(Photo by Max Simbron)
"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming."
We live and die with our Phoenix Suns, so the words of Wooden, as I utilize them, apply to our Phoenix Suns, as well as to ourselves as die-hard fans.
It is never easy to end a season on a bitter loss, especially when it comes at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, but we fans and our Phoenix Suns should feel a sense of self-satisfaction when we consider this past season.
At the outset of this season, those NBA pundits in the know (and not in the know) around the league gave the Suns little chance to make any noise this season. No quick 14-3 starts were predicted, no Western Conference Finals, no Amare game elevation (most assumed he'd be wearing a different jersey by season's end), no Robin Lopez or Goran Dragic development to the extent they did. In addition, not many believed Steve Nash could have sustained his health to register one of the best seasons of his career. Not many thought Grant Hill could replicate his injury-free 2008-9, let alone comprehend all that he contributed both on and off the court for the Suns. And for the record, I was guilty as well. Here was my pre-season prediction:
Wil Cantrell: 48-34, 8TH SEED
This is all predicated on good luck, meaning health, which of course we usually do not get. I think without coaching and front office turmoil, it's probable the Suns win a few more games than last year.
Simple, short sighted, and fairly obvious. With a healthy Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire paired together, there's always a chance to win a few games, yes? But what I never considered, and what so many of us could never have envisioned are numerous. Before this season, did you think:
- Channing Frye would eclipse his previous season high in made 3s by 161?
- Did you think Robin Lopez would drop 30 and 12 in a game and become such an integral part of the Suns success down the stretch? (Or obliterate a glass door on the practice court?)
- Did you think Goran Dragic would drop 32 points and 6 3s against the Jazz?
- Did you think Steve Nash would stay healthy for the majority of the season and go 50/40/90 again?
- Did you think Amare Stoudemire would post 20+ points in 9 straight games, including consecutive games of: 30-30-30-29-36-25-44? Did you even think Amare would be a Sun by the end of the season?
- Did you think Jason Richardson would average 23.5 and 7 in the first round of the playoffs, including a Blazer-killing 42 points and 8 3s?
- Did you think Grant Hill would play 81 games with such athleticism and passion for the game?
- Did you think the Suns second unit would be so solid?Jared Dudley asserted himself as the second unit captain who developed into a lethal long range threat and defensive stopper. Louis Amundson was a pony-tailed rock who brought maximum effort every night, and never ever backed down to anyone. Even Jarron Collins stepped in during the postseason for a few quality minutes here and there while Lopez was rehabbing.
- And a final prop, to Steve Kerr. For ignoring past doubts and criticisms while assembling a team of high character performers we grew to love so much.
All players go through struggles throughout an 82 game season, thus all teams struggle as well at times. We may have wanted 15 boards a night from Amare, but we didn't get it. We may have wanted 20 points a night from JRich (the Suns were something like 85-0 when he scored 20; OK, maybe not quite that good), but the season is long and tedious, and there's no way everyone can be hitting on all cylinders every night.
And that is why it is called a team... because when Amare didn't have it, Lou did. When Steve didn't have it, Goran did. When Grant didn't have it, Dudley did, and when Robin Lopez was healthy, he brought it when Channing Frye could not. And yes, there are variations to all of the above, because this team fit no mold. They could run, and enjoyed running, but they could also slow it down and find success. They turned "hybrid" on the NBA, and most importantly, they turned ruthless when it came time for the postseason. Peaking at the right time is everything.
The Portland series was a war, with bad blood everywhere - on the court, in the press and locker rooms, on the websites and media everywhere. And while the youngsters from PTL can play ball, as it turned out, the Suns experience, professionalism and hard nosed play won out. Perhaps we've established a fun new rivalry.
While taking out the Blazers in PTL was a great success, the Suns were not finished. Faced with an match-up against the Spurs who improbably destroyed the Mavericks, it was a return to the past. Time to kill off the demons and heart wrenching losses to the 2000 version Spurs, who crushed our dreams too many times. It was total domination - a sweep - closed out on the Spurs home floor, no less.
How much sweeter does defeating Poppovich, Tim, Manu and Tony get?
The Laker defeat is fresh in our hearts, and it may take more than this piece for us all to get over the pain of losing to LA. But we must consider the cumulative effort of this team, the heart and soul that kept the train rolling forward throughout the twists and turns in the road. And while the tracks may have been bumpy at times, the train was never derailed. This is a testament to Alvin Gentry, the coaching staff, and the veteran leadership on this squad. The mantra from the outset within the organization was that the Phoenix Suns had something to prove to the NBA. The disrespect was expected, and even embraced. Flying under the radar, playing with a bag of chips on your shoulder game in, game out.
And it appeared early on that the Suns were proving they were better than expectations. But Gentry and Co. warned us all in subtle terms that the season was to be a roller coaster ride. Oh and it was. We can all get caught up in the excitement of a stretch of 15 or 20 gutsy, victorious games just as easy as we can panic through a stretch of 7-10 ugly uninspired games.
Yes, a roller coaster ride. But this team overachieved by all measures. They scored, but they also figured out how to play defense. They fought, they gutted it out, they surpassed most of our wildest dreams this season. Looking up and down the Suns roster, is there anyone, (barring injury - yes, I mean LB) that you can say as a whole underperformed in 2009-10?
How can anyone feel like anything was left out on the floor this season?
So, here is to the Phoenix Suns - raise a glass, all. We have nothing to feel badly about as fans, and our squad has nothing to feel badly about as a team. Feel satisfied knowing you never jumped off the bandwagon, even when things looked dark and ugly. Feel satisfaction in knowing your team kept the chip on their shoulders they so gladly accepted.
Feel satisfied knowing you bled purple and orange for several months, and continue to,
even though the ride is over for now.