Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/25/12
The Phoenix Suns have increased their odds of winning the NBA Draft lottery to the plucky range of 0.6 percent. While securing this prime, talent-pouncing position, they watched their shot at participating in the 2012 NBA playoffs fall to zero. Tuesday night's 100-88 loss to the Jazz in Utah officially provided the Suns with a lottery ticket and killed a bid for the postseason that, at least, provided a few compelling weeks for local basketball fans. In addition to wondering where Steve Nash will be working next season, the question now confronting Suns observers is this: Was it worth it? For players and coaches, that's a silly question. But for those followers whose hopes rise and fall with each final score, it depends on your perspective. With an allegedly deep pool of draft-eligible talent available, was marshalling their pedestrian resources to take a big swing at the eighth playoff seed a wise decision? Well, that depends on your perspective. Let's start with Nash, the 38-year-old resource who didn't exactly hold sufficient market value to bring a reasonable return at the trading deadline. Moving Nash for the relative scraps the Suns were offered would have further alienated a fan base just begging for more reasons to be bitter. But it also would have weakened Phoenix enough to secure a higher spot in the lottery's ping-pong derby. While selecting earlier has its benefits, the 2011 draft yield suggests that Markieff Morris -- the Suns' choice at No. 13 -- could be a superior long-term choice to (at least) at couple of players picked ahead of him ... and possibly inferior to just as many picked later. Based on projections for the prospects of 2012, losing enough for a serious shot at Kentucky's Anthony Davis is an easy notion to sell; beyond Davis, scoring victory in the draft depends on the evaluation chops of each team's personnel department. Now closing in on two years of service, Suns president of basketball ops Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks have been hanging their talent-scouting-performance hats on a December 2010 transaction that delivered center Marcin Gortat from the Orlando Magic. In his first full season as an NBA starter, Gortat has provided Phoenix with 15.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, his productivity in crucial games shouldn't generate much enthusiasm for future triumph. After missing 7 of 8 field-goal attempts against the Jazz on Tuesday, Gortat sitting at a combined 6 for 33 in three really important Suns showdowns. He was 3 of 12 in the April 14 disaster in San Antonio and 2 of 13 in last week's loss to the Oklahoma City before being outplayed by Jazz center Al Jefferson. Looking very much like "The Polish Nail," Gortat had five shots snuffed in the first half by Utah defenders and was part of a Phoenix rebound crew that -- battling without Channing Frye and Grant Hill -- checked in at minus-14. "I am going to take the blame for that," Gortat, who never dodges responsibility for a bad performance, said. "I should finish stronger, play smarter and just make the right decision. I was just rushing everything. My teammates were open on the wing. I should have kicked it to the wing and make sure they got the shot." OK, so it seems that Marcin's off-season tutorial with Hakeem Olajuwon didn't include any lessons on how to deliver when it matters most. While Marcin weighs the pros and cons of subscribing to the advanced Olajuwon summer curriculum, many Suns followers are wondering if management would be wise to move him when his value may be at an all-time high. With two more seasons (at a combined 15 million) left on his contract, the 28-year-old Gortat could be due for a pricey re-enlistment before the team seemingly is capable of reaching a high seed in the playoffs. We're not sure how much this season's double-double average would fetch in trade, but we're also pretty convinced the Suns will continue to refuse to accept hitting bottom as a bounce-back start in their collective grope for elite status. While we're picking on Gortat, please note he didn't spend Tuesday slouching alone. In what may have been his second-to-last game as a Sun, Nash posted 5 turnovers with his 11 assists and missed 7 of 11 shots from the field. Nash came up empty on all three of his 3-point attempts and was found stuck between helping and closing out on a couple of 3s by Utah point guard Devin Harris. "It's tough," a reflective Nash said after he and his teammates were eliminated. "We found a way to put ourselves in this position. We started slow. No one gave us a chance to be in this position when we were 12-19 and really didn't have any answers. It could have went the other way. I'm really proud of the coaches and the team. We hung in there and found a way to make it work together and give ourselves a shot." On the record as seeking three years on his next contract, Nash will weigh his options leading into the July free-agent party. He has declared his Phoenix return will require the Suns to use their cap space to upgrade the roster in a free-agent market without a potential go-to scorer in the unrestricted bin. Landing one of the few players with go-to capacity could force the Suns to overspend -- something Babby said the team would not do. But that was before Nash went public with what needs to be done to keep him in his happy place. On the flip side, overcoming the personnel-limitation odds to reach the playoffs could have made the Suns a more appealing option for free agents looking at franchises with spending loot. Anyway, with the feel-good run at that eighth seed now over and Nash's future uncertain, Suns observers can settle in for three months with the potential for more compelling events than we've seen in the previous three months.
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