To rise from the NBA lottery ashes, a team needs at least two star players with one of those being in the top three at his position in the game and in MVP consideration.
Without a budding pair of NBA stars, the Suns will wallow in lottery land for the foreseeable future. We are all excited by the direction of the team and the front office. But the Suns still must have one of Eric Bledsoe, Alex Len or Archie Goodwin reach their ceiling to become annual All-Star talents. And even then, the Suns will watch lottery balls bounce until that guy is joined by an even better player with MVP talent and skill.
But if one of those three doesn't rise to All-Star status, next year's draft won't have much impact on the Suns win total. And the lotto balls may keep bouncing for years and years to come.
The 2013 playoff picture
The L.A. Clippers were young and exciting, but still a loser, with Blake Griffin catching lobs and dropping jaws. It wasn't until Chris Paul joined him that the Clippers got out of the lottery for good. The same can be said for Oklahoma City Thunder, who needed All-Star seasons from both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to sniff the playoffs. Simply having Durant lead the league in scoring wasn't enough.
Zach Randolph learned for years in Portland and L.A. that putting up All-Star numbers wasn't enough to carry a team alone. It wasn't until he was paired with Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol in Memphis that he started winning games regularly. Golden State didn't start winning until David Lee and Stephen Curry played significant time together, along with a group of quality role players. The year before, GS wallowed while Curry suffered from ankle problems.
Houston sat on the edge of the playoffs for years, barely missing out three straight times, with no All-Star talent. It wasn't until James Harden joined the troops and Chandler Parsons exceeded all expectations that Houston jumped into the playoff picture. But even that wasn't long-term sustainable until Dwight Howard signed on this summer.
Even the Lakers, who squeaked into the playoffs, had a hard time in the mid-2000s with the mercurial Kobe Bryant playing on an All-Star island. They didn't become a playoff threat again until Pau Gasol came aboard in early 2008. And going forward, with Bryant and Gasol in steep decline, they may not hit the playoffs again.
One exception to the "multiple All-Star talent" rule is the Denver Nuggets, who have lived in the playoffs year after year without a perennial All-Star since Carmelo Anthony was traded and even then never paired Anthony with another All-Star (though Nene was close). They made the playoffs because of their system - a wide open attack that ran opponents off the court before they knew what hit them. George Karl, somehow out of work at the moment, has always found a way to succeed where others failed.
Looking at the upstart teams this season, Cleveland challenged records for losses even with All-Star Kyrie Irving running the ship. They hope Andrew Bynum or one of their draftees can become his All-Star sidekick but until that happens the Cavs will be watching lotto balls bounce.
The Hornets/Pelicans have dramatically upped their chances of multiple All-Stars by keeping Eric Gordon, drafting Anthony Davis and acquiring Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. But last year they couldn't sniff 30 wins with Davis, Gordon and Ryan Anderson on the court together.
And the rest
The Timberwolves have lived in the lottery as well, despite All-Star Kevin Love. Same for Sacramento, despite all-world talent DeMarcus Cousins. Dallas knows its long-term future is lotto land if they can't supplement Dirk Nowitzki with another All-Star talent.
The Jazz have no current All-Stars on their roster, but they have promising young players who just might reach that pinnacle some day. Until they do, Utah will rival the Suns for losses.
Detroit has stayed on the bottom with Charlotte for the same reasons (no All-Stars), though that may change with the pairing of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Unless they have already scuttled that future on the ill-fitting Josh Smith.
Including our Suns
The Phoenix Suns enter the season with no one on the roster even sniffing the top 10 of his position, let alone All-Star status or MVP status. Most of the team is now 25-or-under, yet none of the young players is quite yet projected to reach elite status.
Amin Elhassan was being very kind to even rank the Suns #18 overall in under-25 talent based solely on the potential of Bledsoe, Len and Goodwin.
Acquiring Bledsoe greatly boosted Phoenix's youth corps, who until that point were a roster of bench contributors. He brings elite athleticism at the point guard position, although now he'll have to adjust to playing more minutes without necessarily playing more minutes at point guard (he'll share those duties with incumbent Goran Dragic). The Morris twins both have the potential to be productive players, albeit at the same position: power forward (I'm not sold on Marcus as a full-time 3). Marshall is fighting for his NBA life at this stage, and it doesn't help that the Suns are well stocked at point guard. In terms of draft talent, Len has the potential to be a skilled big on the block who can pop out for the jumper, but the real gem was Goodwin, an athletic freak who, at 18, was one of the youngest players in the draft.
The Suns have to hope and pray that one of Goodwin, Bledsoe or Len become an All-Star talent to at least lay one foundational building block for an eventual playoff contender.
But even that won't be enough unless Hornacek can break the mold like Karl did, and somehow run the opposition into submission before they can respond. Don't count on that. Count on the Suns needing to acquire at least one more All-Star talent, even in the best-case scenario.
Worst case, the Suns still need both All-Stars before the win totals exceed 30 again. Worst case, guys like Bledsoe, Goodwin and Len will become supporting player pieces like Cleveland has amassed with their picks (Thompson, Zeller, Bennett). And even with Kyrie Irving, those supporting pieces didn't create wins.
Hold onto your hats, Suns fans.
Here's the best news of the day: Eric Bledsoe can play this year like an All-Star. Archie Goodwin and/or Alex Len can flash outstanding plays that bode well for the future. And Goran Dragic and Bledsoe backcourt can be exciting.
And the Suns STILL won't win 30 games, leaving them a prime slot for that next All-Star talent in the ballyhooed 2014 Draft.