We all used to love the Phoenix Suns, but things changed a bit last year. Under Terry Porter until the All-Star break, the Suns failed to meet expectations. The new coach was given the unenviable task of trying to change the Suns’ identity. Instead of an all-out running attack, Porter wanted to play a more controlled style of basketball. Less quick shots, less chaos, more defense, more rebounding.
It didn’t work. They slowed the pace down a little bit, but their defense got considerably worse. Players such as Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa seemed downright frustrated at times, not knowing when they had the green light to shoot. The offense wasn’t the same and the players weren’t comfortable (despite Steve Nash’s genuine effort to make it work). Their roster wasn’t capable of becoming a lockdown defensive team, especially after the Jason Richardson trade, and it came as a surprise to no one when Porter got the axe and was replaced by Alvin Gentry. Sure, Shaquille O’Neal put up great numbers (with and without Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup), but it wasn’t necessarily best for the team to make him a focal point. Even with the improvement under Gentry, the Suns remained a mediocre team and missed out on a playoff berth by 2 games.
This summer, the Shaquille O’Neal experiment was put to rest when he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers for salary relief. Matt Barnes headed to the East, too, signing with Orlando. All the Suns have done is re-sign veterans Steve Nash (36 in February) and Grant Hill (37 before opening day), draft forwards Earl Clark and Taylor Griffin, and sign free agent Channing Frye. My initial thought about all this: “What exactly are they doing? Do they even have a plan?” These are not moves I should endorse. They’re not ones that will put the team back where it belongs, legitimately in title contention. They’re not ones that will ensure future financial flexibility, planting the seeds for rebuilding. Rather, they are lateral moves, keeping them in a spot where they have just enough talent to make the playoffs if things go right. When I thought about it, though, I realized I was happy that they had kept Nash, happy they’ve pledged to keep the run-and-gun style going. It’s because, at this point, I just don’t want to see him in another uniform.
Here’s some of what Kelly Dwyer said about Nash in his top 10 point guards of the last decade list:
We play to win, I guess, but we’re also playing because it’s fun. Nobody says, “I’m going to go down to the Y later this afternoon to try and contribute to a winning cause.” We say, “I’m going to go play basketball,” a game, a game that’s fun. You’ve seen this dance before.
So, he’ll get burned on D. And at the end of the day, other players will have more points, rebounds, steals and assists, even. But man, isn’t his game something to behold?
Take this quote and apply it to the whole team. They have flaws. Obvious, season-shortening flaws. We know they are going to be overmatched, some nights. In a cold, rational world, the smart thing would unquestionably be to blow this thing up and start over. Ditch the veterans, develop young guys, rebuild. We live in the real world, though, a place where Phoenix Suns fans would be distraught if the franchise abandoned its fiery Canadian saviour. It’s really a shame that this franchise fell short of winning a title this decade, and it’s a shame that this year’s team won’t measure up to those of years’ past. Still, they’ll be fun for another year or two, and that’s what we want.
I can’t honestly say I’m very excited about the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns. I can’t even say I find them that interesting, beyond seeing if Amar’e can successfully come back from eye surgery and start playing defense again. Still, I know I’m going to end up watching a ton of their games and I know I’m going to love it. They might not be the Suns of old, but they’re still worth our time.