PHOENIX - MAY 23: Robin Lopez #15 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a play against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second quarter of Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 23, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
When talking about the Suns big men, it's hard not to first discuss the one piece missing. This summer we watched Amare pack his bags and head to New York. We then used the money we could've used to resign him to pay Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress (Frye, Warrick and Childress alone were paid over $80 million). Personally, I would've rather had Amare. As Bill Simmons put it, "if Phoenix offered Childress, Frye and Warrick for Amare, the Knicks would hang up on them."
The great Seth Pollack challenged me when I brought this up by saying it was a very short-sighted approach. Well I'm a fan of short-sightedness when it comes to sports. After the '98 season the Bulls had a choice to make, shell out the cash to pay 3 aging superstars and 1 coach (it was all or nothing) or start the rebuilding process. Would they have been in a tough spot a few years down the line? Probably. But they would've given themselves the chance to watch a team compete every year. A chance to bring the excitement of the playoffs (and probably 1 or 2 more championships) to Chicago every season. They chose not to take the short-sighted approach and have yet to put a team on the floor that makes you think, "yeah, these guys could definitely win it all."
Last season the Suns got to the Western Conference Finals by putting a team together that got along, played well together, and most importantly FIT together on the floor. Amare gave us the scoring presence we needed when the games slowed down. He was the guy the Suns trusted when they needed a score. Additionally, he and Nash had become the greatest pick-and-roll tandems since Malone and Stockton because they had been running it for several awesome years together. Would I have liked to see them pay Amare (knowing the possible consequences) and give it another run with a more mature supporting cast? YES! ONE THOUSAND TIMES, YES! The same way I thought they should've kept going with Marion instead of trading for the Big Ego. No matter, I'm not the one making the decisions so let’s talk about the bigs we do have on the roster after the jump.
Lopez had a breakout season a year ago. He went from being the crazy dude who shattered doors, fouled a lot, and couldn't control his temper, to a very solid/important contributor to the Suns. Late in the season he was forced out of the lineup for an extended period of time due to injury only to come back for the Lakers series and helped extend the series with a GREAT game 3 against the Lakers much-praised front line. Here's what I said about Lopez in his 2009-10 report card.
So where does he go from here? This season I look for Lopez to continue his maturation. He had a great second half of the season in '09-'10 but in '10-'11 we'll need to see that kind of play consistently for the entire season. I completely expect him to make another jump, cut down on some of the silly fouls, take a little more care of the ball and really make an improvement in the pick-and-roll game with Nash. If there is any player on this team that can make it so we're not crying over the loss of Amare at the All-Star break it would be Lopez.
Lopez wasn't the only Suns big man to enjoy a breakout season in 2009-'10. Channing Frye went from being an afterthought on the Blazers to being a HUGE part of the Suns success last season. He drained 172 3-pointers shooting a very nice 44% from behind the arc. Not too shabby for a dude who shattered his career high for 3-pointers in a season which stood previously right around a number you can count to using your fingers and toes.
This season Frye has been awarded with a new $30 million contract - a little high for a streaky shooter off of the bench but then again, everyone was overpaying this summer - and needs to use this season to prove he's worth that money. I'm always a little wary of players who are awarded after a breakout season this far into their career but I believe that Frye truly loves the game enough to not kick back and relax now that he's been paid. Really the best-case-scenario for Frye is that he has a similar season to last season (as I said, he is a streaky shooter so hopefully he can be a little more consistent) and that he makes a run at the 6th man award giving quality minutes and shooting off of the bench. If he could up his rebounding numbers from 5/game to 7 or 8 that would be huge for this particular Suns team.
Earl Clark is still on the Suns trying to find any room on this roster filled with Forwards to crack the rotation. Clark is a very talented young man but seems to lack the fire to force his way in. He has very good ball-handling skills for his size and has a high release on his shot that is very hard to block. However, he tends to float to the 3-point line a little too much, go 1-on-1 a little too much when he gets the ball and has very poor body language when he is in the game. When I say that he has poor body language I'm not just saying he's quiet (Tim Duncan is quiet and he's probably the best PF to ever play the game) I'm saying he seems to have little interest in the game (again, something you can NEVER say about Duncan).
Clark needs to be challenged. He needs to have somebody get in his face and do everything possible to light a fire under his butt. Michael Jordan was a player who was never afraid to do this. Jordan demanded the best from his teammates. When Scottie Pippen came into the league Jordan not only saw the talent that was there but saw that Pip wasn't playing to his full potential. Without fear of what would happen Jordan constantly challenged Pippen and forced him to play hard every possession of every game. We know the rest of the story, Pippen revolutionized the game by playing the Point Forward position and became one of the greatest players to ever play. Would he have reached these levels of success if Jordan hadn't gotten in his face early in his career? Probably not. Clark needs this type of challenge - someone forcing him to not waste all of his talent and to start playing up to his potential. Coming out of Louisville scouts questioned his mental toughness and focus and up to this point those assessments have proven to be correct and unless someone really challenges him to correct those things, we may never know what might've come from all of his potential.
Let the Hedo experiment begin. Hedo is coming to us from Toronto as probably one of the most hated men (at least basketball players along with Vince Carter) in all of Canada. Why do they hate him so much? Well, he joined them after his breakout postseason in Orlando 2 seasons ago with much anticipation and what he gave them was a disinterested performance where he averaged 11 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. He was also part of the reason that last year's Raptors team was one of the worst defensive teams in the history of the NBA. His last 2 seasons in Orlando he averaged 19, 5 and 5 ('07-'08) and 16, 5 and 5 ('08-'09) and the Suns are hoping he can return to form this season. They're also hoping that he will be able to play the PF position. If that's not the case, well there's $10 million dollars Sarver will never see again.
Honestly I'm not sure what to expect from Hedo this season. The system seems to be one in which he can flourish but can he guard the more physical PFs in the league? If the Suns struggle for an extended stretch (a strong possibility with this team) will he stay focused and continue to play hard? If he goes through a stretch where he's not getting the ball as much as he would like will he check out? There's a lot of questions surrounding Hedo but if he returns to form he may be able to lessen the blow taken with Amare's departure.
Warrick is who he is. An intriguing prospect who can hit the 15 footer, who is fun to watch when he takes off towards the rim but who plays awful defense. For his career he is a worse defender than Amare with less of an offensive repertoire. He'll be fun in stretches and disappointing in others. Warrick and Nash running the pick-and-roll with him diving to the basket for awesome finishes will surely provide plenty of highlights but if he can't improve his defense and rebounding he may not be able to get much run in a rotation full of guys who play the same position (or who don't normally but will have to play that position on this team). Personally I'm excited to see Warrick play in the Suns system but worry about how much he'll actually be able to contribute even with the official Nash stat bump all players like him get when they play alongside the one and only Steve Nash.
Here's what I know about Lawal. He played with Favors at Georgia Tech and managed to steal some of Favor's shine with his energy on both ends of the floor. He's long and hustles and it seems to me like he'll be able to make up a little bit for the loss of Louis Amundson if he can crack the rotation. I haven't seen or heard much about him during the preseason and would expect him to only get spot minutes as a rookie. However, if he works on learning the game of basketball from a mental aspect and works on his offensive game (a lot) he definitely has the potential to be a good player in this league.