Wednesday, April 30, 2008

R.I.P. Phoenix Suns (2004-2008)

Its official: I’m no longer a Phoenix Suns fan. They have reportedly parted ways with Mike D’Antoni today, officially ending an era.

First, let me give some background to my fanhood. I’m from Portsmouth, Virginia, part of the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area. There are no pro sports where I’m from, so you kind of have free domain to like whoever you want to like as a fan.

In the NBA, I started off as a Bulls fan during the Jordan Years. After Jerry Kraus ruined the team, I moved on to the Raptors, as Vince Carter became my first post-MJ favorite player. While Vince was doing his thing in Toronto, I also started becoming a big fan of a little point guard with a crazy game in Dallas, Steve Nash.

The Mavericks were coached by Don Nelson around the turn of the century, and had an exciting young nucleus of Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Michael Finely. Later on, they added Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker to the mix, and would hoist threes and run and gun with the best of them.

As Vince started to earn a reputation as a guy who didn’t care and I started to compare my unorthodox game to Nash’s, Nash started to become my favorite player.

When he signed with the Suns prior to the 2004-2005 season (my second year of college), Nash and Phoenix became entrenched in my favorite team slot. The Suns signed Nash and Quentin Richardson, and hired an unknown coach named Mike D’Antoni.

They trotted out a starting line up of Nash at PG, Joe Johnson at SG, Q. Rich at SF, Shawn Marion at PF, and Amare at C that season. They ran, they gunned, they shot a ton of threes, and it all revolved around Nash’s play at PG. He’d throw all sorts of passes at any and every angle, bang threes, and make everybody around him better.

He was so important to that team, that he deservedly won the MVP that season with some of the most pedestrian stats of anyone who’s ever one the MVP award. His numbers from that season (15.5 ppg, 11.5 ast, 3.3 reb) wouldn’t jump out at you, but if you watched them play that season, you understood why he won the award.

For the next few years, they would rely on Nash, his ability to find anyone at the court at anytime, and the ability to hit threes. Players like Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell, Walter McCarty, Jumane and James Jones, Leandro Barbosa, Jim Jackson, and Tim Thomas would become integral to their outside attack, although most of those players only played there for a year.

On the interior, it was Marion, Stoudemire, Steven Hunter, Kurt Thomas, Boris Diaw and Grant Hill. Nash held all of these seemingly mismatched and uninspiring players together, made the marginal ones effective, and the good ones great.

Two things interest me about their strategy. Besides the Joe Johnson situation, who could’ve and should’ve resigned, but didn’t, I always wonder why they didn’t keep the same group of guys together? Another one is why wouldn’t they use the damn Hawks pick, or any of their own picks?

Getting back to the point, something strange happened this season. It was clear that either Amare or Marion had to go. My thought was to move Amare for someone like Rasheed Wallace and spare parts (who would fit in perfect with their offense, and fix their hole in the middle). Instead, they chose to trade Marion for Shaq.

That move, coupled with their slow removal of consistent outside threats that weren’t important to the team’s grand scheme (the lack of James Jones type guys), basically transformed the Suns from an innovative team to a regular team. An old regular team. An old regular team that was exposed by the Spurs.

In away, D’Antoni had to go. He might end up landing in a place like Toronto, where he’ll be allowed to do what he does best. 7 seconds or less. My only hope is that he takes Nash with him where ever he goes, so Steve can be rescued from the doldrums of having to play regular basketball.

No comments: