic.
Ninth-place in the Western Conference would place the Suns 14th, which an incredibly measly chance at moving up into the top three, while eighth place would have them land at 21.
Is a seven-spot drop worth getting beat up by a superior team like the Spurs or Thunder?
In a word, yes. In two words? Hell yes.
Those who have read my pieces over the years know I was (and still am, technically speaking) a pretty big advocate for tanking. After all, it is the fastest way to go from bad to good and in the right year can nab you a transcendent talent.
This was supposed to be one of those years, and the Suns were supposed to be so bad that they’d have a chance to land one of the premier players from the draft.
Then they started winning. A lot.
With just five games remaining, the Suns are close to finishing up a true Cinderella season.
The only thing missing is a playoff spot, and as of Monday one belongs to them.
Now they need to finish the job, not just for this season but for the future as well.
Of the nine players the Suns generally turn to in games, only five have been on playoff teams. And of those five, only Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Channing Frye have played significant roles in the postseason.
Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee were with the Pacers last season and Green was on the 2009 Mavericks, but neither was a factor.
As far as experience past game 82 goes, this team doesn’t have much. And while the roster will undoubtedly look a little different next season, there’s a strong likelihood many players will return.
P.J. Tucker has never so much as sniffed the postseason, whereas all the Morris twins know is the lottery.
And a playoff run, no matter how short is may be, would be helpful to their development.
It’s one thing to think about playoff intensity and another thing to experience.
It’s easy to think you can bring the requisite amount of effort and another thing to see first-hand just how hard you have to play every moment you are on the court.
It’s one thing to think you understand the heartbreak of falling short and another thing to actually have to go through it.
Dragic and Bledsoe have been to the playoffs but have never led a team into and through them. They’ll be expected to do so in the future, so what better time than the present to get a taste of what it’s like?
It is often said that teams and players must fail first in the postseason before they can finally break through. While that may not be entirely true, it’s hard to see how any kind of playoff experience cannot be turned into a positive.
In 2003, Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson participated in the playoffs for the first time as part of a Suns team that snuck into the dance and even stole two games from the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
Two years later, the two helped lead the Suns to the Western Conference Finals.
There are times in the NBA where a team would benefit from losing games. The best players are usually acquired via the draft, and the chances of a team selecting a star are higher if it is picking near the top of it.
But if you trust Ryan McDonough and his staff then you have to believe they’ll find some useful players with their picks, wherever they happen to be.
The last time the Phoenix Suns were on the playoff bubble, they were hoping to get one more run out Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Co. It was a fool’s errand and ultimately delayed the franchise’s rebuilding effort. Losing was the best option, but instead the team — which was clearly on a downward trajectory — was just spinning its wheels and going nowhere in the process.
But while these days the team is in a similar situation with regards to the standings, they could not be more different when it comes to where it is heading. This group of players is ascending, and while adding more talent via the draft wouldn’t hurt, there’s no denying the experienced gained from a trip to the playoffs would help, even if it’s a short stay.
Then again, is an upset entirely out of the question?
Maybe that’s the question we should be asking.