As is often the case with sports, those who are the most dedicated fans are the most given to extreme highs and lows. Of late, I hear the cries of panic. It is time to blow up the Suns, fire the coach, and run the GM out of town. Is it time for panic or patience?
I realize the Suns have disappointed many this season, myself included.
On paper they should have an awesome team. The have 2 MVP and long time All-Star players in Nash and Shaq. They have 3 other players who are currently or previously All-Stars in Stat, Hill, and J Rich. They also have a former best 6th man award winner in LB.
The detractors at the beginning of the season, said the Suns were too old. Shaq is washed up, and Nash's best basketball is behind him.
The positive is that Shaq has proven everyone wrong ... again.
(As an aside, it has also proven that the Suns have the best medical staff, probably in all of sports. I have seen it repeatedly over the years how they have kept the time lost to injury to an extreme low. Broken down players come here and get an extension on their career. Healthy players leave and run into health trouble [e.g. Marion].)
Shaq is a huge bright side for the Suns. He is still one of the best centers in the game. He is able to get good shots for himself and others, like Nash. He is the answer to who will run the offense when Nash is sitting, though it is not always clear the Suns understand that.
Stat has had his ups and downs. He has had some monster games early in the season, enough to get an All-Star spot. Since then he has lost his fear factor. He has turned the ball over at an alarming rate and seems to disappear for whole quarters. Besides that there is the rumor of his ego spoiling the chemistry. Still I know that he is one of the best and most fearsome power forwards in the game, when he is given the ball in opportunities to be successful. He has a drive to be the best that I would not feel comfortable betting against.
Nash is still one of the top point guards in the lead. He is a great shooter from anywhere on the floor. He is one of the best assist men of all time. He is a master at getting guys the balls for high percentage shots. He may be losing some steps, but he will probably have to be using a walker before he is not worth having on the court.
Hill has also been a pleasant surprise. With the departure of Marion, he has taken the mantle as best one-on-one defender for the Suns. He regularly forces tough shots and draws charges as well as anyone. He also has to have the sweetest mid-range jumper in the game. Besides that he has tons of basketball smarts and is able to help his team even when he doesn't have the ball.
On paper J Rich is also a huge talent. He has been one of the best 3pt shooters in the league this season. His ability to run, rebound, and jump has been great at times. He is a proven NBA star that could be huge if he given time to acclimate to the team.
LB has had an inconsistent year as it seems he also is trying to adjust (as all the Suns are) to playing under a different coach with a different offensive scheme. He has had enough games to show that he is still an awesome offensive weapon, capable of going off at any time. He is still a young developing player so there is hope that he will continue to get better as the season progresses.
The rest of the bench has also had their ups and downs. Barnes has oscillated between great (hitting big 3pt shots and grabbing rebounds) and poor (throwing the ball away too many times), but has shown his potential. Lightning Lou has shown a great spark off the bench, bringing the hustle that is often lacking. Dudley, Lopez, Dragic, and Tucker all could step up down the stretch given the right opportunity.
Again, on paper, there is no better starting 5 in all of basketball. They have a solid 6th man in Barbosa, and enough talent on the bench to go at least 8 deep (Barnes and Lou).
Their biggest obstacle is mental and psychological. Mental in that the Suns players and coaches have to mentally adjust to one another and figure out how to get on the same page. Psychological in that the Suns have to regain their confidence and swagger. They have to expect tough matches, but also expect that they will overcome. They will overcome hot shooting teams, poor officiating, and old nemesis'. The have to get motivated to play playoff caliber ball every night. They have to continue to improve. They have the potential to be the best team in basketball but they are not there yet.
Is it time to panic? Fire the coach? Blow up the team and look to the future?
Are you crazy?! The Suns are in the middle of the playoff hunt (solidly over 50%). If they continue to jell as the season progresses they (like the Cardinals) could do great things in the playoffs. Do you remember what it is like to have a consistently losing team (like the Cardinals before this year)? How many teams are in the rebuilding phase? Everyone that is outside of the playoffs! Ask them how much fun that is, and whether they would trade places with the Suns.
I was not a big fan of the previous trade that sent Bell and Diaw to Charlotte for J Rich. (BTW, I was also not a fan of Kerr interfering with D'Antoni encouraging him to leave). I knew that Bell and Diaw were quality players who just had not been worked into the system. I thought and still think that Diaw is one of the most talented players in basketball, and perhaps my favorite player to watch ... period. Bell was the heart of the Suns, their passion, their fire. I don't think J Rich gives you much more than Bell does, and so I think the trade reduced the depth of the Suns. In one sense, it was a good trade because it didn't seem like the Suns knew how to use Diaw effectively anyway so then they may have upgraded the talent at the 2 slightly. Either way it is water under the bridge. J Rich may still surprise me. I suspect that Diaw will continue to surprise everyone else (especially some Suns fan that love to diss him). J Rich is a Suns player now, so I'm still rooting for him.
So let's keep some perspective, people. There are still a lot of games to play. Once we are in the playoffs, record doesn't matter. Anyone can win. Ultimately, it is not about winning a championship. It is about entertainment. If the Suns don't bring you entertainment, then find something else to do.
Only one team will win the championship ... then that will be quickly forgotten 4 months later as a new season starts. The sport dilemma is that there is always next year, for the champion as well as for all the rest. The end is not nearly as enjoyable as how you got there.