Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Requiem For The Suns: A Note From Matthew Cornelius

Unlike myself, Corn describes himself as a "tried and true Suns fan." He has lived and died (mostly died, given his profoundly negative nature), with this team for the past twenty years. And while I have sworn myself off of any further discussion of the Phoenix Suns outside of any coaching changes that are imminent, it wouldn't be right for Corn not to weigh in on the "death" of the Suns last night. And while there are about a million things I disagree with about this particular piece, we're partners, and when his team suffers arguably the most painful loss in its history, he deserves a take. Here are his thoughts. Take it away, Corn...

These are my definitive opinions and if you have a problem with them, feel free to email me at matthew.t.cornelius (at) gmail (dot) com.

D'Antoni should not be fired. Matt and I talked about it last night and neither of us are foolish enough to believe that it was D who lobbied so profusely for the Shaq trade. This guy was raised on Euro ball and built the most dynamic offense ever seen in the NBA (with regards to Showtime) and was prepared to live and die by his gun. Instead, he died by the arrogance and short-sightedness of the Suns owner (a banker) and their GM (an analyst and former sidekick to Duncan and Jordan), both of whom seem to know very little about building a championship team from the front office.

That being said, I am tired of D'Antoni's arrogance as a coach. One of the announcers noted that D had said pre-game that if the Spurs were gonna do Hack-a-Shaq, he would not take Shaq out. His plan was to trust Shaq to hit his free throws. This is one of D's characteristics that has kept him from winning a championship. I finally convinced Matt last night that the only changes D makes in a game are telling his team to play harder and to do what they normally do, only better. The Suns do not have either the personnel, the competence or the willingness to make crucial in-game changes that affect the outcome of games. They just try to impose their own will with more force. That is a George W. Bush attitude. And he is a bigger loser than the Suns.

I am not trying to bag on Nash for having a bad game. Everyone has one. He just had his during an elimination playoff game. So what if he hit that big 3 to tie the game? It was just a make up for the 2 awful turnovers he had. But he is not NASH anymore. You can see it in his eyes, in his gait, everything. I truly believe that it was the combination of D's system and Nash's powers, at their peak, that made Phoenix that exciting team we used to know. Put Nash in a more conventional, plodding game and all you notice is how bad his defense is, how he can no longer separate from defenders and how he tries too many hard passes. I don't care if he was held all night by Bowen or constantly being beaten up by the Spurs' defense, sometimes you can't just turn the other cheek and try to outperform other people. You have to step up, be a man and fight. I am not saying he didn't try to do that, but he failed at it. Same as he has failed at it the past four years. Nash is unquestionably a great player and one of the hardest working men in the NBA. But really, after watching him lose some of his faith after the Shaq trade (and he did, I am 100% sure of it) and try to run a more conventional offense, you realize that he is/was the perfect fit for D's system, but that system is extinct. So too, might be Nash's significant contributions to this team. He and D were made for each other.

Why in God's name did D not just put Sean Marks in that game for two minutes last night and tell him to stand under the basket, wait for Tony Parker and then deliver a jaw shattering, legal foul that sent him to the floor head first? What is it gonna hurt? They make you pay for playing Shaq and Skinner; you make them pay for Parker getting to the rim all the time. So what if he gets hurt or the Spurs' bench clears? We have seen that before. But seriously, you are on your last legs, so at least go out swinging. Instead, D just tried to execute the game plan harder and more effectively. You see where that got them.

The Suns brought in Shaq to stop Tim Duncan. Not only did that not work, but what it showed is that the Suns have no idea how the NBA works and how teams prepare for them. The Spurs didn't give a crap about making sure Duncan was involved. They were already one step ahead, giving Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the green light to attack the basket whenever they wanted. That was why the Suns lost. They just never had an answer...

Except Phoenix fans will tell you that they did have an answer. And the answer was wearing street clothes. Grant Hill is the epitome of the Suns' gambling ways (even to a greater extent than Shaq). Keep in mind that I am not blaming Hill for being hurt. I love the guy and think he had a tremendous year. But, when it counted, he was hurt. This series, he was hurt. The Suns thought their amazing training staff (and they are amazing!) could keep him healthy and give him back years on his career, the same way they did with Nash and the same way they brought Amare back from microfracture surgery. And they did, except Grant's body failed them when it counted.

The Suns tried to get better on interior defense (hey, how about teaching Amare to give a crap? That would be a better start than trading for freaking Shaq.) and in doing so forgot that if you don't let people get into the lane, then your interior defense looks a lot better. The Spurs knew that and exploited it to a huge advantage. Good for them.

Speaking of gambling, that is all the Suns have done since Sarver took over. They gambled on building a winner now and selling off draft picks. They gambled on Barbosa being able to be a great back up point and defensive presence (HE IS NOT). They gambled on Hill. They gambled big on Shaq. They gambled on shipping off Kurt Thomas (guess that worked out real nice). All in all, the Suns have made an absolutely dizzying array of bad personnel moves and still are a 55-win team, which give credence to D and the drive of Amare and Nash. But they are still a playoff punchline, so what does it matter?

There really is no future in Phoenix. Yep, I said it. No future. It's like the Sex Pistols song. Nash is only going to get worse. So is Shaq. So is Hill. They only have 2 guys on their roster that they should even consider building a team around, Amare and Diaw. Those two are their future, so deal with it. And I am not even convinced that Amare will be as astronomically good as he is now without that system and without Nash putting the ball in his hands perfectly every time. I am NOT saying he is not great, but that he is not the leader of a team.

Amare's offensive skills are beautiful, but his defense and lack of motivation at times are inexcusable. Amare, when not being made the absolute focal point of the offense, can sometimes completely disappear. Last night was a crucial example. I have never seen anyone suffer and get so off their game just because they didn't get the first pass when the ball comes across half court. It is pathetic and weak. Diaw, with his tremendous array of skills, should be a great compliment to Amare at the small forward position. He too needs to get better at his perimeter defense and get quicker, but his skill set plays very well off Amare. Unfortunately, Diaw cannot be effective without being the focal point of the offense either. Maybe the can't co-exist. Keep Amare and blow up the rest. Good luck with that, Stevie Kerr.

The rest of the team should be gone within two years. Nash and Shaq will retire. Bell will get picked up by somebody like San Antonio, who can use his perimeter defense and spot up shooting to its greatest effect. Leandro Barbosa is a one-dimensional player who is incapable of running an offense or playing defense. He is a scorer deluxe, but the Suns don't need that. Giricek and Skinner will be out of town. If you really want to see Kerr's mettle as a GM, let's see what he does when this hulking shell of a Phoenix team needs to be remade in full. Cause, you know, D'Antoni won't be around to direct it.

If you really wanted to get rid of Marion, there was sooo much more you could have done to help the team rather than go get Shaq. Of course, Kerr and Sarver just wanted the biggest name possible and wanted to make a splash, but don't you really feel that if they truly wanted value for Marion, they could have gotten a combination of players, each of which did the following: Person 1 - an SG/SF who focused solely on playing great perimeter D and making open 3s; Person 2 - a tall, strong PF/C who could rebound, block a shot and play solid perimeter D; Person 3 - a legitimate backup PG with a defensive mindset who can initiate an offense and not make stupid turnovers. Instead, the Suns sent Marion and Banks away for Shaq: One fewer person in the rotation and a liability in almost every facet of the game. Brilliant move.

Oh, and one more thing, why in the world wasn't Hill/Diaw/Giricek/any freaking person who is NOT Leandro Barbosa guarding Finley when he hit that backbreaker three in Game One? I don't even care about the Duncan three (because, after all, real champions make plays when the game is on the line). I care about that one. Awful coaching and even worse execution by the smallest guy on the team. Well done, Suns.

Last night, even though the Spurs had awful mental lapses and failed to execute as well as they normally do, how can you possibly forgive Phoenix for 17 missed free throws and SEVEN(!) fourth quarter turnovers? Most of those turnovers were not even a result of superior San Antonio defense. They were just mental lapses from a team that has never been able to successfully come back and close out tight playoff games. Never. So why should it have been any different last night? I mean, the Suns had to try hard, and I mean really hard, to lose that game last night. I don't understand how a team with that much pride can just implode like that when it means the most.

The reason posts like this are happening and the reason the Suns are no longer in the playoffs can come down to other simple adjustments and arrogant misgivings they have had throughout the season. Ever since the trade, players and coaches alike have said that didn't give a flip about home court advantage. They were not worried about whomever they met in the first round. Well, you know what? That same insouciance led to them practically giving away that game to the Rockets late in the season. That same poor effort and big attitude told them not to care about that game. That one game was the difference between home court in the first round against the Jazz and the awful massacre that just occurred. I bet they would like a mulligan on that game.

It basically all boils down to Sarver. Why did he run Bryan Colangelo out of town? Why couldn't he just accept that he didn't know anything about running a basketball team and leave it up to someone who had the NBA in his genes and had been intimately involved in it his whole life? It is the bane of many a new owner in the NBA to be far too caught up in "names" on their team, former players in the front office, and in wagging their own proverbial cock all over the team just to show that they are now the boss and whatever they want, they get. And in the end, he gets exactly what he wants: a distraught fan base, a team that doesn't believe in itself, a Knicks-style soap opera in his brain trust, a legacy of losing and a reputation for being an irrefutably boorish owner who has no idea how to build a winning team. But boy, did Shaq ever boost those merchandising sales! On second thought, you are a winner, Robert. It's only your team that had to be sacrificed.

Corn will likely be a bit quieter for the rest of the playoffs since he's since been admitted to the North Carolina Institute For The Completely Batsh*t Insane. Donations to the Shaquille O'Neal Buyout Retirement Fund can be made in lieu of flowers.

Add to Technorati Favorites