Just like the NBA is taking a break from the regular season, I'm taking a break from my Around the Association column this week. Instead, I'm going to narrow my focus back to the organization to which this blog is dedicated: the Phoenix Suns.
This week's hot topic is Mt. Rushmore, and more specifically, which four NBA players deserved to have their faces carved into a giant rocky monument as a way to honor them as the most significant players in league history. The discussion was sparked by an interview with LeBron James and quickly spread across the interwebs. We here at SB Nation don't like feeling left out, so we decided to join in the discussion.
I kicked around a couple different angles from which to tackle this topic. I could have gone big picture and stuck with my AtA theme, doing exactly what LeBron did and naming an all-time all-NBA Mt. Rushmore. However, plenty of other outlets have already done that and I wanted to be a bit more original. I could have looked back through the history of the Suns and named my all-time Phoenix Mt. Rushmore, but there are plenty of fans on this blog who have followed this team a lot longer than I have and therefore have a better read on who deserves to be on the rock and why.
Therefore, I decided to stick to something more personal: I'm picking my own Suns Mt. Rushmore based on the year's I've been following the team: from 2006 until now.
Even while limiting myself to more or less the last decade, this is a tough cut-down for me. I'll start with the honorable mention players. These guys are some of my favorite players to watch and cheer for and are big parts of my Phoenix fandom, but they didn't do quite enough with the Suns to make the mountain.
All right, there are your honorable mentions. Now it's time to get to the guys that made the final cut. They are the most significant players in the last decade of Phoenix Suns basketball.
There's my Mt. Rushmore. Now it's your turn Bright Siders. Who makes it onto your own personal mountain? Make sure to let us all know why you picked the guys you did. It's Valentine's Day after all, and sharing is caring.
The most interesting parts of this story are not in the teaser. In fact, the title is what I'm using to draw you in and this is meant to share parts of intentional ambiguity, insipidness and intrigue. This isn't the movie trailer that shows the only entertaining moments in the film... it's not even a movie trailer at all.
This article brought to you by Smoothie King. With over 600 locations, including two in the Phoenix Metro area, a new level of refreshment may be closer than you realize. So, "be good to yourself" and reach for smoothie royalty.
Did my "creating intrigue by lack of intrigue" in the teaser work? I'm trying to practice some better writing techniques in the story. See if you can notice them and let me know what you think.
Speaking of kings, I see an obvious endorsement deal in the making. The king of basketball and the king of smoothies.
LeBron - Dunk, dunk, dunk... "I'm the King."
Celebrity actor X ravenously gulps down smoothie - "No, this is the King."
LeBron grabs a smoothie and takes a swig.
LeBron - "Well, I guess we're both the King."
A voice-over says "Be good to yourself." *Jim drops the mic and walks off the stage.
Then again, I can see a conflict of interest there...
But enough of that (for now). What I'm digressing towards next is the chimerical notion of LeBron James becoming a Phoenix Sun. Am I completely daft or pointlessly woolgathering? I scoffed at people who suggested this type of scenario in the past, but it actually seems like things may have shifted just slightly. Is there really a Lloyd Christmas type of a shot here?
Let's consider a couple of factors...
1. Eric Bledsoe and LeBron are total besties. I've heard they have matching tattoos. James' fawning is practically embarrassing, or genuinely older brotherly if you're not dominated by cynicism (like me). They have the same agent. They've shared a toothbrush. In all earnestness, though, are there really many other people in the NBA that it seems like LeBron would rather play with?
2. Phoenix is an awesome place to play and live part time. Great winter weather. Relatively low cost of living. LeBron needs to work on his golf game. Phoenix may not have the gravitational pull of Los Angeles, but players really like to play here and it's not a secret around the league. The organization is well respected and the training staff is unilaterally considered the best in the league.
3. The ability to be truly deified by a fan base. Yes, LeBron has achieved his goal of winning championships in Miami, but those pale in comparison to the enormity of winning one for Phoenix. If the legend of
Dirty Joe LeBron James could possibly grow even larger this could be a way to do it. It would be like the inception of the Heat Index all over again, but without the cheap, fake fanfare surrounding that situation. There are fans in Phoenix that have been waiting all their lives for a banner and King would be immortalized if he helped hang it.
4. The ability to be surrounded by the best collection of talent during his career. The Suns are really perfectly situated for a star player to come in and make this league their (you know what). James is already calling Goran "Dragon." Bledsoe returning gives the Suns one of the best backcourts in the league with two improving players. Lots of other pieces. Draft picks. And...
5. Ryan McMidas. It's hard for me to imagine him doing anything that would totally blindside me. King Midas. King James. Smoothie King.
Maybe I'm staggeringly delusional with these inane ramblings, but until LeBron is inked to his next deal I'm going to live life loud and dream like an idiot.
The 2014 NBA All-Star game, and ancillary festivities, is coming up this weekend and the Slam Dunk competition will once again be a travesty of its former self. People who we'd really rather not watch will gather at Smoothie King Stadium, home of the Pelicans, and participate in an even that used to be must see tv and is now an afterthought.
BTW, how bush league does Smoothie King Stadium, home of the Pelicans, sound? Am I the only one who thinks... "Is this a Double A baseball team?" Err... I mean... Smoothie King is a great name for a stadium!
*Warning this next part is copy/pasted from an email I sent about this topic in a group thread that nobody responded to.
I was just thinking (something I'm not very good at) in the wake of LeBron James' dunkfest...
Why don't they incentivize players to enter the competition by offering a prize donated to charity for the winner?
Call it the $1,000,000 "Enter Sponsor Here" All-Star Slam Dunk Challenge with the money being donated to a charity of the winner's choosing. Couldn't that put some pressure on guys like LeBron to enter? The NBA could even help shoulder some of the burden of the prize as part of its NBA (sorta) Cares program since they would get better ratings...
Players could enter and a "panel?" could select the best entrants. I would definitely set aside time to watch a dunk contest with LeBron, Durant, Griffin, George, Howard, etc. in it.
There have been a lot of stats floating around evincing how beastly the Dragon has been this season, but I want to be a snowflake and put forth my very own for consideration. By cherry picking the most favorable sets of data I can make my factoid seem quite impressive. If Goran Dragic continues his incendiary pace, which has actually been gaining momentum recently, he will end up with historically great numbers. Not great numbers with respect to his current set of peers. Historically great.
In NBA history there have only been 25 seasons in which a player has posted better numbers in the triumvirate of points per game (20.3), TS% (.613) and WS/48 (.206) than what Goran is averaging now. That's seasons, not players.
Here's the list if you'd like to peruse it, but I've listed the players below. The season finder was being insolent, so there's actually a season for Malone and one for Kareem that don't really qualify.
One second, let me take another quaff of my delicious Smoothie King smoothie. Damn, that's smooth. I love the high protein almond mocha. Now here it goes...
LeBron James (1) *currently on pace for second **active
Kevin Durant (1) * currently on pace for second **active
Charles Barkley (5)
Magic Johnson (2)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2)
Kevin McHale (2)
Adrian Dantley (2)
Amar'e Stoudemire (2) **active
Dwight Howard **active
Pretty impressive company, right? Among active players it's only LeBron, Durant, Amar'e and Howard. That would make Goran the only active guard. What if we throw in Goran's 6.2 assists?
Then it's just Michael, Magic, Wilt and LeBron (and coming to a theater near you... the Dragon - there's the movie trailer).
What's great is that Dragic is on an ascending trajectory and has a history of improving each year as the season progresses. He might actually move up that list. This season may put him among the pantheon in terms of efficient volume scoring while being a multidimensional threat as a distributor.
This is just a logical lacuna to help differentiate between the transition and the launching of my new campaign to spread the word that...
The Suns have been doing an inadequately insufficient job of promoting Goran so I think it's time for an intervention. Who can help them breathe some fire into this campaign? Perhaps the individual responsible for the new Smoothie King hit commercial in the making...
Here's an idea, let's (and by let's I mean you, Phoenix Suns) make sure people know how to say the One Man Fastbreak's name. Push the Dragon theme and teach people that it's Dragic like Dragon- the same g sound. Even the national media guys can probably catch on and start pronouncing his name correctly if it gets shoved down their throat enough times. Instruction by repetition might be the only way that works with people that specifically talk about and broadcast basketball for a living. Without these instructional tools they can't be expected to know the pronunciation of the pretty damn easy name of a guy who's becoming one of the better players in the league.
Then, keep running with the Dragon theme. When people think Dragic they should be envisioning fire and brimstone while he's flying down the court ready to go medieval on his opponents' ass. Name recognition.
It should be easy to fund project Dragon Fire with the buckets full of cash the Suns are piling into closets thanks to paying Goran pennies on the dollar for his staggering production.
If they want they can even use my body art to help the cause.
Yes, that's my shoulder. I'm actually still getting work done on this. It's not complete. And I sh&^ you not, I have a Phoenix on my other shoulder. Isn't it serendipitous how the passion of my sporting life mirrors the symbolism for these mythical creatures and what they represent? Even I can see ways that this could be exploited.
And I'm an idiot.
Why not get busy with some art and graphics to tie the Phoenix and Dragon concepts together? This stuff practically markets itself. Here's one I did below that creates a bond between Goran and the Gorilla (that's G Twice, like Going Gorilla and my man Gerald Green). Now do this with the Phoenix and the Dragon.
It's like a mirror image. Coincidence? I think not.
I was going to delve into a few more things, but I think I can save
you from a fate worse than death them for next time. That would be the next weekly installment of an article that posts on a wildly unpredictable basis.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article towards Smoothie King are those of the author and do not reflect those of SB Nation and Bright Side of the Sun... even though if you cornered them off the record I'm sure they'd admit they're absolutely delicious. The author has not received any financial compensation for any part of this article, but would entertain any offer for monetary considerations including, but not limited to, bribes.
In this weekly segment, I discuss some thoughts on Eric Bledsoe's free agency, the sad end of Steve Nash's career and more.
The Suns are heading into All-Star break with a slight bit of disappointment coming from Goran Dragic's All-Star snub and from a hard-fought loss to the Miami Heat earlier in the week.
However, things have been overwhelmingly positive for the Suns this year. The team has surpassed approximately 100% of the everyone's expectations in order to win somewhere around 2590245% more games than they had been projected to before the season began. Basically every single player on the roster is having the best year of his career, Eric Bledsoe emerged as a young star before his injury and Goran Dragic showed the NBA why he's the most underrated player in the league after said injury.
Things continue to look up for the Suns. The team is seemingly involved in nearly every trade rumor that pops up due to Phoenix's status as a "buyer" (with Emeka Okafor's valuable contract) andEric Bledsoe is expected to return in the near future.
So for now, cheer on Miles Plumlee and Goran Dragic during this weekend's Rising Stars game and Skills Challenge, respectively, and brace yourselves for a whirlwind of trade rumors before the February 20 deadline.
Let's now take a look at some random Suns-related content that has recently floated around various parts of the internet and some of my musings.
Phoenix Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby was a guest on the Doug and Wolf Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM this Tuesday. When asked about Eric Bledsoe's future in Phoenix, he reiterated the franchise's plans to match any offer Bledsoe will receive in his restricted free agency this summer.
This is likely an attempt from Babby to dissuade GMs of other teams from wasting their time and efforts on Bledsoe this July so the Suns can save some money. However, I still believe at least one team will present a max offer sheet to Bledsoe--and one is all it takes. I also think the Suns will remain true to their words and match any such offer.
But in the words of the venerable Missy Elliott, is it worth it? Let me work it:
Too many fans hear "max contract" and assume things that aren't necessarily accurate. In the NBA, not all max contracts are the same. Take a look at the breakdown of the different types of maxes players in the NBA can receive (from the NBA Salary Cap FAQ):
Since he's coming off a rookie contract, Eric Bledsoe is eligible to receive 25% of the salary cap in the form of a maximum contract. I do believe that Bledsoe has shown enough this season to not only command such an offer sheet from another team, but to push the Suns to match one.
To take a closer look at the flexibility the Suns will have this summer after retaining Bledsoe's contract, I added a sheet to the spreadsheet above ("Bledsoe & Tucker extensions") with projected extensions for him and PJ Tucker. I gave Bledsoe a maximum contract starting at the 2013-14 max salary of $13.7 million, while Tucker receives a Jared Dudley extension of $4.25 million per year in this scenario.
In such a situation, the Suns would field the current roster minus Okafor, Kravtsov, Christmas and Barbosa and would have a total payroll of just under $50 million. With the 2014-15 salary cap projected to be over $60 million, the Suns would have over $10 million in cap room after these new contracts for Bledsoe and Tucker. They would be able to use that room to sign drafted rookies, go after free agents or retain flexibility for a blockbuster trade in which they could take back more salary than they'd send out.
The possibilities don't just end there. If Ryan McDonough and co. are determined to chase a major free agent this summer, they could potentially sign one before going over the cap to retain their own restricted free agent, Bledsoe. This scenario would require to retain Bledsoe's cap hold of about $6.6 million, sign a free agent first and then match an offer sheet for Bledsoe. Although they'd be over the cap for the 2014-15 season, such maneuvering could give Phoenix about $8 million in addition cap flexibility this summer.
The bottom line is that the Phoenix Suns will have plenty of flexibility this summer, even with a mini-max contract for their mini-LeBron.
I understand that many Suns fans still refuse to acknowledge Steve Nash's presence because of his current existence on a Lakers roster. I know that a lot of people who adored him for so long still dislike him today after he requested a trade nearly two years ago to a hated rival just a week after claiming he'd never be able to don the purple and gold because he considered himself to be "old school."
I get that. I really do--I was one of those people for a long time, and still partly am.
But bear with me here.
Steve Nash is the reason I am a basketball fan. He is why I turned on a Suns game in 2005, didn't change the channel and never looked back. If it weren't for his years in purple and orange, I might have never begun watching sports and I may never have immersed myself in the terrible, wonderful and beautiful world of being a crazed fan. It may sound overly melodramatic, but I don't think it's a stretch to say I would not be the fan I am today nor the person I am today without a skinny Canadian dude who looked nothing like a prototypical NBA athlete for all of his 17 years in the league.
Steve Nash is the reason I became a fan of basketball, and he's the reason I became a much bigger Phoenix Suns fan than a Steve Nash fan.
This is why it makes me sad to watch that tremendous Grantland feature above (you should also give this great accompanying column by Bill Simmons a read). After rooting for the Lakers to fail through all of 2012-13 and reveling in the disastrous outcome of that much-publicized squad, I realized this year that one feeling overshadows all others when I think, watch or read about Steve Nash: nostalgia.
I have such fond memories of his years in Phoenix--and always will--that I feel sad every time I hear of Nash's latest setback in LA. This was a guy that I idolized through all of my teenage years, only to feel a confusing amount of anger when he seemingly "betrayed" Suns fans in 2012. That anger turned to indifference when Nash suffered his first injury in LA and indifference became pity after last summer as I watched him try to overcome injuries and contribute to a miserable 2013-14 Lakers team.
Now, I feel neither anger nor indifference to Steve Nash. As the 40-year old attempts to recover from yet another physical setback, I watch in fond memory of the player he once was for my favorite team. I may no longer consider him to be the "can-do-no-wrong" hero I naively thought he was when I was younger, but I now have admiration for the old man trying to prove he's more than just an overpaid, forgotten former star. As a selfish and nostalgic fan, I just hate to see Nash end his career this way, no matter the colors on his jersey.
I'm not trying to say that Suns fans who prefer to ignore Steve Nash or continue to dislike him are wrong in anyway--they're not. But as someone who owes so much of his fandom to Nash, I think I've come full circle and am hoping for him to physically recover to the point of being able to retire when he wants to, not when Father Time wants him to.
In my quest to
get Goran Dragic to file a restraining order against me commemorate Goran's stellar play this year, I've taken to making really awful photoshops of him. On a related note, I should point out that I don't really know how to use Photoshop, so when I say "awful," I've never meant it more.
This week, I'm presenting How to Train Your Dragon, co-starring Jeff Hornacek as the masterful coach who has tapped into The Dragon's immense potential, resulting in the best play of the latter's career:
Suns President Lon Babby on the trade deadline: "We are all in agreement in the principle of, 'Don't be blinded by instant gratification.'"— Jeramie McPeek (@Jeramie) February 11, 2014
Man I love this Suns team. Tough, fast and well coached. One of the best stories in the NBA this year.— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerrTNT) February 12, 2014
Goran Dragic is the first in nearly a full year to score at least 34 on as few as 13 shots...— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) February 9, 2014
Jesus, the Suns now have a better record than the Warriors. Can Jeff Hornacek win MVP rather than Coach of the Year?— Akis Yerocostas (@Aykis16) February 9, 2014
Goran Dragic with a career high 34 points on THIRTEEN shots. And one giant middle finger to the All-Star game.— BrightSideoftheSun (@BrightSideSun) February 9, 2014
The Miami Heat played a big role in affecting the West standings this week. LeBron James dominated in Phoenix to eke out a close win over the Suns and buried the Warriors the very next night with a nasty fadeaway three-pointer. King James of the East had his way with the West.
The Mavericks have jumped over both Phoenix and Golden State to hold the 6th seed in the West heading into the All-Star break, while the Suns are 7th and Warriors are 8th. It's going to be a wild ride to the postseason, folks.
|Oklahoma City Thunder||54||42-12||.778|
|San Antonio Spurs||53||38-15||.717|
|Los Angeles Clippers||55||37-18||.673|
|Portland Trail Blazers||53||36-17||.679|
|Golden State Warriors||53||31-22||.585|
|New Orleans Pelicans||52||23-29||.442|
|Los Angeles Lakers||52||18-34||.346|
I haven't done a Solar Flares in a while so I thought I'd change it up a bit this time. Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for what else you'd like me to do/include in these weekly segments (I'm open to anything!)? As always, feel free to discuss below.