The Suns management has decided, after four years of key playoff injuries and suspension-induced short rotations that the NBA season is actually a marathon and not really a sprint after all.
As a result, the Suns have traded flash for depth, albeit depth at fire-sale prices because the team is over the luxury tax. That additional depth is only on paper, however. It depends how you feel about swapping Gordan Giricek for Matt Barnes, Brian Skinner for rookie Robin Lopez and whether you believe rookie Goran Dragic can earn time ahead of Leandro Barbosa in backing up Steve Nash.
While that additional depth could prove illusory, at least management and incoming Head Coach Terry Porter appear committed to a developing a bench. So even if the actual depth isn't as good as last year, the utilized depth will be better than last year.
Without further ado, here is the Bright Side of the Sun(s)' position by position breakdown.
PG - (1. Nash, 2. Dragic, 3. Barbosa, 99. Singletary)
The Suns revolve around Steve Nash - the team rises and sets on his play. Despite three years searching for a modest replacement for one time PG backup Joe Johnson, the suitors have been many, but none have succeeded in reducing Nash's minutes below 2600 minutes. In the past eight years, Nash has averaged 2672 minutes per season. He played 81 games last year and had his career 3rd highest minutes played in a season (2780, thanks basketball-reference.com!). Nash was visibly tired/injured in the final month of play last season, his shooting was off and it hurt the team going into the playoffs. In April and May, he often failed to make the clutch shots he's known for.
This year, without losing last year's fill-in PG, PG/SG Barbosa, the Suns add backup PG Goran Dragic in a series of brilliant and/or desperate moves (twice dissed by Tyronne Lue??) that showed the kind of enthusiasm and conviction that all fans wish their teams had. Kerr is convinced that Dragic, 23 and unproven in the NBA, has incredible talent to be the Suns' PG of the future. For now, however, Dragic's mission is too merely get a handle on the game. His success will be judged on whether he can earn enough minutes to rest Steve Nash 18 minutes a game and cover for 12 rest games, bringing Nash's total minutes during the 2008-2009 season to just 30 mpg * 70 games = 2100 minutes/season.
One added wrinkle in the PG position is the incoming Head Coach and former PG, Terry Porter. Like all former PG's, Terry Porter has strong convictions about how the position ought to be played. Those kind of clashes are the stuff of rumors such as the likelihood that former PG Avery Johnson pushed out Steve Nash in Dallas because Avery wanted the PG position played differently.
Will there be conflict between Nash and Porter? Probably not. Both want to win and Steve Nash has earned the right to do some things his way. However, TP has already admitted that it will be very difficult not to be too hard on Dragic. TP's harsh criticism may make Dragic better, but to the degree that TP is too opinionated, it may hamper Dragic's development and creativity.
Barbosa will likely fill the void if Dragic can't, but the main problem with Barbosa at PG, besides his terrible decision-making, is his inability to be a dominant floor leader. And even if Goran Dragic is the next incarnation of Sarunas Jasikevicius or Marko Jaric, we can't be any prouder of the team's aggressiveness to make something they believe in happen.
Finally, after PG DJ Strawberry proving in the summer league that he is not ready to help the Suns, the Suns swapped Strawberry for PG hopeful Sean Singletary. Both are second round drafted practice players and neither would be likely to play, but at least Singletary still has option value in the eyes of Suns management.
At the Wings
SG - (1. Bell, 2. Barbosa, 3. Barnes, 4. Tucker)
No changes here are likely. Raja Bell will probably continue to start with LB coming off the bench. Add newly acquired minimum-salary player Matt Barnes here as the third string, although he will fight for time with 2nd year player Alando Tucker. Alando Tucker had a strong season last year in the D-league and followed it up with good play in the summer league. Both LB and Barnes are coming off down years, so we hope they come back strong.
SF - (1. Hill, 2. Diaw, 3. Barnes, 4. Tucker)
There is speculation that dirty.com disaster Boris Babacar Diaw-Riffiod, dangled on the trading block in the off-season, will start at the 3 spot ahead of Grant Hill. Diaw has the propensity to play much better when he starts than when he comes off the bench, while Hill seems fairly effective whenever he's healthy. The reduced minutes of a bench role may maximize the contributions of both players. Again, Matt Barnes can be thrown in at SF as well, perhaps his long range shooting, if accurate, can stretch the defense.
PF - (1. Stoudemire, 2. Diaw, 99. Some Scrub Whose Name I Refuse to Learn Until He Does Something)
The team has one and only one true PF, and Amare Stoudemire is in a contract year. To give you a sense of Amare's committment, he opted out of a chance for fame and gold in Beijing to be healthy for this season. He's heard all the criticism about his defense and he wants to show he is worth even more money than ever. When Amare is focused, he has yet to fail in his goals. I'm not sure who the backup PF (okay I do know but I don't think that guy even matters).
C - (1. O'Neal, 2. Lopez, 3. Diaw)
Shaq will be back, hopefully motivated but one never knows with him. Rookie Robin "Lo-Fro" Lopez will backup Shaq. Perhaps Lo-Fro will be an upgrade over undersized Brian Skinner and management has high hopes that Lopez is ready to help the team now with his scrappy aggressive game. However, with Shaq and Amare's foul rates, it is hard not to feel the Suns are again short on big men.
In summary, we hope the old guys are not in too rapid decline and the 26 year olds (Amare, Boris and LB) continue their improvement. In addition, rookies will backup the crucial PG and C positions, a bargain basement player touting defensive toughness and long-range shooting coming off a down year will add to the depth at the wings and the Suns swapped a few practice players for other practice players with slightly better upside.
After much talk the past four years, this year is likely the one where management and the Head Coach agrees to shift the rotation in favor of resting the elderly, developing the youth and spreading the minutes across more players.