Two weeks ago, Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat slipped away from the Polish national team to undergo testing on his foot that he sprained on March 6. All along, he was expected to return anywhere...

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In a January 2013 report by the well-respected Forbes magazine, the Phoenix Suns made the 12th most profit in the NBA during Nash's last year in the Valley of the Sun at $13 million. The Suns tied with Dallas, and were one of 22 teams that made money that season.

There are no reports out yet for this past year's debacle, but we all know the gate receipts and merchandise sales went way, way down. At the beginning of the year, most independent sports jersey retailers carried no Suns jerseys because there wasn't a "face of the franchise". I don't know if that changed at any point last season.

Still, expect Robert Sarver and his partners (which continue to include Steve Kerr) to have turned some kind of operating profit during the 2012-13.

Taking a closer look at profit, though, shows a few warts in these reports. Per Forbes, the profit number is "operating income", which is defined as "Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization." So it's not like Sarver wrote himself a $13 million check and stuck it in his pocket. But still, it's apples to apples and the Suns are mid-pack with the rest of the league.

The Man

I can guess that some readers are bristling right now, itching to jump into the comments to lambast Robert Sarver for being a money hungry b$*ch while yearning for the days of the benevolent Jerry Colangelo.

Before you do that, let's put this into perspective. Colangelo made more money as Suns owner, even during the down years, than Sarver ever has.

Very successful businessmen have enough money and energy to venture into side businesses that still make a boatload of money. Some get into shady, backroom deals while others invest in upfront businesses. All are profit-making ventures, most are rooted in entertainment.

NBA owners are in that latter group. They got rich doing something else, and now own NBA franchises with the hope of childhood wonder and giddy thrills but live in the reality that they need to turn a profit. NBA owners are not philanthropists. They are a loose interpretation of "The Man".

"The Man" is a slang phrase that may refer to the government or to some other authority in a position of power. In addition to this derogatory connotation, it may also serve as a term of respect and praise.

Past vs. Present

Jerry Colangelo was "The Man" for the Phoenix Suns franchise whose effusive personality cast him in a positive light. Robert Sarver is now the "The Man" for the Phoenix Suns whose prickly uncomfortable money-mongering socially-challenged personality casts him in a negative light.

But make no mistake. Both Colangelo and Sarver have made a boatload of money during their tenure as owners of the Phoenix Suns franchise.

Jerry Colangelo put together a team of investors to buy the Phoenix Suns at their lowest point for $44.5 million in 1987. He sold it 17 years later for $401 million. That's a profit of nearly $360 million. As part of the sale, Colangelo got $2 million per year for another 5 years to take on an advisory role.

But that is not all. Oh no, that is not all.

A report in 2009 says the Suns made the league's third most profit at $287 million over a 10 year period from 1998-2008, more than half of which were during Colangelo's tenure. In none of those last Colangelo years were the Suns a contender. For the math-challenged, that's about $28.7 million per year profit from 1998-2008.

Add up the profits, the ten-fold gain in franchise value and the continuing contract post-sale and you've got a very rich former owner of the Phoenix Suns. We all loved him, for sure. But let's not forget he made a lot of money on us while we loved him.

Now you're bristling to lambast the author for writing blasphemy against the former owner and most loved Valley sports icon in history. Believe me when I say I loved the Colangelo tenure, and that I believe he earned every penny he made. Jerry Colangelo is rich for good reason. He made the Suns the franchise they are. No bones about it.

The Phoenix Suns current managing partner, Robert Sarver, has done okay as well. In eight years as owner (as of end of season 2012), the Suns franchise had gained $73 million in value since he purchased the team. He will have to pick up a lot of steam to match Colangelo's $360 million over 17 years, but it's still a healthy gain.

As far as profits are concerned, the Suns have made money each year.

Picture_22_medium

You have to read this chart from RIGHT to LEFT. That's just the way Forbes rendered the charts.

The worst worst years are the most recent two, which look to be about $13 million per season. A far cry from the heyday of the Suns as described above.

Reading right to left, you can see that Sarver made a killing in his first year of ownership. The 2004-05 season was his lowest payroll (before Amare's first max extension) until recently while the Suns grabbed the headlines all season long with their free flowing offense.

Just to the right of that magical 2005 profit, you can see the profit margins of Colangelo's last two as owner. The Suns were 44-38 and 29-53 in those two years.

Summation

Where am I going with this, you ask?

Forbes just came out with money numbers for the top 50 Sports franchises, most of which are NFL football teams. Only three NBA teams made the Top 50 (New York, LA and Chicago).

This got me and some others thinking about where the Suns rank, which led me to the Suns page on forbes.com. This article points out the Suns made the most profit of all the Valley franchises.

So I wanted to dig deeper, to put these numbers into perspective before fans read these articles without knowing the context.

Yes, the Suns make money.

No, it's not as much money as when they're winners (according to Forbes.com).

And no, the latest NBA numbers are not inclusive of the Suns worst season in memory. As far as I can tell.

The Phoenix Suns will likely rank among the bottom two teams in every preseason prognostication of the Western Conference, with the majority likely to rank the Suns dead last. The surprise to me in...

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S : Best in the game (LeBron)

A+ : Right on heels of best player (Durant)

A : Top 5 player

A- : Top players at their position/Potential All-NBA players

B+ : All-Stars

B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars

B- : Good starter

C+ : decent starter

C : fringe starter/bench player

C- : good bench player

D+ : average bench player

D : Fringe rotation player

D- : bad player

F : not NBA caliber

Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)

*Note: There is no specific order within each tier

- Previous Position Breakdowns -

For the purpose of these grades/rankings, I am not looking at last season in a vacuum. I am trying to give an idea of where each of these players stands in regards to each other after last season. One poor season doesn't sink a player's stock if the rest of his career paints a different story, the exact opposite is true as well. However, I am not factoring potential into my rankings, meaning rookies are graded as NBA players and do not garner special consideration because of their youth.

I'm probably making this more complicated and subjective than it needs to be, but I suppose that only makes for more discussion. With that being said, on to the rankings.

Lebron_mediumMandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 1 (S)

I think we can all agree at this point that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA ...

Tier 2 (A+)

... and that Kevin Durant isn't far behind.

Tier 3 (A-)

Melo is a bit of a controversial player, with some fans loving his talent and others hating the way he uses it. He's not on the same level as James or Durant, but he is a step above everyone else at his position.

Tier 4 (B+)

This tier is pretty easy. It corresponds with the three small forwards (not already listed) that made the All-Star Game this year, and all three were deserving. All three are two-way players who were key pieces to really good teams last year.

Pierce_mediumMandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 5 (B)

Paul Pierce was a tough call here. At 35 years old, is he still on the legit All-Star tier or not? I decided not, although it's still pretty close. The defensive side of the ball is what mad the difference for me, as the three in the tier above are all great defenders as well as good offensive players.

Tier 6 (B-)

This tier includes two vets who are winding down their careers but still productive, a productive player in his prime, an two productive young players on the way up. You can sort out who's who on your own.

Dudley_mediumMandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 7 (C+)

Korver and Dudley are elite shooters and really smart players overall, even though they have their athletic limitations. Thad Young has no such limitation, although his skill level isn't on the same level as those two. Jimmy Butler is a young versatile player with great advanced stats. And Rudy Gay... well, he's one of those guys I wasn't quite sure where to place.

Tier 8 (C)

These players can start and play a decent role on the right teams, but might be even better coming off the bench. Barnes and MKG are young players that should make a jump this coming season, but neither one was all that great on a consistent basis during their rookie year.

Tier 9 (C-)

Tucker_mediumMandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Shooting, defense, athleticism, energy... all these players bring something to the table. But none of them are complete players or big difference-makers. It's pretty impressive that P.J. Tucker was able to go from out of the league to being considered not only a rotation-worthy player, but a good one at that.

Tier 10 (D+)

This is a tier of young players trying to find their place in the league and older ones closing in on the ends of their careers. All of them are bench players at this point, but they all can bring something to a team's rotation. Even Mook, who has shown the ability to at least do something, and probably would have played more last year and shown that under a different coach.

Tier 11 (D)

Wes_johnson_mediumMandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

These players all have skills that they have used to make rotations and contribute at one point or another during their careers, but none of them did much last season.

Tier 12 (D-)

I still can't believe Stack was on a roster last year...

Beasley_mediumMandatory Credit: Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Tier 13 (F)

You guys watched last season. I don't think I need to offer any explanation for this tier.

An there you have it. My take on the small forward position in the NBA. This position is as strong and as deep as any in the NBA today, and looking at next year's draft projections, it's going to continue to get deeper.

What do you think about my rankings? Who do I have too high? Who am I too low on? Did I nail the Suns small forward hierarchy at least?

In both Los Angeles and New York, Mike D’Antoni’s offense hasn’t produced what it did in Phoenix. The former Suns head coach enters his first full season with the Lakers with a...

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