Monday, February 09, 2009

Eyes on Phoenix

Eyes around the NBA are focused on Phoenix. It used to be because the Suns would be in the top 2-3 teams in the Western Conference heading into the All Star break. Now the Suns are hosting the game. Instead of showcasing the city and franchise, it's a distraction from what's wrong with the Suns. Let's investigate a bit:

1. Terry Porter
No coach in the league has a tougher job. Unfortunately for Porter, the degree of difficulty doesn't reduce the accountability for the team's performance. The system he's implemented hasn't worked. Players have complained publicly, malcontents were traded, every NBA analyst has an opinion and most importantly in this business- fans aren't happy. The teams hasn't won more than three consecutive games at any point this season. The scoring is down, the games are slower and the team is struggling against good teams and middle of the road teams. The team is fighting for the eight spot when the bottom of the West is plagued with injuries and any spot up to four can be had with a winning streak. Translation: Porter is compromising what he wants to do with a roster that was built for a different coach and tweaked by his general manager.

2. Emphasis on defense
Suns junkies remember all the hype after the Porter hire about the team focusing more on defense. We all remember how Dallas tweaked a few things, changed coaches, made a couple of smart minor moves and got to the Finals. It seemed that way in training camp, when Porter stopped the scrimmages because there was too much scoring and saying "That's not our identity." Porter's Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Shaq doesn't even extend to shooters on the pick n' roll. Amare still doesn't fully understand help principles. Their best individual defender at this point is Grant Hill, who's 36. The team may give up slightly fewer points per game but they play at a slower pace and the point differential is much smaller. Translation: I wouldn't trust this team to guard a swimming pool.

3. New offensive offense
This one rubs a lot of people the wrong way. All one has to do is watch the game Sunday versus Detroit and tonight versus Philadelphia. Fact: Steve Nash is the common link between 6 of the last 7 top scoring offenses (last year, missed it by .9). So the new coach decides to make a healthy Shaquille O'Neal the focal point of the offense. The Nash and Amare pick n' roll has made token early appearances but mainly only showed up late in games. The fast breaking after makes disappeared. This team doesn't force any turnovers to speak of so the break dried up. Best offensive point guard of the decade, 2-time MVP relegated to feed the post on a team full of players built to run. So against Detroit, the team pushed at every opportunity, Nash picked the Pistons apart en route to 21 assists. Tonight, the Suns were run off the floor by the Sixers fueled by 18 turnovers. Shaq had no lift and Porter threw in the towel in third quarter down 14 points. The pick n' roll with Amare is still rarely used. Amare is often handed the ball at the elbow and asked to make a play. LB once again is being asked to run the 2nd unit and his inability to create for others is still a glaring weakness. Translation: the team can run half-court sets but making that the primary focus on a team with Steve Nash is dumb.

4. Trade rumors
Because of the places I've lived, I've mostly had to watch on League Pass over the last few years. I saw the Nash/D'Antoni version of the Suns play for the first in person 12/23/04. Joe Johnson had an awful night, Stoudemire ( who was practicing nothing but midrange jumpers before the game) had a great night, Nash had 17 and 14, D'Antoni barely used his bench and the Suns beat the Grizzlies to go to 23-3. The next game I saw in person was 4/19/08. Game 1 of the Spurs series last season. Best game I've attended in any sport and it broke my heart. D'Antoni's team left it on the floor but once again he was outcoached, far too familiar of a refrain during his tenure. Long lead-in for my point but think about all the changes between those two games. Nash wins two MVPs, Amare is All NBA after microfracture, Joe Johnson traded for Boris Diaw, LB goes from scrub to sixth man of the year, Steven Hunter leaves in free agency, Q Rich traded for Kurt Thomas, Kurt Thomas and draft picks given away, Casey Jacobsen traded for Jim Jackson, Jim Jackson traded for nothing, Shawn Marion traded for Shaquille O'Neal plus the selling of James Jones and the draft picks that turned into Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Luol Deng and Rajon Rondo. Now Amare is on the block. Two thoughts here. 1. How many times did the roster reshuffle around Stockton and Malone before they reached the NBA Finals? They were the only constant between the teams that made the Conference Finals in 91-92 and the Finals for the second time in 97-98. 2. With all the change within this organization just in the last 5 years (ownership, general manager, coach), what are the Suns going to build around? What is their plan?

Trading Amare or Shaq is a salary dump, plain and simple. The team clearly doesn't expect to compete for a championship at this point. Unless sliding into the 8 spot to stop the Laker juggernaut is what the team is aiming for. Kerr may be trying to back track to use Amare to make up for mistakes he and his predecessors have made. However getting All Star players requires luck and skill and Amare is the only one the Suns have been right about that's still on their roster. Translation: The road to hell is paved with good intentions, apparently so is the path to mediocrity.

5. C.R.E.A.M
I got a message from a friend who's a season ticket holder. Apparently fans have starting skipping games and the USAC is partially full for weekend games. For an ownership group so reluctant to lose money, rebuilding is not a pleasant prospect. Getting out of luxury tax territory is a goal for Sarver et al but losing playoff money will hurt especially if season ticket renewals go down or the Suns can't increase ticket prices. The word in the past is teams get about $1 million per playoff game, but that's inaccurate because the league takes a cut and visitors get a cut during long series. But the extra ticket revenue from making the playoffs helps with critical extra income. It convinces fans it is worthwhile to support a team. Watching the league pass games, I see a lot of empty seats at NBA arenas. Fans getting priced out of games is not a new story but in this tight economy, I think good teams are going to be a lot more reluctant to lose, unless of course it's cheap. Even though the Lakers sucked after trading Shaq, they only missed the playoffs once and Kobe missed a ton of games to injury. The Knicks are unlike any other franchise in the league, so they manage. The Suns need to keep a competitive team on the floor. Translation: Robert Sarver's efforts to save money cost this team a title and will ultimately cost him more money as this franchise loses value.

It sucks we're on the verge of seeing this team completely blown up but sports can break your heart. A lot of sports talk is just a long discussion about 'almost.' You know the Sun Devils almost won the national title with Jake the Snake. The Suns almost won a title with Seven Seconds or Less. The Cardinals almost won the Superbowl. The Patriots almost went 19-0. It's just a matter of if we want to keep watching... and paying.

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At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think just about the financial aspect of trading Stoudemire. If good (i.e., defensive) players come to Phoenix in the trade, it could be a great move. My two ideas:
-Stoudemire to the Chicago Fools for Kirk Hinrich, Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha. They're all known to be good defenders, and Hinrich could back up and eventually replace Nash.
-Stoudemire to the Charlotte Bobcats for Emeka Okafor and Raymond Felton, with any needed cap filler on either side.


At 8:17 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

The Bulls rumor is popular, we'd only get one decent player out of that. The others will be expiring contracts.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So? Re-sign the players with expiring contracts, if they prove valuable. I don't know what the big deal about Ben Gordon is--he's a good shooter, but he's small for an SG and isn't a playmaker.

I think everyone has been too quick to jump on Steve Kerr. your "unproven" remark is one of the reasonable ones, but he's only had three deals by which to prove himself. The Marion-O'Neal trade wasn't so great--we got a center who clogs the paint but plays poor defense, and we dumped a player who would have been a valuable defensive specialist if Mike D'Umbtoni had ever trusted him. Damn it! he could have shut down Tony Parker all the time, and maybe Chris Paul.
But the Boris Diaw/Raja Bell for Jason Richardson trade? That was quite good. It dumped two players who didn't want to be here anymore, one of whom was overpaid, and brought someone who did.
Coach Porter? I don't know. I saw your remark about Porter's inappropriate zone defense, and assume you're right. I just think his players are at least as bad for resisting his system.

But Robert Sarver? I have concluded that *he* is the wrong man to own a basketball team. He approaches it with the attitude of a banker, not a former player (Jerry Colangelo). I hope he concludes in the near future that owning a team is unprofitable, and sells it. I suppose no one during a recession will buy an NBA team, but maybe once it ends. Oh, and his giant foam finger doesn't make up for anything.

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the hope I don't sound like I think I know what I'm talking about, because I don't. --Josh

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

This organization is a mess. No clear vision at the top just directives on how to spend money and of course- WIN. It doesn't work that way unless you're committed to low salary, one coach and high turnover around your stars (Utah, San Antonio).

I really can't blame these guys for not wanting to lose money. Even a team like New Orleans with all their promise is one of the lowest valued franchises in the NBA and if they can't maintain decent attendance, they could move again. Good article on on how the economy is influencing trade decisions

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous phoenix life insurance said...

If Sarver dumps Stoudemire I may dump my Suns jersey. I sat in the third row a couple nights ago (a win against Golden State) and wanted to voice my opinion to the bossman.

In my humble opinion the Suns have a load of talent in the 26 year old Stoudemire. They need to trade Shaq (if possible), surround this team with some better defenders and let's see if we can ride Stoudemire's shoulders. He wants to be the man - let's give him that opportunity.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

Your feelings are shared by many. I've been reading on a lot of boards and websites that a lot of fans will abandon the Suns when they trade Amare. I don't see how you salary dump your leading scorer but he's really the only player any other team would want to build around. One writer compared this team's breakup to watching a car crash. The sad history of the Sarver Era has killed this franchise.

The alternative for me rooting for one of the local Texas teams but I just can't do it. I love the Suns but I can be a general NBA fan until the NFL kickoff again.

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on, you guys sound as though whatever players the Suns get for Stoudemire can't possibly measure up. What if the trade nets three good defenders who don't score 20 PPG individually? I'd take that. Especially if two of the three are Kirk Hinrich (good defender, backup PG and future starter) and Tyrus Thomas (poor scorer but good defender). And what if the new players are, unlike Stoudemire, good team players? This isn't just a salary dump; it's dumping an egotist who won't rebound or play D.

By the way: I'm pleased that LeBron James did *not* get the star treatment last night regarding his alleged foul. We're always complaining about fouls not being called on stars; well, unless we're Cavaliers fans, we got what we wanted there. --Josh

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of keeping Amare and trying to sign some talent once we lose Shaq's 20 million a year. Personally, of all the rumors out there for Amare I most prefer sending him to Miami for Marion and Beasley. Beasley is a young player who could really establish himself over the next couple years. It also gives Phoenix Marion back, a defender who can cover nearly any position on the floor and something we desperately need right now. I believe it would give the team the best chance at the playoffs this year while also freeing up cap space in the future.

On a side note, I think it would be interesting to have Shaq coming off the bench. We start the game with Nash, Richardson, Hill, Amare, and Amundson and leave the offense in Nash's hands. Then when switching to the second unit we run it through Shaq in a half court offense. I understand this would never happen because Shaq will never allow himself to come off the bench even if it did benefit the team, but what do you all think?

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Hersey said...

I doubt we get equal value back. The Suns have no leverage because they need cap relief. They are dangling an attractive player so there is leaguewide interest. Whatever we get back will mostly likely take a few years to fully develop (picks, young players). Amare is a proven commodity who has performed at a high level in the playoffs. Dump him and this team is rebuilding.

At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's dump Stoudemire, or stand pat and hope the funk ends. There's nothing else to do. --Josh

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Hersey said...

Don't think we'll see Shaq come off the bench. He's not a guy you bring in for energy or a change of pace. For this team, LB still fits that role even though Amundson is technically the first guy off the bench. Porter's substitution patterns are a subject for another day.

As far Amare. We gotta wait it out until next Thursday. The Marion trade takes Miami and Toronto out of the mix.

At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to comment on one of your previous comments. The SSOL Suns didn't almost win a title. They didn't even almost reach the Finals, if you could "almost" as being one game away. They came within two games of the Finals, twice, and also got utterly annihilated twice. That's all. I think the Jeff Hornacek Suns did that well at least once (got to the conference finals, certainly). The SSOL Suns were never as close as the Charles Barkley Suns to a title.

At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon me--"could count 'almost'," I meant. --Josh

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Hersey said...

My 'almost' point is just the team was close enough to winning it all and combined with the fact they were so fun to watch means they'll be a team that we remember. For this team specifically, they didn't make the Finals but three years in a row something awful happened in the playoffs to hurt their chances. Those stories are compelling and I think they won't die.

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