Phoenix Suns' All-Star Weekend Representation Is Positive Sign for the Future

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIFebruary 14, 2014

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 15:  Goran Dragic #1 and head coach Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at US Airways Center on January 15, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Lakers 121-114. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, the Phoenix Suns will not have a player represent them at the NBA All-Star Game.

However, Suns fans still have some incentive to tune into this weekend's events. 

Goran Dragic may not be an All-Star, but a week ago it was announced that he would participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

One day later, it was discovered that Dragic would not travel to New Orleans alone. Miles Plumlee was chosen to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge as a replacement for the injured rookie Pero Antic.

Dragic, who is currently averaging 20.3 points and 6.2 assists per game and has the third-highest PER (22.8) among all NBA guards, is not an All-Star. And Plumlee is only in New Orleans this weekend because of an injury to another player.

So why make such a big deal out of these sideshow events?

It proves that the franchise is heading in the right direction. 

Amar'e Stoudemire's departure from Phoenix was the end of an era, and since then the Suns have struggled to attain representation at All-Star Weekend. In fact, in three years from 2011-2013, the team had just one All-Star (Steve Nash in 2012) and one Rising Star (Markieff Morris in 2012). No players during that span participated in any of the Saturday night events.  

Last season was a complete shutout, as the team suffered through what can be considered the worst year in the franchise's history since its inaugural 1968-69 season. 

And just look at the position the Suns were in exactly one year ago. Head coach Alvin Gentry had recently been fired, and Lindsey Hunter, his inexperienced replacement, struggled to take control of the team. 

Also examine the state of the roster. At that point, it was clear that the Michael Beasley project had obviously failed. Markieff Morris, who had participated in the Rising Stars Challenge the year before, had failed to significantly develop his game as a sophomore. 

Marcin Gortat seemed unhappy and uncertain about his future, as trade rumors continued to linger and persist every day.

And Kendall Marshall, the team's 13th overall draft selection in 2012, was already labeled a bust.

At least other fans could watch their favorite team's prospects in the Rising Stars challenge. Cleveland had Kyrie Irving and Tyler Zeller; Charlotte had Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; and New Orleans had Anthony Davis.

The Suns, on the other hand, lacked an identity. Not only was the current roster mediocre, but without any great prospects, the future looked bleak as well.

It was a hard fall from grace for an organization that had dominated All-Star Weekend for the decade prior.

For example, take a look at the 2005 All-Star Weekend, hosted in Denver.

The Suns, who finished the season with a 62-20 record, were represented in every single competition.

Shawn Marion led Phoenix to the win in the Shooting Stars portion of Saturday night's events. Steve Nash followed by winning the Skills Challenge and completing the obstacle course in a record 25.8 seconds. 

But the Suns weren't finished. Quentin Richardson won the three-point contest, emerging victorious over his teammate Joe Johnson, among other participants.

Then, it was Amar'e Stoudemire's turn in the Slam Dunk Contest. And although Stoudemire couldn't win, he did show off a few spectacular dunks of his own. 

When it was time for the All-Star Game to be played on Sunday night, Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion all represented the Suns. 

The 2013-14 Suns have a long way to go before they achieve that level of relevance within the league again. For now, they are simply an underdog story, hoping to capture the attention of more NBA fans with each additional win. 

But just by examining the position of the franchise at the All-Star break, one has to feel confident about the organization's future.

Goran Dragic is posting career-high numbers in virtually every statistical category. And Eric Bledsoe, although currently injured, has the potential to make a few All-Star appearances himself a few years down the road.

Both Morris twins, whose development seemed to have stagnated last year, have taken their games to a new level. Markieff has even emerged as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate. 

Besides Plumlee, rookies Archie Goodwin and Alex Len both show promise and should be able to contribute more as they continue to develop.

Even Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green, players once labeled "misfits" who seemed to play for a different team or travel to a different country each year, are playing very productive basketball. 

The man behind this sensational one-year turnaround? Rookie GM Ryan McDonough, who made several fantastic transactions in just a few months. 

This upcoming summer, McDonough will have as many as four first-round picks as well as a plethora of cap space and financial flexibility to work with. And after seeing what he has done in one season, Suns fans should be giddy with excitement just thinking about the potential roster improvements that could be coming soon. 

Give credit to rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek, too, who has successfully re-established the fast-paced identity that the Suns were known for for so many years. 

The Suns, as they stand right now, have no ceiling. Their potential for the next several years cannot be measured. 

All-Star or no All-Star on Sunday night, it hasn't felt this good to be a Phoenix fan in a long time. 


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