In the year of the tank, the Phoenix Suns are showing the rest of the NBA that it is okay to be average.
In a draft that’s touted as the best in a decade, teams were okay with losing this season to help the future of their franchise. A handful of teams were clearly not attempting to put a winning basketball team together (Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, etc) and the Suns were supposed to be among that group.
According to SportsBook.com, the Suns had the second lowest projected win total going into the season. They had very little talent, so we thought, and would be in contention for the top pick. But Goran Dragic and the Suns had other plans. With one game left to play, the team has won 26 more games than expected. However, the team came up just short of the playoffs, and that raises the question of whether it’s better to be mediocre and miss the playoff or tank and hope for a high pick that could turn around the franchise.
I, among others, have always contended that it’s better to be on one extreme or the other. If a team isn’t going to make the playoffs (or even is going to finish as an eighth seed in the struggling East) they would have been better off by having the worst record in the league: looking at you Atlanta. Strip the roster down to a core of young players and several veterans who they can build around. From there, draft a good young player who can have a positive impact, but Phoenix presented us with a third option; win, even if it means missing the playoffs.
The 76ers provided us with a tanking model. They were terrible this year, but they were terrible with a plan. Michael Carter-Williams will be a star, and they are going to land a high draft pick to gain another player to complement their young roster. They are a clear model of a team losing to get better.
I was set in my theory that if a team didn’t make the playoffs, they would have been better off tanking. This year’s Phoenix Suns team destroyed that theory. Sure, they could have finished second to last in the NBA, like the Vegas prediction and received a high draft pick. But what the Suns accomplished this season will better help and prepare them for the future. They showed the rest of the league they are a good team, and more importantly they showed themselves they have what it takes to compete. One of the most important qualities a team can have is confidence. This season was a season for them to build their confidence and realize they are on the cusp of being good.
This season also instantly made the Phoenix Suns a more appealing destination for a free agent. Good free agents who have options aren’t going to choose to go to a terrible team heading in the wrong direction. A team that just missed the playoffs in a tough Western Conference with plenty of young talent and a viable star in Dragic is a much more appealing destination. In a draft as deep as this year’s is, the Suns could still get a player who can make an immediate impact in the middle of the first round. Add a good free-agent, and they will be in the playoffs next year.
While I still think it is better to be on one extreme or the other, the Suns presented the NBA with a different model that works. Maybe it can be better to try to win now even with a less than loaded roster. The Suns found a viable re-building strategy that avoids tanking, and the fans benefitted from a team giving their best effort throughout the entirety of the season.
Sports-Kings’ Pass the Pill Contributor Mark Pace @THEMarkPace