Where’s the Value in 2009 for the Suns

A couple weeks ago, Yahoo columnist Johnny Ludden wrote an article bringing into question how valuable Amare Stoudemire is to the Suns. After watching the Suns lose two winnable games against Orlando and Miami, I think Mr Ludden has his answer: a whole heckuva lot.

Against the Magic’s two 6-10 starting forwards, the Suns had no answer with its combination of the 6-8 Grant Hill, 6-7 Matt Barnes, and 6-6 Jason Richardson. Against the Heat, it is true that the Suns shot the lights out. However, the Heat’s zone defense shut down the Suns at the right times. Stoudemire’s ability to get to the hoop and draw fouls usually with “and 1” opportunities would have made an important difference in both outcomes.

The most vulnerable playoff position team in the West is the Dallas Mavericks. Yet, the Suns now have three more losses than the Mavs with just 21 games left to play. If things were different and the Suns managed to win against the Magic and the Heat, the deficit would have been only one loss. And because the Suns still have two games against the Mavs before the season is over, I would have liked the Suns’ chances. However the way things are now, the Suns have no control over their own destiny because even a sweep in the their two games against Dallas won’t be enough to pull them ahead in the playoff race.

It is clear that the Suns are now playing with pride and a sense of purpose. Alvin Gentry is doing a great job of coaching. Defensive lapses aside, the Suns are also a lot of fun to watch again. But the midseason trade of Boris Diaw (along with Raja Bell) combined with the loss of Stoudemire to eye surgery have left the team severely depleted when it comes to playing physical and being able to match up with playoff-caliber teams.

However, I still believe that this team still has a lot to play for. The most important thing for the Suns to do is finish the season strongly, playoffs or not. Simply measuring how competitively the Suns play each game and begin to win back the fans will determine what happens in the offseason. Assuming the core roster remains for next year along with Coach Gentry, it will definitely be the last opportunity for this mix of players to take a shot at winning it all. As far fetched as it may seem for the Suns to win the NBA title in 2009-10, we all can be assured that the 2010-11 team will look much different.

Shaq’s contract expires after next season. Provided the Suns do pick up Steve Nash’s team option for next year but then not sign Nash to an extension for the future, his contract will also be finished. Hill talked about perhaps playing one more season, but he will certainly be done at the end of 2010. Other players who may leave are Stoudemire (player option), as well as Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, and Alando Tucker (all team options). Barnes is only on a one-year deal and no mention has yet been made of him even being back for next season. All told, there are only three players who are under firm contracts for two seasons from now: Richardson, Leandro Barbosa, and Goran Dragic. All guards, no big men.

It will be nearly impossible for the Suns to improve their roster this offseason unless they can pull off a major trade. But we have already been down this road with Stoudemire and Shaq. Even though the rumors have been tantalizing, the reality is that the actual offers have been underwhelming. And who knows if Stoudemire has been further devalued by his health problems.

The alternative strategy of trading to clear salary cap space is not particularly viable for next season either. Looking at the upcoming crop of free agents, there isn’t any one player who stands out as a good fit that would address the Suns’ needs in size, interior athleticism, and defensive prowess. Carlos Boozer is not appropriate for the uptempo game and would be too expensive. Rasheed Wallace is now strictly a perimeter player. Shawn Marion would probably not entertain the thought of coming back. Ron Artest is too volatile. The realities of the market may force the Suns to stand pat when it comes to major personnel decisions for this offseason.

With all this in mind, there is a fragment, a hint, of intrigue surrounding the Suns’ latest free agent signee, Stromile Swift. True, he has done nothing to distinguish himself in his previous eight seasons in the NBA other than being drafted second overall. And there is no factual basis in expecting Swift to make a major contribution this season. However, he is athletic, he’s tall with a long wingspan, and he has experience.

At 29, it is now-or-never time in Swift’s career for him to be remembered as anything more than just another lottery flop. Solid play by Swift in whatever opportunities he gets this season can be parlayed into a full-time role next season as a multi-purpose backup for Shaq and Stoudemire. If he can fill this much-needed role for the team, then there will be one less thing to worry about this offseason for the Suns faithful.

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3 Responses to Where’s the Value in 2009 for the Suns

  1. Fred says:

    For all the gloomy outlook, I like the current Suns and even in defeat in Miami I thought they played really well. They seem like they are having fun and it is showing. I really hope Alvin Gentry gets rewarded with the head coaching job, and I hope they don’t play games with him and just sign him.

    Currently medical reports on Stoudemire are not very good. I would love to see the Suns retain Nash and try to bring Marion back. I know it is far fetched and too expensive, but it would really make the Suns competitive again.

    The other possibility is to get rid of all the older players, fill the roster with young athletic talent….with a few veterans to help, and let Gentry develop the next 7 second team. I think the fans would accept that if they were fun to watch. Trade some of our vets like Shaq and Stoudemire for draft picks. There is some nice talent coming out this year like that kid from Oklahoma. Trade Nash to NY for Nate Robinson and a draft pick. Even if we only win 30 games, that would be okay if it was fun and we could see development. The Suns have been one of the better teams for developing talent, so lets do it again.

  2. Jeff D says:

    It’s ironic that Marion is a good fit for the Suns right now. However, that bridge has probably been burned. He also seems to like playing in Toronto, and Bryan Colangelo will try to re-sign him.

    Nate Robinson has proven the critics wrong and will have a long career in the NBA. But he cannot run an offense like Nash can. Look at his role at the Knicks. He’s a change-of-pace guard while Chris Duhon remains firmly the team’s point guard averaging 38 minutes a game. Without Nash the Suns would be left with either Barbosa or Dragic to run the offense.

    I am always skeptical about trading superstars for draft picks. The current examples of that in the NBA are the Timberwolves, Thunder, Kings, and Grizzlies: not good company to be with.

    In the ’80’s, the Suns traded their best player at the time, Larry Nance, for KJ. It helped that the Dan Majerle draft pick was included, but the bottom line is that the Suns traded a superstar for an impact player. It would be roughly equivalent now to trading Stoudemire for Russell Westbrook.

    When the Suns traded their best player for filler and draft picks, it didn’t work out. The Barkley trade to Houston was a disaster. The Kidd-for-Marbury trade was terrible. True, Marbury was not filler at the time, but many saw it as a train wreck waiting to happen.

    If the Suns trade any of their big three, they must receive an impact player in return. Otherwise, the Suns will not win many games and will not be able to execute a fun-to-watch game plan because they will lack the talent to run the 7 seconds or less offense.

  3. Jeff D says:

    BTW, if and when the Suns get into the draft lottery for ’09. There is a player that I like. If the ping pong balls go the Suns way, I would love to see them draft ASU’s James Harden.

    As far as Blake Griffin from OK, I would be concerned that he is something of a Stoudemire clone and would not be able to compliment the Suns front court. Of course, if they trade Stoudemire, then they will need a replacement.

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