The once-proud Phoenix Suns have been slowly fading into the sunset for the past few seasons. What was just a few years ago the most exciting team in the NBA -- led by Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion -- is now a shell of itself.
The high-octane Suns offense has ground to a halt. The team now ranks just 25th in offense efficiency and 18th in points per game despite playing at the ninth-fastest pace in the league. Without Nash captaining the ship, everyone seems to have lost their way.
To compound matters, their defense is just as bad as ever -- ranking 26th in the league in defensive efficiency.
The team recently fired head coach Alvin Gentry and replaced him with interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. No one, however, is under the illusion that the coach was the biggest problem in Phoenix. It's the players.
One look at their roster, and neither the poor offensive performance nor their poor defensive performance really surprises you.
The Suns are now a starless team. Goran Dragic is the closest thing they have to a cornerstone player. The 26-year-old Slovenian point guard is averaging career highs in points per game and assists per game and sports a solid 17.26 PER.
Big man Marcin Gortat also has significant value as a mobile center who can score and rebound in the paint. His PER has dropped significantly since Nash left town, but he's still in the upper half of starting centers in the league.
The rest of the team is, basically, a mess. There are solid veterans like Luis Scola and Jared Dudley intermingled with enigmatic youngsters like Markieff Morris, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson. Put them all together (and we're not sure why anyone would), and you've got a team that's likely to finish with the worst record in the Western Conference.
After the past few years of mediocrity, it's now clear that the Suns are in the midst of a major rebuild. Unfortunately, they just don't have much to rebuild around.
This year's draft could be the key to a turnaround. Not only do the Suns have their own pick, they also own the Lakers' pick if it falls into the lottery. They'll also have the Grizzlies' pick this year, though that pick should fall somewhere in the 20s.
Here's a look at their best options if the get the No. 1 pick.
Dragic can be a solid facilitator when he has some to facilitate with. This season, the Suns have really lacked offensive options. That should give McLemore and Muhammad the leg up in Phoenix. Both players are potential 20-points-a-night scorers, both have good jump shots and both players have the ability to take over a game.
Bennett is intriguing because of his versatility. He could end up being a Marion-like hybrid forward who could play both the three and the four at the next level. He can rebound, post up or step out and hit the 3. His ability to step in and play right away should be an intriguing choice for the Suns.
Noel is the dark horse here, but he might be a good choice. While the Suns have Gortat, Morris and Scola, it's clear that none of them are franchise players. Furthermore, none of them do what Noel does well -- block shots and grab ridiculous amounts of steals for a big man.
The Suns still seem determined to play at a fast pace, which might knock out Len. Not only is he somewhat duplicative of Gortat, but he also isn't a guy who really gets up and down the floor particularly well.
Zeller flies up and down the floor. He may be the best running center in the game, but concerns about how his game translates and questions about his toughness make it a good bet that the Suns pass.
While Carter-Williams and Smart both have the potential to surpass Dragic as a point guard down the road, I think this is the one position the Suns will shy away from on draft night. With Dragic locked into a recent deal (and with the selection of Kendall Marshall with the 13th pick in the draft last year), they're probably better off filling in the holes elsewhere.
Best fit: No one is rising faster or higher than McLemore right now, and he looks like a perfect fit for the Suns team. His elite athletic ability, shooting prowess and ability to get to the basket off the bounce, as well as his ability to cause problems for players with his defensive abilities really gives them a player they desperately need who doesn't really duplicate anyone they have on their roster.