Guard Rex Chapman was disconsolate upon learning that his
friend, free-agent power forward Antonio McDyess, had signed
with the Nuggets on Jan. 22 instead of returning to the Suns.
That is, he was until he spoke with Phoenix coach Danny Ainge
later that night. "We talked for a couple of minutes," Chapman
recalls, "and then Danny said, 'You know, Rex, I've got Tom
Gugliotta sitting right here....'"
Less than 24 hours after the 24-year-old McDyess got away, the
Suns agreed to terms with Gugliotta on a six-year, $58.5 million
contract and plugged him into the four spot. Still, they will
miss McDyess's energy, his versatility and his shot blocking,
though the 6'10" Gugliotta, 29, is a more potent threat from the
outside. "It's different," says Ainge. "I think we planned all
along to have Antonio. But I love what Tom does for us. He's
tough, and he's one of the better go-to guys to have at the end
of the game."
The most encouraging thing about Gugliotta's training camp with
Phoenix was the way he connected with point guard Jason Kidd.
"They complement each other, and they seem to have a real feel
for one another, which is nice to see, considering they haven't
had much time together," Ainge says.
Therein lies the biggest rub for Ainge: In this abridged year he
has to find a way to integrate a wave of new faces into his
lineup. Gone along with McDyess are Kevin Johnson, Hot Rod
Williams, Dennis Scott and Mark Bryant. In their place come
Gugliotta, rookie forward Pat Garrity from Notre Dame, backup
center Joe Kleine and former Bulls center Luc Longley, who gives
the Suns a wide body in the paint, something that would have
been useful in their first-round playoff series with the Spurs
last spring. (Phoenix was eliminated three games to one.)
While the Suns have added size, don't expect Ainge to abandon
his "small ball" approach, which last season meant playing four
guards at the same time. That ploy created a raft of mismatches
and often produced a game-saving barrage of three-pointers. This
year either Gugliotta or 6'10" Cliff Robinson will slide over to
the center spot, the way McDyess used to. "Having a guy like Luc
gives us flexibility," says Ainge, "but I'm not about to have
that make us stray from the kinds of things that made us so
strong last year."
The versatility of players like 6'10" Danny Manning, winner of
the Sixth Man Award last season, will continue to provide
Phoenix with myriad looks. After rehabilitating from his third
major knee injury, Manning has been participating in full-court
scrimmages since early November and, according to his teammates,
There's no question the Suns are bigger, but are they better?
Without McDyess, their former star of the future, it's hard to
make that case.
Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats
SF Clifford Robinson 97 14.2 ppg 5.1 rpg 2.1 apg 1.13 bpg
PF Tom Gugliotta[+] 22 20.1 ppg 8.7 rpg 4.1 apg 50.2 FG%
C Luc Longley[+] 131 11.4 ppg 5.9 rpg 1.07 bpg 45.5 FG%
SG Rex Chapman 93 15.9 ppg 3.0 apg 1.04 spg 38.6 3FG%
PG Jason Kidd 24 11.6 ppg 9.1 apg 6.2 rpg 1.98 spg
Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 15
F Danny Manning 113 13.5 ppg 5.6 rpg 2.0 apg 51.6 FG%
F George McCloud 215 7.2 ppg 3.5 rpg 40.5 FG% 34.1 3FG%
G Marko Milic 234 2.8 ppg 0.8 rpg 0.4 apg 60.9 FG%
1997-98 Record: 56-26 (third in Pacific)
Coach: Danny Ainge (third season with Suns)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)