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Phoenix Suns - A house divided

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Note to readers: This blog post is interspersed with various audio clips provided by our partner, Sports 620 KTAR. If you prefer, you can listen to all of the clips together in this file or listen to them "in line" as you read by opening the links as you come to them.

 

After the Suns lost another game to a sub .500 team and ended their month with a losing record for the first time in almost 5 years, any pretense of denial was lifted.

There is no more blaming the long road trip or the big brother Spurs. The Suns are floundering and the entire team has moved past "if" and is on to "what's next".

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much agreement on where the trouble lies and what the next steps are. A divide has emerged on this team between those who are blaming the system and those that look at certain players inability or unwillingness to execute and perform.

It is easy to say that both are at fault, but in reality what the Suns do next is dictated by this decision. The team can stand pat and perhaps tweak the system and rotations in an attempt to coax better chemistry and effort out of the existing group. Or, as Steve Kerr suggests, they may have assembled the wrong group of players for the traditional defensive philosophy that the organization is trying to adopt.

 

There are those fans that crave the old style of run and gun but those days are gone. That battle has been waged. Until Robert Sarver changes his mind, his GM and coach are moving towards a specific direction that they believe is the proven road to the championship.

Terry Porter, speaking after the Bulls game was not concerned about Amare only getting one field goal attempt in the second half. He talked about the need to play harder and execute on the glass and in transition defense. This is Terry Porter. He's a fighter and a scraper and he's struggling to relate to his players who aren't.

Joining him is Shaquille O'Neal who looks out at his team's struggles and expresses his opinion in very blunt and uncensored terms. He isn't concerned about the offense or who's getting touches. He is looking for team mates that will step up and defend their man.

Who are Shaq and Porter specifically talking about? Clearly, Amare has been the focus of a lot of negative attention and trade discussion but for his part he's not seeing it as something for him to address. He talks about being put in a position to succeed which is fine for role players but $15m / yr "super stars" looking for max deals will either get with the program or will soon be finding themselves moving their restaurants to a new city.

Caught in the middle is two time MVP and golden boy Steve Nash. Nash for all his gifts and talents is simply not fitting in to the new philosophy. We've all hoped he could adapt his game to a new style but it is becoming increasingly clear that his defensive weaknesses and high risk passing game is not a fit in this system.

Steve is concerned with needing better spirit and finding ways to get everyone involved. When asked about trading players, Nash responded that "he doesn't think that way" and that "we need to find a way to make it work".

What this all tells me is that those who mocked the idea of this roster being a good defensive team were right and those in management that thought they could be a hybrid team were wrong.

The Suns started the season with the intent of running a high possession motion oriented offense that scored in the 90's, played hard defense and held teams to one possession. In other words, the Detroit Pistons. That was what Kerr wanted from Porter and that's what the plan was.

When that wasn't working, they adjusted on the fly and opened up the offense a bit but were never able to find the ability (in the case of Nash) or the desire (in the case of Stoudemire) to play even mediocre defense.

In retrospect, this fate was sealed a year ago when the Suns brought Shaq to town. There really was no other outcome for a deal that was hailed by many in Phoenix as the answer to our interior woes. I argued against the deal at the time but it's done and Shaq is here and playing well now. One year in, The Big Gamble has failed and it's time to move on.

There are two clear paths facing the Suns:

1) Trade Shaq and try and get a back up PG and some kind of mobile center that can defend away from the rim and rebound. Go back to running and feature Nash and Stoudemire with an understanding that interior defense and rebounding will suffer. This would be an admission of defeat by Kerr and would almost have to include his resignation as well. At this point, you would also have to consider if Porter is the right coach for that team.

2) Trade Amare for a defensive big man and draft picks and hope that having one less mouth to feed will help Nash. It is doubtful though that Steve will ever be a good fit with Shaq and the type of team Kerr and Porter have talked about wanting.  They would either end up needing to move him too or will continue to struggle with turnovers, chemistry and "spirit". Trading Nash would be highly unpopular with fans who are used to a Suns organization that traditionally has been dynamic and entertaining (but not successful in the post season).

Neither option is good and the decision will say more about Sarver and Kerr and their commitment to winning "Spurs style" versus trying to walk a very thin line that keeps their Canadian star and his fans appeased.

While both options are painful we shouldn't forget that the window slammed shut last year. Regardless of what happens in next few weeks, the Suns were already rebuilding. It is just a matter now of what that new building is going to look like.

A familiar model that's been fun but ultimately unsuccessful or a more traditional proven design that will frustrate many fans and be a long road back to entertaining.

The Suns have avoided this decision about their identity for long enough. They have tried to have their cake and eat it too and this lack of consistency and adherence to a vision is my biggest complaint with Kerr and Sarver over the last year.

It is time to decide what kind of team the Phoenix Suns will become.

 

[Note by ZonaFlash, 02/02/09 10:00 AM EST ]

Great post, Stan.  A lot of the onus is getting put on the players ("Amare") here to perform, but let's not forget that if a team has a young talent like Amare Stoudemire and can't figure out how to use it, the burden is probably on the front office and the coach. 

No one on the team is perfect, but D'Antoni is looking ever more the genius for hiding those imperfections and maximizing those players' strengths.

[Note by Phoenix Stan, 02/02/09 9:01 AM MST ]

Thanks. And I agree and it seems that Kerr does as well. He's saying that the pieces assembled while very talented individually might not fit together as a group. A lot of that to me comes down to Amare not being able to sacrifice his game for the greater good and Nash not being able to work well in a half court game either.

Kerr thought (as did I) that he and Porter could turn Amare into a better defensive player and it seemed early on that Amare wanted that as well. That clearly isn't going to happen. We certainly all thought (with good reason) that Nash would adapt as well but that also doesn't appear to be the case.

Now the question is do you want to re-sign Amare for a big long term deal and hope you can draft another super star / leader to play with him after Nash and Shaq are gone or is he just a guy that you no longer want as the "face" of the franchise moving forward. Unfortunately, I think Amare has made that decision with his actions on the court.

As you know, I have always been a big Amare fan and defended a lot of his ego-talk as what some young athletes need to motivate themselves. In many ways those traits of Amare's character are what separates him from a guy like Chris Wilcox. In other words, his desire and motivation is fueled by his ego. 

Reading between the lines of what Kerr said, it is almost impossible to imagine them not making a major move in the next few weeks and I would guess sooner rather then later.