It seems that many today are hoping for a Big Bang for the Suns ... an explosion that results in something fantastic.
They think that blowing up the current team will help them to get to a better, more ordered, and hopefully more successful state. Unfortunately, I fear that like the Big Bang it is not a sure thing that order will result, and if it does it will take longer than many would like.
The common thought is that the Suns window is closed. They are too old and too expensive to compete. Last season showed that they couldn't even make the playoffs as currently constituted. Dump O'Neal, dump Stoudemire, and why not dump Nash while we are at it. The sooner we can start the rebuilding the sooner we can start competing again.
My contrarian opinion is that the Suns are still a highly talented team that is only a break or two away from competing for the big prize, and nonetheless continuing a long successful stretch of fun entertaining basketball.
- The Suns are indeed getting old but seem to have the best medical staff in the league (if not all of pro sports). They have been able to provide a fountain of youth to Nash, Shaq, and O'Neal, and have kept many players from having the health issues other teams struggle with. Who thinks that Shaq will be nearly as healthy next year without the Suns medical staff watching over him?
- Last year was a tumultuous season that was not a fair judge of the Suns capabilities. The season involved a new coach, a major trade (Diaw and Bell, for Richardson and Dudley), another new coach, and a season ending injury to one of best players in the league. As it was the Suns won 56% of their games, barely missed the playoffs in the ulta-competitive West (Under Gentry, even with the injury to Stat, they won at a 58% clip.). As it was they would have been the 5th seed in the East. In other words they were better than 17 teams in the NBA, and were within 8 games of finishing 2nd in the West. Additionally, some of their young players got some significant experience and seemed to be playing much better toward the end of the year (especially Dudley and Dragic). Standing pat I suspect the Suns would have finished above 50 wins and solidly in the playoffs for 2010.
- Trading O'Neal means losing probably the 3rd best center in the league. He is still an offensive weapon, capable of setting up a whole teams offense, and still a huge help for his teams rebounding efforts whether he gets the board or just boxes out 2 or 3 guys.
- Trading Stat means losing one of the best power fowards in the league. He had shown a tremendous drive to be great. He has even developed his shot out to the near the 3pt line. Yeah he is not a defensive master but how many stars really are? How many of the teams put their best offensive player on the other team's best player?
- If you trade Shaq and Stoudemire what inside scoring threat do the Suns have? It seems like they have to go trade for a player with the same skills they are loosing.
- If you trade Shaq and Stoudemire does Hill want to come play for a "rebuilding" team? Does Nash want to stay and play for a team like that?
- If you trade Nash, you are trading the face and the brains of the Suns. You are trading one of the top 5 point guards in the league. Someone that still will get you 50% FG, 40% 3pt FG, and 90% FT Percentage and nearly 10 assists a game. You will have to find someone that can run the teams offense and be able to close out close games.
- Blowing up a team is easy. The trick is rebuilding it quickly. How many teams have been rebuilding for years, without much success? Ask the Clippers, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Thunder/Sonics? It is easier to build gradually on success than to build from the ground up. When you are a losing team, who wants to come play for you? Conversely, when you are a winning team how much easier is it to get free agent role players to fill in for peanuts? How many players have the Suns been able to pick up for cheap (the league minimum or close to it) because they were competitive?
The one thing I can't really address is the salary issue. It is not my money and I can't fault Sarver from trying to save millions of his. The Shaq deal was done for that reason alone and may save upwards of $10 million. That will make Sarver happy, but it shouldn't make the average fan happy. I think we will miss Shaq for a lot of reasons. He certainly made it entertaining. My only hope for the trade is that it will alleviate the need to do other drastic cost cutting moves. An unexpected blessing may come if Ben Wallace decides to play, and the medical staff are able to work their magic once again of him. A rejuvenated Wallace may be a great center for the Suns. He could play next to Stat, guard the other teams best post player, grab 10 boards a game, and share some secrets with some of young frontline players (Lopez, Amundson, and Griffin).
The one player that I think the Suns could trade and get some value and/or cost savings from is Jason Richardson. I'm somewhat surpised I haven't heard anything about him (except for the fact that Kerr was the one who traded for him last year and may not be willing to admit that it didn't work out as well as was hoped). He plays the same position as Barbosa but Barbosa is a better player in my opinion. If nothing else they are fighting for the same minutes and limiting the Suns opportunity to play Tucker more.
It appears to me that the Suns, the local sports writers, and some fans are hoping for a Big Bang this year with the Purple and Orange.
I for one, would rather not see them go supernova.
I would rather they try to keep the core (Stat, Nash, Hill, Barbosa) together, possibly trading Richardson if a good opportunity presents itself, and see what we can do with our young guys from last year and with the rookies we drafted. Clark sounds like an intriguing prospect who might be able to come in and contribute. Griffin and Preldzic are complete unknowns. Who knows? Maybe we will get lucky and someone will emerge as a legitimate star or at least a solid starter.
I would rather look forward to another run and gun in the sun year that would likely end in a playoff berth, than seeing a lottery bound team struggle through a year or ... ten years.