This is going to be an interesting game. Both teams are struggling with confidence issues, trade talk/rumors... while losing to bottom feeders. Even the Nuggets(20-16) have lost to the Clippers and Kings only they got blown out. See were not the only ones that can't beat crappy teams! That makes you feel better, right?
More after the jump.
This is a game I feel the Suns can steal if they can just play with a little bit more confidence. In fact, maybe that's what it will come down to. I mean the Nuggets have really been struggling recently due to all the Carmelo drama and trade talk. We saw this coming though. For a while they have always been a highly emotional team that tend to give up when things go bad for them. Just ask Sir Charles-
C. Billups vs S. Nash - He's lost a few steps, but Chauncey can still ball, yet got to go with Nash on this one.
A. Afflalo vs V. Carter - Vince wins this one. However, Afflalo averages 12.1ppg and has got some good 3-pt range. Don't leave him open Carter.
N. Hilario vs R. Lopez - Nene right now is a much better player. Lopez is coming off of a 15/6/3 game though. Very curious to see how this one goes.
C. Anthony vs J. Dudley - No Grant Hill hurts yet Dudley is the next best defender we have. I'm assuming he'll be starting in Grant's place. Yet even Dudz athletic hands is not enough to stop Melo.
S. Williams vs C. Frye - Got to give this one to Frye. Don't know much about Shelden, but he averages 6 and 5 in 18mpg. He seems like another Lou Amundson.
Harrington and Smith will come off the bench for Denver. We all know what those guys can do and I'm sure you all remember Gary Forbes and his 15 points on 5-8 shooting last outing? With no Hill I'm interested to see who will backup Dudley? I really want to see more Chilldress, but than again I feel we need that extra 3-pt threat in Pietrus instead. I expect to see more Warrick tonight-
"I went back and looked at all the games where we’ve been successful and played pretty good, and he’s (Hakim Warrick) had pretty good numbers, so we’ve got to get him back in the rotation. As I said, (we need to) play some consistent minutes with people—not have it go up and down and fluctuate.- Gentry
Keys to the Game
Play defense, score the ball and win. Simple huh? Well, for the Suns that's asking a lot. Usually they either do one or the other, but rarely we see them do both at the same time. Also, don't let JR Smith get hot. This is a guy that can suck one night and play like a superstar the other. In the last outing he scored 30 points in a 138-133 Denver win. Just guard him and don't give him easy baskets early on, ok. They can't let unknowns like Gary Forbes and Sheldon Williams hurt them either.
I expect this game to go down to the wire. Both teams are evenly matched and overall this should be an exciting one for all ya folks. It's kind of interesting that the Suns get to play Denver and the Nets in b2b's because as you know both teams are coming close to a deal that would send Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey. You'd expect those teams to not be that focused. I'd say this is a perfect opportunity for the them to get a couple wins, gain some momentum and get back on track. The Suns just need to concentrate and have fun.
I'll be honest, I haven't looked at the standings in a long time(I'm sure you know why), but I just did and realized that Phoenix isn't far from catching New Orleans(22-16) for that 6th seed. As bad as they've played they're still very much alive in the playoff race, so there's no reason to give up and call it a season right now.
However, if we continue to lose it may be time for the FO to really think about committing to a full rebuild meaning Nash and Hill get traded. Right now, I'm not quite ready to "Pull the Plug" on this Nash era. I say just give it a couple more weeks and see what happens. Maybe the Suns can steal some games and gain some confidence to get themselves in a good position for the playoffs? If not I wouldn't be against a full rebuild.
With all this discussion over whether or not to trade Steve Nash, I made an argument that you don't want to be the next Detroit Pistons.
For those not totally in the know about Detroit in the 2000s, hit the jump for more detail.
In 2008, Pistons GM Joe Dumars had a successful team that he saw fading. Instead of allowing the slow, agonizing fall to happen on his watch, he decided to retool on the fly.
Out: Chauncey Billups. In: Allen Iverson's expiring contract, meaning a boatload of cash for a new star that summer. Dumars was lauded for his visionary nature.
But what did all that cash and a higher draft pick get the Pistons? Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva (the 2nd and 3rd best FAs that summer after Hedo) and the black-hole future in lottery-land he was desperately trying to avoid.
Joe Dumars made the cardinal mistake. When trying to retool on the fly, he traded his team's heart and soul. You don't trade the straw that stirs the drink!
How does this pertain to the Suns? Eerily.
Depending on how you look at it, the Suns are already rid themselves of that 'straw' (Amare) or are at the precipice right now (Nash).
More history on the Pistons:
From 2003-2008, the Pistons went to 6 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. They peaked in the 2nd and 3rd seasons after acquiring Rasheed Wallace (2 Finals, 1 Ring. The next three seasons, the Pistons still made the ECF each time but lost. It was clear, they'd reached their peak with that team and some of the core was aging.
In the second week of the 2008-2009 season, GM Joe Dumars - very respected at the time - tried to retool on the fly. He wanted to avoid an agonizing descent into nothingness, even while every one of his core players was on a long contract.
He traded PG Chauncey Billups for PG Allen Iverson's expiring deal, sacrificing the current season while freeing up tons of cash for free agency to supplement his remaining core of Hamilton, Wallace and Prince.
Pundits around the league extolled Dumars for his vision and preplanning. He was going to avoid the Portland, Seattle, Minnesota, Clippers, Warriors doldrums and shoot his team right back to the top with a new star in free agency.
Joe Dumars had a valiant idea - retool on the fly - but his execution was miserable. Why? He traded the ONE GUY he couldn't afford to trade: Chauncey Billups. Billups was the engine. The heart and soul of the Pistons. Without the engine, the car fell completely apart.
Billups went on to lead Denver to his favorite place - the Conference Finals - while Detroit went out in the first round and hasn't made the playoffs in 2 years since. Now, the Pistons are a joke with no future and find themselves still saddled with 2 aging stars (Prince and Hamilton) who "deserve more than their fate".
Does this mirror the current Suns in a way that make you shudder?
Was Amare Stoudemire the Suns' equivalent of Chauncey Billups? Was Amare actually the straw that stirred the drink of the Phoenix Suns, moreso than Nash?
Or is Steve Nash the Suns' equivalent to Chauncey?
In my opinion, it's the latter. The Pistons were rudderless after trading Billups. The Suns are not. But either way, the Suns are looking at the abyss of lottery land with no future stars on their roster unless the new Front Office pulls a magic wand out of its waistband.
The Suns have to avoid any more panic moves.
Last summer is last summer. Those panic moves are done. Childress for 5 years. Warrick for 3. Hedo for 4. But at least they've already rid themselves of the last one, and the first two add up to less money (10 million) than the Pistons are currently paying undersized SG Ben Gordon, not to mention the 8 mill they're giving undersized, follically-challenged Charlie Villanueva. Detroit sunk 18 million a year for 5 years into those two, so it could be worse Suns fans.
Where the Pistons and Suns mirror each other is in the roster. Two inconsistent, aging stars around a bunch of role players.
But while the Pistons have already shot their free agency wad, the Suns' next best chance is still on the horizon.
And, in my opinion, they still have the star that stirs their drink in the meantime.
This season is lost, the window is closed. The only thing left for us true purple blooded Suns fans is pain and misery. At least for a season or two.
The 2010 off season acquisitions of Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu, and Hakim Warrick and the resigning of Channing Frye was anticlimactic in most respects, but in hindsight were strong business moves. Sarver was hedging his bets by picking up 3 players with the unlikely potential to pick up the slack left by Amare Stoudemire's departure. And if the deals didn't work out, the men were all tradeable-that is, they all had reasonable contracts and market value. At the time we heard words to describe the signings as "adding depth, talent, and flexibility." Guys like myself bought into the talent part and hoped for the best as far as chemistry. But I (we) were wrong. Hedo didn't fit, Chill got hurt, and Warrick proved a one trick pony. The good news is that Hedo and his awful contract are gone, and both Warrick and Childress are decent NBA role players that could be tossed into any deal or dealt by themselves.
Flexibility may be a very vital role in life for anyone. But in a corporation it is critical. Flexible business model, flexible parts of the machine, the ability to change while remaining profitable. This is rebuilding, Suns style. For now anyway.
The Suns, as they stand right now are a snake-bitten squad. Lacking confidence, expectations smashed, new faces and brains trying to fit into the system. It is all too much to handle. Too much for Alvin Gentry and his staff, too much for Nash to quarterback, too much for fans with high expectations to weather.
We crave a big 4 to fill Amare's spot, but that is only one small piece of the jigsaw. A big is certainly needed, but another trade enshrouded with expectations of positive change is impossible. As we have seen this season, change smacks consistency in the face. Change is the opposite of continuity, and the result of a lack of both consistency and continuity breeds uncertainty. Things could work, or things could not. 50/50, man. But we have all seen the result of rolling the dice with the our last hundred bucks, praying for the jackpot. Vegas always wins.
The lineups have changed, the roles have changed, the personnel have changed. In the meantime losses have been mounting. Not just "hey we played hard but couldn't pull it out..." but also the type of soul crushing losses that leave a team looking for answers where there are none. We hear quotes like "we need to work at it...we need some time." Work is good. Blood, sweat, tears. Sure. But it doesn't always make one a winner.
The Suns dealt Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and Hedo Turkoglu to the Orlando Magic for Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, a first, and Vince Carter. Again the Suns FO obtained value and flexibility. Vince Carter is only taking up space until he can be dealt or his contract runs out. In return good ol' Bob is once again hedging. Robin Lopez has returned form injuries and proven confused, docile, and obviously ineffective. Will he return to prime 2010 form where he proved vital in parts of the season when he wasn't injured? We can only hope so. Marcin Gortat may be a lot of things, and motivated is one of them. That along with intelligent and athletic usually produces a quality big man in the NBA. Pietrus may be a chukker, but he is young, cheap, and has the right attitude. Most 2's are streaky.Most quality 2's have size. Pietrus fits the mold, and most importantly he is young and could be molded into a 3. He is what he is right now, but it doesn't mean he cannot change. They key is he as potential, is motivated, and is coachable.
Last week before the 76ers game, there was an air of excitement and possibility as Vince Carter was to play his first game in a Suns uniform. Hell, some people were even breaking out the bearded one's old nickname, Vinsanity. The era of Vinsanity. How, 2001 is that? But in his office before the game, Alvin Gentry accidentally waxed nostalgic for Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson as he spoke about last year's run into the WC Finals. It was enough to make one take melancholy notice, swallow hard, and for a moment, come close to shedding a a couple of purple and orange tears. Last year was so very special. Do you remember it? Up and down and up and down then finally up. We heard little from the pundits and national media about how storied the season was for the Phoenix Suns. If a book called ":07 Or Less" could be published, so could a novel about the Suns v. 2009-10. What would you call it?
The good news for us fans is that the Suns have a nice group of young core players. Jared Dudley is a gamer that brings 110% effort every night. Goran Dragic, although inconsistent, is an athletic, quality NBA talent who has an excellent attitude and has shown signs of dominance in clutch situations . Marcin Gortat is an above average, hard nosed, NBA big man with a chip on his shoulder and some skills. Channing Frye is serviceable, wants to be in the desert, and has multiple dimensions to his game. Mikael Pietrus is also a youngish, serviceable player who can D it up and hit from deep. Robin Lopez needs to decide if he is healthy or not, if he wants to play basketball or not. Right now, he still has trade value although he has played mostly awful this season. The Suns FO should be open to trading him for a decent return. Hell, no one on this squad should be untradeable.
With two first rounders in the upcoming draft the Suns could pick up some young, quality, cheap talent. Dealing Hill, Nash and Carter could yield at least another 1st rounder and or a decent 4 or PG. Who? Let the masses rosterbate together, I never learned how to effectively rosterbate.
The problem now is that of expectations and hope. After last season's improbable deep playoff run along with Amare Stoudemire's departure, we hoped for the best despite realizing we had lost a very huge reason for our team's success. The Suns went through ups and downs like crazy before settling in when it mattered. The squad never quit on a game, the team always had a chance to win. The perfect balance of age, athleticism, and most importantly, chemistry had been struck. And With Steve Nash on your squad, you don't quit, you always have a shot to pull out a W.
Of course Nash is still in town but his supporting cast is vastly different than last year's. We fans want to believe with Nash around there will always be a chance of turning around a game or, a whole season for that matter. However, it cannot happen. Will not happen. This team cannot stop anyone in the league, regardless of how simple the defensive schemes are constructed. Without Jason Richardson around the offense has sputtered. There is no go to man. It's Nash and Hill versus the world....On any given night this team can hang with the best team in the league for 3 quarters but inevitably lose. The mental toughness needed to stay focused and close out the opponent is gone.
If Nash was a superhero, he would be Batman. His sidekick would be Grant Hill as Robin. The dynamic duo are solid. The only problem is they have zero help from the Justice League. At some point you need a Superman, along with some support from Aquaman, Green Lantern, Apache Chief.Screw the Wonder Twins though. Form of a bucket of water? BS, this is the NBA.
Steve and Grant are suffering. Nash and Hill are saying the right things, thus illustrating how exceptional they are as human beings as well as athletes. They do not quit on their teammates or their fans. They are desperately attempting to rid the boat of accumulating water from the giant hole in the bow. But the hole is too big, the ship is all but sunk, Titanic style. For all of their blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, and effort it's time to do for them what they will never ask for.
It is time to let go of the delusion that the Suns can turn this season around. It is time to let go of the past, look forward to the future.
Trade them, begin again.
Why it May Not Happen
Money. There is zero draw to a Suns game without Nash and Hill around. Maybe penny beer night would bring 'em out to the arena. The loss of revenue in ticket and jersey sales is probably unappetizing to Mr. Sarver and Co. But fans don't care about that. Fans care about W's. Fans care about a title. Neither of which are going to occur as this team is presently constructed.
Fans love to crucify the rich owners for trading their beloved players away, or not offering guys enough cash to stick around. But in this case, trading away the two most beloved assets on the team is the only answer. Eventually the draw will lessen, regardless of whether Nash and Hill are around. Losing will do that. Thus, keeping them around while the team is losing is doing no one any good. Any fan who has eyes and respect for what these two men have done for the franchise will understand what needs to be done.
I had some time while on a flight today so I transcribed the post game audio from last night's Suns win over the Cavs. I was hoping something in there would jump out and turn into a story -- that usually happens. But this time, I got nothing.
But since I transcribed all the quotes, here they are. Feel free to completely ignore them but I will give 10 Internet Points to anyone that comes up with a credible post game story idea out of this mess.
"I thought we were struggling on the boards like usual. J.J. (Hickson) is so athletic. They brought in the Cookie Monster, that big dude I don't even know his name, he was huge. They played well, we could have done something better but hey we got it tonight."
"What we take away is momentum. It starts a little streak. We take away that we keep grinding out and keep believing we can get wins and hey, it's a long season. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
"What they did on defense today was switch towards the end. That's what New York did the whole game. This team, Byron Scott, kind of like the LA, Miami, the opposite wing helps on the role so I have a chance to catch and shoot. Early on, I tried to do a one dribble pump fake and wasn't really getting a rhythm so I let it fly."
"I thought we kept out man in front. It's not a great shooting team so we tried to make them shoot from the outside. I thought we scrapped a little more in the second half. First quarter was pretty bad and you can't guard against turnovers. I thought we turned the ball over a little too much first quarter and we calmed that down."
"It wasn't really a packed crowd out there on a Sunday night versus Cleveland. I thought for the most part once we hit threes and started getting it going, I thought the crowd started getting into it and that helped us get this win."
"At times this month we got paralysis and kind of dropped out heads. Tonight, we fought through those moments where we could have given in a little bit and really stayed with it."
"It was one of those games were we just had to find a way to win it and now we can move on and try and gain something from it. But we're struggling, we're mentally struggling and we're not playing up to our capabilities yet. We've not found a rhythm or confidence. Sometimes you have to fight through it and win these games."
"Like tonight, a team like tonight, if we question ourselves at all we can lose to anybody. So we found a way to hang in there. It's a mentality that allowed us to win. "
Jared was sick today. Lead us in everything. He's a winner. He comes out and gives us everything.
"We don't have any fours so if Hakim comes out and plays well it gives us a four and it gives our team balance."
"At time we needed a little more rebounding, defense, hustle at that position. We find a way to score. We just need a little more presence at times. When he comes and plays with energy, he makes up for his lack of size and can really be a huge factor."
Were you frustrated in the first quarter?
"Frustration's been mounting for about three months. It's hard. This is very difficult. Just trying to fight through it every day and stay positive is a challenge. Sometimes you have to take a step back and gain a perspective but when you get back out there the fire burns and the frustration is there."
"We've just got to keep working. Who knows what the future holds but we can't stop working."
"We were able to buckle down, get stops and limit their second chance points, particularly late in the game. They were getting a lot in the first half. I think we did a better job, particularly the guards, trying to keep them off the boards. Even their guards, their smaller guards, were still getting rebounds. I think we did a better job of being a little more aggressive on the defensive end."
"I was trying to post up whoever was trying to guard me down there really. Just trying to make plays, just trying to get easy baskets, just trying to get myself going. It was there, coach told me to we wanted to take advantage of that and force them to double team and get some shots for our guys or myself if it was there so it kind of opened things up for us."
"This is something we are definitely capable of. Hopefully, this makes us want more. We moved the ball well, guys shot the ball with confidence tonight regardless if we missed a few. That's the way we have to approach it."
It was the same offense, we just hit shots. We got stops when we need them and got in transition. Moved ball and made plays
"We knew it was going to be grind, regardless. If you don't knock them out early, you give them life, they're going to be right in the game. We know they're trying to get a win and wherever they go next they're going to still try and get a win. If you don't jump on a team like that early, it's just going to be a dog fight. I think they were trying to do the same to us, just trying to keep our losing streak going if you would. You can feel they were trying to come out and throw the first punch. We were able to sustain it and find a way to get a win in the fourth."