At the all-star break, the Phoenix Suns sit right about where we expected when the season started - a little under .500 with a handful of 'shoulda coulda' games in the loss column. We all know the Suns' biggest problem is a lack of overall talent. The fans know it. Opposing teams know it. The Suns' front office knows it. Even the untalented players themselves know it.
But that's not the worst part. To know it is one thing. To accept it, to talk about it with the media is quite another. Rather than saying "we're talented enough, we just didn't execute", the players discuss their own limitations in a way that's generally reserved for beat writers and bloggers.
"We are not a very talented team," Nash says, which was echoed by at least Channing Frye recently.
At least head coach Alvin Gentry has so far refused to play that card. He talks of hustle and effort as the difference between wins and losses, and he's right to an extent. I can count on more than one hand how many times this team has lost because they didn't work as hard as their opponent.
But this roster is not built to win games on hustle. Their two best players almost 40 years old. Their middling players are, in their late 20s, already past their "hustling" prime. The only midseason addition to the team is a guy in his 30s who was never a hustle guy to begin with. No, this team is not built to win on hustle.
So why in the world is the front office sitting on its hands?
They have a plan, they say. Sarver and Babby have said it before, and said it again recently. They don't want to blow it up because their research shows it takes 8-10 years to get back to the top once you've blown it up.
Instead, they want to remain competitive and retool on the fly. And that this summer will mark the start of that retooling, when they find $30 million burning a hole in their pockets (possibly more if they decide to eat Childress and Warrick's contracts via amnesty and release, respectively).
This is more money than the Suns have been free to spend since Sarver's first summer as Suns owner in 2004, and that one turned out quite well. But the difference between 2004 and 2012 is striking.
In 2004, the Suns were spending money to supplement a young core of Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Leandro Barbosa - none older than 24 and all with individual NBA awards in their future.
This time, the draft and free agency period is supplementing a middling core of Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris. Only Morris is young by NBA standards and he doesn't project to win any individual NBA awards in his future. But those three guys are good pieces to a larger puzzle. Either the Suns' puzzle or someone else's.
Of course, the Suns front office knows this. To get back to the top, they have to infuse a lot of talent. They know it. You know it. The players know it.
There is no present with this current group of players. And there is no future with this current group of players. There is only purgatory. No wonder they're not winning games on hustle. Guys only hustle when they believe in something bigger than themselves.
So I ask again, why is the front office sitting on its hands?
I understand, and wholeheartedly agree with, the plan to keep everyone on 1-year contracts for maximum offseason flexibility.
And I understand, and somewhat agree with, the plan to win as many games this season as possible without compromising the main plan.
But when you know your bench is not cutting it, to the point where every single non-starter has been 'DNP - coach's decision' at some point, why not scour the waiver wire, D-league rosters and the end of other NBA rosters for a diamond in the rough? What can it possibly hurt?
Jeremy Lin was available to every NBA team a month ago. Gustavo Ayon was available in December. Wesley Mathews was discovered this way a couple years ago. Sundiata Gaines, Reggie Williams, Anthony Tolliver as well. These guys aren't going to make you a long-term winner, but why not try them out just in case? This season could be about feel-good stories for a handful of guys who just need that chance. Could they do any worse than Brown, Telfair or Price?
With two weeks until the trading deadline and eight weeks until the end of the season, the Suns front office needs to make a decision and run with it. Hard.
There is no long-term value to keeping this roster exactly as it is through the end of the season. There's nothing more to learn about any of the players who will be let go this summer.
They are who we thought they were: not a very talented bunch.