I know we’re all angry and upset by the league’s despicable handling of the Chris Paul trade today, but like AC Green taught us on his way to setting the NBA’s record for consecutive games played streak (1,192 straight), sometimes we have to swallow our salty tears, put a little activator in our hair and play the damn game. So tonight, in honor a man who never took a game off (except those three games he missed in his second season), I’m going to write about the Phoenix Suns; AC’s team when he broke the record.
The Phoenix Suns have had books written about them, been adored by media and fans, introduced fast break basketball to a generation who grew up with the 90s Knicks and Heat and thought bullying and intimidation was a part of the winning process; their doctors prolonged careers and their cast of characters and fan-friendly style developed something that started as a cult following but grew into full-fledged fandom. We’re all familiar with their legend and the hopes that accompanied their title runs from 2005-07. It was exciting and refreshing, beautiful and fantastic to watch Steve Nash speeding up (not down, he was and still is a one-way player) the court and shattering defensive schemes that had been designed to neutralize him … yet consistently failed. We loved it and witnessed its descent into harsh reality, wilting under the weight of time, strategic ingenuity and bad stinking luck.
But all that’s in the past and we’ve got to talk about where we are now and what the hell we’re doing here. The Suns will likely wave good-bye to a couple of aging wings in Grant Hill (New York-bound?) and Vince Carter (free agency), and probably add Shannon Brown. Barring (league approved) trades, the Suns will keep the majority of last year’s 40-42 team intact. It can’t be a time for optimism in Phoenix. Steve Nash turns 38 in February and despite the sorcery of the Suns physicians, no matter how far and fast Nash can run, time will hunt him down the way it does all of us. Nash is a free agent and at this point, he’s probably worth more to the Suns if he’s wearing a different uniform. It’s time for both parties to embrace or give a stern handshake (I get the feeling Nash is more of a hug guy though) and part ways.
Carter and Hill combined to account for just under 25% of Phoenix’s scoring last year. With Nash acting as a dribbling bodhisattva, life is easier for everyone. If Nash wills you to have points, you will have them, so I don’t anticipate scoring being a huge issue for this team. But again, here I am writing about the Suns and I’m continually drawn back to Nash. His presence as a Phoenix Sun is all encompassing.
OK, I’ll escape the Nash-vortex and acknowledge that the Suns do have a full roster. Marcin Gortat may have been the best value in the mega-player trade last December that sent Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark to Orlando for Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Gortat. He gives the Suns someone sturdy and rugged to man the paint and he can hold down the fort while Robin Lopez continues to develop. I don’t have any complaints about Pietrus or Jared Dudley. They’re both nice players in the Shane Battier mode in that they can knock down the three, both play strong defense and possess a value structure that’s appropriate for team sports as evidenced by their acceptance of roles outside the spotlight.
And then there’s Channing Frye whose career has refused to follow a predictable path: from All-NBA rookie team in 2006 to an invisible player in Portland in 2009 to potential harnessed in 2011 with Phoenix. I find this interesting mostly because of its implications for all of our lives. Maybe Frye was written off by Portland or maybe it was just a bad fit for everyone (even though Channing loved the city itself). Regardless of the cause of his departure, he joined Phoenix in the summer of 2009 and has experienced his best two seasons as a three-point shooting big man who creates matchup problems. Channing Frye’s Phoenix resurgence (Steve Nash fueled or not) reminds me to keep being inquisitive and continue to try and find congruence between ability and opportunity.
Those are all nice pieces, but they’re all complementary stylists. None of the non-Nash players I just mentioned are capable of elevating this team to anything better than the middle of the pack. Yet somehow the Suns still have nearly $50million on their payroll. Unlike the Hawks who give off a vibe of contentment, I get the feeling that people in Phoenix desperately want to be successful, they’re just not sure if they want to spend the money to do it.
That’s the Suns; still living in the inescapable shadow of a radiant past. And they’ll continue to do so until there’s a willingness from the Suns and Nash to just let go.