The complicated outlook of the Phoenix Suns all goes back to those unexpected 48 wins during the 2013-14 season.
With the duo of general manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek coming in to fix the mistakes of the previous regime, a measured approach to rebuild and set up the organization for long-term future success was the main goal.
Those 48 wins in McDonough and Hornacek’s first season changed everything. They were supposed to be given time and patience, but were instead met with grand expectations almost immediately.
A 39-win season later brought significant heat toward the franchise that just one year earlier was thought to be closer to being in position to draft Andrew Wiggins than competing for a Western Conference playoff spot.
Because the process was accelerated doesn’t mean it should be forgotten that this is still a process. It was three seasons ago the Suns won 25 games with a roster that featured Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Shannon Brown as three of their top-eight rotation players.
There’s no right or wrong way to build a championship contender in the NBA. There are different paths to choose and whichever direction is decided on takes an incredible amount of luck to put yourself in position to win a title.
For every Oklahoma City Thunder able to build up from the bottom, there are franchises like the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, who suffered decade-long struggles before being able to rise out of the ugly depths of dormancy.
For every Joe Johnson-Atlanta Hawks incarnation getting stuck in the middle, examples like the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and the “Seven-Seconds-or-Less” Suns show you don’t need to bottom out for multiple seasons to compete at an elite level.
Both ways have worked and both ways have failed.
You can win dumb like the Brooklyn Nets, who mortgaged their future and failed to reach the desired result.
You can win smart like the Cleveland Cavaliers, investing everything into now trying to maximize the championship window of LeBron James.
You can lose dumb like the New York Knicks did for the majority of the 2000s, giving away the future for 30-win season after 30-win season.
You can lose smart like the Utah Jazz did in transitioning away from the Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap-based roster.
Whether the Suns exceed what you think they will be, fail to live up to what you want them to be or simply fall right in the middle — know they should be placed into the smart category with how they’re going about roster construction.
The decisions Phoenix makes in the hopes of reaching the next level are still an unknown, but they’ve opened numerous avenues to get there.
Internal improvement through player development is a possibility.
Devin Booker, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Brandon Knight are all between the ages of 18-to-23 with potentially high ceilings and low floors. Even Eric Bledsoe, at the age of 25, but with only one full season of starting under his belt holds growth potential.
Free agency is a possibility.
The Suns have $59 million in guaranteed salary for next offseason and their core of Bledsoe, Knight, Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler are all signed to long-term contracts. None of their rookie deals come up next offseason and most are multiple seasons away from being worried about.
The draft is a possibility.
The Suns own all of their first and second-round picks, plus have the rights to four picks from other teams — Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2016 (top-ten protected most likely getting this season), Miami’s 2018 first-round pick (top-seven protected with some other qualifiers based on other Heat pick situations), Miami’s 2021 first-round pick (unprotected), and Detroit’s 2020 second-round pick.
Trades are a possibility.
Young talent, talent in prime, reasonable contracts and a solid draft pick base means any star that becomes available in a trade considers Phoenix as a possible destination.
This shows the ideology of an extremely competent front office.
How they’re able to go about traveling down these paths in the future is a question mark. There will be some moves that work out and others that don’t as McDonough tries to get this figured out. The important aspect is to keep the roster positioned fluidly until it’s time to go all-in on a championship-level type team.
A five-year playoff drought makes Suns fans want to see this happen sooner rather than later.
The taste of being so close in a difficult, deep Western Conference the past two seasons makes Suns fans want to see this happen sooner rather than later.
Perspective and patience are important.
If the Rockets gave up on Daryl Morey after two 40-win seasons (2009-10 and 2010-11), and the failed Pau Gasol and Nene Hilario acquistions, they wouldn’t be sitting here today with James Harden, Dwight Howard and one of the best rosters in the NBA.
Building a basketball team isn’t simple. There are extreme levels of variance based on an uncountable amount of factors. All the Suns can do is try to position themselves to best take advantage of any opportunity that arises.
They’ve done that.
Don’t let a surprising 48-win campaign two years ago crumble a process that is clearly heading in a positive direction.
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