PHOENIX – Suns forward Michael Beasley is a noticeably new man since Lindsey Hunter’s appointment as interim head coach. Whether that is just coincidence could be hard to prove without any...

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Josh Smith interests the Phoenix Suns, and HoopsWorld.com's Alex Kennedy reports that the team in desperate need of a franchise player will make a run at the Atlanta Hawks power forward if not before the trade deadline then this offseason.

Phoenix considers Smith a cornerstone type of player, according to Kennedy.

Smith's contract ends following this season, and his status with Atlanta has been up in the air. While the versatile forward has not demanded a trade, his agent, Wallace Prather, has been in contact with General Manager Danny Ferry regarding his clients' future. They are expected to meet again this week.

The Suns have cap space as is, and they'll have even more with several players coming off the books following the 2012-13 season. That said, any trade for Smith would have to appease Atlanta, and Phoenix is limited in its assets. Center Marcin Gortat is one player that has substantial value, and the Suns also have expiring contracts in win Wesley Johnson, backup point guard Sebastian Telfair and a partially guaranteed deal with Shannon Brown for next season.

Phoenix signed restricted free agent Eric Gordon to an offer sheet this summer before the New Orleans Hornets matched the deal. That and the Rudy Gay trade not involving Phoenix means the Suns could have room to sign another max-level deal with a player along with Smith.

UPDATE (Feb 1, 2013):

For whatever it's worth, Arizona Sports John Gambadoro says that this report is false:

@alexkennedynba @ryguyaz I triple checked it, Suns have NO interest in Josh Smith. And have never even had a conversation with ATL about him

— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) February 1, 2013

Kennedy stands by his story:

@ryguyaz @gambo620 I stand by what I wrote. I wouldn't have written the article if I didn't have multiple sources saying the same thing.

— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 1, 2013

Personally, Robert Saver could go on national TV and swear that this rumor was false and it wouldn't mean the Suns don't end up getting (or trying to get) Josh Smith. At the same time, there certainly could be parties outside of Phoenix interested in driving up the perception that Smith is in demand.

They call it the rumor GAME for a reason. Everyone has an agenda. Trust no one (except me -- always trust me).

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Right now the Phoenix Suns (16-30) are 3-2 under Interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter. All three wins have come against divisional opponents, two on National TV, and the team is moving in the right direction today.

What did they do?

The simplification of the offense and the defense has been the catalyst to the play of the team. Today they went in with the mentality to play hard, but with a game tomorrow after a game last night it was a shorter practice that was very intense.

Right now the players are buying into the new system with the stripped down offense.

"Simplifying the offense," is a broad term, but it basically means that elements of the offense are being removed so that way players are not overthinking situations and reacting to what they see on the court. That is what happened last night when Michael Beasley took over the game late and looked great in doing so.

They go into the game against the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night at home before hitting the road for five straight games, but played them earlier this week so familiarity is there under the Lindsey Hunter regime. There may not be a clear advantage, but after breaking down game tape from last nights win and the previous Dallas loss the gameplan may unfold differently.

"I don't know," Hunter on any advantage in the Dallas game. "Hopefully it gives us an advantage. I guess if we win it gives an advantage and if we don't it gives them an advantage."

They are trying to keep an "edge" about them through practice and working hard in practice. That is showing up in games, at least in three of them, and there are building blocks to build off of with the play of Michael Beasley and the teams overall defense.

Injury Updates?

Marcin Gortat -- Food poisoning limited Gortat in practice to where he came in, tried, and then left after getting treatment. He is day-to-day with that.

Goran Dragic -- Ice on knees at the end of practice was a cautionary because Dragic has taken some hits throughout the season. Kendall Marshall received some run with the first team. He is not expected to miss any action.

Jermaine O'Neal -- The medication has worked and O'Neal has been cleared to practice by doctors, day-to-day officially, but will try to play Saturday. If not on Tuesday of next week. He is day-to-day.

Coach Hunters Simplifying Things:

Take some things away that may have been bit complicated to do in situations and defensively breaking it down to the bare minimum and building from there. Getting our guys to a point to where they do not have to think about it. It is automatic and you know exactly what to do in every situation and that is where we want it to be, instinctive. Not where they have to think about stuff "do I go left or do I go right," it is not "do I go," but "when do I go."

More Coach Hunter:

My biggest thing with guys is "don't look to the bench." Offensively, don't look over here. Now defensively we may need you to look over here to help you out with something, but offensively if you make a mistake, so what. Let's go get a stop. I've drilled that home to Mike, don't look over here, play. If you take a bad shot, who cares? You are probably going to take a lot more, so let's get back on defense and keep playing through it.

Jared Dudley on Recent Wins:

You know what, when the cameras are on I think people play a different way. I definitely think we play a little harder than in general, more to prove. I think the Lakers, anytime you see a National Televised game there is usually a better atmosphere in the gym, better crowd, better emotion, and I think most pros are used to that going to college and high school. Playing in empty arenas I think sometimes you can play with a lull and last night we had a good crown, glad we could get the win for them.

The 2013 NBA Draft Update (Changing It Up)

As of today the team is slotted in the 7th spot and the 13th spot in the draft if it were to happen today. The 13th pick comes via the Los Angeles Lakers who are playing sub-playoff quality basketball hence the swap of the pick.

Here are the players they are taking in the current Mock Draft (The Mock does not reflect current standings:

Prospects to consider: Cody Zeller, Nerlens Noel, and Anthony Bennett

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If the Phoenix Suns win three more games all season then they have to be against the Lakers, because that helps them in this rebuild with getting higher picks. Then again, it was even sweeter to knock off the vaunted Lakers, spoil Nash, D'Antoni, and Clark's return while frustrating the great Kobe Bryant.

Anytime two teams that combine to be 20 games under .500 meet up it brings up a big game feel. Or maybe it is anytime the Phoenix Suns (15-30) host the Los Angeles Lakers (20-25) there is a remembrance of a rivalry now buried in wet ash.

Then there is the added element of Steve Nash with his first game back in the Valley, Mike D'Antoni coaching up the resurgent Lakers, and Earl Clark playing some inspired basketball as of late. All former Suns.

In the end it will be about "Beat L.A." and "We Miss You Steve" dominating the arena sound as the Suns try to end a two game slide that coincides with the Lakers current three game winning streak. The Lakers brought over Nash this past summer, on July 4th, in return the Suns received a protected pick, that will be in the lottery, as long as the Lakers are there too.

This game is important on that level to where you want the Suns to improve their draft status, develop players, and get better by getting worse, but beating LA breaks all of those rules.

They need to give the Lakers as many losses as they can to do everything in their power to retain the pick. That is the only thing they control outside of their own record this season. Getting two lottery picks, one in the Top 5 and the other in the Top 14, is paramount in the rebuild. More assets, more opportunity to get better.

After two days off from the Texas Miss Step over the weekend the team should be focused and come in swinging for the fences with all the motivation in the world. They are on National TV (ESPN) for the second time in as many home games.

There are too many storylines on the table and this is a game created that almost seems to be created in an ESPN production meeting rather than on an NBA calendar.

(Recent) History Lesson

On the season the teams have faced each other once, a 114-102 Lakers win, that was so far back in the season that each team was just under .500 coming into the game.

Kobe dominated the scoring column with 31 points, Clark played 48 seconds, and Nash didn't even suit up due to injury. The Suns were coached by Alvin Gentry and were still starting Michael Beasley. Again, not much to take away from that game other than Kobe did what Kobe normally does.

Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)

Suns: 105.79 PPG (6 wins)

Lakers: 111.68 PPG (13 wins)

2010 Western Conference Semi's Lakers won 4-2 (Included in the totals above)

Head-to-Head (career)

Kobe Bryant vs. Suns: 26.8 PPG 5.0 APG 46.9 FG% (57 games)

Jared Dudley vs. Lakers: 10.1 PPG 3.9 RPG 49.2 FG% (17 games)

In a word, Bryant torches the Suns, and that is not a good thing when you are facing him four times a year minimum.

One thing that has to be said about Kobe distributing the ball more as of late. In his past three games he has dished out 39 total assists, all Lakers wins. It took Kobe nine games to get 39 assists (41 to be exact) before this stretch. Typically the Lakers are a better team when Kobe is a facilitator because he can get his literally whenever he wants. For his career he has 83 games with 10+ assists including the Playoffs. The Lakers as a team respond well to that going 57-26 in those games.

That is a seasons worth of data. The Lakers could be a 68.6% winning team if Kobe did this nightly, sort of like what Nash did here.

Starting Line-Ups

PG - Goran Dragic v. Steve Nash

SG - Jared Dudley v. Kobe Bryant

SF - P.J. Tucker v. Ron Artest

PF - Luis Scola v. Earl Clark

C - Marcin Gortat v. Dwight Howard

Potential Suns Inactives: Jermaine O'Neal (Irregular Heart Beat)

Potential Lakers Inactives: Jordan Hill (Hip Surgery)

Key Match-Up

Luis Scola vs. Earl Clark

Right now Clark is playing some inspired basketball including nine starts in his last ten games where he has put up some very respectable numbers, 11 PPG, 8.8 RPG, and shooting 49.5% from the field. That is sort of what the Suns thought they got when they drafted Clack 14th Overall in 2009. Three teams later and Clark has become a starter surrounded by Hall of Fame talent, which is something the Suns have to key in on.

If Scola and the rest of the team forgets about Clark he can knock down four threes like he did last night, crash the glass for a put back, or even take over the game for the first time ever in Phoenix.

Interesting Stat: 37.7

In 57 career games against the Phoenix Suns Bryant is averaging 37.7 combined points, assists, and rebounds which is his fourth highest total against any opponent. Again, not a good thing when you are also the team he faces four times a year and the 80 (including playoffs) total match-ups, sixth most of any team he has ever played.

Meaningless Stat: 1-6

The Lakers are 1-6 against the Suns specifically when Kobe goes for 10+ assists in a game. The one win? It came in the Playoffs in 2005. So there is that.

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Steve Nash walked into U.S. Airways Center the same way as he always did before, but made a right turn down the corridor instead of a left, heading towards the visitors' locker room.

Coming from the airport to the arena there was nothing but light bulbs and cameras. When he finally arrived it was a quick walk to a hall of crowded reporters, media, and Suns personnel that welcomed him back. The fanfare and excitement were on the level of rockstardom though his demeanor didn't give off the aura of rockstar.

He spoke as soft, and as thoughtful as he always had here decked out in a tailor made suit answering questions left and right. Not about the game, but rather about the reaction and hoopla that surrounds what amounts to his return to the city and team that originally drafted him and where he became an all-time great.

"I thought that was the way that it would go," stated Nash on the potential of retiring in Phoenix. "I thought I would retire in Phoenix, but it is a difficult business to make any sort of predictions like that. It just became apparent in the last couple of months before free agency that wouldn't happen. That is when other options became a reality."

At one point that was the expectation of the two time League's Most Valuable Player. Why not? The team was not that far removed from a third trip to the Western Conference Finals before the roster deconstruction began that eventually chased away the likes of Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill, and Nash for virtually nothing. In a three year window the team lost three leaders and two of the franchises all-time greats.

Now he is a member of Los Angeles Lakers team that has struggled, but is putting it together and is far too talented to remain in the pitfall that they are in right now. Especially with a leader like Nash.

His departure, like any other star, led to the team scrambling to get the necessary pieces to replace the production. As hard as that is, that is the easy part when you consider the intangibles Nash brought off the court.

Nash was the emotional leader of this team, the barometer for eight years, and in the blink of an eye he was replaced with draft picks from one of the teams biggest rivals. That was a tough pill for fans to swallow because they wanted Nash to move on, go after a ring, and allow this team to rebuild. Going to the Lakers was a shock, but hindsight allowed the fans and the organization time to understand what he meant to this franchise.

He was the leader on the court, but also helped make lost role players into household names like Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson, Quinten Richardson, James Jones, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat, and Matt Barnes. He maximized their potential.

Getting teammates in the right shape and doing the right things with their body was the matriarch of Nash. The training staff does a great job of getting players healthy, but Nash was the conscience of the team to keep them healthy.

Those are all intangibles that make a special leader.

Not the back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards, not the seven All-Star appearances, not the All-NBA Team recognition, and not the status of being No. 5 all-time in assists in NBA History. Those were what made Nash a great basketball player, not what made him a special member of this franchises history.

When Nash was announced, last by the way, the crowd erupted like it was Game 6 of the 2006 Western Conference Finals and their leader was being introduced to strike fear into the opposing team looking to take them out.

"At guard," Phoenix Suns PA announcer Kip Helt belted. "From Santa Clara, SSSSSTEVE NAAAAAAASH!"

The pure elation from the crowd was chilling to say the least as Nash marched onto the court with no smoke, no strobe lights, and no video playing above. Just the unmeasurable respect from 17,184 fans.

"It was a great reception," said Nash after the game. "Obviously this is a special place for me and to be recognized by the fans was incredible and I am definitely very grateful to them for the reception, but also for my time here, which are among the best years of my life."

The debate can be had that the years were equally, if not more special, for the fans during that same time window who were able to witness greatness before them. It was the best kind of greatness, the kind that was unexpected, but over-exceeded any expectations laid forth. That is Steve Nash.

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