12 Phoenix Suns Just as fate brought them together last season, Johnson and Johnson are linked in the team's drive to regain its playoff form

October 28, 2002

Frank Johnson doesn't like the word rebuilding. "We're not
rebuilding," the Suns coach says, "but we're certainly
retooling." Call it what you like, but with Phoenix having missed
the playoffs for the first time since 1988, and big-name,
big-dollar veterans Penny Hardaway and Tom Gugliotta in decline,
the team is definitely looking to upgrade.

The most intriguing tool is a Swiss Army knife of a player,
shooting guard Joe Johnson, who possesses skills--a nice shot,
tough defense--that aren't always apparent. He was drafted No. 10
out of Arkansas by Boston in 2001 and got off to a good start,
averaging 14 points in his first seven games. But he quickly
cooled off and soon was buried on the bench. In mid-February the
Celtics shipped him to the Suns for Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

Starting over just as he was getting used to living in Boston was
tough--"It was scary," Johnson the player, 21, says. "I didn't
feel like I knew what to do"--but leaving a conference contender
for a lottery-bound team turned out to be the best thing that
could have happened to him. Frank Johnson, who had replaced Scott
Skiles as coach three days before the trade, quickly made it
clear he was going to give the newcomer a chance, by handing him
Hardaway's starting spot at shooting guard.

As he showed with the Celtics, Johnson didn't always bring his
best game and was an inconsistent performer with the Suns as
well. "Against some of the guys who have reputations as being
good two guards, he really pushed himself," says his coach, "but
when he thought it was a lesser opponent, he didn't come with
that same intensity. He got embarrassed by the guys he perceived
were lesser opponents, because in this league there are no lesser
opponents."

Frank Johnson had nothing but praise for his 6'7" guard's work
ethic over the summer. Joe Johnson played in two summer leagues
and worked with a personal trainer to become quicker. He grew up
admiring Magic Johnson, so naturally he wants to run the Phoenix
offense. "I played a lot of point over the summer," he says. "I
love it. I can guard smaller guards; I just feel like I need a
little more speed." He did play some point last year, and his
boss has no qualms about using him there at times this season.

That would create an opportunity for Hardaway (who has four years
left on a seven-year, $86 million contract) to come off the
bench, where he and Gugliotta (two years left on a six-year $58
million deal) give the team one of the league's highest-paid and
least-tradable reserve tandems. "Penny's at peace now with
whatever decision is made," says Frank Johnson. "I think he
struggled with it last year. He wasn't happy; he was being blamed
for the way we were playing, and that wasn't the case at all. We
were just going in a new direction."

A new direction, yes, but with youth on the floor and experience
on the sideline eating up cap space, it may be a while before the
Suns are retooled and headed back to the postseason. --Mark
Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES NEW PENNY On the strength of his all-around game, Joe Johnson, 21, has supplanted Hardaway at shooting guard.

FAST FACT
The 2001-02 Suns set an NBA record with just 19.9 free throws per
game; Seattle's 20.4 in '01-02 was second-lowest alltime.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Suns

"I can see them moving Stephon Marbury to shooting guard and
having Penny Hardaway handle the point. Marbury did a better job
of trying to involve his teammates last year, but it doesn't come
naturally to him. You know you're in trouble when your point
guard is taking a lot of bad shots, and Marbury still does--though
he has improved his field goal percentage every year he's been in
the league.... I feel for Frank Johnson trying to coach a
backcourt of Hardaway and Marbury. It would be hard enough having
one of them, but having to deal with both of their egos is going
to cause a lot of headaches.... The Celtics questioned Joe
Johnson's work ethic when they traded him last February, but
supposedly he got serious this summer. The Suns have been trying
to develop him as a backup point guard, but I don't see
it....Marbury, Johnson, Shawn Marion and Jake Tsakalidis all have
the tools to be much better defensive players. Tsakalidis should
try to average a double double this year, but he still looks
mechanical and doesn't know how to use his strength.... Amare
Stoudemire was an intriguing pick out of high school. He's not
highly skilled, but he's bigger than Kenyon Martin, and if he's
willing to defend and rebound, he could help this year.... The
Suns were 26th in three-point shooting last year, which is why
they drafted Casey Jacobsen.... Tom Gugliotta has averaged fewer
than 50 games the past five years, and it shows--he's not
explosive anymore.... You have to question some of their recent
decisions. They give away Jason Kidd and Cliff Robinson because
they want good citizens, then they put the team in Marbury's
hands. They say they need a disciplinarian like Scott Skiles,
then they fire him and go with Frank Johnson, who's
player-friendly. It looks like they're not sure what they want."

DEFENSIVE RATINGS

Tough D
OUTLAW

Fair D
MARION
TSAKALIDIS
MARBURY
JOHNSON

No D

PROJECTED LINEUP
2001-02 record: 36-46 (sixth in Pacific)
Points scored: 95.1 (17th) Points allowed: 95.8 (15th)
Coach: Frank Johnson (second season with Suns)

STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS

SF Shawn Marion 26 19.1 ppg 9.9 rpg 1.84 spg 1.06 bpg 46.9 FG%
PF Bo Outlaw 215 4.5 ppg 4.4 rpg 1.5 apg 1.11 bpg 42.2 FG%
C Jake
Tsakalidis 180 7.3 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.03 bpg 47.5 FG% 69.8 FT%
SG Joe Johnson 143 7.5 ppg 3.3 rpg 2.3 apg 0.77 spg 43.0 FG%
PG Stephon
Marbury 36 20.4 ppg 8.1 apg 0.94 spg 44.2 FG% 28.6 3FG%

BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS

G-F Anfernee
Hardaway 123 12.0 ppg 4.4 rpg 4.1 apg 1.53 spg 41.8 FG%
F Amare
Stoudemire
(r) [1] 151 29.1 ppg 15 rpg 6.1 bpg 2.1 spg 65.0 FG%
F Tom Gugliotta 249 6.5 ppg 5.0 rpg 1.8 apg 0.89 spg 42.2 FG%
G-F Casey
Jacobsen(R)[1]255 21.9 ppg 4.5 rpg 3.5 apg 44.1 FG% 37.2 3FG%
F-C Scott
Williams[1] 303 4.9 ppg 5.1 rpg 0.3 apg 0.80 bpg 39.6 FG%

[1]New acquisition
(r) Rookie (statistics for final high school season)
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

YOU'RE IN TROUBLE WHEN YOUR POINT GUARD IS TAKING BAD SHOTS, AND
MARBURY STILL DOES.

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)