26 April 2008

Steve Kerr, what have you done?

Timeline of (somewhat) recent events for the Suns:

2002: The Suns' backcourt of the future in Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway flames out as Phoenix fail to make the playoffs. Kidd is traded to the Nets. The Suns draft Amare Stoudamire

2003: Amare wins Rookie of the Year honors. Phoenix drafts Leandro Barbosa. With Shawn Marion, Amare and Barbosa, the Suns have three of the best open-court players at their positions. Now they just need someone to run the show.

2004: Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks decide point guard Steve Nash is at the end of his career. They're unwilling to sign him to a new contract, and the Suns grab him. The Run N' Gun Suns are now ready to go.

The Suns save the NBA from the horrors of the Clutch N' Grab, Slow it Down Pistons and Knicks. Scoring almost at will, blowing people away on the fast break, getting shots up in the first seven or eight seconds of the shot clock, Phoenix is flat-out fun. Other teams start to mimic their style, and the NBA is more exciting to watch than it's been in a long time.

2007: The Suns get ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs (see: vampires). This is the second time in their last three playoff appearances that they get eliminated by San Antonio.

Now, I believe the Suns organization overreacted to this playoff series loss. In Game 4, the Suns were 18 seconds from a series-tying victory. Robert Horry then body-checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table, initiating a fracas in which Amare and Boris Diaw were suspended for one game for getting up off their seats on the bench and taking two steps. Horry was also suspended, but this costs the Spurs far less than losing Amare cost the Suns.

In my opinion, the suspensions of the Suns players were bad calls. Obviously NBA commisoner David Stern is worried about having another Pistons/Pacers brawl on his hands, but Amare and Boris didn't get anywhere near any Spurs players.

In Game 5, the shorthanded Suns almost pulled out a win, but fell 88-85.

Mentally defeated, the Suns were unable to even make it close in Game 6, and the Spurs took the series, four games to two.

Now, maybe it's over-simplistic to believe that without the Game 5 suspensions, Phoenix wins the next game, and has a great shot of winning one more to make it to the Western Conference Finals. But that's my stand. Phoenix, as constituted, was in a great position to make another run in 2007-2008.

Fast forward to July 2007. The Phoenix Suns hired Steve Kerr as the team's President of Basketball Operations and General Manager. The details become unclear here, but at some point over the next few months months the Suns organization became convinced that to get past the Spurs, something had to be done. Something big.

The Run 'N Gun Suns weren't enough to get through San Antonio.

As a result of this new line of thought, the Suns traded Shawn Marion to Miami for Shaquille O'Neal on February 6 of this year.

And everything changed.

As I posted when the trade went down, O'Neal is the anti-Sun. Shaq, and especially 38-year-old Shaq, is the epitome of the half-court game. If you want Shaq on your team, you give up your ability to run the fast break.

And that's what the Suns are. By trading Marion for Shaq they undid all the work they did over the past six years to become the fast-paced team that they were.

Nash is a great point guard, but he's a brilliant point guard in a running system. He's at his best hitting jumpers in transition, finding Marion on the break, and dishing to Amare trailing the play.

In the half court, especially with Bowen defending him, Nash loses all of that. Phoenix might as well put Andre Miller or T.J. Ford in at point.

It's not only Nash that is suffering. Barbosa is almost useless in the halfcourt. Diaw isn't scoring or passing well (though to be fair he's been off for the past two seasons anyway) and Raja Bell isn't getting good looks for 3-pointers. It seems that only Amare has been able to transition his game to the halfcourt.

How much of this new line of thought was due to Steve Kerr? Obviously a lot of the impetus for the move was Shawn Marion demanding to be traded, but in the end, Kerr signed off on this radical departure from what the Spurs were built for.

Oh, the irony of the Suns acquiring Shaq for the express purpose of getting past the Spurs, and then finding themsleves down 0-3 against San Antonio two months later.

Now, being down 0-3 in a series means you're not looking good by definition. But after a double-overtime scratch-and-claw affair in Game 1, the Spurs have pretty easily run over the Suns in Games 2 and 3.

Shaq's not playing defense all that well. He's as bad as ever from the free-throw line, which allows for the Spurs to play Hack-a-Shaq whenever they want. He's not even rebounding well (six boards in Game 3).

I think it's pretty safe to say the Suns are worse now than they were before the trade. Yes, they were in a difficult spot with Marion, but they could have gotten more for him than an aging 300-pound guy that can't hit free throws.

This is one of the three major trades of the 2007-2008 season that I see as unbalanced.

This leads me into a theory that's been bouncing around in my head for a couple months now.

I'll continue this tonight, but before then, go Jazz! A win in Game 4 against Houston means Utah has the series wrapped up. A loss means the Jazz are in very serious danger of losing in the first round just one year after making it to the conference finals.

1 comment:

Filbert Karo said...

Hey I think the Suns just capped the Spurs. They finally won. I think. I don't know if it's over or not, yet.