The Phoenix Suns finished 27th in ESPN.com's recent "Future Power Rankings." The rankings are a supposed reflection of the future upside of an NBA franchise, based on variables such as the talent on the club, the franchise's management, and the market the team resides in. The Suns actually jumped up two spots as well thanks to the gutting they endured last season in order to secure a number of future draft picks.
Interestingly, the Toronto Raptors finished higher than the Suns, ranking 23rd on the list, making the second-highest jump in the "management" category of any team in this year's rankings, thus boosting them up from their previous year's mark of 26.
If you watched these two clubs face off last night in Phoenix's 106 to 97 win however, you'd swear ESPN mixed up those spots.
The Suns look like a team on the rise, a team with a true identity and a cohesive plan of action not just in games, but in re-building their once-proud franchise.
The Raptors look like a mess, stuck in a quagmire of over-priced contracts off the court, and handicapped by a bevy of inefficient and ill-fitting personnel on it.
The results therefore were not so surprising as the Suns used their run-and-gun attack to pounce on the Raptors early, and never really looked back.
The identity piece though was what really struck me in this one as the Suns certainly have one, especially on offense. This is a club that plays its style to a T come hell or high water and while that might not always result in a win (the Suns are still one of the least talented groups in the league on paper), that singular vision keeps all of the players on the same page and allows them to compete with any club on a given night.
The results speak for themselves and Phoenix now sports a winning record of 11 and 9.
The Raptors are the exact opposite currently, a club floundering for some sort of identity and playing a brand of basketball that not only fails to result in many wins, but is also excruciating on the eye. Every basket seems to come so hard for Toronto and often it appears that the players don't even bother running a play, electing simply to attempt to create for themselves.
One solution to this offensive malaise though might be to move Rudy Gay to the bench. The Raptors got down early 10 to 2 but once Rudy picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench, Landry Fields helped the club get back in the game. Fields isn't the scoring threat that Gay is, but the ball simply moves much better with him in that lineup and the club quickly tied things up with him on the court.
This of course is only a micro solution and really doesn't change the big issue facing Toronto, the whole "what direction does this club go?" thing. I'm of the same belief as our guest writer Shalax23 that the draft is the only option, but to what degree they blow things up to acquire said draft picks, I'm not sure yet. Many of the highest paid players on the team, Rudy Gay, Landry Fields, etc are the least desirable so the club may have to part with an Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan to get things done.
But there's no question something needs to be done, and I think if I'm Masai Ujiri, I look at this Suns club as a potential blueprint. Not necessarily to copy it exactly, but to use it to guide the idea of building a concrete identity from the ground up. For the Raps, that should be building around Jonas Valanciunas and hopefully pairing him with other young complementary talent.
Perhaps Ujiri can get that complimentary talent via trades or free agency, but most likely, he'll need to take a dip in the draft pool ala the Suns, perhaps a few times, before he can get this franchise back on solid ground.