While the NBA and its media are constantly focusing on the big market teams, along with their headlining superstars, scorers and the stat chasers, there are a select few teams that go unnoticed yet share the same success as Los Angeles, Brooklyn and the Knicks.  Meet the Phoenix Suns. The NBA franchise closest to El Paso has quietly become a playoff-contending team in a brutal conference. It has loads of assets, draft picks, and cap space. So how’d they transform themselves from NBA no man’s land to a team that looks primed for the future? Let’s take a look.

1) Executive Overhaul

The Suns are widely remembered as a team that could never quite get over the hump in the 2000s. Although they had two-time MVP Steve Nash during his prime along with solid second fiddles such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, and Shaq, the Suns never played on the NBA finals stage during Nash’s tenure. Although it seemed that the Suns were headed in the right path, it was evident that after their surprise 2010 trip to the conference finals that the championship window was closed. It was time for a redo. In the summer of 2012, then General Manager Lance Banks pulled the plug on the Nash era and worked a sign a trade with the Lakers that yielded first round picks in 2013 and 15 with second rounder’s in 13 and 14. Nash has since become a below average PG who can’t stay on the floor, the Suns meanwhile have used 3 of the 4 picks on drafting foreign players and having them develop overseas, essentially collecting assets which certainly cannot hurt down the road. Banks was fired a year later, after also signing Luis Scola to a bargain contract, which would be key later on, and replaced by 34-year-old Ryan McDonough who brings youth and a new approach to the front office.

Getty Images
Getty Images

2) Collecting assets through trading and developing

With respect to this year’s crop of rookies, in the past 8 drafts, the best player the Suns have come away with is role player Markieff Morris. So how have the Suns built up a steady roster that can win? In a very risky and somewhat unorthodox way: trading for potential. The Suns key players have been acquired like this:

Free Agent signings- Starters Goran Dragic and PJ Tucker

Draft- Markieff Morris, Alex Len, rookie TJ Warren

Trades- Starting SG Eric Bledsoe (traded from Clippers  along with Caron Butler for Jared Dudley), 6th man Gerald Green and starting C Miles Plumlee and 2014 1st rounder Bogdan Bogdanović ( traded Pacers for Luis Scola), Marcus Morris ( traded from Rockets for future second rounder), Emeka Okafor  and 2014 1st rounder Tyler Ennis (traded from Wizards for Marcin Gortat).

Talk about winning some trades and then some. Phoenix, it should be noted, was buying on the potential of most of these players, they weren’t necessarily great players they simply had upside. The organization has certainly reaped the rewards in terms of talent that went along with many of these risky trades. The Suns navigated all of those trades just in the last 12 months. Imagine them doing just half as well on some of their future trades? And here’s the best part: the entire Suns’ rotation (9 players) this past year only got paid $26 million, only 2 million over what Kobe himself made. Now tie that in with the fact the Suns were only one win away from the playoffs and you see why this team is suddenly really scary. But what was the final breaking point of success? Simple, their coaching and player development. With the insertion of first year Coach Jeff Hornacek onto the bench, the Suns thrived in a re make of the old Mike D’Antoni offense of up and down the floor except now with a bigger emphasis on defense. The organization is also home to the league’s best training staff, according to most people in the league. With these tools, you can see why players like Dragic, Bledsoe, Plumlee, Morris and Green have thrived and grown their game to another level, with some growing to All Stars, Starting caliber and solid rotation players in the matter of a year. Although they don’t have a superstar yet, they are starting to look quite attractive to one about now and to other teams in terms of assets. The only question being asked by the rest of the league for the team in the desert; what’s next?