The thing about Phoenix is that we are a town that loves the Suns. The only pro team we had for a long time. That's really why I started watching basketball -- because that's all we had outside of Sun Devil Football.
As you know by now, the Suns are back in town and Amare Stoudemire is excited that he'll get to practice some defense. I'll get back to that comment in a bit. In the meantime, however, what else do we have on the sports horizon?
Currently, the Diamondbacks' rallying cry seems to be "We're not quite as pathetic as the Dodgers." The Rockies are only 5 back right now.
The Coyotes are hoping to get over .500.
The Cardinals, after a promising end to last season are now stuck with Anquan "Matrix" Boldin and a quarterback controversy between a recent Heisman winner and an old man. Goodbye, .500 season.
Sun Devil Football looks promising and the Suns are where they've been the majority of their existence, which is a good team, a playoff team, a team with a shot at a championship but definitely not the favorites. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
So, I started thinking about this team for next year and decided to put down a few thoughts. It's somewhat appropriate with the roster pretty much in place. My first thought was of last year's anticipation. I noted some of that here. I took my son to a scrimmage with about 7,500 fans before the beginning of last season. We may go again, but I doubt we'll have as many "friends" there. Going into this season, we're just glad to see the Warriors and Mavericks dropping off so that there's room in the playoff race for the Suns given the seemingly inevitable rise of the Blazers.
Remember this picture? Clever, indeed, but karma's got nothing on irony.
Do the Suns even have a "Big 3"? No. There's a "Big 2" (Nash and Stoudemire) featuring The Big Role-Player. He's a pretty good role-player and leads a cast of outstanding role players. Phoenix may have assembled the best group of role-players in the leauge with Shaq, Hill, Bell and LB. Not to mention, the second-string role-palyers could be first-string role-players on lesser teams.
In some ways, the Suns are a poor man's Sp*rs (only Big 2, not Big 3). What they have the opportunity to do is play like the Stockton-Malone Jazz. I don't think its a stretch to imagine Stoudemire starting to deliver like Malone, but I wonder about Nash's effectiveness in a slower half-court game. I should say I'm less confident about it than I am about my statements regarding Amare, but I'm still pretty confident he can pull that one off.
I think they can do it, though. And who was the guy who played center with Stockton and Malone? Yeah, right, I couldn't come up with it either. Shaq can at least do that, can't he?
So, the Suns are somewhere between a stripped-down version of the Sp*rs or, hopefully, a slightly more talented version of the Stockton-Malone Jazz.
What does this mean for the season?
My first thought is a question. During the D'Antoni Era, did you ever watch a Suns game that was not exciting?
No, you didn't. Because there was also the chance of a comeback (one way or the other), and because even when the Suns were winning big it was fun to watch. That's why only the fools left Game 5 of the Clippers series. This year, be prepared to watch some painful snoozers. Most of them will come when you know the Suns are not going to make a 15-point comeback, but a few of them will occur when the Suns pound the other team into submission with good defensive rotations and savvy clock management.
Next, I ask that the Suns fans prepare to get behind a good defensive team. If it happens (big "if" even though that's what we've been promised), this will be a first. (Don't be fooled by the big talk. As pointed out by the astute Mr. Lisboa, Majerle's nickname should be "rain" not "thunder." And while I believe that Stoudemire, et al., truly want to improve on team defense, I am not convinced that one off-season will result in a miraculous transformation. The defense will be better -- it cannot get worse -- but how much better is another question.). Few long-time Phoenix fans (much less the recent bandwagoners) knows what good defense looks like. If not for watching other teams, I would have no clue whatsoever. This is especially true since the late 80s revival and the Suns have been steered by the likes of Cotton and Westphal. The first Coyotes' season at AWA, the long time Suns fans didn't understand why the hockey players weren't taking shots in the same manner as the Chuck-ster and Dan "Rain" Majerle. Phoenicians just do not understand the concept of defense and shot selection (and how the two work together). So, fans, please learn a little more about defense than you already know and be prepared to applaud a good box out even if the rebound goes to someone else.
My next request is really a sub-part of the previous point. Please refrain from encouraging a Pat Burke-like shooting exhibition from the likes of Hill, Diaw or anyone else not named Steve or Leandro. Raja Bell is permitted to play the role of Bruce Bowen and only shoot from the corners. Time-of-possession is going to play a big role for next year's team.
Playoffs? It should be a tight race for the division title. If and when the Suns do not win the division, I'd be shocked if they got into the top four. The Lakers are the favorites for the division, but I wouldn't lay down steep odds on that wager. Andrew Bynum will not be the savior for the Lakers. Even if he's fully recovered (which I doubt -- discussed here), the only thing he's ever done is had two to three dozen pretty good games. He's got a long way to go. Maybe someday, but not next year.
It will be important to have a good start, as it should be a tight race again. However, I'm thinking that the first couple months of the season will not be cause for alarm (barring a horrible start) or great joy (barring a 31-0 start) because the Suns will be setting up for the stretch run for, possibly, the first time ever.