Even though I suggested that I should shut up in this post, I'm going to do this thing one last time.

The difference between the team that ended the game Tuesday night in Portland and the team that ended the games last year was one player.  I won't name him, and I'm not calling him out.  He is what he is.

Two things I connected really got my panties in a bunch.

First, all the talk of "chemistry" and "assimilating" and "figuring things out" is bogus.  The game was lost in the last 5 minutes, and the only difference was that one guy being on the floor.  Don't tell me that it was a lack of cohesiveness or bus-ride-inspired Meat Hook Productions or JMZ channel reporting that caused the 18-1 run.  When Steve Nash said he needs time to "figure things out" what he means is that he's got to go back to the lab and figure out how he can make another group of players play their best.  Put diplomatically -- how to best use the talents and assets of his teammates.  Put bluntly -- how to cover up the weaknesses of his teammates.  He's played to the strengths and away from the weaknesses of his Suns teams every single year. 

I'm sure the mad scientist will figure it out again.  I don't know when, but "In Nash I Trust."  Even so, I'm not sure how far his brilliance gets the Suns  I can sort of relate.  When I coach kids, I always measure my effectiveness as a teacher by how good my worst player is (not by how good my best player, with God-given talent, instincts and athleticism happens to be).

Second, on letting Amare Stoudemire go.  I know that the concern were the last years of Amare's 5-year contract.  I also know that Indiana fans wished that the Pacers' FO hadn't maxed out The Drain's contract, even though they got a couple of good years out of that long-term contract.  Here's the difference -- the Suns were knocking on the door of a return trip to the Finals with the core returning, a formerly green bench becoming battle-tested, the smartest floor general in the game, a handful of tradeable commodities (how'd you like to see Hedo coming off the bench for Amare or Hill?) and a rabid hunger to return.

(Sidenote:  I liken this to Anquan Boldin's departure.  The fans gave the younger Bidwell a pass on this one based on recent success, but it was a mistake as far as team quality)

In Year 4 of Amare's contract ($20M), the Suns are also going to be paying Channing Frye, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick a total of nearly $30M (I think Hedo's is a team option of $12M, half guaranteed, so that's not totally fair but it is close).  Point being is that the dollars in Year 4 have a chance to be just as bad and the results have a potential to be just as damaging to the team.  The difference is that in the first 2 to 3 years, the Suns can stay in the NBA elite with plausible dreams of reaching the Promised Land.  Now, the next 2 to 3 years are going to be filled with enjoyable basketball moments without a plausible chance.


Keep your chin up.

More photos » Rick Bowmer - AP

Keep your chin up.

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Over reaction and hyperbolic response to one single game is the norm for fans and media. Personally, I have to fight against over reacting to the over reaction. That's my burden to bear.

Sometimes early panic proves right, like in the 2008-09 season when I pleaded for patience with Terry Porter only to be proven completely wrong. Other times, like in the middle of last season when the Suns were blowing games left and right and played sub-.500 ball for two months, a little testicular fortitude was the answer. 

After last night's Suns collapse in the final half of the fourth quarter and the drubbing the team took on the glass, we are now facing the realities of this season's challenges straight in the face. But folks, if anything that happened last night was a surprise to you then you've not been paying attention this offseason and especially the last few weeks.

If you thought the Suns were going to somehow miraculously pick up where they finished last season and head straight back to the Western Conference Finals then you are a Soccer Mom Homer of the first degree.

If you think that last night proves that Hedo Turkoglu can never play well for the Suns and the season is doomed, then you probably will get to feel plenty smug for the next few weeks (or months) before the rest of us either catch up with you or get to laugh in your face for your ridiculous lack of insight. 

Isn't it great how sports never really lets us know how things are going to turn out until the final score is posted?

The task now, for those that care (and we know you do), is to sort out the problems that are fixable with time and the ones that have the potential to truly sink the season like the Shaq-Porter problems did in 2008-09.

Fixable

1) Without Amare, the Suns have no fourth quarter go-to offense, which puts too much pressure on Nash.

To the extent that you trust Nash, Richardson, Hill, Gentry and even Hedo to find a way to best use all their talents in late game situations, this problem will be fixed. Or at least it will get much better than we saw last night. It's not going to be as great as it was with Amare, but it certainly won't stay as bad as it was in Game 1. 

2) Rebounding will not be a disaster, but it will be a problem. Robin had a horrible game, albeit against one of the best defensive and rebounding centers in the league who happened to be fresh and very ready to play.

The wings will get much better at knowing when and how to crash the boards and as the defensive rotations become more ingrained, more mental attention can be given to boxing out.

3) Nash will try and do too much and wear himself out. If you recall, Nash carried a lot of the offensive load early in the season last year while the team was giving Amare time to get his legs back (remember how flat he was in those early weeks?). That worked and there's no reason for Nash to think it wouldn't work again.

Last night was just too much and you have to give the Portland defense credit for throwing different looks at Steve and making him think instead of react. Again, that will get better as he gets more familiar with his teammates and don't be surprised if we see Gentry save Nash for the fourth quarter more and perhaps even play Dragic an extra five minutes in the second and third quarter. Whatever the answer, you have to trust Nash and Gentry enough to sort this out.

4) The bench will get better. It took time last year and it's going to take time this year. This is a much different group with Warrick instead of Lou and Childress instead of LB. It has the potential to be better, but to expect them to be excellent on Day 1 ... not realistic. In fact, considering Josh played with a busted finger and the lack of time they've had together, the bench looked pretty decent. It's easier for guys to simply play hard and do fewer things as a team, which is how the Blazers play.

Suns basketball is more complex, more team oriented and takes more time to learn.

5) Hedo Turkoglu looks horrible. Actually, he didn't look that bad considering he didn't touch the ball all that much and that he is learning how to defend a new position that he's never played and is undersized to deal with. Think back to how many people were ready to call Jason Richardson a bust in his first year in Phoenix. It. Takes. Time. 

I like Hedo's attitude and effort and it's simply absurd to expect that he won't improve.

Worrisome

1) Hedo Turkoglu is unlikely to ever turn into a power forward and given his record for "motivational issues," he could be "lost." If this goes on too long and he isn't able to be as productive and effective as he thinks he can be in a different situation, then we have to expect we will begin hearing about it and seeing the same things they saw in Toronto last season. 

It is incumbent on the team to put him in a situation to succeed and it's incumbent on the player to try his best in a situation that's not suited for his skills. Remember when the Suns tried to play Hill off the bench and that didn't work? No one blamed Grant.

The real issue here is what we've been saying since the day the Suns traded for Hedo: there's no legit power forward on the roster. We wrote about this issue in mid-July and nothing's changed since. 

What's obvious from the flirting with Erick Dampier and working out various lesser-known players like Stephane Lasme is that the Suns front office understands this problem and simply hasn't found a solution yet. And no, Earl Barron and Brian Zoubek are not the answer. Have you seen those guys play? I have. They are stiffs. Oh, and the Sacramento Kings aren't going to trade Jason Thompson for Earl Clark, so lets just put down that crack pipe, as well.

2) Losing the confidence of the team is really the only thing that can truly turn this season into a disaster.

If the Babby/Blanks team is able to somehow find a trade (and soon) for a starting power forward or at least a backup center so Frye can start at PF, then the team can jump into the 50+ win potential territory. 

But if the front office loses confidence in Gentry or the team loses confidence in Gentry and each other, then the Suns sink into the sub-40 win land and maybe worse. That's what happened in 2008-09. The team stopped believing and stopped trying to get better. Remember that stretch of blowouts right before the Diaw/Bell trade was made? That team had quit.

There is a real danger that happens again this season, but there's also every reason to trust that Nash will get over his current frustration and, other than Hedo, there are no strong star-type personalities that can divide the locker room. In other words, there's no Shaq-faction. And Hedo is no Shaq.

So yeah, it was ugly at times, but there were three and half decent quarters of basketball, which is more than we saw all preseason. There are correctable problems and the effort and desire seem to be there. This team is showing the problems you would expect them to show and you can easily make the case that they are further along than they have any right to be at this point.

The sky might indeed be falling in on this team, but it is far too soon to be seeking shelter.

 

Links

Phoenix Suns Rebounding Woes: Both Predictable And Fixable - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona

With the Suns having to hide Steve Nash on Nicolas Batum you already create a free lane for the long small forward to attack the offensive glass. He had 11 rebounds (5 offensive) which killed the Suns. If Nash can't guard his position, this is going to be a problem on most nights.

To make matters worse, the Suns were forced to double team every time Aldridge touched the ball with Turkoglu defending him. That put the Suns in rotation and out of position to box out.  You can live with one of those problems, but not both. 

NBA Scores And More: Heat's Offense Needs Creativity; Steve Blake Already Paying Off For Lakers - SBNation.com

Phoenix played well for a while, using their depth, speed and shooting to stay in it, but clearly missed Amare Stoudemire in the fourth quarter. Nobody stepped up as a scoring threat, forcing Steve Nash to do way too much work on his own. Jason Richardson had 22 points in the game, but didn't score in the final 7:45.

Last year, Richardson was the beneficiary of the dangerous Nash-Amare pick-and-roll, raining three-pointers when defenders cheated off him to help on Stoudemire. Now, he needs to score on his own, and that's going to be a challenge. Hedo Turkoglu provided six points and three rebounds in 27 minutes as Phoenix's starting power forward. Yeah, that's not going to get it done.

Media Row Report: Blazers 106, Suns 92 - Blazersedge

I say textbook because the Blazers won this one using a number of fundamental principles the coaching staff and scouts have been preaching since the very beginning of training camp. Use depth to withstand runs. Send five guys to the boards. Throw multiple looks at opposing point guards. Take advantage of improved perimeter shooting to diversify the late game offense. And milk every last second of goodness out of Wesley freaking Matthews. 

Portland Trail Blazers 106, Phoenix Suns 92 -- Offensively bad fourth | Valley of the Suns

The Suns were shooting better than 50 percent before their cold spell (and still ended the game at 48.6 percent), but they just didn’t have that bread and butter play down the stretch that they knew they could rely on. Instead it was a lot of Steve Nash one on one, and tonight Two Time couldn’t get it done.

KTAR.com - Ash: I just pushed the panic button

OK so maybe this is a typical fan's knee-jerk reaction, but after just one game of the NBA season I am very nervous about the Phoenix Suns' chances.

KTAR.com - Suns' Gentry breaks away from old habits
For the game Nash, Richardson, Hill, Turkoglu, and Lopez were a +10. Even with those impressive numbers the Suns starting unit did not see one minute of action together in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch Gentry went with Frye instead of Lopez, leaving Nash without anyone to run pick and roll with, instead letting Nash go one-on-one.


SBNationAZ - Phoenix Suns Rebounding Woes Both Predictable And Fixable

Seth has a great take on the rebounding problem.

Let's not forget that Portland prides themselves on rebounds, and would likely beat the Suns on the boards in most regular season games, notwithstanding the Suns first game with a new, small rotation.


(Video by ValleyoftheSuns’ Mike Schmitz) When Steve Nash finished off a nifty three-point play with 5:43 remaining in the game to put Phoenix up three, the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail...

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PORTLAND OR - OCTOBER 26:  Andre Miller #24 of the Portland Trail Blazers is defended by the Phoeinx Suns on October 26 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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PORTLAND OR - OCTOBER 26: Andre Miller #24 of the Portland Trail Blazers is defended by the Phoeinx Suns on October 26 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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Well, Portland finished the game on a 18-1 run.

Nash tried to do too much. We won't know whether that was necessary until later in the season, but it was obvious to all of us on the game thread that he tried too hard and was gassed. Tunnel vision. Ignoring the other players. He has to know this in the future: you have to win with a team, not a single player.

Ok, off Steve's nuts now.

And onto the rebounding. Were the Suns actually trying to rebound the ball? Or were they trying to live up to their reputation/billing as a terrible rebounding team?

Listen, through the years the Suns have been competitive with one big and four smaller players. Last playoffs, the Suns outrebounded this same Blazers team with Amare as the only productive big. This time it's Robin.

So what happened to everyone else? Turkoglu didn't get enough boards. Neither did J-Rich. Neither did Grant Hill. Neither did Childress (though he has a good reason with a broken finger). Neither did Dragic, or Lopez or anyone else on the damn floor. Not one guy exceeded expectations in this area.

That's not gonna get it done.

Having said that though, the Suns had a 90-88 lead at about the midpoint of the 4th quarter. They played very well, with energy and aggressiveness. They worked hard and scrapped, just like I thought they would have to. And they made the shots they needed to make.

This team will be competitive this season. I feel better now about my 50-win, 6-seed prediction than I did when I made it.

Portland just made a lot more of them. And the Blazers just might be a pretty good team (they did win 50 games last season). Nate McMillan had a nice game plan to win on the boards and with their superior length. They got it done, and really played better than in any game in the playoffs last season, in my opinion. They resemble Utah, with burly guards who get after it on offense and defense. Then you put Aldridge and Camby in the middle (and soon to be Oden and Przybilla) and that's a darn good team.

Don't hang your heads, Suns fans. Look forward to a fun season.


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