I have been involved in a lot projects that have gone off track and looking back on those failures you can find a pattern of warning signs: Poor design. Inconsistent leadership. Lack of will.
But the biggest single factor to a project failing is over reaction when things aren't going well. I believe that trading Marion for Shaq was just such an overreaction and the wrong mid-season move. That's ancient history unless you can go back in time and un-do the deal (and while you are there make sure we keep Rudy Fernandez please).
Terry Porter was brought in to clean up the mess of a team that for four years could not rebound or defend and who's emotional former coach admittedly imploded after one heartbreaking loss to the Spurs. The team had lost confidence in him and he lost confidence in the team as evidenced by his wild flailing about for a solution in rest of that series.
The Suns were left with a legacy of a one-trick pony being lead by an elephant and are trying to do the hardest thing in sports. Rebuild while still winning. Fortunately, a lot of the right pieces are already here and just need a good plan and consistent leadership from the organization.
The reconstruction of the Phoenix Suns (while still winning) has certain strategic imperatives that we should try and keep in mind as we travel the bumpy road:
1) Regular season record isn't a priority. As long as the Suns make the playoffs, winning the western conference let alone the division isn't important. We knew this going in and yet many Suns fans and various media observers are stressing over a record that's second only to the second coming.
If the Suns were .500 right now I would be saying the same thing. They are not and yet the hens are clucking harder then a turkey's momma at a Sarah Palin press conference.
2) Defense and rebounding. When was the last time a team ran at a high pace and defended well? That's right. Never. Now that Shaq is here, the plan is simple: Defend the paint. Rebound the ball.
With Shaq on the floor the Suns are an excellent rebounding team and with Shaq on the floor teams are no longer penetrating the lane at will. With Shaq on the floor we cannot be a running team.
Unless Shaq is going to retire early or try and beat LeBron to the Knicks, the Suns have to be a defensive team and control tempo. You go to war with the Shaq you have not the Shaq you wish you had 7 years ago.
3) Offensive efficiency. To win at a slower pace the Suns have to learn the half court game.
Yes, it is different. It looks ugly at times. Watching Shaq in the post can make your eyes bleed. And mostly it is just sad to see Steve Nash not being Steve Nash. But there is no choice.
If you have two big men on the floor that can shoot at 55% in paint surrounded by shooters that hit three's at a 40% clip and you can hold teams to 45% you are going to win. It is just that simple. It's a proven fact of NBA physics.
4) Balanced attack. But because Shaq is old and can't play 82 games dominating the post you need another option. We have two. Amare and Nash. I bet LeBron wishes he had those kinds of options with him. And maybe in two years he will.
But all those options do make it difficult to learn to play three different styles of ball especially when the pieces are not interchangeable.
When Shaq is off the court it is a totally different team. When Nash is off the court it is a totally different team. When Amare is off the court it is a totally different team. When they are all on the court they need to be able to play at least two out the three ways together.
How many teams do you think Terry Porter can get operating at peak efficiency in 15 games and a pre-season? And that's just the three primary options and doesn't consider how to work in Grant, Boris or Barbosa.
All together you've got about twelve different things all trying to happen at once.
Balance is great. Balance is hard.
Seek balance and you shall find glory.
5) Saving the (Canadian) silver bullet. After seeing Nash take over and win a game like he did last night against the Thunder it is tempting to say we should run more and let the hummingbird out of the sandwich bag.
This is not a good plan.
Remember that Nash himself said he was tired last year going into the playoffs having run pick and rolls all season. And that was a year in which he was already leading a team less dependent on him. Now people want to go back to that just because after 15 games the half court offense doesn't look smooth? We've seen that movie already and know how it ends.
6) Developing the bench. While trying to learn three new systems simultaneously the Suns also have one eye on the future and are trying to develop some young players.
Fortunately, the bench is a mix of rookies and vets and given enough time in a system that doesn't require them to over perform their abilities this unit has the makings of being decent this year and very good next year.
Do you think there are a few teams that would kill to have Grant Hill, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa and Robin Lopez coming off their bench?
There are holes. The Suns are still struggling to find a back up point guard and neither rookie has blown the doors off. Both have been serviceable at times and combined with other ball handlers we should be ok.
The biggest personnel problem so far has been the lack of depth behind Raja Bell who's play has noticeably declined. We have yet to see what the full Bell, Barbosa, Tucker rotation can deliver but you have to think that it will be a big improvement over what we've seen so far.
What about the turnovers? The high turnover rate is a symptom of the development going on. It's dropping a wrench while balancing the spare tire and holding the jack. I don't think the turnovers are caused by the system or by the players. They will improve or the team will fail.
This is not going to be easy. There's a reason the Suns went into this season as underdogs and the consensus pick for the 6 or 7th seed.
It is a bold and difficult plan but it is the best use of the pieces available. It might not work. Even if it does there's very little chance it will work well enough to beat an LA team that's years ahead of us in their rebuilding. None of that that matters because we cannot go back now and it's far too soon to pull the plug.
There is no perfect team. The Hornets lost to the Bobcats. The Pistons lost to the TimberWolves. The Lakers fans can gather together in a mutual love fest and gloat to each other.
I am happy with our season so far and encouraged by how much better this team can get.