This offseason is a critical one for the Phoenix Suns. The team posted a 33-33 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing three games out of the Western Conference playoffs for the second straight year, and head into next season with an awful lot of open questions, with the largest being: Has free-agent-to-be Steve Nash played his last game in a Suns uniform? (He'll certainly have no shortage of suitors when free agency opens on July 1.) If Nash exits the desert, a Suns team that returns no stars — Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and the like are fine players, sure, but not centerpieces — will find itself seeking a new identity for the first time in eight years.
Making things more difficult, the team's got just one pick in Thursday's 2012 NBA draft, a late-lottery selection that sees the Suns slotted in at No. 13 for the second straight year. Last June, Phoenix chose Kansas forward Markieff Morris, who showed signs of promise as a rookie, but didn't really make a major impact for the Suns in his first year. It's unlikely the Suns will find a real difference-maker at No. 13 this year, either. In his most recent Yahoo! Sports mock draft, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has them tapping Washington swingman Terrence Ross, while ESPN.com's Chad Ford thinks they'll go with Connecticut two-guard Jeremy Lamb. Both profile to become contributors in the future; neither is likely to move the needle for the next couple of Suns teams. More must be done.
Suns General Manager Lance Blanks knows that, and with just two years remaining on his contract, he knows time is of the essence. Another Phoenix staffer watching those desert sands race through the hourglass? Coach Alvin Gentry, who is entering the final year of his contract.
To some, that might make Gentry look like a dead man walking; to Blanks, according to Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic, that simply makes him like everyone else:
"Every human being on Earth has lame-duck status," Blanks said. "If you play in the minor leagues, you know you're on a one-game contract. You could be gone the next day. You can be released from your contract. That's lame-duck status. Tomorrow, Robert (Sarver) or Lon (Babby) could come to me and say, 'You know, I don't like bald-headed guys. We want a guy that looks better, with more hair.'"
Well, that's a cheery way to look at things, isn't it?
Blanks is absolutely right, of course. The reality of big business, and specifically big sports business, is that you're never really safe, you're only as good as your record and contracts are rarely worth the paper on which they're printed. Blanks said as much in elaborating to Bickley:
"To me, it's not about the contract. It's about getting up and doing the best you can with what's in front of you, and facing the challenges that you're faced with. That contract is only a piece of paper, and a piece of paper can't be what makes you comfortable. If that's the case, you're probably in the wrong business."
This is all true, and it paints kind of a terrifying picture of life in the NBA. Organizational philosophies and strategies — in sub-stellar organizations, at least — frequently seem to change with the wind, rendering years of careful planning and building moot as someone higher up the food chain decides all of a sudden that now is the time to pivot in a new direction. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is permanent, everything is shifting, everyone's going to die and it could happen tomorrow for absolutely no reason, based solely on the whims of (apparent) madmen.
Enjoy the draft, everyone!
Then again, maybe Blanks is looking at that impermanence from a Buddhist, three marks of existence perspective — that all conditioned things are in a constant state of flux, that nothing ever truly ceases to exist but merely changes forms as it continues to participate in the life of the universe, and that true peace and enlightenment come only in finding a middle path between the beliefs that all things are ending and that all things are eternal.
Maybe that viewpoint on life, and especially life in the NBA, is actually just way deep. Seems like something Nash would dig, anyway.