The Best Suns Draft Ever

Draft week always sends me scurrying back through Suns’ history, looking at players come and gone, seasons of success and not-so-much-success. It’s a good time to consider what’s come before, when you’re about to get a dose, in some form or other, of what’s going to be.

The Suns drafted George Gervin in the third round of the 1974 NBA Draft.
(NBAE Photos)

There’s been a lot of talk this off-season about the Suns’ past few drafts; players that didn’t pan out, players the team might have drafted and passed on, deals that did or didn’t work. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Did you know the Suns drafted the following notable players who never put on the purple and orange: ABA/NBA ironman and all-star Ron Boone (1968 – 11th round), ABA/NBA legend and scoring champ George Gervin (1974 – 3rd round), 70s scoring ace Billy McKinney (1977, 6th round), and man-mountain shot-blocker Mark Eaton (1979, 5th round)?

Of course, those were the days when the NBA draft had something like two hundred rounds, and in some cases, there was the ABA, a whole other league, to contend with, so the science of selecting players was a bit less defined.

Also, back then, fewer underclassmen and almost no Europeans made themselves eligible for the draft, and the emphasis wasn’t as much on potential as it was on ready-to-play athletes; there was a better chance of finding a hidden gem in a late round (remember Alvin Scott, the Suns’ 7th round pick in 1977?

He went on to play most of a decade for the club as a super-sub). Nowadays, as there are no late rounds, and every pick is absolutely crucial, from a financial standpoint, and from the standpoint of improving your team. You get just a few shots in the draft now, so you better be right about your picks…which is why the entire city of Portland is sweating bullets as I write this.

The Suns pick 24th, 29th and 59th in this year’s draft, and there are so many scenarios swirling over what the Suns might do with their picks that I can’t keep them all straight. I have my preferences, but I’m notoriously bad at eyeing talent that I think will help the Suns (years ago, when now-Suns staffer Steve Koek called to tell me the club had traded Eddie Johnson for Xavier McDaniel, I confidently predicted the NBA could forward the championship trophy to Phoenix immediately), so I’m just a nervous, hopeful observer.

So, to pass the time, I donned my 20/20 spectacles to look back at previous Suns drafts in hopes of determining which one did the most for the franchise. My criteria were: 1) Impact players for the team. Not guys who may have gone elsewhere and had great careers. What did Suns draftees contribute to the Suns? (2004 Suns draftee Luol Deng may turn out to be a great player, just not here) 2) Depth of draft. The Suns have landed many strong players in drafts where they only had one or two picks (Shawn Marion in 1999 and Amare Stoudemire in 2002, to name two) – which is all you can ask for in this day and age, but I want to reward the team for reaching for those hidden gems. So, naturally, earlier drafts are weighted a bit heavier than more recent ones.

For me, it came down to two Suns drafts. Narrowly finishing in second place was the draft for the 1975-76 season. Only two players from that draft played for the Suns that season (a third, Bayard Forrest, came aboard later), but they were crucial in turning the team into an NBA force, starting a winning tradition that has continued, nearly uninterrupted, to this day. Phoenix had two first-round picks, and used the first (Number 4 overall) on an undersized, high-post, underclassman center from Oklahoma, Alvan Adams.

The second (Number 16 overall) became Ricky Sobers, a two-fisted guard from Shawn Marion’s alma mater, UNLV. Both emerged as starters. Adams became the Suns’ first Rookie of the Year. And thanks in no small part to the efforts of these young players, the Suns made it to their first NBA Finals in 1976. In other words, Adams and Sobers were crucial to turning the franchise around and setting them on a successful track. Sobers didn’t stay with the Suns long, but his initial impact was powerful. Adams, of course, never left the Suns, remaining with them to this day. In his playing years, he was long the face of the franchise, and a cornerstone for the team to build around.

But the best draft, in my opinion, came a dozen years later, for the 1988-89 season. It was a season of enormous change for the Suns. Wracked by devastating drug scandal rumors, poor records in previous seasons, coaching changes, and whispers of a possible move to another city, the Suns completely overhauled their roster and their image. At the end of the previous season, the Suns had shipped their franchise player, Larry Nance, to Cleveland for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin and Kevin Johnson, and it was clear all three players would make an impact on the Suns’ future. Sharpshooting sixth man Eddie Johnson had come aboard in a trade. Cotton Fitzsimmons had returned to the Suns as Director of Player Personnel, and would soon be named Head Coach once more. The off-season yielded a proven superstar as a free agent, Tom Chambers. The Sun with the longest tenure on the team was a young guard named Jeff Hornacek (himself a hidden gem in the draft, once upon a time). The Suns were priming themselves to resume their position as a perennial contender. But the draft would be crucial – there were holes to fill, and this would be their chance.

I was an intern at KPNX-TV that summer, carrying tripods for photographers, mostly, and trying not to wilt in the heat. But I finagled my way into a hotel ballroom along with our news crew for the Suns’ draft party, and watched with great interest as Cotton and Assistant Coaches Paul Westphal and Lionel Hollins, from the stage, announced the Suns’ picks.

As I recall, I fervently hoped the Suns would take a big man with their first pick at Number 7, probably Rony Seikaly or Will Perdue (sorry, Mark West, like I said, I’m a terrible judge of draft talent). Instead, the Suns went with Tim Perry, a high-flying forward from Temple I didn’t know much about. The pick was greeted with some indifference, if I remember right, and while Perry never proved to be the most consistent player, he had his moments, and he figured prominently in the trade that brought Charles Barkley to town some years later…so give the Suns points for that.

The Suns had another pick in that first round, Number 14. After not selecting a “big name,” there was grumbling in the crowd. Gary Grant had been in for workouts, and was a big name from Michigan. Rod Strickland of DePaul was still available, and so was Notre Dame’s David Rivers (remember, Kevin Johnson was more promising than proven then, so the Suns’ interest in a point guard would have been understandable). Instead, the Suns picked Dan Majerle…and there were boos. No one had ever heard of him. His description didn’t help him. He was from Central Michigan (where?), where he had played center at 6-foot-6 (what?). I proudly state that I didn’t boo…but I wasn’t happy either, even when Cotton told us, “I cannot help how you feel…You will be sorry you ever booed this young man.”

He was right, of course. Thunder Dan became one of the most popular players in team history, beginning his career as a role player extraordinaire, a la John Havlicek, a slasher, a defender and a tireless worker. He’d go on to become one of the most feared three-point shooters to ever play, and was a key cog in the Suns teams that became perennial contenders in the Western Conference throughout the Nineties.

In the second round, the Suns finally selected a big man, a baby-faced center from Arkansas named Andrew Lang. He never put up the biggest numbers, but he was a capable player who worked hard on defense and protected the rim, and for a franchise that hadn’t really had a lot of success in the middle over the years, they were welcome traits. Lang played serviceably for several years with Phoenix before also figuring in the trade for Barkley, a trade that paved the way for the franchise’s second Finals appearance in 1993.

Three picks, three players that figured prominently and favorably in Suns history. All three were key components in making the franchise a force, restoring its place not just in the NBA, but in the hearts of Phoenix sports fans. At the team’s lowest ebb, they helped bring it back from the brink.

There was one other pick of note in that Suns draft, by the way – a scrappy guard with a bad knee and very little quickness, but with great basketball intelligence and a deadly stroke from downtown. He played college ball down the road at the University of Arizona, meaning even if he didn’t make the team, he’d at least be a fan favorite.

Steve Kerr didn’t play long for the Suns, but he lasted longer in the NBA than anyone else the Suns took in that draft, and the championship rings he collected from Chicago and San Antonio attest to his value. He also ended his career as the NBA’s career leader in 3-point shooting efficiency.

Okay, but what was his long-lasting impact on the Suns? What did he do that changed the franchise, and helped make the 1988 draft the most significant in franchise history? Well, he never cut his ties to the state, and on June 2, 202007, he accepted the post as the Suns’ General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, so we’re about to find out. And we’ll start this Thursday at the 202007-08 NBA Draft.

Who knows? Maybe, in nineteen years, we’ll be talking about it as the best in Suns’ history.

Trade Rumors

Ah, summer. When the inconsequential NBA Finals are over at last (all NBA Finals that don’t involve the Suns are inconsequential), and a young blogger’s thoughts turn to wheeling, dealing, drafting…and trade rumors.

 

If you have a basketball card of Paul Mokeski, the Suns just might want to talk about a deal.
(NBAE Photos)

For me, thinking about next season began the day the Suns were eliminated from the playoffs. Who will stay? Who will go? How will the Suns look to improve themselves for next year’s run at the trophy?

Now, with action on the court finally at an end, other teams and their fans are wondering the very same things. Can we pry that superstar away from his team with an offer of only three stale hot dogs, Paul Mokeski’s rookie card, and one alternate throwback road jersey once worn by our trainer’s sister? Is that Bratislavan combo guard with crossed eyes and a peg leg able to create his own shot, and thus worth taking in the first round? The draft is a week or so away, and we’ll begin to get some of our answers then. Until that time, however, all we have is speculation… and rumors.

No doubt, you’ve seen the names of some of the current Suns surface in these rumors. Some of the names show up every offseason, it seems, while others are making their first appearance. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of these rumors ever come to fruition, meaning they’re mostly a source of irritation for these players… it’s not like any of them are loading moving vans at the first whisper of trade possibility. And some of the rumors are downright ridiculous.

Which is why I’d like to use this space to deny some of the more outrageous trade rumors I’ve heard thus far in the off-season…involving ME.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to the Lakers even-up for Kobe Bryant. The Suns would never trade me within their own division.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett. My contract specifically allows me to veto any trade to any city where hockey is more important than basketball, and where the temperature never rises above, “I don’t think my lips are supposed to be blue.”

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to their arena maintenance department. The maintenance department staff didn’t want to upset their chemistry. I can respect that.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal. However, they have said that if they can get Tito, Marlon, Jackie, and Michael O’Neal in the deal, they might consider it.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Chicago for a package including Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha. Reportedly, the Bulls felt “Adam” was too difficult a name to pronounce.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Orlando for Billy Donovan. Donovan reportedly has the right to accept, refuse, accept, refuse, accept and refuse any deal (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Boston for Theo Ratliff, Delonte West and the Celtics’ first-round draft pick. The ghost of Red Auerbach insisted the Suns throw in the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert, and the Suns backed off – after much discussion.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to the Nets for Vince Carter, as New Jersey feels exchanging “Half-Man, Half-Amazing,” for “Half-Man” isn’t an even swap.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me for Commissioner David Stern’s mustache, circa 1984. Apparently, the mustache failed its physical.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Atlanta for Joe Johnson, whom the Suns would send back to Atlanta for their first round picks in 2010 and 2011, the 2010 pick being lottery protected and the 2011 pick being non-lottery protected, which the Suns would then send back to Atlanta along with their own second-round pick in 2009 and the Hawks’ 2008 first-rounder, which isn’t lottery protected, for Joe Johnson and a conditional third-round pick from 1987 because everyone’s heads exploded and their was no one left to do the deal.

• NO, the Suns are not trading me to Portland for the draft rights to Greg Oden. Yes, as a Suns fan, I feel kind of bad about that one, too.

So there you have it. I hope that puts all these scandalous rumors to rest once and for all. I am a Suns.com blogger now and forevermore, and the Suns have no plans to move me to any other franchise, no matter how big the offer might –

Excuse me, that’s my phone.

Hello? Yes, this is he. I’m what?! To where?! Oh, for Pete’s sake, I just got done writing a column saying this wasn’t going to happen! Well, where am I going? Really? They still have a team? Well, what did you get for me?

Paul Mokeski’s rookie card? Not bad!

Kerr Brings Winning History Back to Valley

I’ve attended my fair share of Phoenix Suns press conferences these past couple of seasons, but none that I can remember had the buzz that today’s had.

Kerr was able to capture five NBA Championships as a player with both Chicago and San Antonio.
(NBAE Photos)

Everybody in the Suns family appeared to be down on the practice court to welcome new general manager Steve Kerr to the organization, from employees to coaches to TNT broadcaster Doug Collins. All were on hand to see a very good guy receiving a very good position with a very good franchise.

Standing with Kerr following the press conference, I began having flashbacks of all the times he’d aggravated me as a player in the past. I thought about how he had helped two of the teams I like least in the NBA to title after title after title. Sure guys like Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan contributed, but make no mistake – it’s no coincidence Kerr is the only non-Celtic in NBA history to win four consecutive NBA Championships. In fact, Kerr is only the second player ever to win back-to-back titles with two different teams.

A lot of people will state guys like Steve Kerr and Robert Horry were able to enjoy so much success in their careers simply because they joined teams that were already champion contending teams. Not once do they usually point out, however, that it’s no coincidence champion contending teams wanted guys like Kerr and Horry involved with their organization for a reason.

Talented players who double as good, hardworking teammates don’t grow on trees. Kerr may not have been putting up the numbers that All-Stars and future Hall of Famers like Jordan and Duncan were, but he was a key component nonetheless.

The former University of Arizona Wildcat, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1988, began his title reign in Chicago with three consecutive championships. None of which gained him more personal accolades than in 1997 when he nailed the game-winning jumper in the decisive Game 6 against Utah. Following the dismantling of the Bulls, Kerr ventured to San Antonio where the Spurs were able to capture their first title in franchise history. After a stint in Portland with the Trailblazers, Kerr returned to San Antonio prior to the 2002-03 where he would again be instrumental in the postseason – this time in the Western Conference Finals. After having dropped Game 5 against the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs would come from 15 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 6 thanks in large part to Kerr’s four shots from beyond the three-point arc. San Antonio won the contest 79-71 and advanced to and won their second NBA Finals in franchise history. For Kerr it was his fifth and final NBA Championship as he retired at season’s end.

Winning is often an attitude well before it is a result. The Chicago Bulls teams Kerr was a part of were still to this day as good a team I’ve seen in any professional sport. The Gregg Popovich-coached Spurs may not match the Bulls in terms of dominance, but they share the same exact attitude – the attitude that if we play as a team, there isn’t anybody on this planet that can stop us.

Kerr now brings that winning attitude to Phoenix, and while the last impression you get of him is that he’s arrogant, how can you not be a little cocky when you’ve got as many championship rings as fingers on your shooting hand?

He may not have been the best player on the court during those NBA Finals games, but Kerr perhaps said it best when the Suns drafted him nearly two decades ago:

“I think I’m obviously a good shooter, that’s what everyone notices when they watch me play. What they don’t notice probably as much is the fact I know the game of basketball. I’m a good passer; I tend to make good decisions all the time on the court.”

Now with a front office position with a team on the verge of winning its first championship in franchise history, I’m sure Kerr is already thinking about making those good decisions off the court as well… Not to mention getting to work on decorating that other hand.

Summer Reading List

Sure, the NBA Finals are about to start, but I’m already going through pro hoops withdrawal.

I’m moderately excited to see how LeBron James will perform in his first Finals and I’m certainly rooting for the Cavaliers, but I don’t have much interest in seeing the Spurs play another four to seven games, so I’m not sure how much of the series I’ll actually watch. Instead, chances are I’ll probably settle in with six or seven good books about basketball and wait for the draft, then the summer leagues, then training camp, then the start of the 202007-2008 season.

You may be looking for a good page-turner as well right about now (especially if you’re a Suns fan), so I thought I’d list here ten of my favorite basketball books. Some of them may be easier to find than others. These days, I scour the Internet for odd, out-of-print hoops books, and a couple of those show up on this list. I have a bias toward books about basketball in the 1970s and biographies of players from those days, I think because that’s when I started paying attention to the sport. I also like team histories, where I can learn about the personalities of teams over time. Not all of these are about the Suns, and I don’t claim that these are the best basketball books ever written, they’re just my favorites. If you’ve got your own, I’d love to hear about them, and if you read any of these as a result of this list, I’d love to know what you think about them.

1. THE LITTLE TEAM THAT COULD…AND DARN NEAR DID! THE FABULOUS RISE OF THE PHOENIX SUNS, by Joe Gilmartin

It all started here, for me. In the summer of 1977, I attended Phoenix Suns basketball camp at the Jewish Community Center (Side anecdote: At that camp, Suns forward Curtis Perry led us through a rebounding drill where we started on one side of the lane, tossed the ball off the backboard, then caught it as we leapt to the other side of the lane. I tossed the ball OVER the backboard, where it got stuck in the rigging behind the hoop. Curtis looked down at me, patted my eight-year old head, and said, “Play guard.”), and all campers were handed a copy of this book. I read it countless times that summer, and I’ve read it roughly once a year since. Written with great wit and love by Suns.com’s very own Mr. Gilmartin, who’s been there since the beginning, the book traces the team’s history from prior to its inception to its first glorious title run in 1976.

If you’re a Suns fan curious about the early days of the team, this is THE book. Not only will it give you insight into the history of the squad, you’ll get a sense of Phoenix as a sports town in the days before pro sports mania really hit the Valley (“In sports…Phoenix is an incorporated Rodney Dangerfield.”). You’ll learn about little-remembered coaches like Butch van Breda Kolff, who led the Suns for a grand total of seven games in 1972 (“The first signs of trouble appeared in an exhibition game…against the Lakers. The Lakers were having troubles of their own, so many that they scored only 142 points in a 48-minute layup drill, even though the Suns kept throwing them the ball.”) You’ll learn about Leapin’ Lamar Green, the Suns forward who once sprained his ankle during a jump ball…by getting it tangled in an opponent’s shirt. And you’ll find out about Cotton Fitzsimmons’ first tenure as a Suns coach, read tales of the legendary Connie Hawkins (“Connie Hawkins was somebody everybody got mad at; Connie Hawkins was somebody nobody could stay mad at more than five minutes.”), and of course chart the rise of the Suns team that bowed to Boston in one of the great NBA Finals ever played (“Phoenix fans really cared! Desperately, deeply, loudly, longingly, lovingly, and, in the end, tearfully.”).

It’s just a wonderful book, and it’s inspired me and my writing as much as anything I’ve ever read. I can quote it from memory in places…but you might expect that, given how many times I’ve read the darn thing. I even bought a second copy, since my first one is almost worn out.

2. LOOSE BALLS, by Terry Pluto

This was the book I wanted to write, and I was desperately upset when it came out. But then I read it, and it was everything I wanted to read, and more. Pluto traces the history of the upstart American Basketball Association during its 1960s and 1970s run, the league that brought us slam dunk contests, the three-point shot, spectacularly large Afros, the red-white-and-blue basketball, and Dr. J. It’s an oral history, meaning it’s told in the direct quotes of the people who were there, like Larry Brown, Bob Costas, and even Pat Boone, with Pluto chiming with valuable clarifications, statistics and information.

The number of anecdotes in this book that will make you laugh out loud is off the charts. My favorite is about the player who refused to board a plane that would change time zones, meaning an arrival technically EARLIER than the departure, saying, “I ain’t gettin’ on no time machine.” It’s a terrific snapshot of pro basketball in the 1970s, when the personalities were as fun as the game.

3. THE BREAKS OF THE GAME, by David Halberstam

The tragic recent death of Halberstam robbed the world of one of its great writers, period, but also of a particularly great basketball writer. Halberstam wrote this book about the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers, having traveled with the team for the entire season. It’s as good an “inside the locker room” book as has ever been written, capturing the turbulent ups and downs (in this case, mostly downs) of an entire basketball franchise. Player personalities, coaching styles, game strategies, internal conflict and fragile camaraderie…It’s all here as Halberstam takes notes on the end of the Bill Walton era in Portland.

4. TALL TALES, by Terry Pluto

Yes, Pluto again. He followed up LOOSE BALLS with a similarly structured oral history of the NBA’s earliest years that’s almost as diverting as BALLS. The personalities may not have been quite as big, and the style of play not as flashy, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to read about the league’s early movers and shakers, like Auerbach, Gottlieb and Kerner. And the legendary players, from Cousy and Russell to Baylor, West and Chamberlain, are here too. Yes, there was basketball before Michael Jordan, and it was every bit as interesting as basketball today. Maybe more.

5. BREAKING THE RULES, by Mike Tulumello

Longtime Valley sportswriter Tulumello wrote this excellent book about the Charles Barkley era in Phoenix during the mid-1990s. Barkley transformed the franchise, helping bring it tremendous success, but Tulumello intelligently discusses the positive and negative sides of that transformation. Barkley’s presence affected everybody involved with the team, and the author uses that to explore Suns legends like Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Tom Chambers, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Paul Westphal. Though Barkley’s at the center of the book (no surprise – he was at the center of everything else in his career), it’s a total picture of the organization at a very specific time in its history.

6. THE LAST BANNER, by Peter May

It wasn’t quite the end of an era, but there was definitely the sense that the end was nearby when Boston won its most recent title, in the 1985-86 season. The core of the club, Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson, had been together for several years, and while they couldn’t be considered ancient (Okay, maybe Parish was ancient), they were definitely aging. This book presents us with their remarkable chemistry and is a smart, inside portrait of a team of veterans and how they pace themselves through a season.

7. FOUL! By David Wolf

Suns fans looking for the full story of Connie Hawkins and his tumultuous journey to the NBA and Phoenix need look no further than this fantastic biography. From childhood to obscure semi-pro leagues to the Harlem Globetrotters, Wolf follows Hawk’s dogged desire to make it in basketball after being falsely implicated in a point-shaving scandal, and when he finally gets his chance, the reader breaks down in tears just like the player himself. The book closes with a Hawk’s-eye view of the Hall-of-Famer’s first season in Phoenix, followed by the team’s first-ever playoff run, and near-upset of the mighty Lakers.

8. THE LAST SEASON, by Phil Jackson

I can hear the gasps. “A book about the Lakers makes your Top Ten list?! Beechen, we don’t even know who you are, anymore!” I know, I know. But reading an account of the downfall of the Lakers’ early-decade dynasty, especially a well-written account, is just too much fun to keep the book off the list. Jackson wrote this as a kiss-off, thinking he’d never be back with the Lakers organization, so he doesn’t spare anyone criticism, even himself. Ever wonder what a coach REALLY thinks of his players? The answers can be pretty surprising. This is my favorite book by a coach, a great view from the front of the bench.

9. WHAT’S HAPPENIN’? by Blaine Johnson

This one’s hard to find, but highly entertaining. Johnson, a reporter for a Seattle newspaper, spent the 1976-77 season with the Supersonics, much the way Halberstam would spend a season with the Blazers a few years later. This book lacks Halberstam’s gift for the larger context, but it gets closer to the players, and the Sonics had some great personalities in this period: Slick Watts, Downtown Freddy Brown, and Tall (7’ 4”) Tommy Burleson. Best of all, their coach was none other than Bill Russell, and he emerges as a real enigma – very detached from the team, almost a non-presence, except when he criticizes. Much of the book is given over to the players – and the author – trying to figure Russell out…and everyone comes away scratching their heads.

10. THE PUNCH, by John Feinstein

In a regular-season game on December 9, 1977, Lakers forward Kermit Washington, during a brawl between his team and the Houston Rockets, wheeled and leveled Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanvich with a devastating punch to the face – and nearly ended his life. The event had huge and long-lasting implications for both men, as well as for the entire league. Feinstein, one of the best sportswriters around, examines the effect of that single punch in minute detail, and how it reverberates today. It’s a sad, scary, fascinating book, whether you’re old enough to remember seeing the videotape of the event, or not.

Whew! Hard list to come up with – I’m already second-guessing myself about more books I treasure that I wish could be on the list, like THE RIVALRY, by John Taylor; THE PIVOTAL SEASON, by Charley Rosen; FIND THE KEY MAN, by Hal Higdon; FORTY-EIGHT MINUTES, by Terry Pluto (him again!) and Bob Ryan; THE PRIDE OF PORTLAND, by Frank Coffey and Tom Biracree; THE SHORT SEASON, by John Powers and THE BULLS AND CHICAGO, by Bob Logan. And that’s just a small sample.

Hopefully, if any of these interest you, hunting for them and then reading them will keep you occupied during these dry, hot months of baseball and then football, otherwise known as the “dead zones” between Suns’ seasons. They’ll certainly make the “wait ‘til next year” a lot more enjoyable.

Rooks and Kings

People always ask what we at Suns.com do during the summer when the team isn’t playing. As much as I would like to tell them about the Monday afternoon movie and the hopscotch tournaments, I usually just reply “rookie stuff.”

There isn’t a rookie guard out there who wouldn’t love the opportunity to pick Steve Nash’s brain.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

“Rookie stuff” began today at the US Airways Center as NBA hopefuls worked out for Mike D’Antoni and the coaching staff, new general manager Steve Kerr and a host of other front office employees.

I had the opportunity to speak with each of the four young candidates who put forth their efforts (a task which made me feel incredibly old), and saw the glimmer in their eyes when I mentioned the possibility of running with this Suns team. It’s a style anybody in good shape would love to play, particularly young guards such as USC’s Gabe Pruitt and Nevada’s Ramon Sessions. When I asked Sessions how he would feel about picking Steve Nash’s brain, the 20-year-old replied, “To learn from him would be learning from the best.”

Sure it’s a lot easier to dream of being the first overall pick in the NBA Draft when you’re a kid, but you’ve got to admit, going number 24 certainly has its advantages. Unlike the team picking in the one slot, you’re most likely going to a title contender. And odds are the team picking first overall in the draft doesn’t have a player of Steve Nash’s caliber to learn from.

The best part of day one workouts was no doubt when Boris Diaw made his way onto the practice court just after things had finished up. “Am I too late to try out?,” he asked with a smile. Diaw wasn’t trying out of course. By the looks of it, he was there to get in a little bit of summer practice which is always good to see from players. It’s easy – especially at the beginning of summer – to procrastinate working on your game. Diaw has apparently wasted little time in showing how dedicated he is to returning to the form which helped him win Most Improved Player honors in 2006.

IT’S GOOD TO BE KING

I’ve made a lot of changes in my way of living these past several months, among them a personal promise to stop being so thick-headed all the time. That decision certainly paid off during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tired of keeping my arms folded and pouting about how I didn’t want to watch the Playoffs anymore, I kicked back and watched Cleveland’s LeBron James put on an unbelievable show in Detroit.

From about the eight-minute mark in the fourth quarter through both overtime sessions, no player other than James hit a field goal for Cleveland. You see a statistic like that and think, “No way were the Cavs able to beat the Pistons.” But that’s just how good King James was on that night, finishing with 48 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

It was an MVP-type performance and definitely raised an interesting question as to why James wasn’t more seriously considered for the award. I’ve said all along and I truly believe that Steve Nash was the 2006-2007 NBA MVP. At the same time, I didn’t disapprove of Dirk Nowitzki taking home the honor. I didn’t buy into the, “But his team got kicked out of the first round” philosophy because to have done so would’ve been hypocritical. I didn’t like people not voting for Nash because he had yet to win a Championship because postseason accolades aren’t supposed to affect voting. Many felt the same way but quickly changed their tune after seeing the Dallas Mavericks eliminated in the opening round by the Golden State Warriors.

While I had no problem with Nowitzki winning the award – his numbers were spectacular – I will always have a problem with why I believe he won the award. With statistics as close as he and Steve’s were, I believe voters used Dallas’ 67-win season as an unofficial tie breaker.

If you’re undecided between two MVP candidates, how in the world do you base your vote on the fact one player won six more games during the regular season? For starters, Nash missed that precise number of games for Phoenix (the Suns going 2-4 in the process). Were the award called “the best player on the team that finished the season with the best record”, Nowitzki would be the winner hands down (the award would also have to be much large to fit all that on it). But the award is Most Valuable Player and I don’t believe because one player wins more games with his team than another, the interpretation should be that he is therefore more valuable.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won 50 games during the regular season. Not a win total to sneeze at, but it was only good enough for second place in an Eastern Conference Division. But while 50 wins may not earn you any number one seeds, can you imagine where this team would’ve finished without James running the show?

LeBron James was hailed the “next Michael Jordan” when he made the jump from high school just a few years ago. Strange that I couldn’t help but wonder during rookie workouts today, “Maybe one of these guys could end up being the next LeBron James.”