Phoenix Suns Failing to Build Identity in Post-Steve Nash Era

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Luis Scola #14 of the Phoenix Suns is fouled by Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 12, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns knew this day was coming.

Even their world-class training staff could not forever keep the ageless Steve Nash and Grant Hill in the fold. With back-to-back seasons falling short of the postseason, there was nothing that Suns GM Lance Blanks could sell the ringless duo to convince them to play out their twilight years in the desert.

While the rest of the NBA wrote of the franchise for the immediate future, the Suns refused to accept their bleak forecast.

Their misguided attempts to delay a massive rebuilding project saw a collection of productive, but ultimately unimpressive collection of veterans migrating to Phoenix.

Did the Suns' management actually think that Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Jermaine O'Neal could actually break their two-year playoff drought?

Their recent dismissal of head coach Alvin Gentry answers that question with a resounding (and confounding) "yes!", considering that the club's reported focus on development ultimately cost Gentry his position.

With Gentry removed from the equation, those same veterans are now facing their own dark futures. They've been in this league long enough to know that a team's preoccupation with developing young talent does not bode well for their playing time.

The fact certainly wasn't lost on O'Neal, who's heated, expletive-laden exchange with Blanks following interim coach Lindsey Hunter's first practice was heard by several of his teammates (according to what league sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).

The 32-year-old had carved out a niche in Gentry's rotation as a reliable, consistent big who played his way into crunch-time minutes.

But he's just one of a number of veteran players facing a drastic reduction in both roles and opportunities.

The real problem for the Suns, though, is that there are far more players like O'Neal than a typical rebuilding project would involve. Outside of Michael Beasley (24) and Markieff Morris (23), the Suns don't have a player in their 10-man rotation under the age of 25.

This also means the Suns not only lack the youthful talent to build around, but they also don't have the kind of young, intriguing pieces whom they can trade for veterans who could lessen both the magnitude of and time committed to the rebuilding process.

Phoenix has struggled on both ends of the floor, so it's still not entirely clear which direction it hopes to move this franchise. The up-tempo play that defined Nash's tenure with the franchise might have failed to produce a title, but at least it kept the team relevant in the Western Conference.

The expected overhaul won't be confined to just the players on the team, either. Assistant coach Dan Majerle has already vacated his coaching position, and the future of Gentry's lead assistant, Elston Turner, remains up in the air following his absence from the team's practices on Sunday and Monday (according to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic).

As perplexing as the decisions of the front office have been this season, they have led to one clear identity for this franchise—worst team in the Western Conference (13-28).

Barring any unforeseen developments, it's one this club could be forced to wear for the recent future.

*All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 1/22/2013.