Judging by the hysteria that seems to have struck Suns fans, Phoenix needs to overhaul its roster, fire coach Mike D’Antoni and change the offense if it wants to win a championship.
Did I miss something?
That was the Suns who came within an untimely suspension of possibly taking the San Antonio Spurs to a Game 7, right?
That was the Suns who won 61 regular-season games and the Pacific Division in a rout, true?
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the Suns who had two players named to the All-NBA first team, the Sixth Man of the Year and a first-team All-Defense selection?
Yes, yes, the Suns didn’t win a championship. They failed.
But anyone who believes wholesale changes are necessary needs to take a deep breath. The Suns are one of the best teams in the NBA. What they need is a tune-up, not a new engine.
“We have to be careful with tinkering with this too much,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t want to think we have to go crazy. We’re not that far away.”
The Suns will look different come fall, if for no other reason than they’ll be about $12 million over the salary cap, and owner Robert Sarver will want a smaller payroll.
But Phoenix can come closer to Sarver’s bottom line without having to sacrifice, say, Shawn Marion, who will make $33 million over the next two years. Marion’s name annually comes up in trade rumors, but if the Suns truly want to win a championship while Steve Nash is still at the top of his game, they won’t trade the Matrix.
Marion is the perfect third banana to Nash and Amaré Stoudemire, a guy who doesn’t need the ball to score. He’s also the most versatile defender in the NBA, the only player who can cover Tony Parker one possession and Tim Duncan the next.
Do I believe Marion is as vital to the Suns’ title hopes as Nash and Stoudemire?
But I do know that if he was to be traded, fans would understand just how valuable he was the first time the Suns played without him.
No, Phoenix’s first order of business is to hold onto its top six players — Nash, Stoudemire, Marion, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and yes, Boris Diaw. I’d add Kurt Thomas to that list, if only because the Suns and Spurs may meet in the postseason again next year and somebody will need to cover Duncan. But with an $8 million salary, Thomas is the likely salary cap casualty.
The Suns then must demand improvement from three of those players: Stoudemire, Barbosa and Diaw.
Stoudemire had a remarkable year coming back from microfracture knee surgery, but his defense has to improve. His rotations against the Spurs were abysmal, leading to several uncontested layups, particularly in the early stages of Game 6. It’s also a bit unsettling that Stoudemire was the only Sun who missed the end-of-the-year meeting Saturday.
Clearly, Stoudemire has some growing up to do, both as a player and a person.
Diaw’s mission is clear: Find a little fire in the belly. It’s inexcusable for a player with his talent to play so listlessly in Game 6, with just one point and one rebound in 13 minutes. The Suns invested $45 million in Diaw; the least he can do is give them his best effort game in and game out.
As for Barbosa, he’s terrific when the Suns are running, but the Spurs exposed his questionable decision-making in a halfcourt game. If Barbosa can’t direct Phoenix’s offense in the slower pace of the postseason, the Suns need to find someone who can.
That brings us to Marcus Banks and, by extension, the rest of Phoenix’s reserves. They were AWOL when the Suns needed them most, in Game 5, but that’s not their fault as much as it is D’Antoni’s.
He’s the one who signed Banks to a five-year, $21 million deal, who brought in Jalen Rose, Jumaine Jones and Eric Piatkowski, only to discover they didn’t fit his system or, in Banks’ case, was a bad influence in the locker room.
D’Antoni is a terrific coach, but he’s yet to distinguish himself when it comes to personnel decisions. Meanwhile, Bryan Colangelo recently was named Executive of the Year for the second time.
“There were mistakes in decision-making,” D’Antoni admitted. “I messed that up.”
He can’t afford to get it wrong again. Phoenix won’t win a championship without a productive bench. Assuming, of course, D’Antoni will use his bench.
As he was headed out the door Saturday, Nash made an interesting point about the Suns. This team hasn’t fallen short three straight years, he said, because this team — with Stoudemire, Diaw, Thomas and an improving Barbosa — has only been together one season.
“We really haven’t built on anything,” he said.
It’s hard to sell the status quo when the franchise’s motto was “Eyes on the Prize.”
But that’s what the Suns need to do. Add a couple of bench players. Get bigger and tougher.
Just don’t overreact.
Impatient franchises are losing franchises.