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The Suns are among six teams that should tank, says SI

Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson stands on the sideline in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Call it proactive rest. Call it tanking.

Whatever the Suns did following the All-Star break in 2016-17, it was about shutting down veterans as the playoffs became out of reach. It favored the team’s youngsters, and the results, even if indirectly related to the goal, included more losing.

Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro thinks Phoenix should do it again. He listed the Suns among six teams that should tank this coming season.

Devin Booker made a real leap and emerged as one of the league’s upper-echelon scoring guards, and T.J Warren had his best season to date. Although, with a staggering six players under 21 entering the season, the Suns should be in no rush to compete.  Phoenix’s main focus moving forward will be developing its young talent, especially its wings.

Josh Jackson will need to vastly improve his jump shot as a rookie, and last year’s No. 8 overall pick Marquese Chriss must focus on giving consistent effort on the defensive end.

It remains to be seen if Phoenix will end up resting its veterans if the team is out of the playoff race later in the season, but this summer has already projected another lottery-bound 2018 draft for the Suns.

Based on their own moves and those across the league, tanking is built into this version of Phoenix’s team.

In a quiet free agency period, general manager Ryan McDonough has so far only signed backup center Alan Williams and third-string point guard Mike James. The NBA stars heading to other Western Conference teams only puts the likelihood of a Suns surprise run next year more in doubt.

McDonough has alluded to the Suns’ timeline to compete for a playoff slot. He believes that depends on how Booker, Warren, Jackson, Chriss, Ulis, Williams and Dragan Bender develop.

So who else could be taking the plunge for a solid lottery slot next year?

The Bulls are moving into the unknown after trading Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. The Knicks have an uncertain future with Phil Jackson axed and Carmelo Anthony trying to force a trade out of town.

Atlanta’s roster has lost all of its talent from a strong playoff team two years back, the Pacers are rebuilding with Paul George dealt to Oklahoma City, and the Magic are still spinning their tires in the mud trying to develop an identity.

All of those teams are in the east, where outgoing talent makes the tiers of success murky.

The Suns, on the other hand, are one of few Western Conference squads to hold steady without getting better.

Even with internal improvement and even if Phoenix doesn’t shut down its vets late in the year, winning games is going to be more difficult next season.