Suns' search for stars coming up empty

BY foxsports • January 14, 2012

Although the suspension of disbelief may not translate into our professional-basketball application, we're still going to borrow a cornfield and Kevin Costner.
Oh, we also need the voice. What voice? The one that offers the following advice:
"Just rebuild it ... they will come."
As fans of the Phoenix Suns, you're not really sure if the rebuilding actually has started. Sure, you've heard from Lon Babby, VP of basketball operations, who's been reminding us the Suns intend to win now and embrace salary-cap flexibility leading into the July free-agent derby.
Now sitting at 4-7 with a five-game roadie through San Antonio, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas, the Suns must rally to avoid climbing into prime draft-lottery position.
So, with the loose premise of rebuilding a team that reached the Western Conference finals in 2010, you've been wondering who will come.
While Suns fans pondered the potential avenues for franchise restoration, last week provided an up-close look at two other teams in similar predicaments.
The first visit was made by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are about 18 months removed from being left for seeming dead by free-agent LeBron James. After leading the league in regular-season victories two seasons in a row, the Cavs finished with the second fewest last season.
Because they were terrible -- and because the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame has not transformed Cleveland into a destination for NBA free agents -- the Cavs are obliged (for now) to rebuild through the draft. Unfortunately, their 2010-2011 catastrophe only was able to deliver the fourth pick in the last pool.
But redemption arrived from Los Angeles, where the Clippers -- desperate to unload the sticky contract of Baron Davis -- chose to peddle their 2011 first-rounder to make that happen. With Baron on the books, the Cavaliers watched as the lottery ping-pong balls delivered a first overall pick they converted into Kyrie Irving.
This looks like a swell move. Especially now that the amnesty miracle has wiped Davis from the cap ledger.
With Irving putting 26 points on the Suns, Cleveland left town Thursday night with their fifth victory in 10 games. It also should be noted that while they may have been able to do better than Tristan Thompson at No. 4, the rookie from Texas has enough game to be a solid contributor for quite a while.
Even with Irving pick-and-rolling Cleveland in the direction of respectability, the Cavs may not win enough to avoid another decent draft addition this summer. They'll also have cap flexibility and a young star (Irving) some reasonably-talented free agents may want to join.
Anyway, the 2-9 New Jersey Nets checked into U.S. Airways Arena as Friday night's guests.
With Russian billionaire Milkhail Prokhorov looming as an owner capable of committing vast resources to achieving glory days at least equal to those during the halcyon run of Jason Kidd, the Nets have chosen a different approach. Selling their pending hop over to Brooklyn, the Nets have been attempting to hire established superstars.
That's a bit tricky; established superstars with plenty of tire tread usually aren't given away.

But the Utah Jazz -- staring down the strong possibility of losing point guard Deron Williams in 2012 free agency -- shipped their franchise player to Jersey last season. The Nets, really thinking big, coughed up promising power forward Derrick Favors (the No. 3 overall pick in 2010) and their 2011 first-rounder (which turned into Enes Kanter, also at No. 3) to acquire Williams.
The Nets -- who also pulled a draft-night maneuver to land rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks -- aren't exactly tearing it up, but D-Will put 34 points and 15 dimes on the sliding Suns in his Phoenix stop.
By the way, you also may have heard that Williams -- in a Miami-style recruiting tactic -- is the chip the Nets are using to lure Dwight Howard to Newark/Brooklyn. Yeah, all of this has considerable risk. A trade that had Howard coming to Jersey reportedly was scotched by Orlando ownership; since then, the Nets have lost Brook Lopez to injury.
Without a talented big to offer in trade right now, the Nets may be limited to hiring Howard in free agency. If they can't make that happen, the Nets figure to lose Williams, as well.
OK, we've seen the Cavaliers and their unavoidable drafting approach to rebuilding, and the Nets, who are trading/free-agent wooing their way to ... well, wherever. Thanks to the landing of Irving, Cleveland's rise could be two-pronged -- another smart pick and Irving as the budding star to attract free agents. Jersey has resources and already is Big Apple adjacent.
Where are the Suns?
Well, their situation is complicated because the free-agent loss of Amar'e Stoudemire has not convinced ownership/management the team is incapable of reaching the playoffs. The pending road trip could be fairly persuasive in establishing a rebuilding-time revelation.
The optimism remains glued, of course, to Steve Nash, who is assisting his way toward 38 ... and unrestricted free agency.
It should be noted that perusal of the 2012 free-agent roll call tells us that -- even at such an advanced age -- Nash may register as the best unrestricted FA not named Deron Williams or Dwight Howard. Right now, he's still good enough to generate enough victories to keep the Suns out of contention for a draft pick that might promote serious win/loss rehabilitation.
Then again, the first draft of current general manager Lance Blanks delivered Kansas power forward Markieff Morris at No. 13. Although Morris struggled in Friday's loss to the Nets, his career-starting efforts have convinced certain rookie-stat followers the first-year Sun should have been selected much earlier.
While that may be true, please remember we're still less a month into the season.
But the Suns have scored remarkably well over the years with such picks. Stoudemire (ninth in 2002), Nash (15th in 1996) and Shawn Marion (ninth in 1999) are quick examples of prospects with more eventual value than their selection order would have suggested.
For a team with very little young talent outside Morris and (in the words of Coach Alvin Gentry) little margin for game-by-game error in a quest to simply make the playoffs, draft picks and cap room are precious. Little margin for error also means they hold limited trade assets (Nash can't fetch anything near his prevailing value to the Suns), reminding us this summer is crucial for the franchise.
Unless Irving makes the Cavaliers too good this season to secure another standout rookie, the Cavaliers no longer see a runaway train as the light source at the end of their tunnel. Either way, Cleveland has some hope.
If Prokhorov can land Williams and Howard (the alleged smart money may be on Mark Cuban and Dallas), the Nets will be golden. If not, well, not so golden.
Unless they're able to find a gem wherever Nash's presence allows them to pick in the draft, the Suns may need more rebuilding time in a market that doesn't seem remarkably tolerant. The free-agent loot is nice, but the yield may not be that tremendous.
And it has nothing to do with attracting talent to Phoenix.
There just aren't many potential stars out there right now.

share story