Phoenix Suns Season Preview Series, Part 2: Assessing the Off-Season

"I'm still here."

Ed Note: This is the second of our five-part season preview series. Part 1 can be found here. We are thrilled that Mike Lisboa made a return to Bright Side of the Sun to share these thoughts. We hope to see more of him again this season. 

True story: as soon as the Suns lost to the Lakers in game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals last season, I canceled my cable.  I have cable for one reason and reason only: NBA League Pass so I can watch the Suns year-round in LA. 

As a result, I did not have to deal with the round-the-clock madness on ESPN regarding the NBA's off-season.  You may have heard it was rather dramatic in certain cities in the mid-west and southern Florida. 

However, outside of those two locales, I feel confident in saying the Phoenix Suns had the most tumultuous off-season in the Association.  Let's break it down.

Bearing Down and Out

The Suns' first big loss of the off-season came in June when Steve Kerr departed as general manager.  This was rightfully met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Planet Orange. 

After, how shall we say... a rough start, Kerr seemed to have found his footing as GM.  With the additions of Jason RichardsonJared Dudley, Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic, he proved himself a capable scout of both talent and chemistry, cobbling together the pieces around Steve Nash and A'mare Stoudemire that would lead to last season's deep playoff run. 

An extension seemed all but assured, providing the organization with some continuity into the post-A'mare (and probably post- Nash) Era.

Alas, whether it was the lack of money from owner Robert Sarver or the lure of money (and family time) from his old friends at TNT, it was not to be.  In June, the front office got blown up in a manner more befitting of a perennial lottery team than a perennial Western Conference contender. Both Steve Kerr and Suns Senior VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin were out the door as the crack of A'mare Stoudemire's free agency dawned with no successors in sight.

Oh, yes, and the NBA Draft was right around the corner as well...

Round 2... FIGHT!

Still paying for the sins of a "win now" mentality* from prior front office maneuvers, the Suns had no first-round draft pick in the 2010 Draft.  They would be fighting over table scraps and hoping to pluck a bit of wheat from so much chaff in the second round.

With the Stoudemire's apparent departure looming and Lou Amundson's asking price looking too high for a 9th man, the Suns drafted a pair of power forwards in Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal (46th overall) and Miami's Dwayne Collins (60th). 

Let that sink in for a moment: as of a week before free agency began, the Suns were replacing a freakish All-Star and a dirtworker par excellence with two second-round picks.  If you were a Suns fan, this was plenty of motivation to start drinking heavily.**

A'pocalypse Now

Thursday, July 1, 2010 was a wacky day in Suns history.***  It was day 2 of free agency and getting a straight answer out of anyone about the state of negotiations was nearly impossible.  Dueling tweets from Paul Coro and  John Gambodoro offered updates (often conflicting) about the state of the Suns' negotiations with their free agent frontcourt star.

Finally, at approximately 7:46 MST, Suns fans got the news they had been waiting for:

RT @Gambo620: Suns have agreed to 5 year $30 million dollar contract with free agent center Channing Frye.

Yes!  Channing Frye was a Sun again!  The rest of the Suns' offseason plans could now proceed... Oh.  Right.  There was that other free agent member of the Suns frontcourt to consider. 

But there would be no word on where Lou Amunds... OK, I'm stalling. 

It was a slow train coming.  It was plain as day.  It was the inevitability that drove the rest of the Suns' off-season decision-making.  And I hate that it happened.

The Nash-Stoudemire pick and roll was as close to Stockton-Malone as the NBA had come in over a decade.  It was nearly automatic.  It was hell to defend.  Opposing teams had to pick their poison, a decision that got more and more difficult as A'mare's range grew to include an increasingly devastating 20-footer.  And if A'mare found a seam, bad things were going to happen to that rim.  Very bad things.

And it wasn't enough.  It wasn't enough to win a ring.  It wasn't enough to keep A'mare happy.  It wasn't enough for ownership to break the bank for. 

On Friday, July 2, the Suns agreed to terms with Hakim Warrick to the tune of 4 years and $18 million effectively ending the Stoudemire Era in Phoenix.

 On Monday, July 5, A'mare Stoudemire announced a slightly different deal with the New York Knicks.

Everyone involved conducted themselves with reason, professionalism and class.  But like a peaceful death or a civil divorce, it doesn't change the fact that something wonderful was lost forever.  So it goes.

Chill, Ball, Barbs and Babs

Suns fans suffered through the next week (including some fairly uninspired Summer League basketball) full of doubts.  D-day had come: A'mare was gone and there was nothing to show for it...

Except that wasn't quite true.  As a lovely parting gift, a sign-and-trade with the Knicks has been negotiated.  In exchange for signing A'mare to a max deal, the Suns got a whopping $16.5 million traded player exception.  And it did not take them long to use it.

First, the Suns used part of that exception to land Josh Childress in a sign and trade with the Hawks.  Next, another long-time Sun was sent packing when the Suns dealt Leandro Barbosa and another portion of the TPE to theToronto Raptors for Hedo Turkoglu and his masterful command of the English language.

Finally, just over a week later, the Suns would announce a re-structured front office beginning with the hiring of former agent Lon Babby as President of Basketball Operations.

Making Sense of It All

Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding when the rubber meets the road and all the irons in the fire or something like that.  In the meantime, as of this post "going to press", we haven't had a chance to glimpse all the parts together at one time on the court.  Until then, my thoughts are:

  • No matter what the Suns got in return, A'mare and Leandro are tremendous losses to the franchise.  Individually, they were lynchpins of the Suns' rotation, providing unique and essential definitions of what this team had been over the better part of the last decade.
  • A Hedo and a Hakim do not an A'mare make.  The comparison might not be fair, but the Suns are going to miss the size and interior threat that A'mare Stoudmire brought to the table every night.  
  • That said, the Warrick signing was spot-on.  A decisive move on a great value, especially given the sums thrown at Drew Gooden and Amir Johnson.
  • Josh Childress on the other hand is going to prove to be something of a Leandro+. (Don't hate me.  I'm half-Brazilian and loved Leandrinho!)  What he gives up in speed, he makes up for in control, explosiveness and defense.
  • We could very possibly see some of the wackiest**** line-ups this side of Nellyball given the current make-up of the Suns roster.  The Suns have 5-6 legitimate ballhandlers, an abundance of swingmen and really only one true big man.  This could be both fun and maddening.
  • Speaking of fun and maddening, what's the over/under on games into the season it takes this squad to figure out how/if it can actually play together?  10? 25? 82?
  • I kid, of course.  If things don't look good as the deadline approaches, the Suns will be saying au revoir to Steve Nash and tanking their way towards a lottery pick.  (I don't think it will get that bad, but in case you were wondering what the worst case result of this off-season would be.... there you go.)
  • Regarding the front office makeover: without a fly on the wall, it's hard for me to comment on how much Robert Sarver botched Steve Kerr's extension or alienated Suns front office stalwart David Griffin.  For all we know, the TNT deal was just that much better for Kerr and once he wasn't coming back, Sarver wanted to re-make the FO in his own image -- by again hiring a basketball insider with no prior management experience. 
  • Don't kid yourself: even though Babby wasn't technically hired until after the Turkoglu and Childress deals were in place, as their former agent, he mos def had something to do with them landing in Phoenix.  Whether or not that's "fishy" or just business doesn't really concern me.  My point is: those deals -- and whether or not those guys sink or swim as Suns -- are probably on him 
  • It may not happen all at once in his first season, but Gani Lawal is going to bring the mother-lovin' ruckus Lou-style.  And maybe then some.
  • I know I've given short shrift to Dwayne JonesZabian DowdellMatt Janning, et al.  If any of one of them is a significant factor this season, please see above for "worst case scenario."
  • The key to this off-season is Hedo Turkoglu.  How well he fits (or doesn't) and contributes (or doesn't) will ultimately define how well the Suns managed their assets over the summer.  He draws the biggest paycheck of their new acquistions and his unique skill set could both help or cripple the Suns' on-court presence in a number of ways.  If the Suns are the cast of "Lost", he's their John Locke.  And if you hate "Lost" or have never watched it, it's OK, because that's a terrible analogy anyway. (Not really, he's the key to everything and I have no idea which way he's going to go.)

OK, folks that does it for my off-season analysis.  Thank you for having me one more time.  This has been part 2 of Bright Side of the Sun's Pre-Season Extravaganza.  In the coming days, look for....

  • The Roster - PG's and Wings by PanamaSun
  • The Roster - Bigs by Watdogg10
  • The Competition by Trevor Paxton
  • Summary and Forecast by Alex Laugan

* It's a debate for another time, but I think that while the lack of draft picks ultimately hurt the Suns as they aged, the "win now" mentality of Sarver and Mike D'Antoni was completely justified by the perception that the Suns were simply missing that "one piece."  Unfortunately that piece was "defense", which is only available via draft or free agency in fantasy football.

** That's for those of you who need an excuse to drink heavily.  I generally don't, but I try to have one on hand.  Currently it's "stuck in Cincinnati for a month."

*** Wacky is probably not the best word choice here.  But as I am drinking heavily in Cincinnati, I could not think of anything else.  /burps.  /plays slide whistle.

**** True etymological fact: The word "wacky" was invented solely as an adjective to describe Nellyball line-ups.

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