(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Next year (as in wait ‘til) has come a little early this year for the Suns. Their off-season will officially arrive at the close of business Wednesday evening, and the record will likely show that they posted a 46-36 record, closed out the year with nine straight home wins, and led the NBA in scoring and field goal accuracy.

Not all THAT shabby, in other words.

But these are the kind of honors that ring hollow in view of failed pre-season expectations and wasted late-season opportunities for a reprieve. In fact, they remind me of what the man said as he was being ridden out of town on a rail in the Old West:

“If it wasn’t for the honor,” he blurted, “I’d just as soon walk.”

It’s true that missing the playoffs is as much a matter of geography as bad defense and/or bad karma. Their record would be good for a fourth seed in the East, but all it got them in the West was bupkus. To make matters worse, it was their third bupkus, having “won” the “award” with 48-34 in 70-71 and 49-33 in 71-72.

It’s also true that losing Amare Stoudemire halfway through the season was a much more damaging blow than many, encouraged by the spectacular success the Suns enjoyed the last time Amare went down, didn’t fully appreciate at first.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact the Suns are at a crossroads, with problems lurking down whichever path they decided to take. Do they unload their aging stars and start over, or do they try to build on what they have? And would either direction take them back to where they could at least see the promised land.

Don’t look at me for answers. All I’ve got are questions. But in the interest of full disclosure, I feel less optimistic about this franchise’s future than I have in more than half a decade.

I do know one thing for sure. Trading either Steve Nash or Amar’e Stoudemire makes no basketball sense whatsoever, unless in the highly unlikely event, it would bring approximately equal talent in return. We are talking about one guy who remains one of the best point guards in the league and another whose offensive upside ranks him among the premier talents. The only caveat on Amar’e is health, with his knee and eye problems making him something of a risk (but of course this lowers his trade value).

And the West doesn’t figure to get any easier any time soon. San Antonio may finally have crested, and Dallas has issues. But the Lakers will still be the Lakers, and Portland is on the rise. So, believe it or not, is Oklahoma City. And New Orleans, Denver, and Houston still have some future ahead of them.

The bottom line: I think I’ll just leave it blank for now

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