Thirty-one Games of Glory for the Suns?

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.

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4 Responses to Thirty-one Games of Glory for the Suns?

  1. Fred says:

    There is a glaring omission in this article. Nowhere do I see Shaq’s name. Why not? Isn’t he our best player right now, and if we are to have this sensational finish doesn’t he have to be the main player?

  2. Jeff D says:

    You could say that I also omitted mention of two other important players: Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill.

    The ’08-’09 season has been very kind to Shaq. He was rebuilt physically by the Suns’ training staff. His game was rejuvenated by Terry Porter’s blind loyalty to the low post offense. And he was gifted the All-Star co-MVP award by the league.

    Shaq will need to make sacrifices now that the offensive philosophy has changed. He’ll get fewer 20-10 games but will still get his touches and have a major role in the system. Two keys of the D’Antoni offense are ball movement and sharing. Shaq’s passing abilities compliment this system.

    The trick is how well can the Suns integrate the pick-and-roll with low post sets for Shaq and still keep the outside shooters in rhythm. This was the formula D’Antoni tried to master last year and he did so at the end of the regular season.

    In the playoffs, the Spurs came up with an effective defense. But we saw what happened when Boris Diaw was inserted into the low post. Shaq is so much better physically this season compared to last. With his increased mobility and explosiveness, hopefully the Suns can make the playoffs and use Shaq’s reborn low post game to their advantage.

  3. Fred says:

    I go back to several things that bring us to the current problem. It started when Robert Sarver bought the team. It continued with the dismissal of Brian Colangelo. Brian was the bridge back to Jerry. Then came the Joe Johnson disaster. That was the point when we started to lose the D’Antoni team that could have won a championship. We were good at that point. All the pieces in place. The most entertaining team in basketball. Then Steve Kerr was hired as President (and General Manager). I felt that was a bad hire because Kerr had to put his stamp on this team and that meant he had to make changes. I have no proof of this, but I think he used the Bulls as his model of what needed to be done to win a championship. The only problem with that model is we don’t have Michael Jordan. There are only two players of that caliber in the league: Kobe Bryant and Lebron James and don’t have either of them nor do we have a chance to have them.
    Now it appears we have come full circle, but the players are different. Can we do the 7 seconds without Shawn Marion? I don’t know, but I think he was the key player in that group that was making a run at a title. I’m happier, but not happy. I hope they make Jeff’s run. There are many players here to like including Matt Barnes for example, but they have to come together as a team to have any chance to do anything, and they have not done that yet. With Shaq on our team there is no way we can beat San Antonio under the present rules.
    In his third chance I hope Alvin Gentry does well enough to keep his job. He may have finally arrived as a head coach in the NBA.

  4. Coop says:

    I agree. This is not Shaq’s game anymore. We can’t win with Shaq as the focus no matter how awesome he is because it requires the team play defense. Our only hope is that Shaq is now fit enough to run with this team for a good amount of the time, and that Boris steps it up when he’s subbing for the big man. I think he can do it because you’re right, Shaq is awesome with moving the ball around. Let’s go Suns! Run and gun, baby!

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