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Preseason 2.0

The Suns entered their 2010 training camp with an overhauled roster, and thus many questions to answer:

How will the Suns make up for Amar’e Stoudemire’s numbers? Do they have what it takes to make the playoffs in this brutal Western Conference? How will the new-look lineups and rotations be composed? Which wing player will be the odd man out?  How will the new acquisitions preform? Will J-Rich be traded?  Will the Suns find an effective starting power forward?  Will this team be able to recreate the chemistry that made them last year’s playoff darlings? What of the defense? 

These were the questions we asked.  The Suns then left their preseason with a (meaningless) 2-6 record, tired legs, and all of these questions unanswered.

The Suns enter their 2011 regular season with an overhauled roster, and thus many questions to answer:

How will the Suns make up for Jason Richardson’s numbers?  Do they have what it takes to make the playoffs in this brutal Western Conference? How will the new-look lineups and rotations be composed?  Which wing player will be the odd man out?  How will the new acquisitions preform?  Will Steve Nash be traded? Will the Suns find an effective starting power forward?  Will this team be able to recreate the chemistry that made them last year’s playoff darlings?  What of the defense?

These are the questions we are asking. This is preseason 2.0.



Except, now, these games aren’t meaningless; winning them is important.  In fact, at this point winning them is almost as important as not losing them.  And moral victories no longer mean shit.  For the Suns to win enough games to earn an 8th seed, they will need to weed out the doubt that has grown in the locker room, build chemistry, find an identity, and forge some damn swagger.   

Much like last year, the season opened with doubters questioning if the Suns could secure a playoff spot.  Once again, we scoffed at these doubters, but more anxiously than we had in years past.  This time, there was an uncomfortable truth to their reasoning, with Amar’e gone and uncertainty in his place.

But unlike last year, those doubters made there way into the Phoenix’s locker room, if not from the jump, than certainly after the team’s sub-par start.  Trading away a fundamental element of their roster (J-Rich) signalized that this internal doubt, and the spell of devastating losses -coupled with an unsatisfying victory- which has since ensued has intensified it.
 
It will take a string of consecutive quality wins for the Suns (and their fans) to regain the belief that they are a good team.  These next two games against the Lakers and Stoudemire’s Knicks could prove to be the spark that gets the team rolling.  Then again, a bad loss at home delivered by Amar’e could be a nail in the Suns’ coffin.  The good news is that the Suns will be up for these next two games.  Every player in the league wants to beat the Lakers, and the old-look Suns did it once this year, so I expect the team to show up.  And against the Knicks, I expect the crowd to keep the Suns fighting.

It has become cliche to say so, but the Suns also desperately need to build some chemistry.  Whereas last year’s discovery of chemistry deserved consideration for a nobel prize, this season’s chemistry experiment has been about as stable as a meth-lab full of nitroglycerin.  I’ve abandoned the silly notion that anything like last year’s on/off court chemistry can be forged.  By the playoffs, the team became almost completely selfless, to the point of it almost realizing the team-sports version of enlightenment.  That might not be achievable without Amar’e buying everyone dinner (as Vince Carter, the team’s new highest-paid dinner is unlikely to pick up the check for a bunch of guys he barely knows), but it is feasible to think that these guys develop a kinship and a team concept.

From chemistry, they need to find an identity, or rather let an identity find them.  They need not seek to define themselves in terms like “run and gun” or “defensive” or “energetic.”  Rather, they should let their effective play define themselves. 

Finally, the Suns as a team have absolutely no swagger to their game.  Sure, when they go on a run or hit a couple threes you see signs of life, but their swagger should not be so subject to momentum.  Of all things, swagger is what I miss from Amar’e.  He was often criticized for being brash and outspoken, and being demonstrative in his game.  Phooey! Dude he played with an edge to his game, and exuded an infectious self-confidence.  It was entertaining to the fans and intimidating to the opponents.  The Suns need to find someone who can play with that edge and ego, and hopefully it’s Gortat.

Most of all, however, to emerge from this mid-season preseason with a successful playoff run, the Suns need to find a sense of urgency and a killer instinct.  Those two go hand in hand.  Hopefully, the Suns can channel this pressure into something positive, like an attitude adjustment.
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