After a disappointing 12-26 start to the season, many Phoenix Suns fans are discouraged.
The team has been losing game after game, and right now the only thing to really look forward to is the future.
Nobody expected the Suns to be great this season, but many are hoping that the team can make the right moves through either free agency or the draft and be back in contention for a championship within just a couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, rebuilding is never that easy.
Every once in a while, there is a team such as the Thunder who manage to call all of the right shots in the draft and become contenders within a couple of seasons. But then there are also teams such as the Pistons, who haven't had a winning record in five seasons and look as if they'll continue to be mediocre for at least a few more years.
With plenty of cap space and high draft picks, the Suns will have all of the resources they need to rebuild. It is definitely possible that this team can rise to the top in a short amount of time, but that is also very unlikely. Not every free agent you throw money at is going to produce, and a high draft pick doesn't necessarily mean you will strike gold. In fact, usually it doesn't.
The Suns will eventually be back near the top of the western conference, but fans may have to be patient, as there are a number of reasons why Phoenix might not see playoff action for several more years.
Weak Free Agent Classes
Right now, the Suns actually do have a lot of talent on the roster. They have a decent bench with some young, developing players, and they have a lot of players such as Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola who are all adequate No. 2 or No. 3 scoring options.
However, the Suns still don't have that go-to guy. They might have the supporting cast mostly in place, but they still need to find the star.
Unfortunately, the free agent of the next couple years doesn't have what the Suns need. Phoenix may be able to sign decent starters or role players, but there aren't any players who can lead the team to a title.
In 2013, the two top free agents are Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Those two are great players, but the Suns already have Dragic and Gortat at point guard and center, so they don't need either of those positions filled. What the Suns really need is a star wing player, which this free agent class unfortunately lacks.
The Suns could go after Tyreke Evans or Manu Ginobili, but neither of those players would make them much better. Paul Millsap and Josh Smith are also available at power forward, but even if the Suns do look for a power forward, those two aren't superstars.
The 2014 free agent class is a little better, but it still doesn't have any superstars at either of the wing positions, unless the Suns somehow convince Kobe Bryant to come to Phoenix, which isn't going to happen.
Monta Ellis, Andre Iguodala, O.J Mayo, Danny Granger and Luol Deng are among the notable free agents, but to think any one of those guys could be the leader of a contending team is ridiculous. That shouldn't necessarily stop the Suns from pursuing any of those players if it makes the team better, but again, almost no teams ever win a championship without at least one top 10 player, and those guys don't fit that criteria.
Really, the Suns might need to wait until 2015 to find their star. The 2015 free agent class is one that includes Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Amar'e Stoudemire, Zach Randolph and possibly Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Eric Gordon, depending on whether or not any of those players decline their player options.
That is a nice set of players, but don't forget that some will sign extensions and never hit free agency in the first place, and if Wade, LeBron and Gordon do all decide to stay with their teams, the Suns could find themselves out of luck again unless they are able to sign Anthony to play small forward.
It's difficult to look so far into the future, and there's no way of knowing how free agency would turn out in 2015. However, the Suns will almost definitely not find any great free agent options for either of the next two seasons, so they will probably look to the draft for their next franchise player.
But that takes me right to the next point.
Weak 2013 Draft Class
The 2012 draft class was one stocked with depth, especially after so many underclassmen decided to declare for the draft. But now, the 2013 draft class looks pretty weak.
By all means, Suns fans should still be happy to have three first round draft picks this year. But outside of a few top prospects, this draft could be fairly devoid of top talent.
If the draft were today, the Suns would have the fifth pick, which is also a little worrisome. Ben McLemore, Cody Zeller, Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel appear to be the top prospects on almost every mock draft, but if the Suns miss on both Muhammad and McLemore, it might be difficult to find a go-to scorer on the wing.
Anthony Bennett and Archie Goodwin both look like fairly enticing prospects, but do either of them have superstar potential? It's impossible to tell at this point, but the likely answer is no.
If the Suns want the best chance at drafting a superstar, they will have to get lucky in the lottery. This team might look bad, but they aren't bad enough to beat out the Wizards, Cavs or Bobcats for worst record in the league, and a lucky draw is the only way to get the first pick. Even then, this year's top prospects aren't nearly as good as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle of the 2014 draft class.
Of course, if the Suns can't get the first pick this year they definitely won't be the worst team next season either. Whether they draft a superstar or not, after adding a top prospect and signing a few free agents with their plethora of cap space, Phoenix should be a better team next season, even if they aren't a playoff team yet.
Is it possible that the Suns will find their next franchise player in the next couple years through the draft? Absolutely. For all we know, their 2nd round pick this season could be the selection that brings a future superstar to Arizona. But should you bet on any of that happening? Of course not.
High Expectations of Top Draft Picks
Every fan of a losing team loves top draft picks. Sometimes, having a top five or top 10 draft pick is all they really talk about. But don't think for even a second that just because your team had an awful season you will be rewarded through the draft.
When people think of top five picks, they often think of the 2003 draft. That class included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, and the only bust was Darko Milicic, who was taken with the 2nd pick.
But unfortunately, that isn't a realistic expectation for the Top 5 prospects of every draft class. In most cases, the actual value of top picks ends up being much lower.
To put that theory to the test, I conducted some research. I looked at the Top 10 picks of every draft from 1999-2008, a span of ten years, to decide just how often a top pick actually results in a superstar. Players drafted in 2009 or later who are on their rookie contracts were not included, as many of those players have yet to reach their potential and could still become All-Stars.
As this graph clearly shows, a top pick is no guarantee at a star. Only 30 out of the 100 total players have made at least one All-Star appearance. In addition to 30 All-Stars, there are also 30 players who are no longer in the NBA.
Also keep in mind, one All-Star appearance does not make a player a superstar. In fact, many argue that to have a real shot at a title, a team needs a Top 5, star player in the NBA. Out of these 100 players, only six have ever made it to the All-NBA first team, and they are Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant.
There are a few other interesting things to note. In almost all drafts, there is usually a consensus among scouts about who will be the first pick, and that first pick is very rarely a huge bust. In the past 10 years, six different first overall picks have been All-Stars. Even among those who weren't, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani are both still good, starting-caliber players, and Greg Oden only had his career cut short by injuries. In fact, the only real bust is Kwame Brown.
However, after the first pick there is a huge drop in talent. Only 24 percent of 2nd-10th picks made an All-Star appearance, which makes having the first pick so much more important. Some draft classes have enough depth for multiple superstars to be taken in the top 10, but that usually isn't the case.
Also, most contending teams have multiple top stars on their roster, not just one. The Heat, Clippers, Thunder, Spurs and most other contending teams have a secondary star player who can be just as deadly as the first. Although it's not impossible to win with just one star, the Suns would likely need two top picks to pan out in the next few drafts if they want to assemble a winning roster, unless they sign a star in free agency.
Above all, this graph is not trying to say that drafting is pointless and ineffective. Drafting is the most effective and efficient way to rebuild, and the Suns are definitely smart by trading for so many future picks instead of throwing money at borderline All-Stars like Rudy Gay.
However, should you really expect Phoenix to draft a superstar on the first try? Even if a player looks like he has potential, he won't always pan out. Remember that Beasley guy that has made you pull most of your hair out? He was the 2nd overall pick of the 2008 draft, taken right after Derrick Rose. Just keep in mind, it could take several tries before Phoenix finds a true star.
Look, rebuilding takes time. Losing can get frustrating, but making rash trades isn't going to help anything. The only way the Suns can ever rebuild is through a mixture of free agent signings and draft picks, but it's important to be patient. Nobody said it would be fun, and in fact, it will be very painful to watch sometimes. But patient, loyal Suns fans will always persevere through.