At some point, this had to happen. When your beloved stars get old and/or injured together, a team's front office has to decide whether to ride them into the sunset or to cut them loose (with or without ceremony).

In the case of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash and Grant Hill (and Amare Stoudemire before that), the team went with the former. Nash and Hill did not want to go anywhere, and no one in the league was willing to give up comparable value in exchange for them anyway. So they decided to let Nash and Hill's contracts expire before starting over completely.

Year One of Rebuilding?

"I would argue we were letting the Nash-Hill era run its full course and now have started anew," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby says.

The Suns entered last summer with only a handful of middling contracts on the books and a boatload of cap space to spend on free agents. But the market lacked stars. And with the near-misses on playoff appearances, the draft wasn't going to yield a star either.

They played it safe, signed short contracts and tried to catch lightning in a bottle with a young free agent or two, but mainly they acquired draft picks to start their rebuild in earnest. In fact, the Suns now play their youngest rotation since 2005 and have 6 first-round picks coming in the next three years.

Well all was said and done, they replaced 9 of the 13 guys on the roster before opening night. And have replaced two more since then. A true upheaval.

Midseason, after a 13-28 start punctuated by playing the oldest guys on the roster, the team and coach decided to go their separate ways.

At this point, the rebuild was truly on.

Or is it Year Three of Rebuilding?

Others would argue the rebuild began the moment the Suns entered playoff-less purgatory, which would be three years ago in 2010 when Amare Stoudemire left the only team he had ever known for $100 million guaranteed by the Big Apple.

Suns fans loved Amare and the team loved him. They gave him a max contract the moment they were allowed to, in the summer of 2005, mere weeks before he went down for microfracture surgery and missed a whole year of basketball. Then they offered another in the summer of 2010, but this time only guaranteed $75 million of $96 million. All he had to do was play a bit over half the available minutes over the first four years to guarantee the other $20 million.

Since then, the Phoenix Suns have been a shadow of themselves. Nash got older and no new stars were acquired to replace the ones lost in Amare, Marion and others.

The Suns put up "a good fight", played an old rotation (29.6 years old in 2011, 29.2 years old in 2012) and came up just short of the playoffs twice while Nash and Hill's contracts ran out.

Did the Suns start rebuilding in 2010? Or did they just try to stay competitive for a while longer than, in hindsight, was justified?

If the Suns had squeaked into the playoffs in either of those years, would this even be a discussion?

Youth Movement?

The playing rotation a year ago was, collectively, 29.2 years old. I calculated this number by multiplying each rotation player's age by the minutes they played in March 2012. Every minute of March 2012 was played by a 5-man unit that was about 29 years old.

To put this into perspective, the median "age" of all NBA playing rotations in March 2013 is 26.1 years old. Last year's Suns were three years older than this, yet could not make the playoffs. To make the comparison even worse, the median age of all lottery team rotations this March is 25.1 years old.

This spring's Suns rotation is right at the median - 26.1 years old. They are playing some older guys - O'Neal is 34 and Scola is 32 - to bring that "age" up, but otherwise most of the players are young. Dragic, Beasley, Johnson, the Morri, Marshall and Garrett are all at or under that median age.

Still, a 26-year-old rotation is not actually that young.

Houston and Cleveland's playing rotation this March is only 24.4 years old. Charlotte's is the league's youngest at 23.5. The only other lottery (non-playoff) team with an older playing rotation than the Suns this March is Dallas (a whopping 29.6 years old, same as the Suns in 2011).

But the Suns ARE younger than they have been in eight years.

And you can expect next year's team to be even younger than this one. Next year, the Suns will likely replace three "older" rotation players with rookies in their late teens or early 20s.

But the problem with playing a team full of young guys is that you have no one to lead them by example. No one to set the bar high on concentration and performance on a consistent, night-in night-out basis.

"It really changes from week to week, from game to game," Babby said. "Even within a game there are good stretches and bad stretches. We were up 5 in Houston and then Goran gets his third foul and we give up a 20-2 run. We don't know how to steady that, how to stop it. It's from playing a lot of young guys."

The Suns have a couple of veterans who work extremely hard, but they are either not the best off-court leaders or they are not talented enough to show the young guys that hard work pays off in game-winners and All-Star berths.

While the Suns wait until summer to continue the rebuild, what can they accomplish in these final weeks of a lost season?

"Still looking for progress - the same as it's been," Babby says. "We are looking for consistent effort from the young guys. We watch practice and see how they carry themselves and looking for focus and consistency there as well as during the games."

Next year promises to be a tough year as well. As you get younger, the wins are harder to come by. In fact, the only NBA teams with a playing rotation younger than 26 who are projected to make the playoffs this season are Houston, Golden State and Indiana. The other 13 playoff-projected teams are much older, with a median age of 28.1 years old.

But next year is a huge unknown.

Lon Babby's contract runs through the end of July 2013. GM Lance Blanks' contract runs through 2014. Managing Partner Robert Sarver has let people go short of their contract many times, so that doesn't mean these guys stay in their positions.

But if Sarver believes this is Year 1 of a solid rebuilding plan that includes 10 draft picks in the next three years and no albatross contracts, he just might let it ride.

The front office has made more good decisions than bad ones when you look at each transaction individually. All of their draft picks are defensible, and were generally graded well by pundits (see Seth's article on this topic here). It's just that when you're picking at 13, 14, 15 each season it's hard to find that next star.

Most of their trades and signings have been okay. A few have been busts, to be sure. But they were all "safe" low risk/reward efforts.

But this group has done nothing spectacular, and Suns fans are tired of waiting for that to happen. We are patient, as long as it doesn't take too long. Stars have all disappeared and no new ones are coming down the pike.

Fans are frustrated. Players are frustrated. The front office is frustrated.

To a Suns fan, the future looks bleak. Bleaker than ever. The Sun appears to have set.

As for Babby, he's just taking it one day at a time until he and Sarver have that conversation about contract extensions after the season ends in April.

"I have made some notes in a journal that I keep," he says. "So that when I sit down with Robert I'm not going on what happened that day, but on what happened all along. And hopefully Robert will do the same."

Looking at it from a big-picture point of view is tough to do sometimes, especially when you're riding the roller coaster of wins and losses throughout the season.

"Keeping emotions in check from game to game," Babby says of the toughest aspect of his job. "Not getting too high or too low. That's been tough and something I will have to learn."

PHOENIX – Twice in a row have the Phoenix Suns lost – no, gotten walloped – by teams draggling like torn nets on the bottom of the NBA’s riverbed. After they made a respectable score out of a...

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No game this season has left me with an emptier feeling about this team, and I love the Phoenix Suns with a passion.

Over the course of this season, my first with media access to the team, has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I love this team, and now I get to talk to them and write about what I've seen first-hand without just taking someone else's word for it.

But I've never really followed a Suns team just going through the motions to finish the season.

Now, I can say I am watching that happen right now.

It baffles me, though. These are NBA players who, purportedly, have poured their entire lives into this sport. How can you just mail it in so often? And so dramatically?

How can you feel so entitled to your salary?

How can you conclude that the millions of dollars in your pocket deserve anything less than 100% of your effort for SIX OR EIGHT HOURS A WEEK!!

Goran Dragic gives it his all every night. As does Luis Scola. And P.J. Tucker. Kudos to them. But this is a 5-on-5 game.

The other guys who play hard every game -- Jermaine O'Neal and Jared Dudley -- were out tonight, making it even more obvious just who isn't cutting it.

Not to say some of the other guys didn't try - Haddadi put out effort, as did Shannon Brown and Wesley Johnson - but they seemed to have no idea where to put that effort into good use.

As much as we want to blame the coach, and the front office, we also need to blame the PLAYERS. They are the ones not giving their 100% effort every single minute on the court.

The Suns lost by 30 tonight. And it wasn't even close at any point in the game.



For the third time this season, the Phoenix Suns take on the Wolves in a matchup that has more to do with lottery balls and late-season pride than anything else.

The Wolves entered the season with dreams of the playoffs in their heads, but ended up right back where they've been for eons since they traded Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007.

This time, a major injury to Kevin Love played the biggest part in the Wolves inability to sniff the playoff picture. The team began the season with a bang (and even without Love) at 16-15, only to fall completely apart to the tune of a worse-than-the-Suns 7-28 since then.

Love is still not back, though Ricky Rubio is getting stronger and stronger by the month even though he still can't hit his jumper consistently. Head coach Rick Adelman has missed a lot of time this season with an ill wife, and the Wolves have endured a handful of other major injuries to mess with their rotation.

Last matchup

The last matchup, in Phoenix, was one of the worst overtime basketball games I've ever witnessed. The Suns eventually won 84-83 after 53 minutes of play, outscoring the Wolves 7-6 in the overtime period.

It was a breakout game for former Timberwolf Wesley Johnson: 14 points (on 7-14 shooting), 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Since this game on February 26, Johnson has been a rotation regular and one of the few bright spots on the season.

Conversely, another former Wolf - Michael Beasley - had a terrible game with 4 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds in only 13 uninspired minutes.

Wolves on the road

Minnesota has lost 17 of their last 18 on the road, so don't be surprised if the Suns pull out another win.

Key Matchup

Each game, it seems the Suns' Goran Dragic must face another elite point guard. So far, Dragic has faired well in just about every PF matchup this season including last time against Rubio.

In the last game, Rubio finished with only 5 points, 10 assists and 4 steals (but 6 turnovers to boot). Dragic had 10 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds (with 3 turnovers). It was a wash.

Worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA

You thought I was going to say the Suns right? Wrong.

It's the Wolves who are worst in the NBA, though they have recently returned Chase Budinger to their lineup after missing all but 6 games this season. On the season, the Wolves have hit only 29.4% of their three-pointers and have been even worse on the road.

Budinger can hit the outside shot, but he needs to share his minutes with Andre Kirilenko and is still getting into game shape.

Suns injuries

Certainly, starting center Marcin Gortat is out. Possibly, Jermaine O'Neal (calf strain) is out as well.

That leaves Hamed Haddadi to man the pivot with PFs Markieff Morris and Luis Scola backing him up. Scola has done well against bigger centers this season by annoying them on defense and pulling them out of the paint on offense. Maybe he will do that to Pekovic tonight.

Lotto balls

As the season progressed, the Suns went from hoping for the Wolves' first-round pick (if they made the playoffs) to hoping to fend off the Wolves for a higher pick overall.

Both teams have 23 wins on the season, though the Wolves have done it in 3 fewer games.

Just like Wednesday's game, the Suns are fighting for lotto position while also fighting for inspired play that can portend well for next season.

Wolves stats

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Love 18 34.3 5.8 16.6 35.2 1.1 5.1 21.7 5.6 7.9 70.4 3.6 10.4 14.0 2.3 2.2 0.7 0.5 1.9 18.3
Nikola Pekovic 51 31.4 6.1 11.9 50.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.6 4.9 72.9 3.8 5.0 8.8 0.8 1.7 0.7 0.9 2.4 15.7
Andrei Kirilenko 48 32.9 4.6 9.0 50.9 0.6 2.0 29.2 3.0 3.9 76.5 1.8 4.1 5.9 2.8 2.0 1.5 1.1 1.4 12.7
Luke Ridnour 66 31.2 4.7 10.5 45.0 0.9 2.8 31.0 1.7 2.0 83.5 0.5 2.2 2.7 3.9 1.7 1.0 0.2 2.4 12.0
Derrick Williams 62 24.1 4.2 10.1 42.0 0.8 2.5 31.2 2.4 3.5 69.3 1.2 4.3 5.6 0.5 1.3 0.5 0.5 1.6 11.7
Chase Budinger 7 22.6 3.9 8.1 47.4 1.1 3.7 30.8 2.6 3.1 81.8 0.7 2.9 3.6 1.3 1.7 1.0 0.4 1.4 11.4
J.J. Barea 58 23.6 4.3 10.5 40.7 1.3 3.7 34.4 1.5 1.9 80.2 0.5 2.5 3.0 4.1 2.0 0.5 0.0 1.9 11.3
Ricky Rubio 41 29.4 3.0 8.4 35.8 0.3 1.4 19.6 3.4 4.3 77.5 0.8 3.1 3.9 7.2 3.0 2.2 0.1 2.4 9.7
Alexey Shved 61 26.1 3.4 9.1 36.7 1.2 4.2 28.9 1.7 2.3 72.7 0.6 1.9 2.5 3.9 2.2 0.7 0.4 1.6 9.6
Dante Cunningham 65 25.1 3.7 8.1 45.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.8 1.3 59.8 1.9 3.2 5.1 0.8 0.7 1.0 0.5 1.9 8.1
Mickael Gelabale 28 22.0 2.4 4.6 52.7 0.5 1.7 31.3 0.8 0.9 87.5 1.0 2.2 3.3 0.9 0.5 0.6 0.1 1.6 6.1
Brandon Roy 5 24.2 2.2 7.0 31.4 0.0 1.8 0.0 1.4 2.0 70.0 0.6 2.2 2.8 4.6 1.4 0.6 0.0 1.0 5.8
Chris Johnson 21 11.8 2.0 3.2 63.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 1.4 60.0 0.9 1.6 2.5 0.4 0.6 0.3 1.2 2.0 5.0
Malcolm Lee 16 18.0 1.8 4.8 38.2 0.5 1.5 33.3 0.8 1.3 60.0 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.8 0.4 1.9 4.9
Greg Stiemsma 61 14.5 1.5 3.3 44.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 1.0 75.0 0.8 2.2 3.0 0.3 0.8 0.4 1.2 2.3 3.7

Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA PHOENIX — Tough love for the Phoenix Suns under interim coach Lindsey Hunter has come in the form of benching. He preached after a 88-79 loss on Wednesday to the...

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