I wrote a post recently called "How to build a Champion". It took a look at a couple of articles and some financial data to see what positions were most important in building a title team. It didn't generate the kind of discussion that I was hoping for, so I'm reprising and simplifying it, and targeting directly at the object of all our affections, the Suns.
A brief synopsis of my previous post:
In the last 27 years, the best player on championship teams was:
PG - 6
But what we also learned is that this isn't black and white. 6 of the SG's were named Michael Jordan, and two were named Kobe. Some of the PF's are more correctly called 'Big Men' - (Garnett and Duncan). There is some dispute over which player was actually the best player on the team. There is dispute over which metric matters more - Win Share, Hollinger's Game Score, or your lying eyes? Overall, the best players on thos 27 teams was made up of 11 guys, 8 of which repeated. You know the names - Magic, Bird, Jordan, Kobe, Duncan, Isiah, Hakeem, Shaq. They only need one name.
I then took a look at the financial data, and found that the best teams spent the most money. Big surprise there, Huh? Even the 'No-star Pistons' were one of the highest paid teams in the league. The supporting cast is a huge factor, and none of these stars won anything without trusty sidekicks - who were also very well paid in most circumstances.
So the upshot is - to win a title, you need a star - or two, or three. You need a strong supporting cast. You need to pay for these things, and usually have to go into the luxury tax strata to do it. How do we apply this to the Suns?
We have one of the best point guards ever in Steve Nash. He is our star, our anchor, the face of our franchise. He has taken different lineups deep into the playoffs over and over, and represented our team with class, humility, and more heart than anybody else in the game.
Captain Fantastic, Two-Time, the Nash Rambler. We are unlikely to improve at this position. I know some of the new guys are shinier, but Nash is what this team needs.
SG- Jason Richardson is not a star - yet. He was (maybe) one box-out/put-back away from being one last year, but the dice didn't roll that way. Still, he is our leading scorer, he's a cold-blooded sniper, and can slash and dunk with the best of them. His salary is the highest on our team, almost at max level. Is this a position we could improve? It would mean getting a top 5 max player, and somehow, I doubt if Wade or Kobe will be coming to the Suns anytime soon. Still, JRich is good enough to help us go all the way.
SF- Grant Hill, the Ageless Wonder. This guy is a Superstar. At 38, he has become a defensive stopper, our leading rebounder, a mentor, a shining example of how to play the game. That's enough - Hill belongs on this team if we are to win a title.
PF - Hedo Turkoglu. Well, not so much. So far this season, we've seen flashes of what he has to offer, and reminders of why he is so despised in Toronto. To be fair, he's learning a new position and a new system under some very trying circumstances, but we all know that he's better suited to playing the 3, and he's not going to supplant Grant Hill anytime soon. The gaping hole left by Amar'e is still gaping. That being said, he was a stopgap measure at best, and was never intended to replace Amar'e, so give him credit for doing what he was asked to do. He has helped us, and could help us a lot still.
C- Robin Lopez - Fropez. From bust to savior back to bust. If he can get back to form, and stay healthy, he could be the key to a Suns title. If he can't...well, we're pretty much screwed. He is a true 7 footer, with soft hands and a mean attitude (when he's right) and that's a rarity in today's NBA. Let's hope, and keep hoping.
PG - Goran Dragic. The Dragon. Capable of amazing feats, and susceptible to great suckitude, he is still probably the best backup PG in the league. Again, it's hard to imagine improving tis position. His readiness as a starter is open to question, but he's improved a lot this year, and will continue to improve.
SG - Josh Childress. Playing tough with a splint on his broken finger, Josh has shown us that he is a special player. Yes, he's missed some shots, and yes, he's missed free throws. But his nose for the ball and his high BBIQ is apparent, and again, it's hard to imagine improving at this position. He may be better suited for the 3, but has risen to the challenge and contributed a lot - and when healthy, will contribute a lot more.
SF - Jared Dudley. The most athletic hands in the NBA, captain of the best second team in the league, Dudley spent his summer working on a pull up jumper, due to the fact that other teams will run him off of the 3 point shot. He has met limited success so far this season, partly because of adjustments throughout the team, but I fully expect him to be the Dudley of last year soon.
PF- Hakim Warrick - dubbed (so far) the WarMachine. He's been a pleasant surprise so far this year, but Amar'e lite is still lite. Well suited for our second team, he is developing a special chemistry with both Nash and Dragic. Again, it's hard to imagine improving this position, and there's not much question he isn't suited for the starting role.
C- Channing Frye - A unique 6'11" player with a sweet outside shot, he's displayed some new skills this year, including improved defense, a pull up jumper, some post moves, and increased physical play. He spaces the floor, performs well as a starter, and seems to have proven that last year was more than a fluke. A hugely valuable part of our team, he is the anti-Robin, and sometimes is effective in games when Robin is not (and vice-versa). Agian, hard to imagine improving this position.
So, to no one's surprise, the weak spot is the starting Power Forward position. Amar'e is gone, for better or for worse, and he isn't coming back. I did write a post about who could replace him in the free-agency bonanza of last summer, and while we could have come close, there was no way we were going to get someone who was an upgrade. The best we could have done was Bosh, and he wasn't coming here. Lee was an upgrade in rebounding, but a downgrade in scoring, as was Boozer. Besides, that's all in the past. To decide how to make the Suns an elite team, we have to focus on what's possible, not what might have been.
The way I see it, there are three options here.
Option 1 - Take a chance, and start Earl Clark. This is an extremely dangerous option. First, since the FO din't pick up his option, we might help him play his way out of Phoenix, since declining his option (the way I understand it) limits how much we could pay him when he's a free agent next year, and would allow other teams to easily outbid us. Second, he is young, inexperienced, and has shown that he has trouble grasping the complex NBA game - he shines when things are simple, but they are rarely simple for the Suns. Third, we are in the hunt - we are 6-6 through a brutal early season, and have shown that when rested and healthy, we can play with anybody. Clark is still going to make rookie mistakes, and we have little margin for error. The best thing might be to play him enough to increase his value, and trade him for someone we can develop and keep.
Option 2 - Sign a young, unproven PF, ala' Jason Thompson. JT in this case is a prototype - there are quite a few young PF's out there, usually on bad teams, who might be worth a try. Minnesota, Sacremento, the Clippers, and other lower echelon teams are rich at the PF spot, and might be convinced to part with one - for the right deal. Since it's so early in the season, it's not likely that any team is throwing in the towel, but the rumblings coming from the Kings organaziation makes JT the most likely candidate today. He's 6'11", a big body, has some experience and success in the NBA, has fallen to the 3rd string and out of favor with his coach, and has the added advantage of being a backup for Robin in case of injury. But indications are that it would probably require one of our rotation players, and that would be a heavy price to pay for a third-stringer. On the upside, if Nash can make him better, as he so often does, he may earn an apostrophe in his name.
Option 3 - Go all out and get a marquis player. The marquis players out there, like Pau Gasol, Duncan, Horford, and Garnett are not going anywhere. We might get a Kevin Love or Blake Griffin if we were willing to give up half our team to do it. Portland has been hit by the injury bug again (it's a damn BIG bug) and depending on how they do, may be open to trades for Camby or LeMarcus Aldridge. But the pickings are slim, the new CBA looms, the price is steep, and would require a commitment that would cripple us for years.
All of these options would require moving Hedo to the back of the bus, hard to do with a talented player making too much money. Can a guy making 10, 11, 12 million dollars a year be moved to the 11th spot? Is he at all tradeable? Should we keep him for the day when Grant decides to hang up the shoes?
Okay, i meant to make this short, but hopefully, it's not so long or intimidating that you all won't comment or discuss this. I left some obvious things out, and like anything, there are wrinkles to consider. But overall, it's good to have a team that's so talented and deep. The quality of our organization, our coaching staff, our training staff are unparalleled. We have some financial flexibility and key assets.
So, what would YOU do?