Next Starts Now.
Unfortunately, we just don't know what "next" means. No one does. More than 100 analysts at ESPN collectively decided that the Suns will finish near the bottom of the Western Conference. Conversely, the man who called games for the Rockets last year (Clyde Drexler) sees a solid playoff team who added Dragic and Scola to a stronger supporting cast than the Rockets offered. Even fans on BSotS range in their predictions of the season from solid playoff team to contender for the #1 pick.
How can analysts and pundits and fans be so unsure about this team? Because the leadership from the last few seasons is gone. Steve Nash and Grant Hill represented the old guard, the quiet leadership that would keep the ship sailing in the right direction. Not once did the Suns falter in their confidence, thanks to those men.
But that's all gone now. The Suns franchise has decided to move into a new era. But what era is that?
Pessimists pan the replacement of the Suns' glory-days leadership with four primary pieces from other teams that couldn't make the playoffs either - Houston (Dragic, Scola) and Minnesota (Beasley, Johnson). How can dumping your leaders and adding middling parts from losing teams be a benefit to the Suns franchise?
Pessimists have already decided that every returning Suns player's stats will decline without the benefit of Steve Nash spoon-feeding them the ball. Pessimists also believe that losing your best defensive player (Grant Hill) hurts your already middling-to-poor defense.
Pessimists believe themselves to be realists.
Optimists look to production (Dragic, Scola) and potential (Dragic, Beasley, Johnson, Morris, Marshall) and imagine most of those players taking that next step to make the Suns a surprise team in the West. Optimists also discount the Nash factor, and imagine a world where Marcin Gortat can score off someone else's passes and Goran Dragic can attack the basket at will. Optimists also believe that Jared Dudley will come into his own as a leader, and that Michael Beasley will become the player he always should have been - a star.
Optimists believe themselves to be realists.
"Real" is somewhere in between, which portends another team fighting to win the last playoff spot in the West.
"Real" is that 29 other NBA teams won NBA basketball games without Steve Nash as their point guard.
"Real" is that, to make the playoffs, the Suns have to completely forget their past and move boldly into a new era with a new personality. The more time they spend trying to reprise their past with a new cast of characters, the longer it will take them to win basketball games on a consistent basis.
For reality to approach the heights of optimistic predictions, new leadership will have to form quickly. At least one player must exceed expectations, if not three or four of them. And none of the top 7 or 8 can regress.
Is this possible? Yes.
Is this likely? That's for you to decide.