Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Last night I was invited to come out to Salt River High School and speak at the Senior Dinner.

Junior hanging out with students at Salt River High School.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

A lot of the students have an opportunity to go to college, but are undecided if they want to. I just told them that it’s a great time in a person’s life. It’s similar to being 14, when you’re first going into high school and you think you know everything. But once you finish high school, you’re a totally different person. College is the same way.

I had the greatest time of my life in college. There was that pressure of being an adult, but I was fortunate to be able to still go to school and learn, and grow. You know, once you leave college and you get into the real world, it’s all about business, the plusses and minuses of whether you can cover your debt and make enough money to live comfortably. So I just encouraged them to take advantage of that opportunity that they have and to enjoy it.

It was real cool. I took pictures with just about everyone there and they all seemed to enjoy it. I love being able to use my celebrity to touch people and relate to them, because at the end of the day when I leave the arena, I go home, I get tired, I bleed, I cry and I get hungry just like everybody else.

Speaking of getting hungry, I can’t wait for the playoffs to begin. It looks like I’m going to be starting, so this is really going to be exciting for me. I’m taking it as a challenge to go in and have a great playoff run, and win a championship. I’ve never won a real championship in my life, at any level, and the NBA’s is the biggest championship in the world. So if I can help the team in any way reach that goal, I’m going to do it. I just have to be smart and play, make shots, make defensive plays, make the extra pass… just play basketball.

I think we’re ready. We won a lot of games this year, we enjoyed the streaks earlier in the season, but we want more. You know, if you’re on a team that never wins, you crave winning. But once you start winning, the number of wins you get doesn’t really matter. It’s all about winning the championship. I think this team has gotten to that plateau. We want to win a championship. So everyone is focused and everyone is ready. It’s a progression. I think we’ve progressed well, and I think we’re at that stage where we’re ready to take hold of this opportunity.

What are we expecting from the Lakers? Kobe. Kobe. Kobe. He’s the key and not just in scoring. Kobe’s a great player, an all-around player. You never know what you’re going to get with him. You don’t know if he’s going to facilitate or if he’s going to dominate, and that makes it interesting. But as a player, and as a team, we understand that they have two ways of playing, which is to play off of Kobe, or Kobe playing off of them. So we’ll see which style they bring.

Either way it will be a tough match-up, because they know us and we know them. We have that history and that rivalry. It’s like the old Celtics-Lakers series. They played each other every year and they knew the ins and outs of each other, and yet still every game was a great game. I think we’re going to see the same thing in this series.

Strap your seatbelts on, fans, and enjoy the ride. This is going to be fun.

My Season in Review

With the end of the season upon us, it seemed appropriate for me to look back at some of the highlights of my rookie season as a blogger for Suns.com.

 

Apparently, Coach D’Antoni does not take kindly to facial hair compliments.
(NBAE Photos)

It’s been a great year, and of course the playoffs are still to come, when more memories are sure to be made, but when I think of all the great things that have happened so far, I can’t help but get a little misty.

Will someone please cue up One Shining Moment…?

October 3, 2006: In Treviso, Italy, following a Suns training camp practice, I approach Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni in hopes of gathering a few quotes for Suns.com. He surprises me before I can say a word by complimenting my Suns baseball cap. Sensing a chance to forge a strong bond, I instantly come up with a return compliment. “Thanks,” I say, “I like your mustache.” Coach D’Antoni immediately calls security and I spend the night in an Italian jail. The food is excellent.

November 3, 2006: I drive from Los Angeles to my boyhood home of Phoenix for a sentimental visit with family. I tour the Suns offices, have lunch with Suns staffers Jeramie McPeek, Steve Koek and Brad Faye, and am the team’s guest that night at the arena for a game. I drive back to Los Angeles the next day, and receive a phone call from my mother, asking why I didn’t at least call when I was in Phoenix. I knew I forgot to do something.

November 29, 2006: Impressed at how the Suns have turned things around after a slow start, following a decisive win over the Rockets, I send an e-mail to the Suns offices, suggesting they’ve found a “hidden gem in this Steve Nash kid,” and propose they consider starting him for the remainder of the season. “Why doesn’t everyone know about this guy?” I write. In grateful response, the Suns send me season tickets. To the Arkansas Rim-Rockers of the NBA Developmental League. And a plane ticket.

December 22, 2006: The Suns drop a heartbreaker to the Washington Wizards, their only loss in a string of seventeen games…on my birthday. I reason it must be because the team was tired after spending the day shopping for presents for me, signing cards, etc. However, four months later, no gifts or cards have yet shown up. I hate when things get lost in the mail.

January 6, 202007: After three years of dedicated service, because of diminishing performance, I am forced to replace my beloved computer keyboard with a younger model. Breaking the news is difficult. Midseason cuts can be so hard.

February 20, 202007: The Suns visit Los Angeles to play the Clippers. Wanting to be positive I’m recognized among what I’m sure will be a throng of Suns fans, I await the team at their hotel wearing a purple Suns road practice jersey, an orange Suns warmup jacket, vintage 1975 Suns game shorts (extra short), a Gar Heard headband, three pairs of orange wristbands on each arm, Kurt Rambis-framed sport glasses, Elliott Perry socks, my custom-made purple-and-orange Suns shoes (see my November 28 blog), and my face painted half-purple, half-orange. Hotel management asks me to leave, saying I’m “making guests uncomfortable, lowering the reputation of the entire hotel chain, and distracting passenger jets flying overhead.” Besides, they say, the Suns aren’t even staying at this hotel. Driving home, I wonder how I could have mis-read the itinerary the Suns graciously sent me.

February 23-28, 202007: Road trip! In what I feel sure is a brilliant idea for a blog that will demonstrate my “superfan-ness,” I decide (at great personal expense) to follow the team on a four-game swing through Miami, New Orleans, Memphis and Cleveland. Arriving at Miami’s home arena, however, I learn the Suns aren’t scheduled to play the Heat that evening, and in fact completed their season series against Miami on January 5. Indeed, the Suns’ road trip will take them to Minnesota, Atlanta, Indiana and Philadelphia, and not any of the cities I have arranged to visit. Flying home (at great personal expense), I wonder how I could have again mis-read another itinerary the Suns graciously sent me.

March 16, 202007: Looking to be of service to the Suns organization any way I can, I watch the entire first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and file e-mail scouting reports to the club on potential draft prospects. Quoting verbatim from my expert scouting reports: “Greg Oden: Good. Tall.” And, “Kevin Durant: Good. Tall.” My e-mails are returned with a note saying I’ve been classified as “Dangerous Spam.” I consider adopting that as my cool-sounding nickname, like “STAT” or “The Matrix.”

April 18, 202007: In celebration of the regular season’s end, I douse myself in champagne, drive to the nearest playground and cut down the basketball hoop’s net. I’m discovered by police, reeking of booze, with the net around my neck, singing “We Are Family” at the top of my lungs at 2 a.m. I spend the rest of the night in jail for being a public nuisance. The food isn’t nearly as good as it was in Italy.

Yes, it’s been quite a season. But it’s not over yet! Onward to the playoffs! I can’t begin to describe how excited I am. And from the playoff travel itinerary and the report on the Suns’ first-round opponent the team has generously provided me with, I have to say I think we have an excellent chance of beating the Detroit Lions.

Go Suns!

The Chemistry Club

Rock the boat, don’t rock the boat, baby. Rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over…”

 

Pat Burke is member in good standing of the The Chemistry Club.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

Name that band! Okay, it’s The Hues Corporation with a classic from the ’70′s. But apparently some of our fine friends around the league never heard these lyrics or just don’t buy into that theme. Check out this list of disgruntled players who have – at one point during this past – have rocked the boat and gone public with complaints about playing time or clashed with their coach: Andrei Kirilenko, Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins, P.J. Brown (one of the classier guys in the league!), Robert Horry, Corey Maggette, Ben Wallace, Smush Parker, Linton Johnson, and Marko Jaric just to name a few.

Some of these players have paid a price for their venting. Johnson is deep in Byron Scott’s doghouse with the Hornets, a team that desperately needed healthy bodies down the stretch. Horry reportedly ticked off Gregg Popovich to the point that the next game the coach ordered Horry to be listed “DNP-Old Age” for his insubordination!

Of course, there are many examples of players who bite their tongues, bide their time, and are rewarded for their classy patience. Look at Eddie Jones. One of the great locker room guys in the NBA, he was wilting away on the MEMPHIS bench – where even the ushers at Fed Ex Forum could crack the line-up! But Eddie remained a positive presence and was respectfully relocated to Miami and is now logging meaningful minutes for the playoff-bound Heat.

Now, enter the Phoenix Suns and their “Pine-Time Players.” Pat Burke, Eric Piatkowski, Jumaine Jones, Marcus Banks, Sean Marks and Jalen Rose have declared themselves members of the Fitness Club. But I submit they are better served by the moniker “Chemistry Club” for helping to keep the chemistry strong all season long while – as true competitors – certainly steaming deep inside, aching for a chance to showcase their skills.

Yet, when was the last time you heard Pike say: “I’m getting hosed here.” Or Jumaine Jones saying, “I am being disrespected.” How about Marcus Banks, who was trumpeted as the point guard who would finally give Nash a rest and also inject the Suns with some much-needed defensive intensity. He has every reason to provide the Arizona Republic with juicy, inflammatory comments.

Jalen Rose falls into the same category. He could be logging meaningful minutes in Miami, but he has been a true pro while idling on the bench. Pat Burke refuses to air his frustrations, instead obliges every time the team asks him to star in a comical spoof about all his “free time.” You could even throw Kurt Thomas into the mix. His minutes come and go but his professional demeanor never wavers.

In fact, last night after a rousing slaughter of the Jazz in Utah, many of these “Chemistry Club” members led a spirited and comical exchange on the plane and bus ride to the team hotel in Houston. Believe me, after reports of internal strife over the past couple of weeks, the chemistry has never been better.

And these Pine Time Players are a major reason why we are witnessing the third 60-win season in franchise history. All 3 of these teams had great character guys (and guys who are truly “characters). So move over Paul Shirley and Bo Outlaw (class of ’04-’05). Step aside, Tim Kempton and Frank Johnson (class of ’92-’93). Make room for these new members of the all-time Chemistry Club. The guys who opt not to rock the boat and just enjoy sailing toward a possible championship.

Win Over Lakers Ugly, Satisfying

Every time the Lakers and Suns play, the Suns win, and the Lakers and basketball lose.

 

Steve Nash scrambles for a loose ball in Friday night’s win over the Lakers.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

Given the yawning talent gap between the teams it’s hard to see why the league’s highest scoring, most entertaining team suddenly turn into such a grinding drudge against a team that has no point guard, no center, and last night had no Kobe, at least not the real one.

The teams are 20 games apart in the standings, for goodness sake! Yet a stranger watching them play would assume they were in a tight fight for first place (or last). That’s how ugly most of the games are between this most mismatched odd couple.

It’s like watching a race between a Porsche and a Ford pickup, with the Porsche winning by half a car length every time.

But not surprisingly, Coach Mike takes the position that if winning ugly is what it takes he’ll take it.

In fact, he found it satisfying that the Suns could win ugly, since that is what you often have to do in the playoffs, and this is the one thing the critics who question the title viability of their style say they can’t do.

And speaking of the playoffs, the officials must have misread the schedule and figured this was Game 1 of the first round, because they were certainly in the no-blood, no-foul mode that is standard postseason procedure.

Offhand you would figure that with an exhausted Kobe coming off a 50-point, 48-minute effort last night unable to beg, borrow, or make a basket (he was 7 for 26) the Lakers would be easy pickings. But instead they were right there with four minutes to play and it took a couple of big plays at both ends to put this one in the win column.

FAN BLOG: Suns vs. Lakers

The 202007 NBA Playoffs tip-off in a little more than a week and Suns.com will be there for the entire ride.�In addition our usual exclusive content, we will also be turning to our blog squad of broadcasters, players and staff to share their insights and inside stories.

 

Leandro Barbosa and the Suns host the Lakers at US Airways Center on Friday night (7:30 p.m., FSN AZ/ESPN).
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

But seeing as how Suns.com is a site for fans, we’re calling on you to join our team and contribute throughout the playoffs! Whether it be e-mailing us your best fan photo, submitting�your unique Suns artwork or sharing your own thoughts and theories, we want to get you involved.�

With the Suns hosting the Lakers tonight, in what could very well be a sneak preview of the opening round, what better time than now to test our new Fan Blog idea, in preparation for the playoffs? All you have to do is use the reply form at the bottom of this page to express your opinions on tonight’s game, the first-round matchups, or the Suns’ chances in the playoffs.

Please keep your entries to 250 words or less, as that’s the limit our blog system will currently allow. If you’re feeling particularly inspired, however, feel free to submit multiple replies. Oh, and be sure to scroll down through the posts to read the most recent entries at the bottom of the page. We will post your entries throughout the day and night, upon quick review for profantiy or offensive content.

On your marks. Get set. Type!

The Inside 'Scoop' on This Season's MVP

Veteran sportswriter Scoop Jackson recently wrote an article for ESPN.com on the topic of whether or not Phoenix’s Steve Nash was deserving of a third-straight MVP Award.

 

Fellow NBA MVPs Steve Nash and Bill Russell pal around during the Suns’ training camp trip to Europe last fall.� (NBAE Photos)

Scoop’s stance was that Nash wasn’t a deserving candidate due to the fact it would put him in an illustrious – not to mention well decorated – group of NBA Champions including Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

It’s indeed some elite company to say the least. Russell, a man who owns more NBA Championship rings than fingers, the mythic Chamberlain, arguably the Babe Ruth of basketball, and Bird’s clutch play having helped him become both a Hall of Famer and a two-time Finals MVP. Scoop’s perspective is that since Nash has yet to prove himself in the NBA Finals as these men did, it’s not right to include him with such elite company.

Let me first start off by saying I have all the respect in the world for Scoop Jackson as a writer and, ironically, it was his contributions to SLAM during the mid-1990s which made me want to become a sportswriter. That said, I couldn’t disagree more with Scoop on this one and I think it’s insane to discard Nash as a 2006-2007 MVP candidate because of seasons which took place prior to the 2006-2007 season.

Granted, I may be biased as an employee of the Phoenix Suns, but to deny Nash the honor based on the theory “he’s no Bill Russell” would be a true example of tainting the MVP Award. For starters, the award is based on one’s performance during the regular season and nothing but. What happened in the past and what could potentially happen in the future has no bearing on who wins the MVP Award. Otherwise, Dwyane Wade would have to be thrown into the list of potential candidates, as well. Wade’s play during last year’s postseason propelled the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, as well as an NBA Championship. Shouldn’t he at least get a little love when it comes to the voting? Of course not. He’s been plagued by injuries this season and everybody knows prior postseason success has no impact on the league MVP Award. Nor does looking at the class that player would join by being named MVP. Would Scoop have denied Allen Iverson the 2001 MVP Award simply because he hadn’t enjoyed the postseason success fellow Philly MVPs Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Moses Malone had?

If Scoop believes Dirk Nowitzki is a more deserving candidate based on his production and contributions to the Mavericks this season, so be it. But to give him the award just because Nash hasn’t proven himself as a champion is ludicrous. What happens if Nash leads Phoenix past Dallas en route to an NBA Championship? Do you then take the award away from Dirk and give it to Steve?

And I really hope Kobe Bryant’s name isn’t being seriously considered. If you give the NBA MVP to a guy who has helped his team finish with the seventh best record in your conference, you’re opening up a mighty big can of worms. Bryant’s numbers (31.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists) are not too far off the numbers of Cleveland’s LeBron James (27.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and six assists) or Washington’s Gilbert Arenas (28.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and six assists). Maybe you can argue Bryant’s numbers are better, but not to the point where James or Arenas shouldn’t even be considered.

But James and Arenas haven’t been considered because that’s what happens when your team fails to meet expectations. Cleveland was supposed to do big things after their playoff run last year and even in the Eastern Conference still failed to win 50 games. The Wizards meanwhile were struggling to stay in the middle of the playoff pack even before Arenas’ injury took place. You don’t give the Most Valuable Player Award to a guy whose team could be finishing the season below .500. Because of this, Bryant doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned in the same breath as Nash or Nowitzki.

So what is it that gives Nash the edge over Nowitzki besides a better haircut? When the statistics are as close as theirs are, you look at three factors. The first is the position each has put their team in entering the playoffs. Dirk has helped his ballclub to a higher seed, and most importantly has put his team in a position to avoid a possible second-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. Dirk’s Mavs will also have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs so the edge here easily goes to the seven-footer.

The second factor is leadership. To me, Nash is simply a better leader than Nowitzki. Even putting aside the debate of who makes their teammates better – a debate which really isn’t debatable – look at how many times Nash has carried the Suns on his back this season. Clutch shots against Golden State, New Jersey, Miami and a final minute against Dallas that fans will never forget, are why Nash gets the nod. The two-time MVP always seems to be able to do what needs to be done no matter how daunting the task and most importantly no matter how much time is left in the ballgame.

The final category is true value. You look at what the Mavericks can do without Dirk and what the Suns have done without Steve and again it isn’t even close. Without Nowitzki this season, the Mavericks are 2-0 including victories over the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings. The Suns have lost their last three contests played without the services of Nash, dropping two against sub-.500 teams including the Atlanta Hawks and Seattle SuperSonics.

Some say it is crazy to vote based on games in which a guy didn’t play. That even though you oftentimes don’t appreciate someone or something until you’ve experienced life without them, it is insane for games in which a player didn’t participate to play a factor in the MVP voting.

Me? Insane? Well if that’s the case, with Scoop Jackson already there, it looks as if I’ll be joining some pretty elite company.

Off Day Adventures and Serious Hoop Talk

A season of adventures continues for the Suns. This time, tornado warnings in the Memphis area kept us grounded for an extra hour and a half following a grisly win over Memphis.

 

Amaré Stoudemire and the Suns take on Tim Duncan and Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night (6:30 p.m., My45).�����(NBAE Photos)

Once loaded onto the plane, we were advised of a “bumpy ride” into San Antonio. Bumpy? At points it felt more like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Needless to say, we are happy to be on the ground here in San Antonio. I know I quickly text messaged my wife and kids and told them how much I love them!

We had a great day off! Tim Kempton set up a day of “comp” golf for me, Eddie Johnson and our TV producer Bob Adlhoch. But these are not your ordinary, everyday rounds of golf. Not with Eddie and Tim. This is combat golf! Insults, sarcasm, and mental warfare are encouraged; etiquette and humility are forbidden. Certainly makes for an entertaining afternoon (and we all toasted our margarita glasses at dinner, so no hurt feelings!).

Now for some serious hoop talk. The Suns meet up with the Spurs in another late-season exam. They received A-pluses across the board at home against the Mavs, and to match that kind of effort and performance on the road in San Antonio would once again rearrange all those “Power Rankings.”

Here are some of the things I will be watching for against the Spurs:

• The Spurs 3-point defense can be stifling. The Suns coaching staff admits that San Antonio is the best at clamping down on the Suns 3-shooters.

• That should open the lane for Amaré, who as we all remember absolutely torched the Spurs in the playoffs two years ago and then had a 20-20 game last time out against Duncan and company in the paint.

• The Suns like their defensive match-ups with San Antonio. Steve Nash can check Bruce Bowen (coming-off six three-pointers in the Spurs’ last game), while Shawn Marion’s length and quickness can help neutralize Tony Parker. Raja Bell will have the unenviable task of tracking Manu Ginobili, but Raja has the tenacity to make Manu work for his points.

• A couple of wildcards will be Leandro Barbosa and Kurt Thomas. The Spurs will struggle to match up with the small-ball Suns when LB is on the floor with Nash, Raja and Shawn. Defensively, though, the Suns may rely on Kurt Thomas if the Spurs big bodies – Duncan, Francisco Elson, and “Fabio” Oberto – begin to dominate the glass (you may remember Oberto hit all 11 of his shots in the first meeting between these two teams).

The Spurs still have those savvy, 3-point shooting vets – Michael Finley, Brent Barry and Robert Horry. All three are now well into their thirties, so we shall see if their aging legs can run with the Suns. Right now Barry and Horry have nagging injuries, so we may not even see them on Thursday night.

But if the standings hold firm, we could see these two teams in the second round of the playoffs. The Suns have a strong desire to hold down that second seed so that THEY can claim the homecourt advantage for that potential series. It could be the determining factor between these two powerhouses.

We will all eagerly await the sneak peek. All you have to do is dial-up the game at the AT&T Center on My45 starting at 6 p.m. (PHX time) with Suns Gametime! Then sit back and enjoy The Best Show on Sneakers.

On the Road Again

It seems as though there is nothing sweeter than road wins. To be able to go into someone else’s house and with their fans against you and walk out of there with a win is a great feeling.

 

Amaré Stoudemire and the Suns face the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., TNT).
(NBAE Photos)

One could focus on the negative aspects of life on the road – hotel rooms, room service etc, which believe me all get very old after a while. However, being on the road enables the team to go out to dinner together and really (for lack of a better word) “hang out” as one big group.

 

There are very few distractions on the road a part from the occasional fan or college buddy that now lives in whatever city we are visiting. This current road trip for the Suns will be a great one for us not just solely due to what happens in the win-loss column, but for the simple fact that this trip is the last long one of the season and it will give the group a chance to really fine tunes things prior to our playoff run.

 

Having said that, after a long trip I am sure all the guys would agree that there is nothing better than coming home to your family, your own bed and home cooking.

 

So far so good. The team started our trip with a nice win against a Memphis team that has no postseason hopes. These teams, however, can be very dangerous towards the end of the year. From my experience it seems as though teams that are simply counting down their days before summer vacation would enjoy nothing more than to knock off a potential NBA champ or to dash a teams chances of clinching a higher seed.

 

With nothing left to play for the roll of the “spoiler” becomes very much apart of the non-playoff team. Not to mention the fact that those teams usually resort to playing their young guys whom throughout the regular season did not get much run. These guys are hungry to prove they belong in the NBA and are looking to secure a job for the following year.

 

The Suns have a great test ahead of them in the San Antonio Spurs. This game could well be a preview for a match up down the road in the playoffs. With the Spurs having won three championships in the last eight years they have something the Suns want badly.

 

The Spurs may have the experience needed during the playoffs and the Suns having just fallen short of their goal the last couple of years. This will be a great battle and should prove whether there is a changing of the guard at the top of the Western Conference.

 

Look forward to seeing everyone again after a successful trip.

 

Cheers!

Notes on a Perfect Sunday

It was a crystal-clear, 70-degree day here in Los Angeles (this would actually be a pretty great place to live, if the Lakers weren’t here). I took a long walk by the beach with a beautiful woman. And then I came home and watched the Suns kick the absolute stuffing out of the Dallas Mavericks.

 

Amaré Stoudemire thows down two of his 24 points in Sunday’s win over the Mavericks.
(NBAE Photos)

Do Sundays get any better?

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I recorded the game on TiVo (I hope you understand, Suns fans – not many things take priority over a nationally televised game between my team and the top team in the league, but I’m a sucker for a good romantic walk by the beach), and avoided score reports on the radio on my way home. Arriving at my apartment, I checked my phone messages, which included one from my father in Chicago. He said, “Go Suns,” which meant either, a) he was being sarcastic and the Suns got killed or they lost a heartbreaker or b) the Suns won. My dad knows how seriously I take the Suns and generally knows better than to needle me about hoops, so I had a pretty good feeling as I sat down to watch the game.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

What a welcome return to sharpness! The Suns looked like everything they hadn’t in the previous eight or so games. Their passes were crisp, their spacing precise, their defense tenacious, and their resolve solid. Yes, the Mavericks were missing their center, Erick Dampier, but you can’t tell me the difference between the Suns and the Mavericks comes down to Erick Dampier. The Suns simply turned on the jets in the fourth quarter and blew the best team in the NBA out of the building. When they play that well, there isn’t a team in the league today that can hang with them.

Now the question is, can they bottle the performance and use it as a spark the rest of the way?�

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If Amaré Stoudemire perfects his mid-range jump shot (and from the looks of it Sunday, he’s pretty close to doing so), the NBA may as well close down for the next ten years.

If power forwards or centers lay off of him, he’ll knock down ten of those jumpers in an evening. If they come out to guard STAT, he’ll blow by them and posterize the weak side help that comes over to stop him. He’ll become as much of a force, if not more of a force, than Karl Malone.�

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A few columns back, I said Dallas had no marquee superstars outside of Dirk Nowitzki. I was wrong. Josh Howard may not be quite in Nowitzki’s league, but he’s definitely a superstar – just one you don’t hear anything about. He hits the three, runs as well as anyone in the league, plays amazing defense against any of four positions, and absolutely cleans up around the rim on garbage buckets and tough rebounds. There’s a lot of Scottie Pippen in him.

Shawn Marion has long held the title of “most underrated star” in the NBA, but now that title has been so over-used as pertains to Trix that it doesn’t really apply anymore. How can you be underrated if everyone’s talking about how underrated you are? Shawn is a bona fide superstar – true followers of the league and the team certainly know that now. The Suns aren’t the Suns without him playing at his best, and their troubles during his recent recovery from a hand injury reflect that fact. Howard is genuinely underrated…and he’s just as important to the Mavericks as Trix is to the Suns.�

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Around this time every year, columns start appearing about which NBA assistant coaches are next in line for head coaching jobs, and Marc Iavaroni’s name always seems to top the list. It’s inevitable he’ll get a top slot, he’s too good not to, and of course I wish only the best for him, but it’ll be quite a loss the day he leaves the Suns’ bench. In addition to being a quality coach who has made the Suns immeasurably better, he’s been a key part of the chemistry of the coaching staff, which can be as important as the chemistry of a team.

Speaking of underrated, the Suns’ assistant coaches in general don’t get nearly enough credit. Alvin Gentry, Phil Weber, Dan D’Antoni and Iavaroni…each brings something critical to the Suns’ success to the table and has left an imprint on the team’s accomplishments in recent years. Mike D’Antoni and the Suns’ front office deserve a round of applause for assembling not just a great team on the court, but a great team in the coaches’ seats.�

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That’s a lot of compliments to pass around in a single blog, but I guess I’m just feeling filled with the milk of human kindness. I had a pretty good Sunday, and so did the Suns.