The Suns finished just outside of the playoffs (again) and is poised to continue its stranglehold on the 13th pick. Phoenix was 10th in the West this season, but what is the team's outlook the next two seasons with the salary cap explosion looming?
This is an easy exercise.
How do the Suns compare to the other Western Conference lottery teams based on each team's roster, salaries, draft picks and other factors?
The time frame is between now and the summer of 2016, when the escalating salary cap will have cataclysmic effects on the league's landscape.
The methodology for the analysis should be lucid in the following team by team capsules.
**An analysis of the Eastern Conference lottery teams will published in a separate article.**
All salary cap numbers are from NBA Contract Index on Basketball-Reference.com. Numbers include player and team options, but not cap holds.
All draft pick information is from Future Traded Pick Details on RealGM.com.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter (RFA), Steven Adams
2015-16: $78 million
2016-17: $44 million
Outgoing: 2016 lottery protected to Philadelphia, 2018 lottery protected to Utah
The Thunder will be going well above the cap if it plans on retaining Kanter. With Durant hitting free agency in 2016, Oklahoma City will probably be up against the 2016 cap to keep its current team together.
A healthy team with a new coach will make OKC one of the favorites entering next season. This could be a watershed season for the Thunder, because the team's most pernicious threat is the possibility that Durant leaves as a free agent in 2016.
OKC > Suns
Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight (RFA), P.J. Tucker, Alex Len, Brandan Wright (RFA), Markieff Morris
2015-16: $44 million
2016-17: $44 million
Incoming: Cleveland 2016 top 10 protected, Miami 2017 top 7 protected, Miami 2021 unprotected
The Suns will be capped out if they retain RFA's Knight and Wright. If Phoenix re-signs them it would have around $60+ million allocated to existing contracts entering the summer of 2016. That would actually be as much or more than any of the other teams on this list besides the Thunder.
Phoenix doesn't have a star player, high lottery pick or great cap situation entering this summer, so the best bet is for them to explore any and all trades. The Morris brothers' legal situation doesn't help.
Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Dante Exum
2015-16: $55 million
2016-17: $50 million
Incoming: Golden St. 2017 unprotected, Oklahoma City 2018 lottery protected
Utah has its six core players locked up for at least two more seasons at a price tag of less than $50 million. The Jazz will hit free agency about $10 million under the cap.
The oldest player of Utah's core is Hayward, who is just 24. The team can add a veteran this summer and let that group grow together.
Utah's combination of players, cap situation and future picks is very similar to that of the Suns, but probably slightly better.
Utah (barely) > Suns
Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic
2015-16: $61 million
2016-17: $33 million
Incoming: New York 2016 (right to swap picks), Portland 2016 lottery protected, Memphis 2017 top 5 protected
Denver is in great shape to pick in the top 5 in 2016. The Nuggets need young talent, because Nurkic was the only player under 25 years old to log at least 1,000 minutes for the team last season. Yes, a group of players mostly in their primes scraped out 30 wins.
The Nuggets only veterans under contract through 2016-17 are Lawson (27) and Faried (25), so the team can build around them or move them in a total rebuild.
Suns > Nuggets
DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ben McLemore
2015-16: $55 million
2016-17: $57 million
Outgoing: 2016 top 10 protected to Chicago
DeMarcus Cousins is one of the most talented players in the league, but after five seasons in Sacramento he's surrounded by guys like Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. Those two combine to chew through $13 million in salary in each of the next two seasons.
It's hard to see where the improvement is going to come from for this roster unless they can package a player/pick for a better piece to complement Cousins. With DeMarcus locked up for three more seasons they at least have some time to figure things out.
Cousins and a top 6 pick are better assets than anything the Suns have. Still, the Kings have some dead weight and haven't shown the ability to build around its star player.
Kings (barely) > Suns
Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, Jordan Hill
2015-16: $49 million
2016-17: $9 million
2015: #4, #27 (from Houston)
Outgoing: 2016 top 3 protected to Philadelphia, 2018 top 5 protected to Orlando (see RealGM.com for exact details)
The Lakers will almost surely couple a top five pick with last year's lottery selection (Julius Randle) and sign a big fish in free agency this summer. At that point, they can do just a little more maneuvering and have just those three players under contract entering the Summer of 2016 ready to go after two max free agents.
All of this is contingent on Kobe Bryant stepping aside after his current deal ends after next season.
The Lakers last attempt at building a super team failed spectacularly, but a hasty rebuild seems inexorable... because they're the Lakers.
Lakers > Suns
Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Zach LaVine
2015-16: $57 million
2016-17: $56 million
Outgoing: 2016 top 12 protected to Boston, 2018 lottery protected to Atlanta
The Timberwolves top selection in this year's draft will give the team seven first round picks on rookie deals on its roster. Shabazz Muhammad probably has some trade value, too, but I didn't list him since he's missed a lot of time.
It almost seems ridiculous that a roster with this much talent stumbled to the worst record in the league, but a plague of injuries derailed Minnesota's season. Now it can likely add Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor to the fold.
The Pekovic contract seems a little questionable at this point, but the Timberwolves young talent is absurd. Even being located in Minnesota doesn't put too much of a damper on the team's fourdroyant future.
Having Déjà vu watching the 2014-2015 Golden State Warriors? They're pretty similar to a team you might remember from a few years back.
Note: SSOL = Seven Seconds or Less
There's something awfully familiar about the brand of basketball those Golden State Warriors have been playing this season.
An MVP-caliber point guard with nifty passing? A host of deadly 3-point shooters? A high-octane offense that consistently runs opposing teams out of the gym?
Huh. Sounds a bit like the Phoenix Suns from 2004-2010, doesn't it? It should, because that's essentially what this year's Golden State Warriors are: a reincarnation of the Phoenix Suns of yore.
Take a gander at some of the offensive team stats from the 2009-2010 Suns and the 2014-2015 Warriors:
2009-2010 Suns: 110 PPG (1st) 49.2 FG% (1st) 41.2 3P% (1st) 112.7 OffRtg (1st) 54.6 eFG% (1st)
2014-2015 Warriors: 110 PPG (1st), 47.8 FG% (1st), 39.8 3P% (1st), 109.7 OffRtg (2nd) 54% eFG% (1st)
Come on, how freaky is that? Both teams ran a blistering, non-stop offense, and they both clearly got great results from it. It's hard to believe, but the Warriors 20.9 fast break points per game were more than any Suns team in the 2004-2010 era averaged (18.5 in 2004-2005 was their highest mark).
The similarities don't stop at the numbers. The players may be different, except in one case (MEEP MEEP), but they are filling in the same roles that the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns players filled.
The Warriors are led by the slippery Steph Curry. Curry really is more or less the second coming of Steve Nash. He operates a bit differently than the Canadian Kid did as a point guard, but Curry's 2014-2015 regular season numbers are not too far off from Nash's 2005-2006 MVP campaign.
2005-2006 Nash: 18.8 PPG, 10.5 APG, 4.2 RPG, 51 FG%, 44 3P%, 58 eFG%, 92 FT%, 35.4 MPG
2014-2015 Curry: 23.8 PPG, 7.7 APG, 4.3 RPG, 49 FG%, 44 3P%, 59 eFG%, 91 FT%, 32.7 MPG
Now, Curry is more of a scorer than Nash, and he isn't quite the distributor that Two Time was, but those shooting numbers are eerily similar. Certainly, you remember how good of a shooter Nash was at his acme. Imagine that, except Curry shot almost TWICE as many threes (Nash shot 4.3 3s per game that year; Curry hoisted up 8.1 treys this year). And Steph Curry is a pesky defender, too. He might very well be a better overall player than Nash was. Either way, both the SSOL Suns and 2014-2015 Warriors were led by sensational, MVP-level point guards.
Curry has an excellent running partner in Klay Thompson. Thompson is probably a more talented wing than any of the two guards Nash played with, but you could say he's a bit of a mix of 05-06 Raja Bell and 2009-2010 Jason Richardson. He is a natural scorer like Richardson, but he's got the long-range shooting (46 FG%, 44 3P%) and defense of Bell. Joe Johnson is also a good analogy, but again, Thompson is a better defender.
And then the Warriors have two versatile forwards in Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Both of these guys can guard multiple positions, allow the Warriors to play small ball, and best contribute on offense by moving without the ball. They're different players, but that sounds a bit like what Shawn Marion and Grant Hill did for the Suns, doesn't it?
There are even some familiar faces, too. Steve Kerr, GM of the Suns from 2007-2010; Steve Kerr, current head coach of the Warriors. Leandro Barbosa's role, as it was in his heyday in Phoenix, is to be a spark plug off of the bench. Last but not least? Alvin Gentry, Suns assistant coach from 2003-2009 and head coach of that 2009-2010 Western Conference Finalist team, is the offensive coordinator and assistant coach of the 2014-2015 Warriors. Coincidence? I THINK NOT. There's a reason why the offensive numbers are so closely similar between the Warriors and the 09-10 Suns.
There are tons of little comparisons to make between the 2004-2010 Suns and the current iteration of the Warriors. But you might also notice that some of the key components of each team do not match up.
The Suns used a paint-dominant and defensively limited power forward in Amar'e Stoudemire. The Warriors, on the other hand, have Green, who spaces the floor and contributes on the defensive end in a major way.
And there's that brute of a rim protector the Warriors have in Andrew Bogut. Bogut anchors the prodding defense of the Warriors, allowing Curry, Thomas, Iggy, and Green to make riskier plays. The Suns defensive anchors were 6'9 Kurt Thomas and a 36 year-old Shaquille O'Neal.
These differences are ultimately what will make these Golden State Warriors better equipped for a title run than the Suns ever were. Green gives the Warriors more flexibility on offense and defense than what Stoudemire gave the Suns. Of course, STAT was great for the Suns. But the Suns may have been better off with a player like Green (see: David Lee is Stoudemire's closest comparison on the Warriors. He's the highest paid player on the team, and he didn't even see the floor in the first round. Granted, he's been dealing with a back injury, but his minutes are wayyy down this season. Green is just a better fit for the system).
It's impossible to say for sure if the Suns would have been a better team with a player like Green over Stoudemire, but they certainly would have been better off putting more emphasis on defense. Bogut is what makes the Warriors an elite defensive team; something the Suns never even sniffed. It does make you wonder if Steve Kerr was onto something when he traded for Shaq, though. Just a slightly fresher Shaq may have pushed those Suns teams over the hump. Maybe Kerr wanted the SSOL Suns to look more like what the 2014-2015 Warriors turned out to be.
The Warriors won five more games than the 2004-2005 Suns, the most successful Suns regular season team of the era. Those five extra wins are a result of a league best 101.4 DefRtg from the Warriors. A top two offense and a league best defense equated to an average margin of victory of 10.10 points for the Warriors. The best MOV mark for the Suns was 7.3 in 2006-2007. These Warriors are onto something the Suns never quite figured out.
Phoenix Suns fans should look at this Golden State team and feel proud. It is the natural progression of the SSOL Suns teams. It's clear that Steve Kerr learned from the woes of the 2004-2010 Phoenix teams. He realized a blistering offense alone wasn't going to cut it; the defense needed to be just as much as a priority as the offense.
The Suns revolutionized the league with the way they played offense. The Warriors are playing the same fast-paced, fast breaking, 3-point heavy offense the Suns played. They've just figured out how to play the rest of the game. But at least we get to see the legacy of the SSOL Suns revitalized in the 2014-2015 Golden State Warriors.