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After signing Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and James Harden last year, the Houston Rockets need more cap space to sign a veteran max free agent like Dwight Howard.

The Rockets acquired #5 overall pick Thomas Robinson at the trade deadline in February, a salary dump from the Kings. Now, according to Yahoo! Sports, they would rather have the cap space than a 21-year old power forward.

The Rockets have made clear to multiple rival teams that they plan to accept the best offer to move Robinson and eliminate his $3.52 million salary for the 2013-14 season.

Without the salary of Robinson and others, the Rockets will have the space to offer Howard a maximum deal starting at approximately $20.5 million a season.

His salary is paltry. Not much more than other players on their roster, but the Rockets have supposedly decided that Robinson is the best combination of trade asset and unnecessary future piece for a championship contender.

Just a year removed from being a top pick, it's interesting that two teams who lack starting-quality power forwards have come to the same conclusion already - it's better not to have him at all.

Which begs the question: are those teams giving up on Robinson too early? Or is Robinson destined to be nothing more than a backup big for the rest of his career?

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is looking to "build through the draft, maybe through trades if we have to, to bring in some young players who maybe haven't hit it yet, haven't broken through."

Robinson appears to fit that mold. But McDonough also says the Suns need shooting, and Robinson has shown little offensive game beyond putbacks.

If you're still on the Robinson bandwagon, ask yourself this: Is Robinson really better than the Morri? Is it worth giving up a good asset, bringing Robinson into the Morri mix, or trading one of them away to make room for Robinson?

It's worth noting that Robinson played behind Markieff Morris at Kansas for two seasons, only starting for one year after Morris had left for the NBA. That junior season was a revelation, to be sure, vaulting Robinson into a higher selection than either Morris brother had been. But it was still just one season. As a junior.

Robinson only played 16 minutes per game for the worst team in the NBA. And then only 13 minutes in 19 games for the surging Rockets after the trade, losing minutes to the likes of Greg Smith and Terrence Jones. Marcus Morris, on the other hand, played ahead of Jones and Smith, getting 21 minutes per game in 54 pre-trade contests for the Rockets at the PF position.

It could be that Robinson was slow to pick up the Houston scheme, or that his game just didn't fit with Houston. But they needed big bodies in the playoffs. They needed rebounding, Robinson's calling card. But Robinson was not called upon in the playoffs.

Poll
Should the Suns acquire Thomas Robinson, to fight for minutes with the Morri?

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Phoenix Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough realizes there's no single way that works to build a championship contender. One strategy is to hoard several years of high lotto picks. Another is attacking the free agent market. Yet another is trading for your star. All are fraught with risk, all more likely to fail than succeed.

McDonough's plan is a simple, yet ambitious one.

"First and foremost, to try to get the great players," he said. "If we can't get them right away, try to be patient and deliberate, try to build through the draft, maybe through trades if we have to, to bring in some young players who maybe haven't hit it yet, haven't broken through, and then hopefully we're building up and we're going in the right direction."

While there are different ways to do it, both examples started with stellar drafts.

The hope is that he knows the difference between great (Howard, Paul) and not-so-great (Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Paul Millsap). The not-so-great will just get you back to mediocre. There's no reason to sign a late-20s free agent who won't be top-5 at his position for the next 4-5 years. Not when you're just starting on the road back to respectability.

"I am not looking to patch this together, to get better in the short term but have no model of sustained success."

If you don't know what mediocrity without a model of sustained success looks like, just roll back your memory banks to the 2010-2012 Phoenix Suns. Granted, that was a different day and time. The Suns were riding out the Nash contract, honoring the Suns best player since Barkley with a chance at a run while also building to the future. A failed model, to be sure, but a well-intentioned one.

The Suns plan is clear. Build through the draft, while being aggressive when the time is right to strike.

"What OKC did was hang onto those guys and win with those guys," he said. "What we did in Boston was we drafted very well for a number of years, and then we kept some of the guys, traded some of them for Kevin Garnett, and traded some for Ray Allen. So it's a combination of those different things. There's different ways to do it."

While there are different ways to do it, both examples started with stellar drafts. You can't build a model of sustained success without good draft picks. Like they did in Boston, quality draft picks either become stars for your own team or assets in a trade for a top-notch player.

Just before Boston acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to make consecutive Finals runs, Danny Ainge was about to lose his job. The Celtics had descended into the doldrums of repeated lottery appearances, winning only 33 and 24 games the previous two seasons. Then they traded the #5 pick for Ray Allen, and young Al Jefferson and parts for Kevin Garnett and they went on to the Finals.

Just before OKC matured and became lauded as the best young team in the game, they had suffered through seasons of 20 and 23 wins with those same guys. In fact, during the 2009 offseason, there was (per a league source) considerable worry in the OKC front office that this group would never be playoff-caliber. Durant was one of the league's worst +/- players in 2008-09, and Westbrook was a shooting guard in the PGs body. But they stayed the course and they're all happy now.

Neither team signed the best player in free agency. They did it through the draft to start with, and they suffered a bit without any guarantee that the plan would work.

Does that mean the Suns are hunkering down this summer, eschewing the big names while they fill their war chest over the next few years?

"If a great player wants to come here, we're going to go get him," Ryan McDonough says without hesitation.

McDonough has made that declaration several times since being hired. He's not going to back down, just because the Suns are where they are. Top free agents available this summer include Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

"Trying to get guys here," he explained. "I think we have a lot of advantages: the market, the training staff, the tradition, the franchise. But you know it is a tough sell when you won 25 games the year before."

McDonough isn't fooling himself, but he's not taking himself out of the game either. If a great player wants to come to Phoenix, he wants to be in a position to get that guy and build around him.

"My initial instinct is it's unlikely we'll get one of them," he admits. "Just given that the team won 25 games and where we are.

"But if we can get one of them then we're going to try to accelerate the process and supplement them the best we can to win right away. I guess a team like Houston has done that, all of a sudden they got James Harden and that lifts your whole ship, lifts the whole program, and I think they're a team specifically that's very well positioned going forward."

The Houston model is interesting, bordering on disaster as they missed the playoffs for three years in a row, tore it down and struck out last summer on trading for Dwight Howard. But then James Harden became inexplicably available and Houston quietly engineered a trade with OKC for parts that, looking back on it, just weren't a fair trade.

Houston stockpiled first round draft picks (which the Suns have done) and then started trading their best players for even more picks (which the Suns have not yet done). Young starting-caliber PG Kyle Lowry was traded for a future pick which ultimately closed the deal on Harden. Fan favorite Luis Scola was amnestied. Other veterans were let go despite their love for the city. But no one's crying now. Houston is on the rise and still in the market for another star to pair with Harden.

McDonough is realistic though.

"We're always going to try to get the top free agents," he said. "But building through the draft is a more likely path. Veteran free agents, especially guys who are later in their career, they usually want to go somewhere they can win a championship for the next few years."

The Suns make a call to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard to guage their interest in coming to the Valley. Likely, those guys are already looking in other directions.

I just hope the Suns stay the course and refrain from calling the older veteran free agents that won't turn the Suns into a Finals contender.

Throughout my five seasons running ValleyoftheSuns I have marveled at the fact that teams often take the worst shots with the game on the line in the final seconds of a one-possession game. You could...

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Seriously, I hate lists like this but here we go.

ESPN's latest edition of it's Future Rankings has the Phoenix Suns in 29th position ahead of only the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets. In fact, in his "analysis" ESPN Draft "Expert" Chad Ford says the only thing keeping the Suns from the last and worst position is the "complete and utter disaster known as the Charlotte Bobcats."

Ford also doesn't fail to mention the Suns selling draft picks which last happened about half-a-decade ago under a completely different front office. There's nothing like using ancient and irrelevant history to determine one's future.

Whatever.

It's just another stupid list.

This stupid list is supposed to give insight into how a franchise will fare over the next three seasons based on these categories: Players, Management, Market, Draft, Money.

The Suns, understandably, ranked dead last in the "Players" category. I dare you to find a current NBA roster with less talent. So yeah, the current roster is bad with no All-Star vets and no young players that you could even project as starters.

On the plus sides, the Suns ranked 11th in "Market" and third in "Draft" thanks to their six first-round picks over the next three years.

That all makes sense. There's a lot of draft picks and Phoenix is an above average market but not California, New York or Income Tax-Free Texas. (Although I'd still rather live in Phoenix than Houston or Dallas despite the taxes.)

Where things get more puzzling is the last two categories.

The Suns were ranked 29th in "Management" despite the moves they made this offseason. I suppose you could justify this, since Ryan McDonough is unproven and Lon Babby hasn't exactly impressed the national media Chad Ford. But would you really rate the Suns management behind the mess in Detroit or the complete unknown in Sacramento?

But the worst ranking is "Money" where the Suns come in 25th despite being about $10m under the salary cap this summer and having only about $22m in guaranteed contracts for 2014. More importantly, the ONLY bad contract the Suns have on the books is the ~$9m owed to Michael Beasley. The Suns should have no problem moving guys like Dudley, Frye or Gortat should they have a reason to.

Compare that to the Toronto Raptors (ranked 22nd) who owe about $60m to Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay over the next two seasons. Who's balance sheet would you rather have?

Anyway, we can't let "facts" get in the way with our lists or people like us would just ignore them.

NBA Future Power Rankings: 26-30 - ESPN
The only thing that saves the Suns from dead last in our rankings is the complete and utter disaster known as the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats have been last in every Future Power Rankings we've ever done and don't seem much closer to losing their grip on the bottom spot. But, oh, how the Suns have tried. With bad draft choices, selling draft picks, horrible free-agent decisions and misguided trades, the team has fallen apart over the past few years. The good news? They've probably already hit rock bottom, and with a few rays of hope. The Suns have the No. 5 and No. 30 picks in this year's draft and have a total of six first-round picks in the next three years. They also got a small bump in Management thanks to the hiring of former Celtics assistant GM Ryan McDonough. But other than that? Not much. With no cornerstones for the Suns to build around, it's going to be grim for a while. The loaded 2014 draft might be their best way out of the mire.

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New Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek always wanted to coach, but never thought that would happen in the NBA.

"My goal was never to be a coach in the NBA," Hornacek said. "I always felt I would coach, but I thought that would be on the college level. I felt that what I'd learned over the years would be too much for high school, but the pro guys... they already know everything, so why would I do that?"

Back in Jeff Hornacek's days, most players went to college all four years and the unstructured AAU ball mentality wasn't as prevalent amongst future NBA stars.

"The view when I played," Hornacek said. "Was when you got to the NBA, it was all about strategy, all about the offense, all about the defensive schemes that you're going to use. Those guys already had the fundamentals."

Not so much anymore. That was the biggest lesson Hornacek took away from his two years on the Utah bench. The team tried to integrate lotto picks Enes Kanter (no college), Derrick Favors (one year), Gordon Hayward (two years) and Alec Burks (two years) into the lineup, but head coach Tyron Corbin repeatedly deferred to his veterans as they pushed for the playoffs.

But even many of the Utah vets came into the league with the same deficiencies. Utah SF Marvin Williams, in the league for eight uninspiring seasons now, only spent a year in college before jumping to the NBA. Nine-year veteran C Al Jefferson had no college, coming straight to the league from high school.

"There's so many pro guys that are one-and-dones," Hornacek said. "Or didn't get the teaching in college on how to play the game, and they don't know a lot of this stuff.

"That's one thing I've learned over the last couple years being on the bench is that you can't assume these guys know some of the stuff we learned back in college because they didn't have the same experience."

Hornacek goes back to his own playing days for inspiration as a playmaker at both the PG and SG positions.

"When I was drafted by the Phoenix Suns and played for John Macleod, I would call a lot of plays," he recalls. "I kind of always knew what everybody was going to do. My advantage as a player was to really see and know what the other players wanted to do and use that to my advantage.

"I feel with guys nowadays I can get a pretty quick idea of where they like the ball, what would put them in the best situation to succeed. Once they get that little taste of success, the trust comes and guys will go to battle for you."

When asked what to do when there's a discrepancy between where the player likes the ball versus where he's actually good with it, Hornacek said it's a group effort between the coaches, the player and the tapes.

"Showing them that when they make bad plays, the effect it has on the team," he replied. "All the best teams I've played on, every guy on that team wanted to do something to make another teammate better."

After watching the Phoenix Suns last season, Hornacek might get a rude awakening with this roster. Interim head coach Lindsey Hunter had that same awakening last spring. When Hunter started in January, he vowed to spend a lot more time teaching them the nuances of team defense and making sure guys were paying attention. Practices became harder and longer. Team leaders expressed guarded appreciation for the tougher environment, admitting that the young guys needed someone to get on them more than the prior regime had done.

But Hunter never got through to many of the guys he was trying to reach. When longer practices didn't work, he punished players by fining them, by taking away their playing time. When that didn't work either, his frustration boiled over and he eventually started calling them out in press conferences.

Quiet, unassuming guys like Goran Dragic, Kendall Marshall and Wesley Johnson flourished because they wanted to work hard to get better. But Hunter's tactics failed miserably with tough-minded players who felt they were better than they really were. Those players tuned Hunter out.

Hunter was partially tuned out because he was only the interim coach. He was in a no-win situation, with the losses piling up and the kids thinking more about next season (without him) than this season. There was no chemistry, even when chemist Alvin Gentry was the coach.

And when players tune out the coach, everyone loses. Fans stop buying tickets. The GM gets fired. The coach gets fired. The players ruin their own reputations. Just what did Beasley and the Morri gain from their mini-revolt? Shorter NBA careers, that's what.

Hornacek's success will hinge on whether he has the moxie and the patience to get through to today's NBA youth - whether it be Beasley or the Morri or any other youngsters - who feel they already know everything when they really don't.

"When you see these players," Hornacek says, undeterred. "They may look at you and look like they're not paying attention, but they really do want to learn how to play. They want to improve, they want to get better and get to that top level."

Hornacek spent the last two years watching several lotto picks struggle to play team-first winning basketball, and that has only made him hungrier to be an NBA coach.

"I think it works out perfectly these days because I really enjoy teaching the kids," he says. "I'm inspired to get guys to play team basketball."

With the Suns going through a youth movement of their own, including four players under 25 and six first round draft picks in the next three seasons, his ability to get through to these kids will make or break his NBA career.

If it breaks him, he might just try college after all.

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