6 Phoenix Suns After last season's medical meltdown, the well-healed Suns are eager to operate at full force

October 30, 2000

While his NBA colleagues were off recording really bad rap CDs,
Suns forward Rodney Rogers spent the off-season realizing his
lifelong ambition of driving a dump truck. "Some days, if we went
to get sand, my day might start at 2:30 in the morning," says
Rogers, the owner of RRR Trucking, a seven-vehicle outfit based
in Durham, N.C. "Or if we went to the rock quarry, that opens at
seven, so I was up about six. I don't mind driving all day. It
lets my drivers know, Hey, he'll get out and do it when he
doesn't have to, so we shouldn't be complaining about anything."

If he'd wanted to, Rogers, along with his teammates, had every
reason to complain last season. Forward Tom Gugliotta nearly died
after having a reaction to a nutritional supplement; then he blew
out his left knee but couldn't have surgery for two days until
doctors located a ligament from a cadaver. A knee injury put
high-flying Shawn Marion on the shelf for 31 games, and an
emergency appendectomy sidelined guard Rex Chapman for 53. But
the biggest blows were to guards Anfernee Hardaway (21 games
missed with plantar fasciitis in his right foot) and Jason Kidd
(15 games, broken left ankle). With both on the floor, the Suns
were 33-12; when one wasn't, they were 20-17.

With so much talent unavailable, coach Scott Skiles, who took
over 20 games into the season when Danny Ainge resigned, stressed
grit and hustle to put together a remarkable 53-win season. Four
of the top eight defensive performances in the franchise's
33-year history came in the season's final 39 games.

The most crucial performance Skiles got was the blue-collar
effort by his truck-driving sixth man. Rogers was the only player
to appear in every game of 1999-2000, and though it seemed there
was always a starter out of commission, he was a sub all but
seven times. "Everybody wants to start," says Rogers, "but coming
off the bench I get to watch the game and see what I need to do
when I go in." What he needed to do last year was a little of
everything. He shot a career-best 44.0% from three-point range,
averaged 13.8 points, grabbed 5.5 boards per game and was the
overwhelming choice for the league's Sixth Man Award.

Even without Kidd and Gugliotta, Phoenix knocked the Spurs from
the playoffs and gave the Lakers fits before bowing out in five
games. There was no reason for the Phoenix brass to think that a
healthy version of last year's team wouldn't contend this year,
so off-season tinkering was kept to a minimum. The Suns did score
a coup when they drafted 7'2" Georgian center Iakovos (Big Jake)
Tsakilidis with the 25th choice. Most teams assumed the
21-year-old would be unsignable because of his contract with the
Greek league, but Phoenix successfully arbitrated to get him out
of the deal.

The team also signed free-agent guards Tony Delk and Mario Elie
and, in addition to one first-round pick, obtained center Chris
Dudley from the Knicks for last year's starter, Luc Longley, in a
four-team trade. The foul-prone Dudley is no superstar, but
Longley's 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game aren't exactly
hard to replace. "Chris Dudley is Chris Dudley," says Skiles.
"Per minute played, his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are
very high."

With a little time to mesh, Kidd and Hardaway will at least make
Phoenix a force to be reckoned with. "They didn't get the
opportunity to really know each other last season," says Skiles.
"Even when they were playing together, they had a mishmash of
people coming in and out. Under the circumstances they had great
years. It just wasn't always together."

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: BARRY GOSSAGE/NBA ENTERTAINMENT NUMBER ONE SUN His ankle repaired, Kidd is again the most important player in the explosive Phoenix offense.

In Fact

With 483 boards last season, Jason Kidd became the first guard to
lead his team in total rebounds since 1989-90, when three players
did it: the Nuggets' Fat Lever, the Bucks' Alvin Robertson and
the Bullets' Darrell Walker.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

SF Clifford Robinson 18.5 ppg 4.5 rpg 2.8 apg 1.13 spg 46.4 FG%
56

PF Tom Gugliotta 13.7 ppg 7.9 rpg 2.3 apg 1.48 spg 48.1 FG%
72

C Chris Dudley[1] 1.2 ppg 2.9 rpg 0.44 bpg 34.3 FG% 33.3 FT%
208

SG Anfernee Hardaway 16.9 ppg 5.8 rpg 5.3 apg 1.57 spg 47.4 FG%
63

PG Jason Kidd 14.3 ppg 10.1 apg 7.2 rpg 2.00 spg 40.9 FG%
12

BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

F Rodney Rogers 13.8 ppg 5.5 rpg 2.1 apg 1.15 spg 48.6 FG%
95

F Shawn Marion 10.2 ppg 6.5 rpg 1.4 apg 1.04 bpg 47.1 FG%
119

G Tony Delk[1] 6.4 ppg 1.9 rpg 1.2 apg 0.76 spg 43.0 FG%
192

G-F Mario Elie[1] 7.5 ppg 3.2 rpg 2.4 apg 0.92 spg 42.7 FG%
234

C Daniel Santiago(R) 13.2 ppg 7.1 rpg 1.30 bpg 56.7 FG% 65.4 FT%
237 [1]

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

THE BOOK
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Suns

"Even if they don't trade for Dikembe Mutombo, the Suns helped
themselves by getting rid of Luc Longley and bringing in Chris
Dudley. Dudley will rebound, contest shots, take charges and
play good low-post defense. He's not afraid to be an ass and get
under people's skin out there. Sure, he's a liability on
offense, but Phoenix has enough scoring. What did Longley ever
offer? He can make a shot, that's it....Penny Hardaway's skills
have diminished. He doesn't blow by people or jump over them
anymore. But Jason Kidd is the star of this team; Penny is now a
nice role player....Nobody noticed, but Tony Delk is a good
pickup for Phoenix in the backcourt. He's long and athletic, and
he can score. Rex Chapman has a bigger name, but Delk's a better
player....Rodney Rogers is a bitch to match up against. He can
post up, he can put the ball on the floor, and he can shoot the
three. Not many guys can do all that, and there are even fewer
who can defend against all that."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)