2012-13 Phoenix Suns Preview
The Steve Nash era is done.
It netted three Pacific Division titles, several regular-season wins, the great Mike D'Antoni mustache, a lot of out-of-breath guys in Suns' uniforms and some highly-entertaining basketball.
And zero trips to the Finals.
That is more of an indictment on the up-tempo offensive style and nonchalant approach to defense, than Nash's presence. Nash was shipped off to the Lakers and now rebuilding can begin in earnest in Phoenix.
And that will most likely bring some growing pains.
"We like being the underdog," said head coach Alvin Gentry. "It should give you incentive to play harder, work harder and do everything that is necessary."
Replacing Nash and Grant Hill will be hard to do in the locker room. Veterans like Jermaine O'Neal and Luis Scola have been brought in to help with that.
Gentry wants to continue the frenetic pace that the Suns used in the Nash/Shawn Marion/Amare Stoudemire heyday. The talent isn't there, but the system remains.
"It's a pretty simple system, really," Gentry explained. "There isn't anything complicated about it. The big thing is that you have to be in great shape physically."
And have depth, which Phoenix has.
The Suns' rotation could feature 12 guys although there is an almost 100 percent chance O'Neal does not play a full season.
Running and gunning will mean nothing if you can't stop the other guys. Some of these new faces like Scola and O'Neal are good defensive veterans. Others like Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson are revolving doors to the hoop.
But they can all score and that is Phoenix Suns basketball - with, or without Nash.
2011-12 Results: 33-33, third in Pacific; Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: G Goran Dragic, F Luis Scola, F Michael Beasley, F/G Wesley Johnson, G Kendall Marshall, C Jermaine O'Neal.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Goran Dragic SG- Shannon Brown SF- Jared Dudley PF- Luis Scola C- Marcin Gortat
KEY RESERVES: F Michael Beasley, F/G Wesley Johnson, F Markieff Morris, G Kendall Marshall, G Sebastian Telfair.
FRONTCOURT: Dudley, in a bizarre way, is sort of the face of the Suns. While always a little doughy, Dudley is in decent shape and gives everything he has, every night. He's turned into an efficient 3-point shooter as well.
Scola is a pro's pro. His game has fewer flaws than most power forwards. He's not athletic, so the more physically gifted bigs will pose match-up trouble. Scola was amnestied by the Houston Rockets in their failed attempt to clear cap space for Dwight Howard. Some were shocked Scola went, but at 31, maybe there were underlying signs of decline.
Gortat will miss Nash more than anyone. He was a master of running the pick and roll with Nash and he'll be lucky to see it continue. Gortat is a great offensive center. He needs some work on his defense.
BACKCOURT: Dragic is back in Phoenix, although his return to Arizona probably won't go as well as Nash's two-time MVP winning campaign for the Suns. Dragic had a career season for the Rockets with 11.7 points per game and 5.3 assists per game. That all translated into a four-year, $30 million contract. Good living if you can get it.
Brown is a semi-athletic "2" with OK range. Much like his offensive game, Brown's defense is good, not great. In almost 24 minutes per game last season, Brown scored 11 PPG, which is actually very good production. It's how he does it we are unsure of.
BENCH: This group could go either way.
If Beasley is committed, the way he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010-11 when he averaged 19.2 PPG, three years and $18 million is a steal. If he's moody and in trouble, that's an expensive problem.
Johnson has been as underwhelming as one could imagine. He was the fourth pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and hasn't equaled his rookie numbers of 9.0 PPG, 3 RPG and 1.9 APG. Now or never, Wesley. Now or never.
O'Neal can't be counted on for a single thing. Same for Telfair. Morris and Marshall are young. Losing Channing Frye for the season with an enlarged heart is a blow.
COACHING: Gentry took over for Terry Porter in the 2008-09 season and amassed a 145-116 record. Did that surprise anyone?
Gentry is planning on sticking with the run and gun style, even without Nash. He's a capable man who has had his undermanned teams very close to playoff spots the last two seasons.
OUTLOOK: For the last two seasons, Phoenix has been right around the .500 mark and narrowly missed the playoffs. A .500 record would be a tad unrealistic.
Gentry is really trying to hammer home the underdog aspect to get his players riled up.
"What they (the pundits) are saying is that they basically don't believe in us," said Gentry. "We believe in us. The players believe in it and the coaches believe in it, and at the end of the day, that's the only thing that really matters."
I believe, Alvin. Although, it's just moderate belief at best.