The minute I heard the Phoenix Suns had made yet another clear-the-cupboard, shake-the-Etch-a-Sketch, let’s-try-this-again trade on Friday, I thought about my nephew Jake.
Jake is eight years old. Almost four feet of precocious third grader with a computer mind and heart that belongs to Star Wars and sports.
Jake is a math whiz (his homemade birthday card to my father a few years ago announced “Happy Birthday Poppa ... you are 72!”) and he honed his love for numbers by watching sports, specifically the Suns, and scoreboards.
When Jake was five, I would be in another room while he was watching the Suns and ask, “Jake how are they doing?” The Suns trailed 84-68.
“They are 14 points behind,” Jake shot back. “But that’s OK. That’s only four three-pointers and two free throws.”
But it’s not just about numbers. Jake is attached to the players too. He was five when Steve Nash and Amaré Stoudemire and Grant Hill and Jason Richardson reached the 2010 Western Conference finals and lost to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers — two things he still can’t say without contorting his face like he swallowed a moth.
Jake would have loved the Suns I grew up with. Alvan Adams became a Sun when I was in fifth grade and was still there when I graduated college. Walter Davis was here 12 years. John MacLeod was always the coach, and Paul Westphal arrived, then left, then returned, then left, then came back to coach.
But that was then. Before Jake got out of kindergarten, Amaré and Leandro Barbosa were gone. And then Nash and Hill. And then just about everyone. It was hard to understand. “Steve Nash is on the Lakers?” Jake said, spinning in a circle to soften the blow equal to swallowing a dozen moths.
Undaunted, Jake adjusted, accepting the new Suns with no strings attached. “They still have Jared Dudley and Channing Frye” he would remind you.
The losses piled up. The math got harder.
“It’s 91-58,” Jake said. “That’s only 11 three-pointers.”
But he rooted just as hard for Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola, Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall and Michael Beasley – especially Beasley, which I constantly questioned and he would defend with a simple: “He’s on the Phoenix Suns Uncle Jerry!”
But now keeping up with the guys in Suns jerseys is a full-time job for a third grader. No more Scola. No more Beasley. Jared Dudley leaving was a tough one.
Then Friday, Gortat, Brown and Marshall all exited. Jake is trying to learn the new players. It’s going to take awhile, and I’m trying to prepare him for the fact that many of these guys aren’t going to be around long either. (“He’s A-mek-A O-Ka ... you know, don’t worry about it.”)
“Did you know Channing Frye is back?” Jake pointed out. “He’s still No. 8.”
Friday’s trade had to happen, needed to happen. Fearless and calculated Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is dumping salaries, stockpiling draft picks, and trolling for teams who have to make bad deals for financial reasons. The goal is to come up with a core of players that might be around town long enough to own rather than rent.
Jake would appreciate that. His closet looks like the discount rack at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I did my part. I talked him out of asking for a Beasley jersey last Christmas. My reasoning? Luke Skywalker knows how to drive.
This year will be another exercise in fuzzy math. But Jake will embrace Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee and Archie Goodwin (I will encourage him not to get any jerseys with “Morris” on it this Christmas) hoping that someday The Force will be with them.
And that day when the Suns bench won’t look like the bar scene from Star Wars.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.