PHOENIX -- The last two versions of your Phoenix Suns had at least two things going for them. Well, at least two things going wrong for them.
One obvious and negative characteristic was a talent base incapable of snagging a berth in the NBA's Western Conference playoffs. Sure, the Suns proved capable of competing deep into both seasons, but they also ended up in the draft lottery each time.
The other trait, one that was equally obvious, was diminishing returns due to age. Based on mileage, the Phoenix rotation had few players still under factory warranty. Without their crackerjack diagnostic staff, the Suns might have gone completely off the road.
Harking back to those days of unavoidable rubbernecking, it was a habit to strongly suggest that the local team had less young talent than any other squad in the league. And what made things appear even worse was the Suns' seeming reluctance to embrace the need to get younger.
But after burning Goran Dragic and a bonus first-round pick (from the trade with the Magic) on Aaron Brooks during the 2010-11 campaign, the Suns have been publicly copping to a movement toward youth. Remember, during his inaugural season in town, president of basketball ops Lon Babby emphasized free agency as the preferred method of talent regeneration.
Unfortunately, the Superfriends concept that spawned a parade in Miami only works when some really super players are available and willing to join forces in your city. So while Heat fans were celebrating in South Florida on Monday, Suns general manager Lance Blanks was busy not deviating from an altered philosophy.
"I'll tell you ... youth is something that's extremely important to us right now, given where things are," Blanks said.
Ah, yes. Where things are. So, where are things? Right, Steve Nash is doing another spin around the radio dial a few days before hitting unrestricted free agency, and several of his teammates will join him on the market. A few Western Conference teams are retooling with young talent, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be nasty for years, and attendance at Suns home games wasn't exactly held steady by keeping the top asset (Nash) on the payroll.
Where the Suns are now is the precipice of prolonging recent mediocrity as opposed to enduring the more severe short-term pain that's usually required for at least a chance at optimum growth. Picking 13th every year probably won't cure much.
By the way, the preceding Blanks quote wasn't meant to suggest anything regarding Nash's employment future. It simply was part of his answer to an inquiry regarding speculation that the Suns might actually buy a second pick in the first round (due to questionable contracts, they have limited personnel assets to use in trade). During a pre-draft process that brought more than 30 prospects through their practice facility across seven workouts, the Suns hosted a few players who weren't projected to be anywhere near the top 13.
"We try to stay away from projections," Blanks said.
Roger that. But adding a second pick -- in a draft widely regarded as deep in prospects who might actually be able to play --could be an option.
"Maybe ... if it makes sense with what we're trying to do," Blanks said before defining the nature of looking more closely at a wide cross-section of prospects. "It's not a function of who we brought in. We brought in guys we thought made sense."
But here's the good part:
"By no means will we shun away from adding a pick."
Of course, while many Suns fans would rally around a strong serving of basketball youth, it's up to Blanks and his evaluation army to identify the right players.
At the pick they earned at 13, the Suns are expected to secure the best perimeter player still on the board. That could be North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall or one of several shot-making wing prospects. But the pick also could be an inside player who either has risen in recent weeks from outside-the-lottery subterfuge or has slipped in the estimation of teams picking in the top 12.
And that's assuming the Suns stay at 13.
"I'm just covering myself," Blanks said to qualify a guarantee made three weeks ago that Phoenix would stay at 13, "because there's so many things out there in terms of opportunities."
That means a trade offer the Suns can't refuse could present itself. Or a prospect the Suns expect to go early could slide to them near the lottery's end.
It also should be noted that Blanks and his crew still have a couple of days to chew on observations and analytics before the available players are prioritized. The information -- be it raw or analytically massaged into powder -- is what Blanks listed as the biggest change in the draft process during his time in this business. But having more information doesn't always make selecting the right player any easier.
"Part of this process is knowing what to toss out and what to accept as reality," he said.