The start of the season is just this far away.

A lot has happened this summer. A whirlwind of activity surrounding the draft and free agency tapered off to a drizzle as August crawled along. Now summer's oppressive reign is nearly over. Basketball season arrives to usurp the cruel tyrant from its blistering throne. While the desert is starting to cool off, it's about to start scorching on Planet Orange.

Next Starts Now starts Monday, October 1st.

That is when the Suns host their annual Media Day from 10-noon before heading to their traning camp at the RIMAC Arena (Recreation, IntraMural, Athletic Complex - like that really needed an explanation) at the University of California San Diego.

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns officially open their 45th NBA season on Monday, October 1, when the club hosts its annual Media Day on The Annexus Group Practice Court at US Airways Center. This season, for the third time, the Suns will report to San Diego, Calif. for training camp from October 2-6.

Media Day is Monday, October 1 with interview and photo availability from 10 a.m. to noon on The Annexus Group Practice Court at US Airways Center. At the conclusion, the team will depart for San Diego.

The training camp workout schedule begins at the University of California San Diego’s RIMAC Arena on Tuesday, October 2 and continues through Saturday, October 6.

The Suns will participate in two-a-days (10-noon & 6-8 pm) from Tuesday through Friday and close out the week with an intrasquad scrimmage at noon on Saturday. There will be media access to portions of the practices, so get ready for some legitimate basketball news (No, Jared Dudley's twitter stream doesn't count) headed into the preseason schedule.

The Suns open the preseason at the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, October 10th at 7:00 pm (local time) before hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, October 12th at 7:00 pm.

The full preseason schedule can be viewed here.

It's easy to boo the enemy

It's easy to carry a lifetime of hate for players on other teams who shot daggers into the Suns' hearts and hopes in playoffs past. Just saying the names of players like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Mario Elie, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher can make a Suns fan's blood boil.

But what about lingering hate for a current or former Sun? Is there such a thing?

This is a tough one. Folks in Phoenix don't naturally harbor hatred toward current or former Phoenix Suns players. Sure there's disappointment when a player does not reach his potential, which can often be perceived as "hate" by apologists for that player.

But long-lingering, collective hate among the fanbase? That's a tough sell. Yet there are one or two one former Phoenix Suns who stand out as universally-hated players to me. That they even played for the Suns at one point still makes me shake my head in disgust, and ruins an otherwise loving memory of the Colangelo's tenure.

Phoenix Suns fans from "back in the day" in the early 90s - the Charles Barkley era - remember how the Houston Rockets shoved the Suns out of the playoffs in consecutive seasons in 1994 and 1995. Both times, the Suns took the early series lead (2-0 and 3-1) only to lose in 7 games.

Hakeem Olajuwon was the Rockets' best player and one of the most dominant in the game of basketball. He was bigger than any Phoenix Sun and controlled both ends of the court. But Suns fans harbor no ill will toward Hakeem. In fact, I cannot recall even a single bitter fan throwing barbs at Olajuwon's character or game, then or now. For some reason, we loved the guy even while he was killing the Suns.

But that doesn't mean we loved all of the Rockets. In fact, quite the opposite. I cannot, to this day, name another player on that Rockets team that we don't generally dislike no matter how many more teams they played for. In 1994, Otis Thorpe was the team's second-best player, manning the front line with Hakeem. In 1995, they'd added Clyde Drexler. I'll bet many Suns fans don't recall Otis or Clyde that much.

The guys that I remember, and hate, are three role players from those teams who didn't start but always found a way to hit a dagger shot to keep the Suns from prevailing.

Sam Cassell. Robert Horry. Mario Elie.

Just typing those names raises my heart rate.

A good sign that a player got under your organization's skin? Overvalue him at some point in the future. Still unfathomable to me is that, just a year later, the Suns traded their sun, moon and stars for two of those guys! Two guys who hadn't even established themselves as NBA stars. Yet they'd played well against the Suns, so why not acquire them?! Ugh.

Robert Horry and Sam Cassell (Phoenix Suns)

Robert Horry hated being in Phoenix and Phoenix hated having him. He brought nothing to the table and even once threw a towel in coach Danny Ainge's face during a game, apparently unwilling to put forth the effort that Ainge was calling for. Horry was traded very quickly after that to the floundering Lakers for former Sun Ced Ceballos, who himself had caused a stir by taking a long, unapproved, jet-skiing weekend off in the middle of the season. The fact that Horry went on to win six more championships as a bit player - one of them after knocking Steve Nash into the scorer's table - just adds more dirt to the bad taste he left in Suns' fans mouths.

Sam Cassell did not even last as long as Horry. He was traded barely two months into his first Suns season to Dallas in a package for Jason Kidd. Dallas had tried and failed to create a young super-team of guard and wing talent in Jason Kidd, Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn. The purge started with Kidd going to Phoenix. A year later it was over when Cassell was yet traded again, this time to New Jersey along with Jackson for Shawn Bradley and others.

So at least the Colangelos wised up and got rid of those guys quickly.

Cassell grew into his own after hitting New Jersey, his fourth NBA team. He played well, to the tune of 19 points and 8 assists per game, and then later made an All-Star team in Minnesota next to Kevin Garnett. (Interestingly, Cassell went to Minny for Stephon Marbury, who was later traded to Phoenix for Jason Kidd, who had earlier been traded to Phoenix for Cassell).

And then there was Mario Elie.

Mario Elie himself had a long career as a bit player that started out by hitting daggers against the Suns in the playoffs. Elie eventually played for several NBA teams over an 11 year career that culminated in a bench role in Phoenix in the 2000-01 season.

It is safe to say that, as former Suns players, these three still generate the most angst in this Suns fan's psyche. I loved Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, but I love them less because they had the gall to acquire each of these guys in future years to play for the Suns. Luckily, their Suns tenures were short.

Although the Phoenix Suns’ 13-man roster appears to be set, Leandro Barbosa told a Brazilian sports site that the Suns are one of the teams he’s “in contact” with, along with...

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A chant that is truly music to my ears.

The 1989-90 season saw the Lakers finish with the league's best record at 63-19. Pat Riley won coach of the year. Magic was the MVP. The Lakers entered the playoffs prepared to avenge a Finals sweep at the hands of the Pistons the previous year. After dispatching the Rockets in the first round, the next speed bump was the Phoenix Suns. This was a Phoenix Suns team the Lakers had dominated in six prior playoff series. A Phoenix Suns team that had routinely played the role of punching bag for the Showtime Lakers. A Phoenix Suns team the Lakers had swept out of the Western Conference Finals the preceding season. Then something completely unexpected happened. This wasn't the same Phoenix Suns.

That was when the rivalry started for me. The Suns dismantled the Lakers four games to one in that 1990 Western Conference Semifinal series, winning twice on LA's home court and twice by double digits at home. It is considered by some as one of the biggest upsets in NBA postseason history. That season was also the only time the underdog won in a playoff matchup between the teams. In the other 11 meetings the higher seeded team has always advanced. Including that series, the Suns have won four of the last six playoff series against the Lakers. Entering that series Los Angeles held a 23-6 record in postseason play against the Suns. Since then the Suns hold an 18-15 edge. For two+ decades the Suns hold the postseason head to head advantage.

Do the fans of the Lakers consider the Suns a rival? Possibly not. It's conceivable (maybe likely) that they are so self-absorbed and bursting with hubris that the Suns (with the fourth highest winning percentage in league history) aren't worthy of their consideration. The Lakers do have a special place in the pantheon of NBA basketball. They have been one of the most successful, entertaining, widely followed, and yes, hated, franchises in the league. Other teams share Phoenix's contempt for Los Angeles. It's not exactly a short line. The Suns and Lakers, however, seem to have a more inimical relationship based on the frequency of their reunions. After all, familliarity breeds contempt.

In the case of the Suns and the Lakers there's an abundance of hostility to go around.

I have come up with a set of criteria to define a rivalry which I think are apt guidelines for qualification.

1. Geography - The Lakers and Suns are both in the Pacific Division. California and Arizona are bordering states. In the last nine years only the Lakers (six) and Suns (three) have won the division title.

2. Frequency - The Suns have played the Lakers more times (283) than any other team. The Suns and Lakers have met in the playoffs six times since 1990. Including regular season and playoff games, the Lakers and Suns both have played more games against the other than any other teams since 1990.

3. History - Many of the playoff series have been memorable. 1990 was considered one of the biggest upsets in league history. The Suns 1993 comeback was highlighted by Westphal's prophecy. The 2006 series included a Raja Bell clothesline, a Tim Thomas three, and a Kobe Bryant capitulation. 2010 was highlighted by a devastating game winning tip by Ron Artest. Even regular season games have been contentious between the two teams.

4. Competitiveness - The Suns are 4-2 in six playoff series against the Lakers since 1990. Those four postseason series losses are the most by the Lakers against any team over that period. The Lakers have played the Spurs and Trailblazers in the playoffs more times over this period (seven each), but are 4-3 and 6-1 against them respectively. It could be argued that the Suns have had the most postseason success against the Lakers over the last 23 years. Overall, the Lakers are 62-51 against the Suns since 1990.

5. Animosity - Suns and Lakers coaches have exchanged jabs. Kobe Bryant hates the Suns. Raja Bell doesn't appear to like Kobe too much, either. There is no love lost between these teams for some time now. Suns fans detest the Lakers and abhor their fans. Lakers fans either have a mutual repugnance for Suns fans or disregard them completely as inferior - which makes Suns fans detest them even more. The vitriol has reached a level that many fans view the once cherished Steve Nash with disdain for his apostasy.

Los Angeles may be a Goliath of the NBA and Phoenix may be a David, but that hasn't prevented the Suns from knocking the supercilious Lakers off their pedestal on occasion. So stay arrogant Los Angeles. We'll remember that come playoff time when we're ready to bust you again. Does it sound like I've been trying to justify this as a rivalry? Good. Even more incentive for the Suns to kick the Lakers next time they're down.

The following is a list of playoff series and events that have stoked this rivalry since the Suns stunning upset in 1990.

Tale of the tape: Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers

All time regular season wins – Suns 91, Lakers 130.

All time playoffs wins – Suns 24, Lakers 38.

Suns have won 4 of last 6 playoff series, but are 4-8 overall.

The Suns have played more games against the Lakers (283) than any other team.

1993 First Round - Paul Westphal's prediction after game 2 loss. "I'll tell you what's going to happen," said Suns coach Paul Westphal following the Game 2 collapse. "We're going to go over to L.A. and win two games, and then we'll come back home and win Game 5, and everybody will say what a great series it was."

2000 Western Conference Semifinals - Suns stultified by Lakers as LA moves on to win championship.

2006 First Round - Raja Bell clotheslines Kobe in game five. Tim Thomas hits clutch three in game six. Kobe Bryant quits on his team in game seven.

2007 First Round - Suns dispatch Lakers for second consecutive season.

D’Antoni reacts to perceived slight by Phil Jackson "He might want to try to do it in playoff time when we bust 'em every time."

Kobe Bryant hates the Suns. Don't worry, the feeling is mutual.

2010 Western Conference Finals - Ron Artest tips in game winner. Lakers win championship. Again.

Steve Nash becomes a perfidious traitor Laker.

For an in depth review of Lakers-Suns playoff battles between 1970-2007 with a Brightside slant check out this article by our own eminent and inimitable Scott Howard.

This story by the beloved Brightsider Wil Cantrell also discusses the Lakers dismissal of the Suns (and pretty much every other team) as a rival due to their insignificance.

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