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"I'm still here."
Ed Note: This is the second of our five-part season preview series. Part 1 can be found here. We are thrilled that Mike Lisboa made a return to Bright Side of the Sun to share these thoughts. We hope to see more of him again this season.
True story: as soon as the Suns lost to the Lakers in game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals last season, I canceled my cable. I have cable for one reason and reason only: NBA League Pass so I can watch the Suns year-round in LA.
As a result, I did not have to deal with the round-the-clock madness on ESPN regarding the NBA's off-season. You may have heard it was rather dramatic in certain cities in the mid-west and southern Florida.
However, outside of those two locales, I feel confident in saying the Phoenix Suns had the most tumultuous off-season in the Association. Let's break it down.
Bearing Down and Out
The Suns' first big loss of the off-season came in June when Steve Kerr departed as general manager. This was rightfully met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Planet Orange.
After, how shall we say... a rough start, Kerr seemed to have found his footing as GM. With the additions of Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, Lou Amundson and Goran Dragic, he proved himself a capable scout of both talent and chemistry, cobbling together the pieces around Steve Nash and A'mare Stoudemire that would lead to last season's deep playoff run.
An extension seemed all but assured, providing the organization with some continuity into the post-A'mare (and probably post- Nash) Era.
Alas, whether it was the lack of money from owner Robert Sarver or the lure of money (and family time) from his old friends at TNT, it was not to be. In June, the front office got blown up in a manner more befitting of a perennial lottery team than a perennial Western Conference contender. Both Steve Kerr and Suns Senior VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin were out the door as the crack of A'mare Stoudemire's free agency dawned with no successors in sight.
Oh, yes, and the NBA Draft was right around the corner as well...
Round 2... FIGHT!
Still paying for the sins of a "win now" mentality* from prior front office maneuvers, the Suns had no first-round draft pick in the 2010 Draft. They would be fighting over table scraps and hoping to pluck a bit of wheat from so much chaff in the second round.
With the Stoudemire's apparent departure looming and Lou Amundson's asking price looking too high for a 9th man, the Suns drafted a pair of power forwards in Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal (46th overall) and Miami's Dwayne Collins (60th).
Let that sink in for a moment: as of a week before free agency began, the Suns were replacing a freakish All-Star and a dirtworker par excellence with two second-round picks. If you were a Suns fan, this was plenty of motivation to start drinking heavily.**
Thursday, July 1, 2010 was a wacky day in Suns history.*** It was day 2 of free agency and getting a straight answer out of anyone about the state of negotiations was nearly impossible. Dueling tweets from Paul Coro and John Gambodoro offered updates (often conflicting) about the state of the Suns' negotiations with their free agent frontcourt star.
Finally, at approximately 7:46 MST, Suns fans got the news they had been waiting for:
RT @Gambo620: Suns have agreed to 5 year $30 million dollar contract with free agent center Channing Frye.
Yes! Channing Frye was a Sun again! The rest of the Suns' offseason plans could now proceed... Oh. Right. There was that other free agent member of the Suns frontcourt to consider.
But there would be no word on where Lou Amunds... OK, I'm stalling.
It was a slow train coming. It was plain as day. It was the inevitability that drove the rest of the Suns' off-season decision-making. And I hate that it happened.
The Nash-Stoudemire pick and roll was as close to Stockton-Malone as the NBA had come in over a decade. It was nearly automatic. It was hell to defend. Opposing teams had to pick their poison, a decision that got more and more difficult as A'mare's range grew to include an increasingly devastating 20-footer. And if A'mare found a seam, bad things were going to happen to that rim. Very bad things.
And it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough to win a ring. It wasn't enough to keep A'mare happy. It wasn't enough for ownership to break the bank for.
On Friday, July 2, the Suns agreed to terms with Hakim Warrick to the tune of 4 years and $18 million effectively ending the Stoudemire Era in Phoenix.
On Monday, July 5, A'mare Stoudemire announced a slightly different deal with the New York Knicks.
Everyone involved conducted themselves with reason, professionalism and class. But like a peaceful death or a civil divorce, it doesn't change the fact that something wonderful was lost forever. So it goes.
Chill, Ball, Barbs and Babs
Suns fans suffered through the next week (including some fairly uninspired Summer League basketball) full of doubts. D-day had come: A'mare was gone and there was nothing to show for it...
Except that wasn't quite true. As a lovely parting gift, a sign-and-trade with the Knicks has been negotiated. In exchange for signing A'mare to a max deal, the Suns got a whopping $16.5 million traded player exception. And it did not take them long to use it.
First, the Suns used part of that exception to land Josh Childress in a sign and trade with the Hawks. Next, another long-time Sun was sent packing when the Suns dealt Leandro Barbosa and another portion of the TPE to theToronto Raptors for Hedo Turkoglu and his masterful command of the English language.
Finally, just over a week later, the Suns would announce a re-structured front office beginning with the hiring of former agent Lon Babby as President of Basketball Operations.
Making Sense of It All
Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding when the rubber meets the road and all the irons in the fire or something like that. In the meantime, as of this post "going to press", we haven't had a chance to glimpse all the parts together at one time on the court. Until then, my thoughts are:
OK, folks that does it for my off-season analysis. Thank you for having me one more time. This has been part 2 of Bright Side of the Sun's Pre-Season Extravaganza. In the coming days, look for....
* It's a debate for another time, but I think that while the lack of draft picks ultimately hurt the Suns as they aged, the "win now" mentality of Sarver and Mike D'Antoni was completely justified by the perception that the Suns were simply missing that "one piece." Unfortunately that piece was "defense", which is only available via draft or free agency in fantasy football.
** That's for those of you who need an excuse to drink heavily. I generally don't, but I try to have one on hand. Currently it's "stuck in Cincinnati for a month."
*** Wacky is probably not the best word choice here. But as I am drinking heavily in Cincinnati, I could not think of anything else. /burps. /plays slide whistle.
**** True etymological fact: The word "wacky" was invented solely as an adjective to describe Nellyball line-ups.