Intriguing 'new era' begins for Phoenix Suns
No longer are they a veteran-led team just spinning its wheels hoping to squeeze one last playoff push out of an era that had run its course. Gone are the likes of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, the final remnants of a Suns squad that just couldn't quite get it done.
The year Joe Johnson broke his face, the injuries, the suspensions, the disappointment. It all happened. It's all in the past.
The Phoenix Suns as you knew them are gone, and in their place a team that no one can say they know won't be any good or are sure can't compete.
In fact, the only thing that's certain is that for the first time in the Lon Babby/Lance Blanks tenure, this is their team.
Indeed, of the 15 players on the roster, only Channing Frye's deal was signed before Babby was brought on board.
This is not Bryan Colangelo's team, which took the Suns to a couple of Western Conference Finals and the brink of the franchise's first title.
It's also not Steve Kerr's team, which made an improbable run only to fall short as well.
And, thankfully, this is not the team built by Robert Sarver, who paid good money for the likes of Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick and Hedo Turkoglu.
From here on out the buck stops with Babby and Blanks, and it's a responsibility they take seriously.
If a nucleus including Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat fails to produce wins, the finger of blame will point squarely in Babby and Blanks' direction.
Some would argue this is the first time it would be fair to do just that. While the Suns have made questionable decisions and missed the postseason the last two seasons, Babby and Blanks have spent the last couple years cleaning up the mess left by an aging team and an owner masquerading as a GM.
I asked Babby if the moves made over the last couple seasons were in preparation for the one the team is about to embark on. It would be understandable if that was the case, as the team was not exactly set up to be a contender and it made no sense to do anything but build for the future.
You might disagree and feel like the Suns should have parted with some of their players - most notably Steve Nash - long before this summer. I do.
But it's tough to argue with what the team did and where it is positioned to be.
The average of the team's projected starting lineup is 27.2, down from 31.6 just one year ago. And while the roster lacks the names last year's team had, last year's team happened to lack the ability to win enough games to reach the postseason.
And unlike the teams that finished at or just below the .500 mark the last two seasons, this year's squad does not have to be mediocre. It does not have to be boring.
To their credit, both Babby and Blanks believe in the group they've assembled as well as the coach charged with leading it.
Blanks, who said the team not playing deep into the spring leads to "utter depression" for himself, believes the Suns are talented enough to make a run, but notes they'll have to come together as a cohesive unit rather quickly.
He may not be alone in that belief, but he's certainly in the minority.
Most projections either rank the Suns low or believe they're just going to be terrible. They ask, rightfully, if it's possible a team could see players like Nash and Hill leave for division rivals only to improve.
"There were a lot of things that pointed to this summer as being the beginning, really, of this new era," Babby said. "And that's what we've done."
The Suns are younger and more athletic, and have finally seemed to place a priority on the draft. They've upgraded their scouting and player development departments, and currently have 10 selections over the next three NBA drafts. The team reportedly made a run at Oklahoma City's James Harden, only to fall short and see the former Sun Devil traded to Houston.
Given that this is the beginning of the new era, it makes sense that the Suns did not have enough pieces to land a talent like that. And, really, it would make sense to see this team struggle, with a lack of a go-to scorer as well as an inability to rebound the basketball.
What they do have are young players looking to take the next step, such as Dragic and Beasley, as well as veterans like Gortat and Dudley who could elevate their games given more prominent roles on the team.
The team is both flawed and intriguing.
"I honestly have not been this excited since I've been here to see how this unfolds," Babby said.
That makes two of us.