The Suns, 14th in the NBA in steals last season, begin this
season as the league leader in that category. On Oct. 1 Phoenix
gave up two guards--a jump shooter (Wesley Person) and a bad
shooter (Tony Dumas)--to get Antonio McDyess, a 23-year-old,
6'9" forward who can run the floor like a deer, jump through the
roof and score. "When we think of the greatest heists in
history, we usually think of the Brink's robbery or Robin Hood,"
says a rival assistant general manager. "No longer."
McDyess, the No. 2 pick in the 1995 draft (by the Clippers, who
traded his rights to Denver) and the Nuggets' best player last
season, gives the Suns a shot blocker, an interior scorer and
frontline flexibility, which will allow second-year coach Danny
Ainge to play a tall lineup when he's not playing the little
five that extended the heavily favored Sonics to the full five
games in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last
season. McDyess averaged 18.3 points per game for the Nuggets,
blocked 126 shots (38 more than Phoenix's best shot blocker,
center Hot Rod Williams) and got to the free throw line, whence
he made 274 of 387 shots. Guard Kevin Johnson (439 of 515) was
the only Sun last season to score more than 200 points from the
"It really helps to add big guys who can play," says Ainge,
whose team also snatched 6'10" free-agent forward Cliff Robinson
(who left the Trail Blazers) and re-signed the 6'11" Williams
and 6'9" Mark Bryant. "Antonio brings energy, but he's not the
savior for the franchise. He adds depth to the front line. Right
now he's not any better than Danny Manning, Mark, Hot Rod and
Cliff, but with his potential he could be significantly better."
If he proves that, a huge payday is due for McDyess, who has
more of a reason to play well than perhaps any other player in
the league. He can be a free agent on July 1, at which time he
could get a $100 million contract from some team. The Nuggets
didn't think he was worth that kind of money, so they traded
him. The Suns have a year to decide if McDyess is a franchise
player, and by dealing for him they have an advantage in the
free-agent sweepstakes. Since McDyess will be Phoenix's free
agent, the Suns are permitted to exceed the salary cap to sign
"This is a spectacular move for me, best thing that's happened
to me since college [Alabama]," McDyess says of the trade. "I've
gone from a team that's not winning to a team that's going to
contend for the West title." As for the possibility of a big
contract, McDyess says, "I don't think about it. If I did, then
I might have a bad season."
With the addition of McDyess, the Suns can play a front line
that's tall, athletic and versatile. Or they can turn to their
small lineup, which at small forward has an incandescent
shooting guard, Rex Chapman (a surprise star of the playoff
series against Seattle), and Johnson and Jason Kidd in the
backcourt. Whatever lineup Ainge uses, the team will run a lot
and score points in bunches. Either lineup will be difficult to
play defense against because of the matchup problems the Suns'
However, no matter which lineup is on the floor, the Suns will
be lacking muscle in the middle. Moreover, Phoenix isn't going
to be a good defensive team, especially when Chapman, who can't
guard your house, plays up front. McDyess can block shots, but
he's not strong enough to be able to deny position or the ball
to a low-post player. Same with Manning, Robinson and Williams.
"But I don't think that's going to be a problem," says McDyess.
"We're a transition team. We have quickness. There shouldn't be
many teams who are able to keep up with us."
The Suns are going to win at least 45 games, and they'll be fun
to watch. But at playoff time, when the NBA turns into a giant
half-court game, usually the more physical, better-rebounding
teams win. So the Suns are left to roll the McDyess and hope
that their speed will propel them deep into the playoffs. --T.K.