I’ve enthusiastically followed the Suns this year, because they have a fascinating cast of characters. They have four players who have been major stars at one point or another (Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Shaq, and Amare Stoudamire), and they just added the athletic Jason Richardson to their squad. The Suns finally have lowered expectations, as most prognosticators only picked them to finish 6th or 7th in the West. At one point they had the second-best record in the West. And yet this team has been surrounded by turmoil from the beginning. Why is that?
Quite honestly, I think that Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire are the problem here. Remember, Amare wooed Steve to Phoenix by telling him that they could win championships together. The two have become the NBA’s version of Manning to Harrison. Steve Nash is the perfect QB for the D’Antoni system. But is Steve Nash really a glorified system QB? His numbers this year are not that far off from his numbers of the last five years. But we have Grant Hill comparing Steve to a hummingbird trapped in a plastic bag. We have Steve moping around that Raja Bell was traded and complaining that the team is in a “dark place.” With all these budding poets on the Phoenix Suns roster vying for new metaphors to describe how bad things are, you’d think the team had started 2-7 or so like the Mavs. But instead, they’ve been north of .500 for most of the season. What gives?
And let’s not forget Amare Stoudamire’s sulking. Before the season began, I picked the Suns as my dark horse, because I thought Amare was due for a break-out year. He finally has his legs most of the way back from microfracture surgery, and he has Shaq to take off most of the pressure. But did anyone else read his column in the back of Slam magazine? He spent most of it remembering Mike D’Antoni like some college kid pining for his ex-girlfriend who went to study in Europe. Not one good word for Coach Porter in the whole thing–just a lot of “well, I’ll have to adjust to his system.” Come on, Terry Porter’s one of the NBA good guys–why is Amare moping like a wide receiver who isn’t getting enough touches?
And finally, we have Shaq. Terry Porter was wisely pushing the Suns to establish Shaq early on in games. This makes a lot of sense; establish Shaq in the low post early in the game, when he’s fresh. After he wears out teams in the half-court, spend the second-half pushing the ball. It’s just like NFL teams that run early to set up play-action later in the game. I love this strategy! It should work! But oddly, the Suns were turning the ball early at a huge rate while trying to do so (something like 9.7 turnovers in the first half, 6.8 in the second half, according to Henry Abbott of Truehoop.com). What’s the use of getting the ball to your “big back” if there’s just going to be fumbles and turnovers?
Ok, I’m getting carried away with my football analogy, ha. But it fits, don’t you think? Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire as the system QB and his talented but lazy wide receiver? (Defense? what’s that?). Shaq as the bruising Jerome Bettis-type back? Anyway, the question is, is Jason Richardson part of the solution or problem? Here’s another guy who wants the ball a lot; can he make this work in Phoenix? I say yes, it should work; Jason is hungry to win and he probably welcomes a move back to the Western Conference. But I thought Porter’s strategy for the Suns should work…and so far it seems like his stars are themselves sabotaging the strategy before it has a chance. It’s only been one-fourth of the season, and yet Steve and Amare appear determined to mourn the demise of the 7-seconds-or-less offense for 7 months or more!