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News » Don't be so quick to write off Suns 2008-10-30


Don't be so quick to write off Suns 2008-10-30


Don't be so quick to write off Suns 2008-10-30
The inclination has been to be a bit rash in predicting the demise of the Phoenix Suns.

But maybe (just maybe) the distinct change of the past nine months has been for the better after all.

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They were the fun-and-gun team that changed the perception of the NBA. Steve Nash came in with something to prove after being allowed to leave without a fight in Dallas. At the same timem, Mike D'Antoni coached with the theory if they could outscore everybody, it would not only be entertaining, but the physical, defensive aspect that was slowing the NBA game to a crawl, might become passe.

Well, that didn't happen despite the obvious increase in scoring, but Nash won two MVPs and became a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, D'Antoni became NBA Coach of the Year and the Suns were perennially winning the Pacific Division and challenging to win the West.

But trading unorthodox and athletic Shawn Marion in a deal for powerful center Shaquille O'Neal last winter changed all of that. D'Antoni resigned after losing in the first round of the playoffs, was hired by the New York Knicks and Terry Porter was hired to coach the Suns.

The transition, under the eye of the affable and astute Suns president of basketball operations Steve Kerr, wasn't particularly promising to wise guy NBA analysts.

But at first blush, after the Suns defeated the Spurs in the opener for both teams, maybe the Suns aren't quite ready to drop off that 50 win-plus map after all. The 103-98 win at San Antonio, even though the Spurs are without All-Star guard Manu Ginobili for a month or so, wasn't the point.

It was more about the impact of Porter and his defensive focus, combined with the natural offensive explosiveness of the returning Suns from the D'Antoni era. The great mix is mindful of how the offensive orientation that Rick Adelman brought to Houston last year meshed magnificently with the defensive harping of outgoing coach Jeff Van Gundy.

But more than anything else, the Suns are still loaded with talent, and Porter, the bright and rugged point guard of 17 years in the NBA, is mindful that as he harangues about getting back on defense, he also needs to let Nash and Co. follow their full-blast instincts on offense.

As long as Nash is running the point, including the extraordinary screen-and-roll he orchestrates with explosive and exceptional Amare Stoudemire, they're going to contend in the West. They may not win the conference. They may not be in the conference finals either. They will have a lot to say about who gets there, though, and that makes them interesting right off the bat.

It isn't just Stoudemire and Nash, although they are formidable. They were front and center in the win Wednesday, with Stoudemire tossing in 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking a shot. Nash had his basic 13 points and 13 assists.

But there was also O'Neal out there, all business with 15 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. Porter started Matt Barnes at small forward and Raja Bell at big guard — which also sets them up for a strong second team. The numbers were merely minor indicators. The skill and leadership from Grant Hill coming off the bench was evident, along with the acceleration of Leandro Barbosa and the versatile skill set Boris Diaw brings to the table.

They're particularly high on rookie Goran Dragic as the heir apparent to Nash, coaxed to sign a fat multi-year deal with the Suns and bid adieu to Tau Ceramica from the Spanish League. The 6-4 Dragic isn't going to steal any minutes from Nash, but Dragic did play 13 minutes, and contributed with three slick assists and a steal.

More to the point is the way Porter got all this productivity off the bench from Barbosa with 18 points, Diaw with eight points and three assists, and Hill with 13 points and two assists.

All of that came at the Spurs, and that's before we even mentioned O'Neal.

You see, the "Big Diesel" in the middle wasn't messing around Wednesday night. Sure, the Spurs unleashed the "Hack-a-Shaq" at tip-off in a virtual running joke from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. That was mostly for amusement.

More important to the 36-year-old center in his first full season with his new team was his approach. It's impossible to know just how he'll hold up physically ... or more specifically, how many games he'll miss, and how much he'll start whining when they hit a bump in the road and Stoudemire is still getting all the shots in the post.

Rookie center Robin Lopez is physical, but unpolished and they'll keep Stoudemire much healthier by keeping him at forward instead having to play him at center again. The problem is O'Neal has played an average of 53 games over the past three seasons. It isn't likely he'll play more, and if they start to lose, he has become more and more inclined to lose interest and cause problems the past five years.

But coming out of the blocks, it is apparent the Suns aren't ready to say goodbye from their perch among the Western Conference elite, especially as Stoudemire's star continues to rise. Of course, we're talking about the first game and with O'Neal and Hill both 36 years old, and Nash turning 35 in a few months, they may not hold up through the rigors of a full season and the playoffs.

But considering the overall talent on the roster and Porter's understanding of this group on his second turn — following a surprisingly abrupt hiring and firing in his first head-coaching experience at Milwaukee — it seems a little premature to write them off as contenders just yet.


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 30, 2008

 

 
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