Nash fix
It's going to take more than a hammer
to fix the Suns' problems this year.

ESPN.com published a huge NBA Season Preview on Friday. Some of you may (or may not ) have noticed that Basketbawful was asked -- via Henry Abbot at TrueHoop -- to say a few words on the Phoenix Suns.

Since my contribution was limited to 100 words, I'm going to expand on my thoughts here. It's no secret that I really dig the Suns and want them to win an NBA title, partly because they're a great team, and partly to stick it in the face of the naysayers who take shots at Steve Nash and claim that fastbreak teams can't win championships (uh, Showtime Lakers, anyone?).

The good news is that the Suns are one of the three, maybe four teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all this year. Of course, the same thing was true the last three seasons as well, but it didn't happen for a variety of legitimate reasons: Injuries (to Joe Johnson during the '05 playoffs, to Amare Stoudemire and Tim Thomas in '06), departures (of Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson in '06), and of course The Suspensions.

Unfortunately, these near misses have established a disastrous mindset in The Valley, as evidenced by the Suns' offseason strategy, which can be best described as "hold steady." They gave away Kurt Thomas and two future first-round draft picks for a second-round pick and some cash relief. Not only did that move potentially handicap them in the future, it also hurt them in the present: They no longer have an interior defender to guard anybody, let alone Tim Duncan. They ostensibly addressed their depth issues by picking up Grant Hill on the cheap, but considering Hill's age and history of injuries, it's hard to imagine him playing a fulll season, much less becoming the "missing piece" that pushes the Suns over the top.

I'd feel better if the Suns had dealt for Kevin Garnett, or if they'd converted one or more of their tradable assets into an influx of young talent. I understand money was an issue. Robert Sarver wants to stay under the salary cap, and he hired GM Steve Kerr to make sure that happened. But the team didn't improve at all. In a best-case scenario, they're "as good" as last year; they might also be worse.

Here's one seemingly incontrovertable truth of the NBA: If a team wasn't good enough to win a championship one year, it won't be good enough to win one the next year without making one or significant offseason moves. Looking back in my lifetime, I can see many examples of this. The Lakers added Magic Johnson in '80. The Celtics added Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in '81. The 76ers added Moses Malone in '83. The Celtics added Dennis Johnson in '84 and Bill Walton in '86. The Lakers added Mychal Thompson in '87. The Pistons added James Edwards in '88 (although he didn't pay off until '89). The Rockets added Clyde Drexler in '05. The Bulls added Dennis Rodman in '96. The Pistons added Rasheed Wallace in '04. The Heat overhauled their roster in '06. And the Spurs have made a variety of little tweeks during their championship runs.

The Suns are going to win around 60 games this season. They're going to make noise in the playoffs. But they have to address so many questions: How long will Steve Nash's body hold up? How about Amare's knees? Hill's everything? Can Shawn Marion keep his chin up? Will Boris Diaw step up his game? How much will all of these guys have left in the tank in May?

I'd love it if the Suns could answer these questions and win a title. I just don't think they can.

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17 Comments:
Blogger Liston said...
You left out two reasons why the Suns haven't won a title:

1. The Spurs are frigg'n boss.
2. The Spurs are frigg'n boss.

Liston

Blogger Basketbawful said...
liston -- You have a point. And don't forget:

3. The Spurs are frigg'n boss.

They have won three in a row if Ginobili doesn't give up that stupid 3-point play.

Blogger LooseChange said...
yes, Tim Duncan gives me recurring nightmares with his dominance and yes, the spurs are scary good, but this is will not be their year. the suns are going to sign european sensation Plantar Faciitis to a 10-day contract come playoff time, and he will own timmy.

bitter? me? no way... ;-)

Blogger Kevin said...
They would have won nothing last year if Pop-a-zit, I mean Popovich, wouldn't have stooped to the low end of scum and sent a goon, Horry, to spark a scirmish.

The Suns will find a way this year, mark my word.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
loosechange -- Let's go sweep Timmy's leg. What're you doing on Thursday?

kevin -- Your words have been marked, and I hope to eat my words. Maybe I'm just a cynical sports fan who's suffered through a lifetime of disappointments. I'm hoping that the Suns do what they do and take the whole thing. I just have this nasty feeling in my gut, the kind I had when I was backing Clyde Drexler's Blazers and Karl Malone's Jazz...that the Suns are missing some critical, undefinable element.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
please back up your points properly. If I read right, you said that teams do not win championships one year if they could not before with out adding something. You cited Clyde Drexler to the rockets in 95. If you had your facts properly, the rockets won with out him the year before...

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Here's a fact for you Mr. Anonymous. Michael Jordan retired after the 1993 season, which opened the door for the Rockets to win it all in '94. That was the big offseason move that transformed the Rockets from contenders to champions. But I could hardly list that, now could I?

It's still my belief that NBA teams who fail to win championships need to do something to significantly improve from one year to the next if they want to get over the hump. Now, it's possible that could happen without a major roster move, such as when the Bulls finally broke through in '91. But that was due to a variety of factors, such as the maturation of Michael Jordan and the coming of age of Scottie Pippen and Horace grant, as well as the decline of their primary competitors (the Pistons).

The problem with the Suns is that their best players aren't going to get that much better. Pippen and Grant made The Leap in '91, just as Hakeem (in the absence of Jordan) made The Leap in '94. Who's going to make The Leap for the Suns? Can they really expect that much more out of Nash, Marion, or Stoudemire? Those guys are great, but they are what the are, and what they are hasn't been good enough to topple the Spurs ('05 and '07) or Mavs ('06) in the playoffs.

So what's the difference going to be this year?

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Here's a fact for you Mr. Anonymous. Michael Jordan retired after the 1993 season, which opened the door for the Rockets to win it all in '94. That was the big offseason move that transformed the Rockets from contenders to champions. But I could hardly list that, now could I?

It's still my belief that NBA teams who fail to win championships need to do something to significantly improve from one year to the next if they want to get over the hump. Now, it's possible that could happen without a major roster move, such as when the Bulls finally broke through in '91. But that was due to a variety of factors, such as the maturation of Michael Jordan and the coming of age of Scottie Pippen and Horace grant, as well as the decline of their primary competitors (the Pistons).

The problem with the Suns is that their best players aren't going to get that much better. Pippen and Grant made The Leap in '91, just as Hakeem (in the absence of Jordan) made The Leap in '94. Who's going to make The Leap for the Suns? Can they really expect that much more out of Nash, Marion, or Stoudemire? Those guys are great, but they are what the are, and what they are hasn't been good enough to topple the Spurs ('05 and '07) or Mavs ('06) in the playoffs.

So what's the difference going to be this year?

Anonymous padraig said...
personally I can't stand the Suns these days, although that has nothing to do with the team/style, which I enjoy as much as anyone, as with the cloying miasma of hype and melodrama that constantly surrounds them. they're like a great band whose music has been made unlistenable by reams of fawning reviews and hordes of lowest common denominator fans. I remember wanting to throw up while reading Paul Shirley's (another incredibly aggravating figure) piece on them in Slate.

I'm sure this sounds elitist as hell, but a huge portion of Suns fans seems to be the kind of people who enjoy the ENTERTAINMENT! spectacle more than actual basketball. on this note, I feel nothing but sympathy for 1) those who were Suns fans even before D'Antoni and Nash Euro-ized Nellieball or 2) cats like Basketbawful (or all the Freedarkoites). hell, I also understand that peripheral fans (well, and corporate backing) are what keep any sports league afloat, but the Suns have gone from revolutionary to unbearable in three years or so through no fault of their own. or maybe I'm just a bitter, elitist fuck.

to be clear, I'm also rooting for the Suns to win it all in spite of all this AND D'Antoni's stupid mustache. it's impossible not to pull for Nash to get at least one ring before his body fails him, if only so that he doesn't have to endure the Dan Marino treatment for the rest of his life. I'd just prefer not to have to hear all the Red Sox Nation-like sensationalism that will inevitably come with it.

one nitpick, BBawful - I'm sure you know as well as anyone that the Showtime Lakers weren't 'just' a running team. it always kills me when people compare them to the current Suns b/c those Lakers teams were, unlike Nash and Co., just as fantastic in a slower half court game as well has having the greatest inside scorer in NBA history. The Suns are definitely one-dimensional, though what a great and wondrous dimension it is.

Blogger Kevin said...
To say the Suns are a bad halfcourt team is ridiculous. They are the best pick and roll team in the NBA. Its a pick your poison with them, go under the screen and they will hit shots on you all game. Go over and then its over with Amare nuts in your face (see Josh Smith).

The problem is the way the games are officiated in the playoffs. Come that time, the officals get "loose" with the whistle and let things go that they would have called in the regular season. How can a team prepare for that when its two totally different games in the playoffs?

If they want to let the players "play", then they need to call it that way all season long and not throw it into a complete 360 when the playoffs roll around. I mean, if they are to allow leg sweep (Bowen), knees to the groin (um, Bowen again), and handchecking (damn, Bowen once more, then they need to call it all season and not when the games really count.

Its just a matter of time when not only the fans give up with the unfairness, but also the players. We'll just have to wait and see what happens this year in the SterNBA.

Late

Blogger john marzan said...
and partly to stick it in the face of the naysayers who take shots at Steve Nash and claim that fastbreak teams can't win championships (uh, Showtime Lakers, anyone?).

but that laker team had two of the greatest lowpost scorers in nba playoff history in jabbar and worthy. sure the lakers team ran, but they can score in the post too when the game gets slow and ugly in the playoffs.

the suns OTOH, have marion and amare. marion can't create his own shots, and can be contained by smart defenders like bowen (see WCF 05, 7ppg). And Amare relies heavily on the pick and roll with nash to help him score efficiently.

Anonymous padraig said...
kevin: I didn't say the Suns were a "bad halfcourt team". I said they were NOT AS FANTASTIC in the half-court as they are when they run, which is entirely true. John Marzan just made my point more clearly than I did, I guess - that the Showtime Lakers were impossible to stop b/c they could beat you in any way imaginable, be it running, grinding it out, inside, outside, whatever. The Suns have exactly one guy who can create offense (w/the exception of Barbosa's slashing) and, totally unlike Showtime, a serious lack of inside defense and scoring. Being a great half-court team requires more than just the pick and roll.

Also, if you want to blame the suspensions that's one thing. There's no point in beating that dead horse any more. But blaming tighter officiating in the playoffs? C'mon. You're going to tell me that a team with Raja Bell and St. Nash has the right to complain about cheap shots and/or flopping? That's the kind of ludicrous opinion that makes me irrationally hate the Suns despite my desire to root for them.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
Obviously I agree with Kevin that the Suns have a great half-court offense. But, as John and Padraig pointed out, their lack of interior scoring hurts them. Teams that rely heavily on outside shooting, as the Suns do, tend to struggle in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, I don't think Marion or Stoudemire worked on their post games over the summer.

Padraig, I think that Kevin was arguing that officiating isn't tighter in the playoffs. Rather, physical play is overlooked more often in the playoffs than in the regular season. So physical teams like the Spurs get an extra advantage, since they already get the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that they rough people up from Game 1.

Part of the problem with the Suns is that, since Nash began their recent resurgence, they haven't had a playoff run that wasn't marred either by injuries or last year's suspensions. If the Suns had been a little more fortunate, or if Amare and Diaw hadn't gotten off the bench, we might not even be discussing this.

Anonymous starang said...
Don't you dare badmouth my little brother Kevin (He is in fact my little brother, and next to Basketbawful, might be the greatest cumulative source of NBA knowledge in the universe).

I was fine with all of this, even the badmouthing of the Suns....until someone made fun of D’Antoni's mustache. How dare you. That well groomed cookie duster is the key to out success. It holds powers that we yet to have the science to explain it with.

We (as if it isn’t obvious, Kevin and I are both Suns fans and Phoenix natives) do have needs that we didn't satisfy in the off-season......but we were 1 hip check away from being champions. AND we almost won the game with Amare and Diaw suspended. I say leave good enough alone. We got the proven pieces, we added Grant Hill (god I hope he stays healthy) and Amare HAS IMPROVED and will dominate this year (easily top 2 MVP candidate). Diaw isn't starting the season as a fat ass, and Strawberry was a steal and will see many productive minutes this year as a rook.

I like where we are at. Watch out Spurs, we got your number this year. Enough with the finals basketball so boring that it reminds me of the Kevin McHale highlight real Basketbawful sent out a few weeks ago.

PS. Popovich's face looks like someone set his face on fire and put it out with a cleated track shoe.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
starang -- Nobody's dissing Kevin around here. Not unless they want the Basketbawful boot in their butt. And I'm sure that no one would seriously insult the D'Antoni 'stache. It's feathered and lethal.

I'm pulling for the Suns. I just have that sick feeling in my gut that something's going to go wrong. But then, you have to understand, I've lived through so many disappointments -- the early 90s Trailblazers, the mid to late-90s Jazz teams, the Pacers...I've developed a "My team is always going to lose" syndrome.

Phoenix has the tools to take out the Spurs. And the average age of that team is in the mid-30s, which is a plus.

Of course, I'm totally discounting the Mavericks here. I hope that doesn't come back to haunt me. Or the Suns.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
PS. Popovich's face looks like someone set his face on fire and put it out with a cleated track shoe.

Jesus. That was funny.

Anonymous Stanko Zovko said...
I like your comments on the suns and many of them are very legitimate.

There are two things that I would like to add.

1.) I hated them getting rid of Kurt Thomas because I loved the way he played, but there was much more reasoning than to save money. I read a comment from Dantoni that they do not want to try and be a Spurs clone anymore in the playoffs or beat them in their own game. They are going to commit fully to small ball and play their style all the way. It was more of a change of gamestyle than anything.

2.) Grant Hill hasn't been fully healthy in years but there is something that is really differnet this year. The Suns have one of the best medidal staffs in the NBA. They stress core strength and flexibility rather than bulk strength and explosiveness. Have you ever noticed no Suns player get seriously injured throughout the year? They don't get sprained ankles and whatnot. The reports are that when Grant Hill came to Phoenix he had almost no flexibility in his ankle. The staff worked with him all summer and now he has a full range of motion in his ankle.

Those are my two cents.

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