Monday, October 20, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: Phoenix Suns




I don't really get "feelings" about a team's chances in any given situation. The NBA is something that you can use concrete information to discern tendencies. Talent matters, and is easily identifiable. Statistical deviations tend to average out over the course of 82 games. So bear in mind that when I say I have a bad feeling about the Suns, it could be complete bullsh*t. Nonetheless, I have a very bad feeling about the Suns. Guys of Shaq's size with his work ethic tend to drop sharply. Not a gentle decline but a careening vault into the abyss of being terrible.

I already held the belief that Boris Diaw is a human curse upon basketball fluidity disguised as a weapon and then he went and scratched Amare's eye. On one hand, you have Nash saying he's happy with the halfcourt set (which he's never said in his career), and on the other, you have him saying he's thinking about ending his career in Toronto. You have Goran Dragic as the savior at backup point, and Shaq throwing his team under the bus BEFORE the season starts. I feel like this is a setup for a horrific turn when the coaching isn't able to put anything dynamic in. I mean, the big free agent is Matt Barnes? Really? Anyway, at least my feelings are sad given my affection for the franchise. Other more devout fans aren't feeling as quiet.

Such as, the Corndogg, who has your opening preview of the last of the Hollow Men, the Phoenix Suns.
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Forgive me, this is personal...

(EXPLETIVE) YOU STEVE KERR WITH THE BIGGEST DONKEY (EXPLETIVE) EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE (EXPLETIVE) WORLD. No, really, I honest to God mean this. Like, as much as I love my mother mean this. More than I love my girlfriend mean this (btw, jk babes, lol).

Alright, on to the realness. So, as anyone who has a pulse and has read anything about the Suns knows that SSOL is kaput. And you know what, that's fine. It didn't get them anywhere. Well, at least in where teams think it matters - like rings. To the fans, they were heroes, but to the rest of the league, they were awe-inspiring underachievers. They were the first kid to learn how to skateboard and who got to bang all the high school chicks. But, in reality, he is still in his home town, working as a mechanic and selling weed on the side. Those boring dudes in the khakis who did all their homework - they are running investment banks. Er... hedge funds.

So, the Suns (well, Robert Sarver, not the soul of the Suns franchise) decided to cut the emo bangs, ditch the straight leg jeans, burn the Volcom flat brimmed hat and scrub off the latent mascara. He neutered the Suns, and in the process, maybe gave them more gumption and fortitude than they ever had under the D.

So, what does this confession mean to the team this year? Well, I hate to say it, but its all dependent. Not dependent like "well, as long as KG doesn't literally eat Leon Powe's arm, Boston will be ok." More like, "well, as long as the devil doesn't come to collect his debt on the soul of Robert Johnson, we will be peachy" kind of dependent. First off, the Suns have talent. Nash, though increasingly Marbury-ian on D, is still the best playmaker and most efficient shot from the lead in the league. Amare dominates in the paint in a way we may have never seen in terms of excitement. The Stockton and Malone for the Hipster generation.

Elsewhere, the talent is still viable - Shaq can still rebound and throw his Strong Guy like weight around, Grant Hill can still be dangerous in mid-range, Barbosa has still not been seen since he started sprinting on the fast break and Raja Bell knows how to hit a 3 or 2. But really, this team is old. I mean, Sphinxian old. McCain old (hey, look, get off my MF back. He's from Arizona and he's old. So are the Suns). Though grades (note: I cannot call them upgrades) were made in the offseason (Barnes signing, deceptively decent draft, not letting Dragic go to Europe or Barbosa get his head on the block), it still does not dismiss the enormous transition these Suns will undergo with Terry Porter in the helm.

Most Suns fans should be happy to know that Nash has been quoted as saying "he doesn't mind the defensive drills. It may actually help us." Make no doubt, the Suns will be much better on defense. In fact, I put the over/under on the longest amount of double digit opponent finals they have (i.e. the amount of times they play their opponents, but that the time they don't score over 100 points) at 49 games! Not bad huh, for a Phoenix fan. Every upgrade the Suns had this season was meant to shore up holes and help others. Good Samaritans! Will it be enough, surely not! But will it help build towards 2010 wen they may be relevant again? Sure!

I hate to write as if the Suns are dead. Well, in a way, yes they are. The SSOL Suns are defunct. But, within them, a spirit of commitment, teamwork and offensive juggernautitis is still there. Rebounding will improve, FG% Defense will improve. Turnovers will be down (a matter of pace rather than personal betterment). The problem with Phoenix is that they needed a monstrous, mind-blowing ambitious transition to remake themselves as great WC contenders. Instead, they played it safe, made the minor adjustments, changed core philosophies and began to actually practice defense. But really, its too little, too late.

Today is the beginning of sunset. This team may still be interesting to watch - ball movement, great shooting, Amare dominating and Nash's orchestration. But, in the end, they are just a bit behind in talent, youth and belief. That is the fact. These Suns don't (and have never) truly and utterly believed that they could win it all. Now, they are just another contender. Or, in reality, the team that drafted Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic. I don't know, which one means more? *****************************************

VISIONS By Trey Kerby




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ONCE YOU GO BLACK JESUS DISCIPLES, YOU NEVER GO BACK (OR, REASONS TO LOVE THE SUNS) By Holly MacKenzie

When the Phoenix Suns traded for Shaquille O'Neal, a part of my heart was taken away with Shawn Marion; my Suns as I knew and loved them, changed forever. Somehow, someway, they still have managed to keep me loving them, and I doubt this year will be any different. To start things off, of course, we must begin with Steve Nash. Besides being one of the best, most ridiculous point guards in the league, he is beyond funny and his Stepbrothers skit with Baron Davis made me fall in love all over again.

Any team that has a healthy Grant Hill is one that you need to at least like, if not love. Hill is one of the classiest, nicest guys in this entire L and I will forever remain thankful for his kindness when it was my first time into a locker room and I was a nervous, nervous girl. Hill has been around and has seen and endured more than any athlete should ever have to, just to play the game that he loves and yet, still he stands. If that doesn't inspire love, in the very least it commands respect.

Leandro Barbosa and his blurriness makes me happy. Raja Bell who has the grit, fire and hustle to make anyone's good books (except, maybe Kobe's), and now Matt Barnes and his FTH tattoo? Love that. If I ever get a tattoo it will either be "FTH" or "Black Jesus" as an homage to Amare. Wait, we haven't even mentioned Amare yet! Try watching a dunk by Amare and not smiling or having your jaw drop. It's pretty much impossible. Even if he is doing it to your team. And, now we've even got a new Coach to watch on the sidelines. Will he get them to play defense? Can anyone get Amare to play defense? Will Shaq be "in shape"? So many questions, so many reasons to watch the Suns. And I'm not kidding on that tatt.

THANKS, STEVE KERR. THANKS FOR SUCKING THE SOUL OUT OF THE NBA AND REPLACING IT WITH A GIANT CATCUS COVERED IN LARD (OR, REASONS TO HATE THE SUNS) By Matt Moore:

I don't hate the Suns. I really don't. I still wish them well.

BUT IF I DID HATE THEM...

I'd hate Steve Kerr. Madly. Passionately. Devoutly. Which is strange because he was such a great commentator. Which probably is in and of itself something to look at. If a guy is really good at talking about teams, what are the odds of him being good at running them? Oh, I know what you're going to say. "It was D'Antoni! It was his idea!" Yeah. Okay. I got you. I see where you're coming from. The former European superstar that brought transition offense and a constant interlocking dynamic offense to the NBA decided one day "Hey, you know what will push this team over the top? A $40 million investment on an over the hill player who's ass expands exponentially in relation to how many stupid words come out of his mouth. Ooh, and I know! In order to get him, we'll trade the stat filling super-cog in my custom-designed system for him! That will do it!" Yes, that's much more likely than Steve Kerr coming in and thinking that investing in All-Stars from 2001 with no reasonable considerations for future cap space. Gotcha.

Oh, you want more? Riddle me this. What's big and black and washed up all over? Oh, that's right. The $20 million 'rap artist.' Shaq was the most dominant player in the game. Then he was someone for DWade to use as a catapult to the next level. Now? Now he's a waste of space. Everyone keeps saying he can still rebound and play defense. Can he? Because he didn't do much of that against Tim Duncan. Oh, no, I remember now. It's everyone else's fault.

Of course, just hating the Wonder Twins Shaq and Kerr would be to forget the voodoo doll that is Boris Diaw. You may remember Boris from such hits as "taking the last second shot in the series against the Spurs when literally anyone else on the floor would be a better person to take that shot" and "scratching out the eyes of the franchise player." I went from liking Diaw as a bench contributer to questioning his effectiveness at the 5, to questioning his effectiveness at the 4 or the 5, to questioning why he's not slinging Slurpees at the 7-11. Diaw is a magnet for bad things to happen. Whenever something unfortunate happens to the Suns, Boris Diaw is nearby. And probably grinning like an idiot.

There are other reasons to hate this team. Nash's "unwarranted" MVP, the flash and dance without substance of the last four years, the abandonment of the principles that got them back to the elite level, Grant Hill's continuing quest to make the most money per DNP-Injury in NBA history, Leandro Barbosa's inability to do anything other than run in a straight line, the list goes on and on. But perhaps the best reason is that the band has become Guns and Roses. A shell of itself, promising Chinese Democracy as the greatest album of all time, and continually leaving us with a question of how much they even matter anymore.

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A MUSICAL INTERLUDE:




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Fear Alando Tucker.

No seriously.

The Suns have been missing, well, quite a few things over the last two years. One of them, though, is a shooting guard who's able to ride the big rides at Six Flags. They drafted Tucker, a premier scorer in the late first round last year, then shipped him to Albuquerque to run with the Thunderbirds. But what first appeared to be haphazard jerking him between the L and the D was actually a carefully orchestrated plan between Kerr, D'Antoni, and Tucker.

They gave him a stint in the D followed by a week in the L. So he'd work over the D-League, work on his defense, aggressiveness and adapting to the pro game, then go practice with the Suns, get to know his teammates, work with the coaches and track his progress. He's added muscle and learned to operate as a true wing who can also bang inside. This kid could end up as a significant impact piece for the Suns who need some players to step up.

I've taken some heat from the Suns based on my assessment that I think Nash has lost a little bit in terms of his motivation since the Shaq trade. Nash was really hesitant when the trade first came through, going undercover until the higher ups had a chance to talk to everyone. Since then Nash has made statements about how it's okay if he doesn't win a championship. He's talked about finishing his career in Toronto. He's been more active in pursuits like soccer and goofing around with Baron Davis, as if he's remembering there's life beyond basketball. Nash is a fierce competitor, and he's become one of my favorite NBA players of all time. But I can't fully believe him when he talks about being excited about defense and halfcourt sets. They're starkly un-Nash-like.

I don't underestimate how much Nash will do what he needs to for the team and organization. I just can't fully believe that somewhere between the nosebleed that kept him out of Game 1 in '07, the suspensions, Bowen's grab and jerk, the discombobulation in the locker room last year, the trade of Marion, bringing in O'Neal, and losing the coach that he had such a relationship with, that nothing changed him. It's a cruel, unforgiving game sometimes, and I feel like it's taken a part of Nash. Maybe I'm wrong. Nash has always been good at making you think it's over before making your brain fall out of your head.

 
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