In 2004, Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni joined forces in Arizona to create one of the best offenses in NBA history.
The "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns blitzed opponents for years, using a spread offense with no traditional center and a pick-and-roll attack that confounded defenses across the association.
In Nash's first year under D'Antoni, the team won 62 games while averaging a blistering 110.4 points per game. The second-place Sacramento Kings scored just 103.7 points a night.
The disparity between scoring in Phoenix and throughout the rest of the league was Grand Canyon-sized.
The team would win at least 54 games for four straight years while remaining in the title conversation. In the first two years, the Suns made the Western Conference finals.
Some may say that it was their overall philosophy and lack of defensive focus that torpedoed their championship dreams.
Don't believe these people.
More than anything, the Suns lacked a bench, and they proved unable to replace the production of the high-level players who left during the run, namely Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson.
Because they never got anything out of the NBA Draft.
Rather than using picks to establish a bench and develop players who would seamlessly fit into D'Antoni's system, the Suns sold off their picks and found stop-gap solutions that never helped Phoenix best the other powerhouse teams in the West during the mid-2000s.
They instead stood pat with what they had and tried to shoehorn in players like Tim Thomas and Eddie House. (Also Boris Diaw, who—to Phoenix's credit—ended up working out tremendously.)
The first blunder came in 2004, when the team picked Luol Deng seventh overall but traded him away to the Chicago Bulls for a future draft pick and some guy named Jackson Vroman. Also: cash.
The Suns made a habit of trading draft picks for cash in the 2000s.
The next year, the Suns used their first-round pick (Nate Robinson, taken 21st overall) as a sweetener in a deal to fortify their interior defense. They wanted to send Quentin Richardson to New York for Kurt Thomas, and Robinson was the asset that convinced the Knicks to make the deal.
While the move away from a total run-and-gun strategy was understandable and targeting Thomas was grounded in logic, the team was quick to include the pick rather than look for other means of strengthening its interior.
The Suns' 2006 draft day decision, however, is the one that looks the worst in hindsight.
They drafted Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick and dealt him to the Boston Celtics for a future first-round pick.
Here the Suns were—in the midst of one of the franchise's best-ever runs with one of the league's best-ever offenses—and their decision was to kick the can down the road when it came to roster improvement.
They opted not to improve immediately but to stake their hopes to a potential future in which they may improve. This, in a summer after Amar'e Stoudemire had suffered knee injuries that kept him out of all but three games.
They needed help. But in three straight drafts, they failed to improve. At all.
The Suns would mount a few more exciting, somewhat successful campaigns. But as Nash aged, Stoudemire later began to show the effects of his injuries and Shawn Marion was traded away (reportedly at his insistence), the reality of years spent getting nothing out of the draft became apparent.
There were no young players in the back line to step up, and Nash spent his final years in Phoenix running around creating passing lanes—but with nobody to pass to.
Had the Suns gotten anything out of the draft in any of those three years, a short-term run of high-level play could have proven even more successful and the team's time as a contender could have been lengthened.
And if Phoenix was able to win a title?
Well, that would have changed the landscape of the league.
Even without winning the all-important ring to validate their style of play, much of the league has moved towards a spread attack that features more shooters and fewer immobile big men.
The Miami Heat just won a title that way while the San Antonio Spurs came up just short trying the same thing.
But if the Suns had ever won a title, the sea change throughout the league that they prompted would have come even more swiftly and the number of immitators would have been even larger.