The Phoenix Suns take on the Denver Nuggets tonight at US Airways Center in Phoenix. The Nuggets just won their first game of the season last night, a two-point win over Atlanta. In the off season, the Nuggets lost their GM, fired their coach and brought in a more traditional mindset - defense first, offense second.
Let's get to know the Nuggets through Nate Timmons, editor of SB Nation's Denver Stiffs.
Dave King: can't remember the last time a 57 win team completely changed their style to a more traditional one that neutered half the team's assets. Oh wait, yeah, the Suns did that 3 years ago. Worked out real well in Phoenix. I totally see why Denver followed suit. Do you see the same parallels or are the situations totally different?
Nate: I don't know all the ins-and-outs to the Suns situation from those incredibly fun teams from years back, but it sure has been a roller-coaster ride in Denver. I truly think that the Nuggets, in particular Josh Kroenke, wanted to keep Masai Ujiri and remain on the path that he was on. The fact they had a "handshake" deal with him in place after the Philadelphia 76ers came calling before the 2012-13 campaign and never put pen-to-paper after the fact left many in Nuggets Nation scratching their collective heads. The dismissal of George Karl may seem like a disaster to the outsiders, but many Nuggets fans were ready to see a new coach at the helm.
Now that the Nuggets are 1-3, people are asking a lot of questions. The roster doesn't totally seem to fit the style yet, but Brian Shaw also isn't liking what he has seen. People think he doesn't want to run, but I spoke with him, at length, about how he does want to run and use the altitude to his team's advantage, but how he also wants a good half-court and defensive team. The word around Denver is "patience", but I'm not sure people are wanting to see the franchise continue on with the parallels to the Suns (who have spent years re-tooling and re-building).
DK: is Kenneth Faried suddenly just "a guy" who will eventually join McGee on the bench/trade block?
Nate: I believe that in Shaw's system and with J.J. Hickson on the roster that Faried is best served being a bench big man. That's not to say he is just "a guy" in that role. He can continue to be very effective and a big asset off the bench, but he also has to show some improvement to his overall game. People love to see his high-flying alley-oop dunks and rebounds, but those plays often blind people to the fact that he also gave up a plethora of points to his man on the defensive end, or is constantly missing his assigmnet in the pick-and-roll defense. We all know he has to improve his shooting range, but he's still young enough to get there. We all want to know if he'll be traded as nobody on this roster is safe from that talk.
DK: Who is Denver's player of the future? Still Ty Lawson and Javale McGee (highest paid new contracts)? Or is it Evan Fournier?
Nate: I don't know if that guy is on the roster. The Nuggets appear to be in wait-and-see mode with this team. Many in the media suspect that we could see a very different team after the trade deadline - that might be when the front office feels it has ample time to make some decisions on this current roster. The McGee honeymoon is over; people want to see him play better, but many fear that with his asthma and his lack of attention to detail that he may be a high-priced bench player who is currently being outplayed by Timofey Mozgov (who looks pretty good thus far, in his own right). Fournier has struggled mightily, but he's still a youngster without much experience, as is Quincy Miller (who has yet to play a role with the team). Lawson is still the team's best player and he's also the team's best asset for a potential trade.
Nate: That's a great question. Shaw has paid lip-service to wanting traditional positions, but he also has been using J.J. Hickson at center, Nate Robinson at shooting guard, and Andre Miller at small forward. Yes, Andre Miller at small forward. Shaw also has discussed playing Chandler at shooting guard, with Gallo at small forward or Darrell Arthur in his stead, as he plays very well with Gallo. Right now, Nuggets fans would take either guy to just be healthy and worry about all the other stuff later. Chandler has yet to appear in a preseason or regular season game and Gallo may not be back until late November, sometime in December, or really anyone's guess. Most national people say January or February with Gallo, but I think they failed to get the update that he suffered a partially torn ACL that did not require surgery.
There you have it folks. Straight from the horse's mouth up in Denver. For more game coverage, troll around BSotS for a preview, practice report, gamethread and recap throughout the day as the Suns try to go 4-2 on the season. We will also post a link of my own Q&A on the Suns for the Denver Stiffs website.
After turning over most of the roster in the off season to a din of cheers from the fan base, the Phoenix Suns now face a difficult decision between building up or continuing the tear down.
The team on the court is playing better than expected, 3-2 entering tonight's game, and some key indicators suggest the Suns won't fade back into the West cellar any time soon. Their defensive scheme is solid, and their offense is difficult to defend. Yet, they don't have the star power to make a deep playoff run either.
Hello, Worst Place in the NBA. Nice to see you again. Oh, our table in the corner is still reserved for us? Why thank you. Yes, it's been a year since we stopped by. We had a detour, but at least temporarily we're back. We'll take a Evian and a plate of mozzarella sticks to start. Do you mind if we slap this new logo onto the wall over our old one?
The Worst Place in the NBA is just good enough to draft outside the Top 10, but just bad enough to miss the playoffs. This rebuilt Suns roster was not supposed to sniff this region, but it sure looks like that's where we are headed.
No NBA team wants to win 30-40 games in a season. All you get for your troubles is a middling draft pick that promises another year of mediocre play. The Suns have been there the last several years with picks at the 14, 14, 13 and 12 spots from 2008-2012. Those picks led to a disappointing 2012-13 team that "earned" the #5 overall pick last June, but unfortunately it was a weak draft. Alex Len will be a good NBA player, but he's not a future superstar. No one available at #5 last June is a future superstar.
When new GM Ryan McDonough took over this team, he saw what everyone else saw: the easiest path back to relevance was to build a loser in 2013-14 and try again for that high pick in the 2014 Draft. It's been billed as the best draft in a decade, with as many as half a dozen franchise-changers waiting to be snapped up. Everyone on the team embraced that goal, and four trades later the Suns were torn apart.
When all was done, the Suns entered the season without a single player who would start for most teams in the NBA. The Suns best returning player, Goran Dragic, wouldn't start on half the league's teams in a PG-rich league. The other starters - P.J. Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee - never started full time for any NBA team before this season.
League wide sentiment was that the Suns were doing a very good job setting themselves up for failure.
But the coaching staff didn't get that memo, and neither did the players. A week into the season, the surprising Suns are 3-2 and quickly building a fan base falling head over heels for the scrappy players on this team. Nicknames are being developed and jerseys are soon to be flying off shelves.
What was once a waste land where turnover was hotly anticipated now becomes a minefield where Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby must tread lightly. Any trades with this team might be met with negative backlash.
The Suns want to simultaneously build a winning atmosphere while not stocking it with enough talent *yet* to win consistently until after the 2014 Draft. It's the Orlando Magic model from last year - get the kids playing right but still lose a ton of games.
But what if that plan gets scuttled? What it they win consistently enough to ruin the 2014 Draft possibilities, but not enough to project playoff wins?
No one wants to be there, drafting 12th again. Sure the Suns have other draft picks in their back pocket - up to three more from 12-30 - but the better the draft the less likely the Suns can trade into a Top 10 pick using those assets. Nay, the Suns plan has their own pick in the Top 10.
On the flip side, if this team won't go away and keep winning games, do you go all in to improve the talent right now? Toronto tried to do that last year, acquiring Rudy Gay in January for playoff push that ultimately sputtered and cost the GM his job. Houston did it a year ago, acquiring James Harden to make a successful run. They never bottomed out in Houston and somehow have a contending team a year later.
But if you don't see that superstar available in trade, do you further tear down this team to ensure a top pick? How would a team this happy to be together, this "clean" of spirit, take to a trade of Goran Dragic for a future asset? Or Channing Frye?
That's the minefield. Any attempt to improve the talent or further tear it down would mess with the chemistry of the team, possibly in the negative direction. Chemistry is intangible. You can't control it. And now that the Suns have some good stuff brewing, you don't want to mess with it.
But if you don't make any changes, it's quite possible the Suns are looking at a handful of middling draft picks again.
our Phoenix Suns are 3-2 after the first nine days of the 2013-14 NBA season, with the only losses coming in down-to-the-wire bouts against Western Conference powerhouses Oklahoma City and San Antonio. It's hard not to love this team. The Suns entered the season expected by most to stumble and struggle (a particular "expert" even predicted that Phoenix would lose every single game against conference opponents) and have thus far shown that no matter what, they will play with hustle and heart. For most Suns fans this year, that is a very welcome development after the travesty that was the 2012-13 Suns team.
If the playoffs started today, the Suns would be the 6th seed matched up with the Houston Rockets. For some reason, the NBA playoffs don't begin after five regular season games so we'll have to keep tracking the team's
lottery playoff status as this young season progresses. Meanwhile, let's take a look at what's been written about the Suns elsewhere on the interwebs.
CBS Sports (Nov. 5) - #8:
Seriously guys, you're going the wrong way! 21(29)
Sports Illustrated (Nov. 4) - #10:
The Eric Bledsoe Show is even better than imagined in Phoenix. Three games into his first opportunity as a full-fledged starter, Bledsoe is averaging 22 points, 8.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds. He's excelling as a No. 1 option and giving opponents fits with his energy on both ends. Bledsoe and Co. are showing that Phoenix -- which was widely predicted to be the worst team in the Western Conference -- has no plans to roll over for a lottery pick.
ESPN (Nov 4.) - #16:
Presented without conclusions: The committee (of one) wrote THIS when Eric Bledsoe was not signed to a contract extension before the Halloween buzzer. In the two games since, Bledsoe spectacularly carried Phoenix late to clinch a win in Utah and then dazzled in a narrow defeat at OKC.
USA Today (Nov. 2) - #11:
Coach Jeff Hornacek gave the 76ers two good years as a player. Now his overachieving team is toiling in their shadow.
There's really no other choice:
As much as I hate the nickname "Plumdog" ("Frequent Flyer Miles" is so much better), my favorite Suns-related tweet of the week was this gem:
In other Suns-related Twitter news, former Sun Jared Dudley argued with Amin Elhassan that he believed Phoenix should have given Eric Bledsoe an extension last week:
Never mind that Jared got Bledsoe's age wrong. We can add him to the long list of NBA players who have expressed belief in Eric Bledsoe's star power.
We will have a weekly "Bright Sider of the Week" segment where I will pick one commenter based on totally arbitrary and meaningless criteria. This week, brawadis earns the prestigious award for his extremely evident fandom. Congrats (I think), brawadis:
NOTE: Bright Side of the Sun does not advocate quitting your job.
Phoenix defeated New Orleans on Tuesday and will once again play them on Sunday, this time in Phoenix. This means that Pierre the Pelican will be in town, which is good news for no one. Be wary, Suns fans:
Any other news you'd like to share? Any suggestions for weekly segments I should include in Solar Flares other than the ones above (these segments will change week-to-week because I'm just making things up as I go along)? Feel free to discuss below!