Suns GM Steve Kerr made three major moves following the ’07-’08 season that have proven to be strike outs: the hiring of Terry Porter as head coach, the drafting of Robin Lopez with the 15th pick and Goran Dragic in the 2nd round (via trade), and the trading of Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to the Charlotte Bobcats for Jason Richardson. Yet, after a whirlwind of unconfirmed rumors and trade scenarios during the All-Star break, the Suns actually now have the opportunity to reverse their fortunes with 31 games remaining on the season.
Instead of a completing blockbuster trade, Kerr made a better move. He fired Porter and promoted Alvin Gentry. It’s safe to say that a huge burden has been lifted from the team. True, Gentry is only interim head coach, but he is popular with most of the players and understands what needs to be done to turn things around. He will return to the Seven Seconds or Less offensive philosophy, rely on the talent of the players, and deliver a consistent message.
With the return of the run-and-gun offense, there is little doubt that more bench players will get an opportunity to play. Matt Barnes will see more court time. Critically, the overwhelmed Dragic will also receive minutes. Whether this turns into a disaster remains to be seen. But it is clear that Steve Nash needs more rest during games. Gentry indicated that Dragic will be the player to carry this role initially. Fast breaking and more open court play should compliment the skills that Kerr saw in him prior to the draft. And if Dragic can develop a consistent shooting touch, his game should improve dramatically.
For the Suns’ other rookie, it seems consistent playing time for Lopez must be on Gentry’s checklist of changes he needs to implement right away, even if it’s only five minutes a game. As the team’s only 7-footer who can run up-and-down the floor, Lopez possesses the big body and shot blocking skills that can help shore up the team’s terrible defense while also keeping up with the pace of the game.
At shooting guard, the trade for Jason Richardson initially appeared to be a big win for the Suns. The team went 9-3 and averaged over 109 points per game in his first 12 games as a Sun. But things began to unravel as Richardson became yet another player mired in Porter’s slow-down offense. And worst of all, two traffic incidents have tarnished the reputations of the player and team. In a mere six weeks, with a DUI arrest, a ticket for excessive speeding, and endangering his 3-year-old son, Richardson is on the verge of outdoing the collective off-court antics of Stephon Marbury and Jason Kidd while they were Suns players.
For the ever penny-pinching owner of the Suns, Robert Sarver, there is a potential bonus from the fallout of Richardson’s legal troubles. If it turns out that Richardson is convicted and serves any jail time, perhaps the Suns could figure out how to nullify his contract and the remaining two years at $27.7M. This would provide a greater financial windfall than any salary dump trade would have brought.
Yet, if Richardson ends up missing more time than his current 1-game suspension will the Suns miss a beat? Perhaps not. Leandro Barbosa has steadily improved this season and is close to the high level of play he was at in ’06-’07. It might also serve as an opportunity for Alando Tucker to show that he belongs in the NBA. Like Richardson, Tucker has worked on his perimeter shooting and he has an effective post-up game that can be exploited from the shooting guard position. Unlike Richardson however, Tucker has been non-existant as an NBA player. He needs to be allowed to sink or swim and now would be a good time for this to happen.
For the remainder of the season, the key team stats that will indicate improvement are field goal attempts and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Suns have a deficit in allowing opponents 7 more shots per game, and with the Suns shooting its fewest amount of 3-point attempts per game in years, their defensive deficiencies have become even more apparent. The Suns need to shoot more and hope that the faster pace will enable them to produce more hustle plays and reduce second chance points for opponents. By playing instinctively and not second-guessing themselves, the players will look to move the ball more and create scoring opportunities by sharing, rather than bogging down and turning the ball over.
In order to secure a strong playoff seed, the Suns will likely need to go 24-7 over its remaining 31 games. This is a mighty difficult task. But one thing is certain. The Suns will be a lot more fun to watch now compared to the team that it was just 6 days ago.