Kobe is back. After a warm up against the Toronto Raptors tonight he will be expectantly awaiting the Suns arrival on Tuesday with a fire to win burning in his dark heart. After all, Kobe Bryant hates the Suns. But for me, the feeling isn't mutual.

We all know that Kobe is a bit of a bitter, resentful shell of a human being.  And he's made no secret of professing his true feelings towards the Suns organization.

"I don’t like them," Bryant said of the Suns. "Plain and simple, I do not like them. They used to whip us pretty good and used to let us know about it, and I. Will. Not. Forget. That."

Even though most of the guys from that team are gone?

"I. Don’t. Care," Bryant said. "I won’t let it go."


But with his return from a major injury at the age of 35 the number of games for Bryant to work out his pent up frustration is dwindling.  And as the Suns chance to lay another beating on the Lakers approaches my mind wandered to the last days of another former star who had a prominent position in my rooting interests years ago.

Michael Jordan was one of the first professional athletes that made my blood boil.  I had never bought into the Air Jordan mania that swept the nation and was irritated by the bandwagon nature of people that sprouted up wearing Bulls gear when the team started winning championships. The Suns were my team and, after the trade for Barkley, the Bulls were not only the enemy, but the main obstacle in my team's championship aspirations. His ascendance to anathema was complete after the 1993 NBA Finals.  I was 14 and this marked the first time I really felt heartbroken watching sports. In fact, I'm not sure if anything else has ever hurt that much...

I celebrated the news that he would leave the NBA to pursue a career in baseball, placing the Suns at the front of a group of favorites to win the title in his absence.  I even chortled at his futility on the Barons as he failed spectacularly and squandered an opportunity (much like the Suns) he never deserved in the first place.

Then, one day while watching Jordan as his career waned for the Wizards I found myself cheering for him.  Time had passed and he was no longer the hated enemy.  Time had healed the wounds.  Jordan was no longer the face of what had crushed my dreams.  And he was about to be gone.

I had missed the beauty of the trees because of the forest fire in my heart.  Instead of having a collection of memories of the milestones and epic individual performances Jordan had racked up I had mostly vague recollections obfuscated by umbrage and animosity.

And I realized that I had only hurt myself.

I had blocked myself from watching the sport I love being played at the highest level possible.  I was the one missing out.  Not Jordan.  He had been busy ruling the basketball landscape, winning championships and receiving adulation from swarms of fans... while I festered.  It was like I was drinking poison and hoping he died.

I haven't done that with Kobe.  It's not a situation where I go to games wearing a Bryant jersey, but I do watch and appreciate his unique ability.

I don't watch sports to canonize the players on a personal level, but I have grown to appreciate their greatness on the field.  And I like to watch the greatest players excel at their individual sports, even if I wouldn't let them babysit my kids... or even want to have a beer with them for that matter.

I can, and do, separate what players do.

Tiger Woods - His off the course indiscretions have been detailed to the nth degree, but I just don't care much about his sex life.  I'm also not the moral police and infidelity just happens to be pretty damn prevalent as it turns out.  Tiger is the reason I'm a fan of golf and the reason why I took up the sport.

Tom Brady - Is it perceived hubris (perhaps deserved) or just jealousy that turn people off of Brady?  After all, he's possibly the best ever at the highest profile position in all of sports... plus he's married to a supermodel and lives in a castle.

Barry Bonds - He was a generally unpleasant guy turned cheater, but some of my favorite baseball memories ever are running to a tv set to watch him take at bats.  Sure, I could pretty much care less about him now that he can't bust the cover off a baseball anymore, but I have a sneaking suspicion that at least a couple of you thought baseball was a little more exciting back when the  players were jacked.

LeBron James - Dude has received an unimaginable amount of vitriol for the solecism of his puppet show platform to announce his free agency "Decision."  His second biggest "character flaw" seems to be that he's not as big of an a**hole as Kobe or MJ.  His third?  Maybe that he was actually able to realize he might need help to achieve his goals and went about getting it?  Damn him for doing what I tell my kids to do.

Obviously Bryant isn't exactly a peach off the court, either.

But what would sports be without these transcendent players?  And doesn't their greatness just magnify these flaws anyways?  Is anybody outraged that Carlos Almanzar was taking PED's?  These great, polarizing players make sports compelling.

I need Kobe Bryant.  Kobe is part of what makes sports so great.  He is the villain.  He is the Joker to the Phoenix Suns Batman.

And right now he's the last unicorn in the league.  The Spurs don't really do it for me.  I was actually cheering for them in the Finals last year.  I respect their organization.  What other rivalries are there for the Suns right now?

Who do you  look forward to watching?  What games do you have circled on the schedule?

How many playoff series have been as great as the first rounder against LA in the 2006 playoffs where Tim Thomas hit that three to help the Suns overcome 50 from Bryant in game six before watching Kobe quit oh his teammates in a game seven blow out?

And when Kobe does eventually hang up that ugly ass Lakers jersey (but not before crippling his team's chances to compete by taking up cap space with a contract he can't possible need financially - big ups on that one), the league will be worse for it.

I'm actually ready for the Suns' next Kobe Bryant to come along now.  Another player I can have that much fun cheering against.

So welcome back, Kobe.  I don't hate you... sports need people like you (yes, that's a sideways insult).  I hope you know I missed you... and I hope that makes you hate the Suns even more.

The Phoenix Suns spent the offseason slashing veterans from their roster every time they found a playoff contender with a need for such a player. Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Caron Butler and Marcin...

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The Phoenix Suns spent the offseason slashing veterans from their roster every time they found a playoff contender with a need for such a player. Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Caron Butler and Marcin...

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While the Phoenix Suns might not want Houston Rockets center Omer Asik for themselves, the Suns do have exactly the return that Houston is looking for: a stretch four and lotto picks.

Setting aside for the moment that the Phoenix Suns might want Omer Asik for themselves (because I don't think they should), it is obvious that the Phoenix Suns have exactly what Houston wants in return for a trade of disgruntled center Omer Asik.

Recap on Asik

A year ago, after striking out on Dwight Howard in trade from Orlando, the Rockets used a little-known and lesser-available tactic to sign Omer Asik to an essentially unmatchable contract away from Chicago. Because Asik had been a second-round pick whose contract had expired, another team could offer a backloaded deal with money of essentially any amount up to the player maximum in year three.

The terms of the deal: $5 million in 2012-13, $5 million in 2013-14 and then a whopping $15 million in 2014-15. It's that third year which caused the Bulls to not match the offer. If the Bulls had matched the offer, their salary cap would have taken hits matching the salary going out (5, 5 and then 15), whereas Houston's cap is hit evenly in each year (8.33 million per year) though the salary is still the salary.

A year later, the Rockets got Dwight Howard in free agency and Asik is no longer needed. Asik is a 26-year old defensive and rebounding powerhouse who can't score from anywhere outside a couple feet from the basket, including the free throw line. You can't play Asik in crunch time because teams just make him miss free throws.

To Suns fans, he's Miles Plumlee at his NBA peak on the defensive and rebounding end, though Plumlee has a higher offensive upside.

The booty

Reportedly, the Rockets want some return on their investment despite being in an untenable situation. They can't play Asik and Howard together very effectively, and Asik wants out in the worst way. Latest reports are that the Rockets WILL trade Asik between December 15 and December 19.

The Rockets reportedly want a lottery pick AND a stretch four who can play full time power Howard out at the perimeter to leave the lane open for Dwight Howard.

The Suns

Interestingly, the Suns have the assets that Houston wants.

Need a stretch four?

  • Channing Frye - makes mid-level money to match Asik's cap hit, and makes 50% of his threes over the last few weeks. He's an older Ryan Anderson, but still provides the same skillset.
  • Markieff Morris - makes cheap money and isn't consistent, but fits the skillset Houston needs better than their current PF in Terrence Jones
  • Marcus Morris - was drafted by Houston in 2011 at #14 overall and fits the skillset they need right now, but was traded for a second round pick last spring so you can guess they don't like Morris enough to bench Terrence Ross. Still, Morris now makes 42+% of his threes - better than he ever did in Houston, and maybe will accept the role better than he did a year ago.

Need a lottery pick?

  • The Suns have up to three lottery picks in the 2014 Draft (though they project to be late in the lottery, in the 10-14 range)
  • The Suns have up to two lottery picks in the 2015 Draft (theirs and Lakers')

Do the Suns want to trade 30-year old Frye at this point, with the team overachieving thanks partly to his stabilizing and mature presence? Whatever you think of Frye on the court, he's a proven post defender and three-point shooter, but also a very calm, helpful voice in the locker room of a very inexperienced team.

I'm not sure the Suns want to trade Frye, or that Markieff or Marcus Morris are the answer in Houston.

The opportunity

I am not a fan of acquiring Asik for the Suns' use directly. He is older than both the Suns current centers (Asik is 26, while Plumlee is 25 and Len is 20), and he is paid a great deal more than they are. Plus, he appears to be a malcontent if he's not starting.

On the other hand, I think Plumlee does a lot of what Asik offers (though not as well) and Len really should either get time in the next 1-2 seasons to play big minutes or be traded. Len should not be pegged for 15 minutes a game for the next two years while a guy like Asik is under contract and demanding to start.

Yet, I do see the Suns having the return that Houston wants.

Could the Suns participate in a three-way trade with another team that wants Asik but doesn't have the stretch-four or lotto pick available in return?

This is where you come in, Suns fans. Here's your Sunday challenge.

Who out there wants Asik, and has assets to give back to the Suns befitting a lotto pick and Frye but doesn't match up well with Houston?

Remember, you have to meet salary cap restrictions of all teams involved.

The Phoenix Suns travelling contingent visited St. Jude's Children Research Hospital in Memphis, TN on Monday December 2nd while in town for a matchup against the Grizzlies the following day.

One of the benefits (and I do see it as a windfall) of being a professional athlete is the advantage of possessing more resources than most do to use in helping others.  From the benefits of affluence to the investment of something as simple as time, athletes are in a uniquely serendipitous position to bring joy to other people's lives. Professional sports organizations, more specifically the NBA, and most specifically the Phoenix Suns are also thoroughly committed to making a concerted effort to help others.

Everyone in Phoenix knows about the organization's continued effort to give back and build the community. From Suns in the Community to Phoenix Suns Charities, to local hospital visits and involvement in a number of other community programs the Suns are firmly entrenched in people's lives in the Valley.  But were you aware of the assiduity of the team in giving back at every opportunity, even on an off day on a road trip?

The Suns dropped by St. Jude's Children Research Hospital as part of the Hoops for St. Jude campaign, a partnership between NBA Cares and St. Jude.  The hospital treats children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases, but unlike other hospitals that only provide treatment for children it is also a research facility that has made great advances in contributing to pediatric cancer survival rates in the U.S.

The Memphis Grizzlies are also involved with the hospital and helped build a short term stay facility, aptly named the Memphis Grizzlies House, that can house up to 100 families a night while children receive care at the hospital. Check on St. Jude's page for more information about their mission and ways to help. Residents of Phoenix are probably familiar with PCH, Phoenix Children's Hospital, which is a huge part of our community like St. Jude's is to Memphis.

I would like to assert that trips like these do make a difference and leave a mark, as I was personally visited by the Gorilla in a Phoenix hospital as a five year old after sustaining a knee injury that had doctors concerned I might lose my leg.

As shown in the photo, all the Suns' horsemen and all the Suns' men were in attendance.  Of course, this included starting power forward Channing Frye.

"It's huge," said Frye.  "I think any time you look at the opportunity we have to play basketball and the chance we have to give back I think it's a great chance for us to give back to kids.  When kids are sick it just kills you.  When you have kids you never want to see them hurt or injured.  We're just appreciative of this great organization that gives us a chance to give back and see those kids."

Channing is speaking from firsthand experience as his daughter was born with cataracts in both eyes and has gone through care that has partially restored her vision.

But Frye was just a small part of a large group.  Here is coach Jeff Hornacek teaching some kids the finer points of the pick and roll and the value of the corner three.  They all appear to be picking up on it rather quickly, too.  I don't see any of these future all-stars missing defensive rotations.

Jeff_hornacek_reading_to_st

I encourage everyone to find a way to give back as we head into the holidays... and beyond. Being around the Suns organization, I can tell you these guys really do go out of their way to help in any way they can.  But everyone can make a difference.  I have always liked the aphorism, "I may not be able to do great things, but I can do small things in a great way."  Well, even all of those small things add up and sometimes they're really not small at all.

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