This next incarnation of the Phoenix Suns promises to be a noticeable departure from the last few seasons.
Gone are the undersized speed demons and their spiritual leader preaching the mantra of "the best defense is a great offense". Gone too are the lofty expectations of the media and fans which lead our collective eyes to focus (perhaps too much) on the prize.
The new look Suns are bigger, tougher, slower and of course quite a bit older. Its hard to say how they will fare and equally difficult to say if the window has slammed shut or perhaps is still cracked open just a bit.
One the bright side, Amare playing a full season in his natural power forward position with a full summer off to rest and prepare could easily come back and be a legit MVP contender. He knows that his defense needs to improve and he knows that he can defend any 4 in the league (Duncan plays center and don't try and tell me otherwise).
He will be challenged and motivated and he has shown the discipline and will to improve. With a renewed (really just a new) focus on team defense and an offense that should run more through him, Amare will finally be The Man.
Nash, Hill and that Big Mouth in the middle will hopefully be called on to do much less. With a longer bench those Grey Beards can use the regular season as an extended warm up for the playoffs. None of those guys should average more then 25 mpg until March.
Backing them up will be a wide assortment of fellas chomping at the bit to prove themselves. Alando Tucker at the 2/3. DJ Strawberry at the 1/2. Barbosa (if he's still around) can be serviceable running the point in a more structured offense. They will all be fighting for minutes behind Bell who should also be playing less then he has under D'Antoni.
Hopefully, our newly drafted left-handed, second only to Rose, defensive slashing Solvenian sensation can get some solid minutes in a back-up role this year as well. In fact, the Suns success at buying him out of his Tau Ceramica contract could be the deciding factor on Barbosa's future in purple and orange. With this second round rookie on the roster being called the point guard of the future, the Suns are going to want to play him and that makes Barbosa and his much larger salary expendable.
In the front court the Suns will obviously look to rookie Big Hair Lopez to get significant minutes behind Shaq's big behind. Beyond that, the Suns are still rather shallow up front. They could re-sign Brian Skinner and/or Sean Marks or go out and find similar type players. I personally, think Marks never got the chance to be an off the bench front court energy player like a Roni Turiaff or Bandon Bass. He's as talented as either of those guys so I would like to see him back. Skinner is a great shot blocker for his size and plays hard but he's not as tough as his goatee makes him out to be and he can't shoot the ball. Between the two, I would take Marks and replace Skinner with Lopez.
That just leaves the wing with Giricek potentially coming back and sharing time with Hill and possibly Diaw. I am a big Gordan fan and hope the Suns can find a way to get him signed. Perhaps with money saved by moving Barbosa.
Diaw remains the enigma. Perhaps more then any player, I am curious to see how his role and performance change under a new coach. We all know about his potential to play the point forward at the 3, 4 or 5 and he's a very solid defensive player both in the post against bigger guys and on the wings as well. Name for me any other player you saw defend both Shaq (before the trade) and also Tony Parker and every Rudy Gay in between.
Used well, Diaw can easily be worth his weight in croissants...Or he could just end up as soft and flaky as one.
Where does that leave next year's Suns? They are an underdog team in flux and can exceed expectations which will likely place them at a 4 to 6 seed. Or they could just as easily drop further behind the plethora of great Western Conference teams.
Right now, I am fairly up beat. I compare the Suns to the Cav's with a lesser version of The Man but a much better supporting cast.
Regardless of potential, I fully expect the team to start slow. They will be incorporating a lot of new, young players into a totally new system. They may very well hover around the 500 mark for the first few months or even worse.
But this Suns team still has a lot of talent. They still have a couple of former MVP's and a potential future one. By February they should be hitting a stride and roll into the playoffs at least good enough to compete in the first few rounds. For me, that will be good enough for the start of a new Suns era.