One could argue the high point of this very disappointing season for the Phoenix Suns came and went in the 4th quarter during the last OKC Thunder matchup on March 6, 2011. After that, it's been a free fall.
Entering the 4th quarter of that game, the 32-28 Suns held a 3 point lead on the OKC Thunder. At the same moment, the Memphis Grizzlies were trailing the favored Mavericks. A Suns win coupled with a Grizzlies loss would have put the Suns in the 8th playoff spot. The Suns had won 12 of 16 and seemed poised to hit their stride like 2010 all over again.
But alas, the Grizzlies came back to win on a buzzer-beater while the Suns lost their lead, the game, and - most devastating - Channing Frye to a separated shoulder. Since then, the Suns have gone 4-9 (thanks in part to a lingering Nash injury as well) and dropped completely out of the playoff picture.
Steve Nash is understandably confused and disappointed. A Nash team has not been out of the playoff picture this early (8 games left when he said it was "over") since 1999-2000. But even that season had feel better than this. The Mavs were only 40-42 overall, but the 25-year-old Nash was 19-8 as a late-season starter with averages of 10 points and 6 assists. Since then: 11 seasons with Dallas and Phoenix, 9 playoff appearances, 7 All-Star Games, 5 Assist Titles, 4 Conference Finals, and 2 MVPs.
And now his team is out of the playoffs with 2 weeks to go in the season. Ugh.
Is there a Bright Side to all of this?
Sure, if you look hard enough.
Here's a quick rundown of Bright Sides:
- Marcin Gortat is a keeper. If he adds a post-up game, he can a top-10 center in the league for years to come
- Josh Childress is finally showing why he was a valuable member of the Hawks in his first 4 seasons. He's scrappy and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He just needs to become a threat from the 3-point line.
- Channing Frye has become a valuable starter/rotation player who can rebound on the defensive end, block shots, and hit 3-pointers. He's even added late-game heroics to his resume with 2 game-winners before his separated shoulder.
- Jared Dudley is a keeper. Sure, his ceiling is 5th-best starter on a contender, but what he brings to a game is invaluable to any team.
- All 4 of the above role players are under long-term contracts that won't break the bank
- Robin Lopez is better than this. He's 22 and 7 feet tall. The Suns should only trade him away in a package that returns a current/future all-star. Other than that, the Suns need to keep him around.
- The Suns have a lottery pick. Despite the doom and gloom on this year's draft, the top-15 are real players and deep in PGs and PFs. The Suns need to pray over pingpong balls every night until the end of June.
- Grant Hill wants to return (Coro, azcentral.com), and Sarver apparently wants him to. Certainly, his long-time agent Lon Babby would love to resign Hill as well.
- We have witnessed one of the greatest players of all-time at his peak. Steve Nash is going into the Hall of Fame as soon as the league allows his name to be included on the ballot.
See? There's always a bright side.
Tonight's game: Hosting the OKC Thunder
I have to admit, these guys grew up faster than I thought they would. I honestly expected the Thunder to take the smallest step back this season once the spotlight was on them from day one. It's easier to win when no one expects it, much harder when they do.
If the Thunder win tonight, they will clinch their second-consecutive 50-win season and solidify and extremely bright future. Kendrick Perkins is not an All-Star, not even as good as Gortat. But he's exactly what the Thunder need - a tough guy under the hoop who has proven he can help a team with a championship. I am impressed.
Expect the Thunder to win this game handily.
The Suns are still reeling from being out of the playoff picture already. Nash is running on one leg, yet still producing just enough to keep playing when the game is on the line. Unfortunatey, by the last few minutes he's running on less than fumes. Not a good thing with your best player.
Hopefully, the Suns will get inspired play from guys who want in next season's rotation, or want new contracts this offseason: the 4 aforementioned Bright Sides, plus the talented but inconsistent Aaron Brooks and Hakim Warrick.