Phoenix Suns Season Preview: What Are We Waiting For?

Team Capsule

What are you waiting for, Phoenix?

The Phoenix Suns’ tragic fall from grace started a while ago, but the team’s recent moves make it seem as if the front office thinks there’s something to be had with this era. In reality, the team played about as well as it could last year but still failed to make the playoffs. Now, on the heels of losing its best player to a division rival and another starter to a heart ailment, the Suns played the offseason as if they intended to make another playoff run, signing marginal veterans to deals and hoping they can provide value on the cheap. They also sought Eric Gordon, who may have left his heart there but is not the savior, and danced with other free agents hoping Phoenix was an option. For most, it wasn’t.

But Jermaine O’Neal, Michael Beasley, and Shannon Brown all signed with Phoenix this summer! None have been productive NBA players recently (or in the case of the latter 2 – for their careers). But all three will fill huge roles they should not be filling. Goran Dragic and Luis Scola were added and have been productive NBA players, but both led a roster in Houston that also consistently missed the playoffs. And Wesley Johnson brings his rather special version of awful after being acquired in a trade.

The point is: the Suns aren’t building to anything meaningful. They’ll be better than some Western Conference teams, but not most. They should miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and yet they refuse to tear the team down. There’s only enough room for maybe one max free agent next season, and long-term deals for players like Beasley just clog the team’s cap.

Phoenix needs to reorganize this team somehow, but a traditional NBA tear-down might not be the answer. While Adam Koscielak disagrees with me on this point, the Suns aren’t a team that has developed tons of players. I wouldn’t consider this an organizational strength.

But Phoenix has two major things going for it: warm winter weather, and a wonderful medical staff that resurrects the careers of veteran players. The weather is self-explanatory – in the cold months that the NBA operates, living in Phoenix is much more comfortable than living in, say, Salt Lake City. The medical staff, long-heralded, offers a competitive advantage most teams cannot match. Veteran role players such as Grant Hill, Michael Redd, and Shaq went to Phoenix and extended their playing careers and their productivity. Steve Nash stayed healthy for years beyond his physical prime and raves about the training staff there.

In other words, the team fits best as a veterans’ paradise, one that can bring a whole bunch of veterans together to go after a title. While it’s difficult to imagine who actually would end up in Phoenix under this scenario, the scenario itself isn’t farfetched – veterans have done this in Boston and Miami recently, and Phoenix offers as many benefits to those vets that either Boston or Miami does.

I would posit that this is what Phoenix is moving towards, but the moves they made, as I mentioned above, clog the team’s cap and make the scenario either more distant or unlikely. With the players and staff they currently employ, you have to wonder what, exactly, they are waiting for. Because right now, Suns fans just need something more to believe in.

Biggest Strength: Point Guard Play

Goran Dragic is no Steve Nash, but he exploded in Houston after KLOE’s injury. Behind him are Kendall Marshall and Sebastian Telfair. While neither Marshall and Telfair may prove to be that great, they provide depth at the team’s most important position, given the offense the team runs.

Biggest Weakness: Defense

Oh boy, does this team look to struggle here. Phoenix was a bottom 10 team in defensive efficiency and rebound rate, and they lost arguably their best defender in Grant Hill. They added Luis Scola, though, who can rebound but isn’t much of a defender, so I leaned to defense as the major weakness this team has. Steve Nash was the least of their problems – point guard defense matters (despite what you may hear!) but not as much as it does for bigs – and they didn’t get any better. For a team whose offense figures to get worse because Nash is gone, that their defense won’t improve is a major, major problem.

Player to Watch: Marcin Gortat

Gortat might be Phoenix’s best player, which is a shame because he is a good player but is completely misplaced as the first or even second option on a team. What’s most interesting is the situation, as he should drop off without Nash. But his contract and his past production make him an interesting trade chip: if he has a decent season to start he could be a major trade chip. If not, he will just be seen as another Nash creation.

2011-12 Record: 33-33

Coach: Alvin Gentry (322-342)

His days as head coach might be numbered, though it wouldn’t be his fault. A good coach but not a great spot to be in.

Key Additions: Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Kendall Marshall, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal, Wesley Johnson

The Suns made a ton of moves which should reorganize the team, but ones that won’t alter the system the team has run. Dragic returns to Phoenix after being traded (AND A FIRST) to Houston 1.5 seasons ago. He should perform capably in place of Nash. Scola might not be that great anymore, but he’s still solid. Beasley can provide headaches which won’t be cured by a great training staff. O’Neal and Johnson, they hope, will give them something.

And I hope more than almost anything this season that Kendall Marshall is good.

Key Subtractions: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez

Meanwhile, Steve Nash is having a good ol’ time in Los Angeles. So is Grant Hill, though he’s in a different locker room and being looked at in an entirely different light. Frye still remains under contract but won’t play this season. Most Suns fans are happy that Lopez is gone, though.

Team Trajectory: Down

At this point, the Suns look to have not realized their own stagnation. The team will need to make moves it’s not yet prepared to make to change the direction of the franchise.

Projected Record: 32-50

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