Measuring the Suns
Having made what many proclaimed the worst trade in NBA history, and what one pundit described to me as "the worst trade ever in any sport, worse than
I'll say what I've said from the beginning: The Suns, who have won six in a row after Wednesday's victory at Seattle, have at least as much chance to win the NBA title as they did before the deal. No more, no less. The party line in Phoenix is that their chances are better -- and I believe they believe that -- while the general belief elsewhere is that they changed their style too much to prevail. I fall somewhere in between, and if you want to consider that a cop-out, go ahead.
For one thing, I want to hear one expert tell me that he or she has the Western Conference figured out. While all of us (myself included) have gone gaga over the depth of the West, what gets overlooked is the fact that every contender has at least one glaring weakness. Over the past few days alone, I've heard pundits discount the Lakers (shaky if
After spending a few days in Phoenix recently, watching the Suns win a white-knuckler against the Spurs, trounce the hapless Grizzlies and turn back their doppelgänger, the Warriors, here are a few observations:
But it's not like he has suddenly morphed into
• The most persistent of critiques aimed at D'Antoni is that he plays his stars, particularly Nash, too many minutes. This drives him to distraction both because Nash is nowhere near the top of the league in minutes played and because a congenital back condition causes Nash to stiffen up more than most players when he is out of the game.
"Do people really think Steve's minutes aren't on my mind?" D'Antoni said. "Every game I talk to [athletic trainer]
The issue has been raised more than ever this season because Nash, at times, has seemed sluggish. He's still having a terrific year (17.5 points, 11.3 assists) but probably won't get too many votes for MVP, an award he won in 2005 and '06. Nash agreed that he hasn't been quite as sharp as in the past, but said there is nothing profoundly different from other years.
"My routine is almost always the same. It's what I'm comfortable with," said Nash, who typically sits out the final two minutes of the first and third quarters and the first four of the second and fourth. "There's going to be a point in the season when you're tired anyway. Everyone gets like that. But you overcome that and bounce back and feel better again. I'm at that point now where I'm just starting to bounce back. I had a tired three weeks but now I'm back.
"I know Baron gets tired because we talk about it," he said, referring to Warriors point guard
• My observation is that, with Nash and Shaq in the game, the Suns' half-court offense looks pretty much like it did over the last few years when
But when Nash is on the bench and Shaq is on the floor, the offense does look more, well, traditional, and ineffective. Backup point guard
Having said that, just about any team's offense is worse when its first-string point guard is on the bench. Phoenix has a better option than most -- installing ball-handling forward
• A major factor for the Suns' title hopes will be
Bell, a physical, in-your-face type, played the big minutes against opponents like
• The tutor-tyro relationship between O'Neal and
Hill has also addressed a subject of far less amusement for Shaq: free-throw shooting. "I remembered that Shaq had good form when he shot in college," Hill said, "so I got some old footage up and showed him on the computer." So far, it hasn't worked. Shaq is shooting 44.6 percent with the Suns, worse than his career mark of 52.4 percent.
• O'Neal continues to say that he did not instigate the trade from the Heat. "I have a $30 million house down there," he said. "Why would I want to be traded?"
Other than to escape a miasmic hellhole of a team that won't win 20 games to join a contender, I can't think of a single reason.