Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Here Come The Suns, And I Say "It's Allright""

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it's all right
-George Harrison

Okay, the dust has settled. We've read the approximately 400 articles to be released in the last day about the trade, all but about five of them negative, and had some time to reflect, and watch the Suns without Shawn Marion on the roster for the first time.

We've vented our anger, mocked the idiocy (though we're not done with that), answered our friends texts and emails of "WHAT?!!!!!!" and poured one out for the run and gun.

Now I'm ready to look on the bright side of the Suns.

Don't get me wrong, I was as prepared as all of you to mourn the death of fun, to call for Kerr's head, to proclaim the Suns barely a playoff team.

But then I calmed down and analyzed the situation. And most importantly, I watched the Suns.

Same game, baby. Same game.

Let's start this off by building you some structure, because in a move as insane as this, we're going to need to have some sort of infrastructure to work from. We need a foundation so we can build up, otherwise we're going to topple like Jengo. So here goes.

There are three main statements that you need to realize about this trade in order to fully grasp its meaning. One of them you're already aware of, because you've read it a thousand times in the last two days. The others are a bit more subtle, mainly due to the first. From there, there are some essentials elements that come into play that make it clear that Armageddon is not yet at hand. Ready? Let's begin.
1. This Was A Bad Trade. I know it. You know it. SLAM knows it. ESPN knows it. Coro knows it. Everyone, everyone, everyone knows it. The only people that don't know it are the members of the Suns' front office. That's it. It's an all-around bad deal. But it's not as bad as you think. The problem with this trade was that it was centered around the biggest name possible, and therefore an overbuy. They got Shaq's $40 million, and that's a heap of change for what they were looking for, which is a role player. They gave up Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks' contract, and that's too much for Diesel. And the perception it created is even worse. Because everyone, including me, jumped on the "The Suns' whole game plan is dead!" wagon, even before they'd played a game. This was a bad trade. Steve Kerr pulled the trigger on a massive heist, letting Riley rob him blind while getting a severely aging player with health issues and a massive contract. There's no way this deal can be considered anything but bad. Once we accept that, we can move on.

2. Steve Kerr Doesn't Give A Crap About "Fun.": There are a million reasons to criticize Kerr for this deal. The long term cap implications (though that's not so bad because right when Nash retires they can completely start over with $50 million in cap space), the short-term implication (though when the team admits the window is "now or never" you're kind of expected to do everything to win now), the mismatch of styles (though we'll get to that), and the sheer panicked sense of it all. But one thing he should not take heat for is killing the style. For one, we're not sure he's killed it (again, give us a sec). And second...

Steve Kerr was hired as General Manager for the Phoenix Suns. His job is to manage personnel and team operations as to succeed in winning a championship. That's it. His one and only goal is winning a championship, and that's the only goal he should have. His job should be to assemble the best group of players that can work together to win a championship. He's not supposed to be concerned with hanging on some sort of conceptual basketball ideal. We're not saying idealistic play is a flawed concept, it's just not Kerr's job to focus on that. There are reasons to blame him, but if abandoning the purity of the run and sun is the best thing for the team, then it's his job to make that call. Shaq being the right call is another matter, but regardless, they felt they needed a big body, so he got one.

3. It's Still The Suns, Baby.
You saw it last night. You'll see it tomorrow night in Seattle. You'll see it the rest of the season. The Suns are still comprised of mid-sized athletes with incredible talent that run really fast, shoot the ball really well, and create lots of highlight plays. This will not change because O'Neal is there, nor because Marion is gone. Shawn Marion was a magnificent Sun. But he wasn't the lynch pin of the Suns. That's one Mr. Steven J. Nash. He's the engine. He makes it go. Nash isn't going to stop getting out on the break or finding teammates with his tremendous vision. Amare isn't going to stop trailing Nash and finding the lane for one of those dunks that make you wonder if he's a Thunder God. Raja Bell's not going to stop moving to the perimeter for the three-pointer on the break, and Barbosa's not going to stop blurring to the basket, often outrunning his own coordination and occasionally making a layup that defies all logic. This team is not fundamentally different than it was three days ago. Here's what's the same and what's different.
A. This Team Still Has Top Speed. So you've got four really fast elements and one really slow one. Does that mean that on average, the set of elements is fast or slow? The point is that even when one element is considerably less than the others in the set, if the others are still substantial, the average will still be significantly high. Steve Nash. Leandro Barbosa. Raja Bell. Grant Hill. Boris Diaw. Amare Stoudemire. These guys can get up and down the court in a hurry. It's not as if Shaq has a gravitational field that surrounds him and swallows all speed. This is a fast team, one of the fastest. It's not as overall fast as it was, but that doesn't mean it's slow. And that's an asset that D'Antoni is aware of.

B. Shaquille O'Neal Is The Best Paid Role Player In The League.: Shaq hasn't been the focal point of an offense in three years. I'm a little confused as to why people think he's going to all of a sudden dictate the offense. O'Neal was brought in to augment this team in the areas it has weaknesses in, not dramatically shift the offensive scheme. You really think that D'Antoni and Kerr brought him into one of the top teams in the West to say "Okay, everyone, let's just shut down the break, run the half-court offense, dish it in to Shaq, and let him do his thing?" No way. Shaq was brought in to provide size down low, grab rebounds, prevent offensive rebounds by the other team (a HUGE liability for this squad), and put a body on the size players in the West. There's no expectation by Shaq, Kerr, D'Antoni, or Nash for Shaq to put in 30/15 nights. Think of it this way. He's a role player. He's been brought in to do very specific things. Everyone agreed they needed Kurt Thomas last year, and missed him this year. Who would you rather have? Kurt Thomas or Shaquille O'Neal? Is he overpaid? Obviously. But that doesn't mean he's going to have that much of an effect on the rest of the team.

C. As Much As I Hate To Admit It, Nellie's Right: When the Warriors signed Chris Webber, it was like a preview of the Shaq trade, in terms of people's reactions. "How is he going to fit in?! All they do is run!" Now, we'll freely admit, we were in this camp. Then Don Nelson came out in an interview and said "“First of all, we only run a four-man break, and often times, we run a one-man break and that’s Monta. Who’s to say that Jackson and Baron are great runners? Monta’s a great runner. If I’m running a four-man fast break, (then) we need more pressure put on the other guys to run than Webber, because I know Webber’s not a great runner.” The same can be said of the suns. No one runs a five-man break. You know why? You'd get cherry-picked to death. You need people back in transition. Kerr and D'Antoni knows Shaq's not a great runner. But he's not going to have to. He's going to stay back and do his job.

D. Finding A Big Man With Hands Is Hard To Do. See: Kwame Brown. : The most important thing in the Suns' offensive system is the ability to pass the ball. They have just gotten one of the best low post passers you can get. Do you remember how many Lakers got easy buckets because of O'Neal's dish to a slasher in the Finals? You do remember Rick Fox and Mark Madsen scoring, right? Because they did. And now he has Barbosa, Amare, Nash, and Diaw. Are you really telling me he's going to be a liability in that regard?

E. Amare Stoudemire Goes Back Where He Belongs.: The 4-spot. There's a common feeling that Shaq is going to clog the lane, create absolute congestion. I think he's going to create more opportunities for Amare than ever. I feel like people are sleeping on Amare lately. The guy is still a phenomenal talent with a wide skill set. With Shaq taking the heat off of him, his game is going to explode even more. There's a lot of discussion about whether Amare can guard the 4s in the West. Question: Could he guard the 5s? No. Not at all. I'll take him at the 4 in a slashing, finishing capacity any time. This is the best part about this deal, is it allows Amare to develop as he needs to.

F. We Got What We Asked For.: Everyone, including us, said the Suns needed something to push them over the top. They needed size down low. They needed a rebounder. They needed an extra body. They needed size. They got it. Everyone thought they should get a big man. Who were they going to get? Jermaine O'Neal, who's probably not going to play again this season and isn't as productive as he's been? Pau Gasol? The Grizzlies wanted draft picks, which the Suns have. You can complain about that stipulation, but it's not relevant to this discussion. What, Lamar Odom? They can't afford to make the Lakers any better. Denver? For what? Face it, we live in a world where small guards and wingmen are a dime a dozen, but talented point guards and quality big men are impossible to find and at a premium. So the Suns went out and got the biggest, baddest big man they could. You can criticize what they gave up, but we all know Marion was the only piece they had. Did they get back less than what they gave? Yes. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have done it.

G. You Have To Go For The Throat If you Want To Win.: How many times do teams squander great sets of talent, refusing to mess with their cores, hoping to push through with the same lineup year after year? You have to be willing to make the big move, which is hard because it's so risky. I'm not sold that this was the best move. But I understand it a lot more now. Kerr said yesterday, "If it works, I'm a genius. If it fails, I'm a moron." That made me realize he understands the risk he's taking, but he's willing to push the gamble if it means bringing Phoenix its first championship. Because it's one thing for everyone who fell in love with the new Suns way of playing, with style and finesse. But it's quite another for all the fans that have been lifelong fans, who suffered through the rebuilding years, who endured the heartache of Barkley and KJ, and who watched their best chance get washed away last year in a pair of questionable suspensions and Tim Duncan's unstoppable glass work. Kerr did what he thought was best for the franchise, after careful consideration. And for that, you have to respect him.

Now let's see if he's a genius or a moron.
The biggest thing I would suggest is for people not to overreact. It's a lot of money, and it seems like a big move, but honestly, they lost a tremendous playmaker and statfiller, but one who's skills can be marginally covered by the others. Amare can take his shots. Bell can take his threes. Diaw can, and needs to, take his rebounds. Hill can cover his defense, and whoever is too big for Hill, STAT can. It will let the rest of the frontcourt play the positions they're more comfortable in. And it provides a body to rebound, for the love of God.

Maybe he'll come out slow and injured, clog up the lane, fail to finish on shots, and ruin the offense. Maybe they'll win a championship with his small bump to to the team. I think we need to actually see this team before we damn them to the lottery or push them to the Finals.

And either way, it doesn't matter, because no one's stopping the Gasol-Bryant combo, right? Well, except for the Hawks.

Here come the Suns. Like it or not.

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