Psst, Phoenix. Hey, you, the Phoenix Suns.
Yeah, I'm talking to you guys. You have some nerve, you know that? Winning all those games; who do you think you are? Have you forgotten what you guys were supposed to be? Bad. Horrible. Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker should've been dressing in all purple by now, in anticipation of the 2014 NBA draft. Phoenix Suns purple.
Failing that, or barring a sudden distaste for the best draft class in 10 years, you had an invaluable trade piece. High draft picks could be parlayed into superstars for tanking teams with cap space. For teams like you, Phoenix.
Foolproof. That's what the plan was. But it apparently wasn't Eric Bledsoe-proof. Or Markieff Morris-resistant. Or inoculated against Goran Dragic making the creator of dual-point guard lineups proud.
Instead of being prematurely fitted in periwinkle-colored togs, both Wiggins and Parker are left praying that it's the other who's drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. And the Suns are, well, good. Which, for their future's sake, might as well leave them marooned on an island where they've outlawed singing, dancing and winning.
What's the Deal?
One word to describe Phoenix's current state: inexplicable.
The Suns are 10-9 through their first 19 games, one game out of the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Their offense ranks ninth in efficiency and their point differential (1.26 per game) checks in at 13th, noticeably ahead of teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies.
What's more, the Suns aren't the product of a yogurt calendar. Their strength of schedule ranks 12th, more difficult than juggernauts like the Portland Trail Blazers (13th), San Antonio Spurs (20th), Indiana Pacers (29th) and Miami Heat (30th).
Seriously, what gives?
Phoenix should be sunk by now. Floating uncontrollably within a sea of losing and unwatchable displays. Wondering if its loss column could dwarf its collective free-throw percentage (73.9).
But the Suns are above .500 and rising. It's not even that they're lucky or winning ugly. They look good. So good.
Bledsoe, when healthy, is carving up defenses like a Thanksgiving Day turkey. Dragic continues to put up flamboyant numbers (17.9 points and 6.7 assists per game). The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, have been solid; the latter great at times. Gerald Green is even doing things other than dunking. Plus dunking.
There's a certain level of amity amongst this group; chemistry and gamesmanship certain title contenders and overpriced tank jobs (looking at you, Brooklyn) can only dream of. No other explanation can be provided.
Against all logic, the Suns are winning.
They're everything we thought they weren't.
Perils of Exceeding Expectations
Enough of lauding the Suns for their early effort. They're good, which is bad.
Titles aren't going to be won in Phoenix with this roster. The Suns know this. Impressive as they've been, their ceiling is that of a lower-seeded playoff team. That's it. Phoenix won't beat squads like the Spurs, Golden State Warriors or Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game series.
Right now, the Suns are a surprise, capitalizing off one-game playoffs. Longevity that comes with postseason bouts is their enemy. Better teams will find a way to dispatch them if they get that far, which they may not.
That's even worse—finishing just shy of the playoffs. Not only does their season end early, they're left to stew in their own mediocrity, with a draft pick that could have been higher. Could have been better.
The rebuilding Suns need that higher pick; the one that could result in a franchise-changing star. They don't have that stud right now. Bledsoe could be it, but he's entering restricted free agency this summer and there's no telling what could happen there.
Also, one's not enough. Today's NBA demands you have multiple starlets to contend. And the Suns aren't going to accrue numerous superstars like this. As one anonymous general manager told ESPN The Magazine's Jeff Goodman:
You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It's tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.
From Suns general manager Ryan McDonough's one nameless GM's mouth to our computer screen, we know the Suns are at a similar disadvantage. Star free agents won't flock to Phoenix. Not all of them think like Eric Gordon.
The Suns must snag stars early instead, right out of college. The way to do that is by landing a top draft pick. And the way to do that is by losing now.
By tanking now.
Wasting An Opportunity
Losing should come easy to the Suns.
The Western Conference isn't the Eastern Conference. While teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers watch in horror as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets out-tank them, the Suns have the luxury of playing clusters of title contenders.
Besides Phoenix, 11 other Western Conference teams are at .500 or better. The West should be a breeding ground for tank jobs. Lottery-bound contingents and fringe-playoff teams should be reveling in the opportunity to deliberately lose and do so without all the backlash.
I'm starting to think that teams like the Celtics, Suns and Sixers should ask the Knicks and Nets for advice on how to tank.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) December 5, 2013
Look at the Celtics. For them to tank properly, they must hold a fire sale. A real blatant one. Trading Rajon Rondo won't be enough. They currently top the Atlantic Division without him. Their hands are tied; their legs bound. Not enough "good" teams play in the East for them to plummet in the standings naturally.
What route should the Suns take the rest of the season?
Similar caveats aren't impeding the Suns. They could pull the trigger on a lopsided deal and fans would understand. Winning now might get them a first-round playoff exit; tanking could give them a future superstar.
Someone would do well to remind them of this. To re-administer a crash course on what this season should be about—losing for the future.
A future that, ironically, becomes far less promising with each improbable win the Suns score.
All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Dec. 5, 2013 unless otherwise noted.