You’ll excuse me if this blog isn’t up to regulation standards, I wasn’t quite expecting to do a 2006-2007 recap of the 2006-2007 season until later in June.
Jessica Alba is a Warriors fan, hence she can’t be part of the “Fun-tastic Four.”
That said, I’m going to forge ahead anyway, and I’ll do so without trying to paint a pretty picture avoiding the fact we failed to reach our ultimate goal of winning an NBA Championship. I will, however, take a page from Mike D’Antoni’s book and state that the season was anything but a waste because of that.
Again, there isn’t a Suns fan or employee on this planet who didn’t want to capture a title. But at the same time, there isn’t a Suns fan or employee out there who can say they didn’t enjoy the ride this season.
SEPT. 30 – The Suns enjoy their first practice in Treviso, Italy. Europe was the home for training camp in 2006, the team bonding greatly because of it. Friendships were born and it was kind of like one of those buddy films only instead of two guys you had like 14. The trip had more highlights than lowlights, but the worst moment perhaps came in a Steve Nash-planned trip to a Milan soccer game. As Sean Marks stated, “Unfortunately we were on a bus that’s top speed led little to be desired and I am sure that a Suns fast break would have passed it by.” The group arrived at halftime to watch a game which ended in a 0-0 tie.
OCT. 17 – The Suns are back in their rightful home of Phoenix, Arizona for a contest against the Clippers. With D’Antoni preparing for the team which took them the distance in last season’s Conference Semifinals, I have the task of updating him on the Mets-Cardinals playoff game taking place. I ultimately have to tell him the disappointing news that the Mets fell in Game 4 by a final of 4-2. There is no joy in Mudville for Mets fans, and even worst, the Suns fall to the Clippers.
OCT. 31 – The Suns opened the regular season against the team they opened last season’s postseason against, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were without their star Kobe Bryant and as expected, the Suns took advantage early. A late comeback, however, was led by forward Lamar Odom and Los Angeles found themselves 1-0 on the season. The Suns meanwhile were 0-1 but quickly came back the following night against the Los Angeles Clippers and captured a 112-104 victory.
NOV. 9 – Trouble in paradise. Following a 112-119 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns quickly find themselves 1-4 on the season. D’Antoni is irate during the postgame press conference and states, “I guarantee the next game we will have some passion and every game out.”
NOV. 17 – As predicted by the Head Coach, the Suns improved their play instantly – a big win coming without the services of Nash against Philadelphia. It is during Phoenix’s 106-94 victory I take notice of Leandro Barbosa. The “Brazilian Blur” is a different player than he’s been in the past, confident and most importantly, poised. He scores 26 points and a la Wilt Chamberlain grabs 10 rebounds in the win.
“I have been playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Barbosa after the game. “I’ve been comfortable. Everybody has been helping me. The coaches have made me comfortable and I think it’s been good for me.”
NOV. 20 – The Suns play a huge contest against the Golden State Warriors. No, not huge because the California team has found a way to reunite Chris Webber, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullen. Huge because it is a chance to prove they will bring it each and every night regardless of the opponent – something they’ve failed to do against subpar teams in the past. In a tied ballgame, Nash hits a tiebreaking three-pointer with just 4.1 seconds remaining. Phoenix hangs on for a 113-110 win in ORACLE Arena.
“Our record isn’t where we want it to be, but it’s only 10 games, and we’re still learning how to play with this mix,” the two-time league MVP said after the win improved Phoenix’s record to 4-6 overall.
DEC. 7 – Boy those Suns sure do learn fast, don’t they? After Nash’s comment about learning to play with this new mix of players, the team wins its next six straight contests and is looking to stretch their win streak to eight in New Jersey. Again it is Nash carrying the Suns on his back, finishing with an incredible line of 42 points, 13 assists and six rebounds. It was a performance reminiscent of Reggie Miller in my NBA Live 96 video game, back when I would go out of my way to have one player do everything. As if the statistical line wasn’t enough, Nash would also hit a three-pointer which would force the first of two overtimes in East Rutherford. In a score which was also reminiscent of something you’d see in a video game, the Suns outlasted the Nets for a 161-157 win.
DEC. 8 – Ignoring my request to give the Suns a night off following the double-overtime affair, the NBA keeps the Suns-Celtics contest slated for the very next evening. Unsure of how the team will perform, Shawn Marion shoulders the load and finishes with 29 points and 12 rebounds as the Suns are again victorious. His big shot with approximately 40 seconds remaining, sparks an argument between my friends and I about what point in the ballgame a shot can truly be called “clutch.” Either way, the Suns are looking good, and unless the league can clone the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, it doesn’t look as if they will be challenged any time soon.
DEC. 20 – A night after winning a franchise-record 15th-consecutive ballgame, the Phoenix Suns have their contest against the Denver Nuggets cancelled due to snow.
DEC. 22 – Just hours after returning from Denver, the Suns face off against the Washington Wizards and fall in overtime. I make the mistake of heading to the Suns’ tunnel in the third quarter to watch some of the game and eventually find myself standing there a lot longer than I’d anticipated. The results stink, but I do get one of my favorite quotes of the year from assistant coach Phil Weber. Writing a story about both the streak and the team being stuck in Denver, I ask the coach about his time in the Mile High City.
“We were definitely stranded and I got to know our hotel like none other,” the coach laughed. “We never left, stranded at the Westin Hotel and there was definitely no Ginger.”
The quote was definitely a lot better than the one I got from Jalen Rose, who looked at me a little funny when I asked whether or not the trip was a “bonding experience” for the team.
JAN. 2 – With the winning streak over, the Suns begin a new streak to start the New Year. Who better than Barbosa to stretch the new streak to three after his game-winning three-point shot in Chicago? My favorite memory of the shot was no doubt the look on Barbosa’s face. It was hard to tell whether he was grilling the Bulls or in shock. My first interview after joining the Suns organization in 2005 and an overall great guy, I think it is the latter. Loving the fact that Phoenix is winning ballgames they did not the previous season, something about Barbosa is apparent: The “Blur” is no longer just one of the nicest guys in the NBA, he’s one of the most talented. His efforts would be recognized at season’s end when he is named the Sixth Man of the Year. Another amazing story from this game was the Suns receiving another sold effort from big man Amaré Stoudemire. The All-Star finishes with 24 points, 18 rebounds and four steals and has already made the two separate knee surgeries a distant memory.
JAN. 21 – The Suns are hosting a contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves. A win would be their 13th straight, but all I can think about is the fact I’m missing the Conference Championship matchup between my Indianapolis Colts and some team that plays in New England. With Indy trailing big at the half, a friend calls me to rub it in that my team will again be on the short end of the stick. I tell him in my best Paul Westphal voice, and I quote (hence the quotation marks), “We’re going to win this game. Peyton Manning is going to come out the second half on fire and lead us to victory. Then tomorrow everybody will talk about what a great game it was and how Manning had to do the impossible in order to finally get past New England.” The Colts win the contest, 38-34 and two weeks later defeat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
JAN. 26 – The Suns are still enjoying their second amazing streak of the season and are in Milwaukee for what I’m seeing a potentially dangerous contest. I hope the guys keep their focus on the Friday night contest against the Bucks and not on the Cleveland Cavaliers who they’ll play in a nationally televised contest that Sunday afternoon. Shawn Marion pulls down 23 rebounds as the Suns remain hot in the cold Milwaukee weather, winning 98-90.
JAN. 29 – In Minnesota, the new franchise record of 17-consective wins is snapped. Kevin Garnett is unstoppable and scores 44 points in one of the Timberwolves’ few bright moments of the season. Raja Bell leads the Suns with 26 points, including five shots from beyond the three-point arc. He would ultimately go on to tie Gilbert Arenas for the league lead in that category in addition to receiving All NBA Defensive Team honors.
FEB. 1 – A great night as the Suns defeat the San Antonio Spurs 103-87 at home. I rush to the arena following my night class at ASU just in time to watch us put on the finishing touches in the blowout victory. It’s a great occasion as I have always had more venom towards the Spurs than any of our other rivals. I guess it’s a case of Yankees-Red Sox syndrome of hating the team that seems to put you on your butt more than the others. Ever since Stoudemire and Stephon Marbury raised eyebrows against them a few years back, I have disliked San Antonio more than any other NBA franchise. They wouldn’t end up doing themselves any favors come May of this very season.
FEB. 18 – Three Phoenix Suns represent the team in Las Vegas for the All-Star Game, although Nash is unable to participate due to injury. Marion and Stoudemire help the Western Conference and their coach Mike D’Antoni to a victory, STAT nearly capturing the game’s MVP Award in the process.
MAR. 14 – I watch the NBA’s game of the year at the Rokerij – a restaurant ran by my good friend Clark. With the Mavericks seemingly having the game in hand, Clark grabs his “lucky charm” in the form of a flashing Phoenix Suns hat. The headpiece is beyond ridiculous but somehow manages to get the job done. Nash helps too I guess, scoring 10 points in the final minute of regulation and like he did in Jersey, forces the first of two overtimes with a clutch trifecta in the closing seconds. The Suns go on to win a nail biter 129-127 and the hat is immediately sent off to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Our hope is that it can find a home next to the basketball used the night Chamberlain scored 100.
APR. 14 – In what would prove to be one of the longest days of our lives, my friend Wes and I watch the Suns blowout the Jazz from a restaurant in Tempe. It would also prove to be the last regular season win for the Suns who would drop their final two contests against the Houston Rockets and Clippers. Even with the two-game skid to end the season and the slow start which began it, the Phoenix Suns still finish with an impressive 61-21 record overall.
APR. 22 – The Suns open up the 202007 NBA Playoffs against their long-time rival, the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m immediately reminded of what my biggest gripe with the team is – their pushy media. Following the Suns 95-87 win, I wait outside the Lakers locker room for reaction. The doors are open and a member of the Los Angeles media literally shoves two people out of his way to be the first inside. I wear a wide grin as he realizes that all he’s rushed into is an empty locker room as players haven’t finished showering.
APR. 24 – Another win over the Lakers, this one in blowout fashion. Phoenix burns Los Angeles 126-98 and I almost find myself sympathizing with the losing ballclub following the game (I repeat, almost). When I ask Kwame Brown what this Lakers team can do to slow down Phoenix, the center morbidly responds, “I was hoping you could figure that out and tell me man. Hopefully the coaching staff will figure something out because whatever it is, this isn’t working.” The mood in the locker room leads me to believe this thing will be over in four.
MAY 2 – It ends up taking five games, but the Suns to dispatch the Los Angeles Lakers after a 119-110 victory in Phoenix. The best moment of the day is when Bell – a new proud papa – tells me he enjoyed my Suns.com story about his being named to the All-Defensive Team. I ask him if this means I can have the trophy he received for his three-point efforts. He declines.
MAY 6 – The San Antonio Spurs make their way into town. Perhaps it is my subconscious dislike for the boys in black and silver, but it’s apparent early I won’t become friends with anyone on this team soon. Bruce Bowen gets aggravated at my holding the microphone too close to his mouth while Michael Finley asks me if a question of how to slow down a Suns team clicking on all cylinders is a “trick question.” I wanted the Lakers out of this building because of their media, I want this team out of this building because they’re making me feel like a rookie.
MAY 14 – The game which changes the series in favor of the Spurs comes after a Suns victory (go figure, right?). Robert Horry’s flagrant foul on Nash ends a 104-98 Phoenix victory, but leads to the suspensions of both Stoudemire and Boris Diaw who left the Suns bench during an altercation.
MAY 16 – One of the most heroic displays in NBA history takes place in the US Airways Center during Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Undermanned, the Phoenix Suns hold their own with the Spurs through three and a half quarters of play. The game gets away from them late, however, and they fall by a score of 88-85. With a nation now rallying behind this team, it’s as close to a moral victory as one can get in the postseason. Nevertheless, the team now faces elimination.
MAY 19 – I report to the arena after a long night of Game 6. The Suns players will be cleaning out their lockers and it is the last chance for members of the media to get reaction on a season which didn’t meet expectations. The guys are as cool as you can be after being eliminated from the postseason, questions already surfacing on what changes – if any – the team will undergo during the offseason.
Today – I realize the importance of keeping a journal. This way next season’s “year-end wrap up blog bonanza” won’t be as difficult to write. It’s also a pretty good idea because it very well could chronicle a season which sees the Suns win their first NBA Championship.
A while back fellow blogger Adam Beechen issued a challenge to find a nickname for this scrappy, never-say-die Phoenix Suns team. After watching the effort they give while short-handed in Game 5, I think I have one. Comic book characters are notorious for never saying die. They’ll give you every thing they’ve got and even when they do fall short, still manage to make a return issues later (sometimes they do these “clone” storylines which drive me crazy, but that’s besides the point).
Anyway, this Suns team has battled as much adversity as one team can these past three seasons. Joe Johnson missing a crucial part of the 2005 postseason, Stoudemire missing nearly all of last season including the playoffs and the suspensions this year which cost them two of their top players. But the Phoenix Suns never bow out easy, they keep fighting, keep scrapping. And being that Beechen is in the business of writing comic books himself, I think it fitting to name them after a comic book team. To me these Suns will always be “The Fun-tastic Four.”
The Fun-tastic Four – Nash, Stoudemire, Barbosa and Marion – the four players who have remained constants on this roster since the two-time MVP made his way back to Phoenix. Nash is of course Mr. Fantastic himself and like the super team’s leader, never seems to disappoint. Stoudemire is The Thing, at times an unmovable force down low and this season proving to be a rock in terms of stability. Barbosa’s speed make him a Human Torch in his own right, Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson stating the nickname “Blur” doesn’t begin to do his speed justice. Finally you’ve got Marion who in terms of the national media has at times been Phoenix’s underappreciated Invisible Man. When you do something so good for so long, it’s funny how people begin to take you for granted.
But while it’s okay to be disappointed that this team didn’t bring Phoenix its first NBA Championship (yet), let’s realize that at times the grass has been greener on our side. I’ll take a ring in a second, but would you want it done any other way? The recap you just read provided double-overtime thrillers, amazing performances and team with a heart the Wizard of Oz himself couldn’t provide. There are a number of NBA fans who would kill to have that excitement surrounding their team day in and day out, so let’s not take that for granted.
A perfect example of this perhaps coming in the fact the San Antonio Spurs failed to sell out their Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz. While I don’t mean to imply winning a championship any way possible is fun, you can’t fail to see the irony. The Suns sold out every game of the 2006-2007 season, but ultimately fell short. The Spurs meanwhile didn’t play in front of a sold out crowd when just eight wins away from the title themselves.
One who loves metaphors, I’ve got one which sums up the juxtaposition between these two teams perfectly. The Spurs are like the movie “The Piano.” Sure it wins all kinds of fancy awards, but does anybody really leave the theatre in ecstasy of what they’ve just seen? Do you call your buddies like, “Dude, you’ve got to see The Piano, you’ll have a blast.” The Suns – for these past three seasons anyway – have been more like Spider-Man. Everybody who sees it seems to enjoy themselves and everybody tells everybody they know it’s a must see. I’d much rather watch the latter.
I knew Peyton Manning would come through for Indianapolis because I know the way it usually works is that the great ones come through only after having their hearts torn out. It seemed to take Michael Jordan forever to get past the Pistons. The Boston Red Sox were crushed after their 2004 defeat to the Yankees and found themselves down 3-0 to New York the following year before getting over the hump. Great athletes never say die. Just like the “Fun-tastic Four.”