So here's the deal, I've only gotten to see the Suns play twice this year. The first time was a game against the Nuggets that I wasn't able to pay real close attention to because I was working on some stuff while the game was going on, and the other time was last Monday's blowout loss to the Celtics. Since that kind of disqualifies me from saying much about tonight's opponent, I thought I would turn to two people that know what they're talking about, Phoenix Stan from Bright Side of the Sun and Ben from Ben's Suns Blog.
1. Ever since the Shaq for Marion trade last season, there's been talk about what this team's identity is, whether or not they're still the fast-paced team that fans have come to know and love over the last 5 years or if they've become more of a half-court team. Which direction do you think this team is headed and which direction do you personally think the team should go?
Phoenix Stan: I think if you can answer that question then you should go Vegas and not worry about the lousy economy. I am not headed to Vegas anytime soon, but here's my best guess:
The Suns are trying to run a hybrid game that has both elements of controlled tempo, pound it inside along with more fast paced when Shaq is resting or like most teams off turn overs and rebounds. The problem is turnovers. The Suns for reasons that totally befuddle me can not stop turning the ball over. When you are slowing the tempo and there by reducing the number of attempts you simply can't expect to give away possessions and still win. This has been the Suns biggest struggle.
As for where they should go, that's even harder. You can't ignore how well Shaq is playing and so you simply must gear your team around him as long as he's here and performing. Trying to force him into some other system was tried and failed.
Ben: Short answer: Who the hell knows.
In all seriousness, I think the direction the Suns are heading in is evolving monthly/weekly/daily. In the off-season, it was clear that Suns GM Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver wanted the Suns to be more disciplined, have a greater focus on the defensive end, have a deeper bench, and find Nash a back up point guard.
Essentially, they've done all those things; however, the outcome/result isn't necessarily as favorable in each area as we would've liked. Terry Porter has brought a much more disciplined approach to Phoenix and we thought we were beginning to see the benefits with the Suns playing extremely well before recently losing three in a row. There has been no baby-ing of players by any means this year. I've seen Porter rip into Amare and bench him when he isn't playing well. In terms of their defense, they got off to an extremely slow start. However, they are beginning to fill in the gaps on defense, getting better at weak-side help, and their rotations are much more effective. Again, this wasn't the case the past several games but things had been looking up.
The Suns bench has somewhat solidified with Leandro Barbosa, Matt Barnes, and Louis Amundson - much better players on the bench than we've had at any point in the Nash era. We also have attempted to find Nash a back-up in drafting Slovenian Goran Dragic; however, Dragic has taken a little longer to develop than we had originally thought.
The surprise this season has been the underproductiveness (is that word?) of Amare Stoudemire. Based on the way he finished last year, Suns fans pegged him to have an MVP type year this season. He certainly started that way, scoring 49 in the Pacers game and having one of the best games I've ever seen a NBA player play. However, I think his decline correlates with Shaq's production. The more Shaq produces, the less need the Suns have for Amare to be dominant. Many fans have been calling for a trade...
2. When I first heard about the Suns-Bobcats deal, I thought that Phoenix was making out like bandits (mainly because I'm predisposed to think that Michael Jordan will come out on the wrong end of any kind of transaction), but after Charlotte's win against the Suns on Friday night I'm starting to reconsider my position. A month later, how do you feel about the trade?
Phoenix Stan: I think this could turn out to be a rare win-win deal. The Suns had to get rid of Raja Bell. He had given up on the team and was a negative influence. Diaw's salary and talent was being wasted in a back-up role. He's a guy that obviously should be starting and having a big role for a team.
JRich is a big upgrade at the shooting guard and is young enough to be part of the longer term plans and Dudley looks like he can be a solid role player as a back up small forward next year when Barnes is gone.
Ben: I loved it then and I still love it now. Before our recent skid, we had won 9 of 12 games with J-Rich and things were looking up. With the acquisition of Jason Richardson, the Suns immediately became younger and more athletic at the 2 guard causing other teams to game plan for that position; whereas they certainly didn't have to with Raja. Boris has been a thorn in the Suns side for quite some time and Suns fans were sick of waiting for him to fulfill his potential. Richardson gives us a Joe Johnson-type player that we haven't had since 2004-2005 who can create his own shot and run the floor.
Raja and Boris, as it was widely reported, were a cancer in the locker room. Thus, getting two great guys in Richardson and Dudley immediately jump started the Suns into having fun and smiling again. We really should have a better record since the trade if not for incredibly lucky shots that were made late in the game by the Blazers, Spurs, and Pacers. We also didn't lose that much on defense with Raja losing a step in recent years (he gave up 50 to Jamal Crawford for crying out loud).
Richardson has played well thus far and will improve even more with time in our system.
3. Overall, how do you feel about the job that Terry Porter has done in his first season as coach in Phoenix?
Phoenix Stan: I struggle with this one too. The team has been inconsistent and have shown extended periods of very uninspired effort. With so many veterans and personalities I don't know how much of that to lay at Porter's feet and how much the players need to own. Clearly, he's not been able to handle the biggest challenge which is Amare. Amare's effort has dropped of dramatically so in that sense Porter can be blamed for the result.
On the other hand, he walked into a very dicey situation and it's hard to point the finger at him. I tend to be patient and think that over time he will do well.
Ben: I've been a Porter advocate for much of this season as well as preaching patience. However, for the first time, I'm beginning to question him a little bit. I'm not sure he's utilizing the strengths of our team as much as I'd like.
There was a lot of excitement in Arizona when Terry Porter took over the coaching reins. Good or bad – it was apparent that both the organization and Suns fans needed a change. As much as everyone loved D'Antoni, the system just didn't work in the playoffs – that's just a fact. After Game 1 against the Spurs, we all felt a sense of hopelessness (much like the feeling I recently felt on Christmas) and began to question some of D'Antoni's philosophies. Sure, it was fun and exciting to watch the Suns…but with the teams we had from 2004 – 2008, we felt the team could've done more. Fair or unfair, D'Antoni took the majority of the blame.
Having said that, the Porter experiment has made some fans excited and driven others crazy (I'm guilty of both). I think that he and Steve Kerr have a bold, yet necessary, vision for the Suns and it will certainly take some time to develop. At the beginning of the year, we virtually stopped running which translated into losses. However, I think it was necessary that we went through that phase and experimentation period to discover what our strengths and weaknesses are. Porter has a more disciplined approach to coaching which I think was absolutely needed four our younger guys.
All in all, many of us are still in a wait-and-see phase...but are also beginning to lose patience.
4. Rumor has it that some team in Arizona is playing for a championship or something this weekend. If the Cardinals could add one player from the Suns for Super Bowl XLIII, who would you pick and why?
Phoenix Stan: Great question! These guys are such good athlete's you can pick a couple. Imagine Shaq as an offensive line man or Matt Barnes at wide receiver or Leandro Barbosa as a corner back. I think though looking at both athletic ability and the Cardinals needs I would go with Amare at tight end. He's got great hands. He's strong as hell and he's fairly tall at 6' 10".
And for the record, I still don't believe in the Cardinals. They've sucked for so long and I've hated the Bidwell's for so long that the thought of them winning a title before the Suns turns my stomache.
Ben: Well, we've all seen the Barnes to Barbosa full-court passes...but we have a pretty good quarterback in Warner. I think having Shaq on the offensive line to protect Warner would be beneficial, maybe even handing it off to him like Refrigerator Perry on the goal line. Then again, it'd be fun to see Leandro Barbosa's speed or Louis Amundson's jumping ability when receiving passes from Warner.
Big ups to Phoenix Stan and Ben for their excellent responses. Ben also had some questions for me which you can read here.
Tonight's tip is at 7. Officially, it's a home game but this is the Wizards first game back from a four game swing out west and they follow it up with two more road games, so even though they're playing at home it probably feels a lot like a road game for the Wizards tonight. It'll be interesting to see how they respond tonight.
This is an open thread, so debate whether or not Dan Majerle can move mountains here.