There are some of us here who remember the 05-06 team with fond memories. Not because they won a championship, which they didn't, and not because they played flawless ball, which they didn't either.
But because a team consisting of maybe two legitimate NBA starters, and a collection of anonymous and otherwise underachieving players won 54 games and got to the WCF. And not smoothly either: They lost their all-star center for the whole year, before the season started, and his backup/replacement for a third of a season, just after the all-star break. And sometimes that team was beaten like a red-headed stepchild caught with cigarettes.
But that group had heart, grit, tenacity, fearlessness, self-belief and unity. Some players, like Boris and Raja, stepped up from nowhere to show how good they really were. Others like Trix, wallowed in their new found respect and status. All of them, though, played the season of their careers, because of their trust in each other and their leader. That team, ultimately failed, but not for reasons of it's own doing or control. They went down fighting and with defiance.
It's too early to make a true comparison, but this team is starting to have that kind of feel. As back then, the departure and absence of a domineering, egotistical personality, has allowed the current set of players to find their space. Just like Trix, Amare is content to subdue his considerable ego, to be a quiet Doc Holliday, to Nash's Wyatt Earp, all for the team (and a new contract), because that void isn't being filled.
It occurred to me, after this evening's game vs Boston, that we're winning games we're not supposed to win. And not by luck, but by identifying winnable opportunities, and pursuing those chances aggressively; by teamwork, communication and a willingness for each player to play with and for his teammates, and to accept his role, however big or small, with relish.
We're seeing a near 36 year old, two time MVP, roll back time and play at a level close to that of his award winning years, and show what a true playmaking point guard can do for his teammates, and what it actually means to be one (as opposed to the consensus best point guard, whose limitations as a player, despite gaudy stats, have been cruelly exposed this season).
We're seeing the self proclaimed star of this team, find some humility, and through that, transform himself into a different, more intelligent and selfless, and ultimately more dangerous player. And this time it feels like a permanent change, and not the result of misplaced self pity. We're seeing an allegedly washed up veteran small forward, heal himself, ride shotgun for his point guard and provide quiet but confident and firm leadership, and whatever the team needs on the floor.
We're seeing a young backup point guard mature, and finally fill the role on this team that has been missing these past few years; a backup PF/Center play with fire and resolute tenacity, and other bench players come in, and spark both the offense and the defense. For the first time, since Nash came back to Phoenix, we have a solid bench that's capable of maintaining and even building leads.
In short.. this is a real team, where the union of the parts exceeds the sum of each individual contribution.
I think we know what this team, as constructed, is and what it can do, right now. The real question is how good can it become? Is the current level of play simply a mirage, or an artifact of the start of a season, when all teams aren't quite there? Or is it the real thing? Is this team really that tough, mentally? Can this team become profoundly better? And do we owe Steve Kerr an apology?
Sometimes, the journey is it's own reward.