A Time When It's Okay to Say, "Boo!"

Happy Halloween from the end of the bench.

 

 

Adam Beechen ready to play for the Suns.
(Courtesy Adam Beechen)

Time To Get Pumped Up Again

I’ve been having a tough time, these last few weeks. I don’t want to bore you with details, it’s personal stuff, but let’s just say the last month or so hasn’t been the happiest of my life.

We all go through times like these, and we all have our routines, the things we do, to pull ourselves out of them. Albums or songs we play, old movies we watch, old books we re-read, hikes we take, friends or relatives we call. They’re the comfort food our soul needs as it heals. In some cases, in fact, it’s actual comfort food that makes us feel better.

For me, it’s basketball.

It always has been. I’ve got an old-time manual scorekeeper’s book, and I’ve been known to watch a classic game on television and keep score by hand, just for the fun of it. I’ve got a giant collection of books about pro hoops, mostly from or about the 1970s (weird, I know, but hey, it’s my collection – go get your own). I’ve got tons of old issues of Sports Illustrated, dating back to that period, all with articles about basketball. I have DVDs of old games, featuring stars I admired, players I loved and looked up to (literally). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through all of them, to the point where I have some absolutely memorized. But it makes no difference – they never fail to cheer me up.

I guess it’s an escape for me, the way science fiction or fantasy is for others. Like them, I’m reading about, or watching, people doing what for me seem like superhuman feats – flying, running faster than normal humans, performing acts of incredible strength. And when I read or hear fantastic stories about these people, my imagination just wanders and soars, and I forget, at least for a little while, about the things that have been nagging at me.

And I just realized why it’s such an escape for me – because I’ve never gone to a game, even one where the Suns have lost a heartbreaker, and had a bad time. I’ve been disappointed with the results, and I’ve played in basketball games and had a bad time, but I’ve never actually been to an arena and left wishing I’d just stayed home. So I associate anything to do with basketball with that kind of happy experience.

This go-round with melancholy, as with so many others, I’ve turned to the sport I love best. I’ve spent the last couple days with the new Sports Illustrated season preview (which I’ll save and put with the last 37 such issues). I’ve been concentrating furiously on pre-ranking my players for my forthcoming fantasy league draft. I’ve been scouring the Internet for news of my Suns, and the rest of the league. Last week, my friend Kenji invited me to be his guest at a Clippers/Suns preseason game, giving me my first look at this year’s team (We look good, people…and Amare didn’t even play).

And I even laced up my sneakers, pumped up the old Spalding, and shot jumpers for an hour, which I haven’t done in way, way too long. I found comfort and peace with the familiar geometry of the sport, the free throw circle, the parallel lines of the lane, the angles necessary for a clean bank shot from fifteen feet out.

I realize I’m romanticizing a simple game. I realize this isn’t the cure for some deadly disease we’re talking about. I’m not trying to make this more than it is, which is just my way of feeling a little better when I’m not feeling so well. It works for me. And the baby steps I’ve taken this last week or two, they’ve left me feeling lighter, more myself than I have in some time.

It’s almost November. Preseason is just about done. I can’t wait to get to the arena and get that old rush of being part of a screaming crowd. I’m getting that little flutter in my stomach just thinking about it. That’s how I know I’m doing okay.

It’s almost basketball season. And I couldn’t be happier.

Never Mind The New Kid On The Block – Here Comes The Old Guy On The Blog

Yes, I am back, sort of. After nearly three months in the hospital recovering from an accident that took my wife’s life, I’m ready to start blogging again. I’m not 100 percent, of course, but then as I recall there were reader questions about my percentage for years before the tragedy.

The reason I bring up this personal note is that my first order of business is to thank the hundreds of very thoughtful people around the country, and even the world, who took the time to e-mail condolences on the loss of my wife and wish me a speedy recovery. Those messages meant a lot to me, and I was especially moved by the many touching tributes to Ginger, whose columns in The Republic over the years touched literally thousands of lives. Indeed, some of her columns are still posted on refrigerator doors. I can’t begin to thank you all enough.

But enough about me. You want to know about the Suns. And by way of setting the stage for what about them, I’ll start with a parable. Well, actually more of a goofy story:

Once upon a time a simple soul went to the movies. In fact he sat through four sittings of the same movie day after day, and was particularly absorbed by a scene in which a speeding car almost but not quite makes it through a railroad crossing. When asked why he kept coming back he explained, “One of these times I know the car’s going to beat that train.”

Hey, I said it was a goofy story. But substitute Phoenix fans for the simple soul, the Suns for the speeding car, and the San Antonio Express for just plain train and it’s more painful than goofy.

Think about it!

Suns fans have been sitting through the same playoff “movie” for three years now, and they’re sure that one of these years the “car’s” going to beat that “train”. This year they are more sure than ever, and, for reasons I will explain anon, I’m with them.

But first, a mini-review of past crashes.

In 2004-5, which by no coincidence whatsoever was Steve Nash’s first year, the Suns won 62 games, swept through the first round of the playoffs, and took out Dallas in six games. But they also lost Joe Johnson (orbital bone fracture) and fell to the Spurs in five games.

In Year II of the Nash era Amare Stoudemire was lost for he season (knee) but the Suns still won 54 games and came back from 1-3 to beat Kobe and his non supporting cast in the first round of the playoffs, take out the Clippers in round two, and open the conference finals with a victory over the favored Mavericks in Dallas. But Raja Ball, the team’s stopper and one of its main snipers, went down with a calf injury, and the Suns fell in six.

In Year III (otherwise known in these parts as a year that will live in infamy) the Suns won 61 games and the playoffs opened on a promising note with the Suns beating Kobe and his even less supporting cast in five games, and seized the home court advantage the rest of the way when top-seeded Dallas was upset by the barely seeded Warriors. The Suns split the first four games with the Spurs, but Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for Game Five for leaving the bench after Roberto Horry folded, spindled, and attempted to mutilate Nash. The seriously depleted Suns still led the Spurs most of the way in Game Five in Phoenix before simply running out of gas, and San Antonio took care of business in Game Six en route to another NBA Championship.

So why do I agree with most local fans that Year IV at long last is the Suns’ year?

Well, to give you the short version first, the Suns are significantly better this year, and the Spurs and Mavericks are merely just as scary as ever. And given that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the three NBA super powers, strengthwise (more like four cents) “significantly improved” rates a slight edge over “just as scary”.

How are the Suns better? Let us count the ways.

Last year at this time there were still some unanswered questions about Amare, Boris Diaw was either over stuffed or under interested, and none of the off season moves were working out. All of the above plus a tad too much la dolce vita during training camp in Italy, and, not surprisingly, the team got off to your basic flying standstill.

This year at this time Amare looked like he’s ready for a breakout year (which considering his other years weren’t too shabby) is reason enough in itself to like the team’s title chances. But there’s more, lots more, most notably the addition of Grant Hill. True, it could be argued he gives the Suns more of what they already had, but he does a lot more than that. For one thing, he raises the talent and savvy levels considerably and makes the league’s most versatile team even more versatile. This is a class and competitive act on the Nash level. Put it this way: If a healthy Hill had been on the team last year the question being asked around the NBA now would be, “Can they repeat?”

Also, Diaw looks a lot more like the player who played so brilliantly his first year with the Suns, and that is a huge plus. How huge? Put it this way: If Diaw had played last year like he did his first in Phoenix that same question wouldn’t be being asked.

As for Nash, he not only looks better than ever, but if anything seems even more determined. The two suspensions in last year’s playoffs threw some gasoline on the competitive fire in him that was already hot enough to melt titanium.

In fact, overall, going in to the season this may well be the most motivated, single minded Suns’ team ever. These guys are mad as heck and are going to take it — the title that is.

Moving right along, you have to figure Bell will be as good as ever, and Barbosa should be even better, the depth is better, and the back end of the bench shows more promise and seems happier.

And unlike last year, when they were locked into their playoff position very early and thus tended to lose focus at times, they figure to be in the hunt fro the top seed from Day one, and that should more than hold their attention.

The biggest hurdle for them is health, but all teams are in that boat.

There will be times the loss of Kurt Thomas’s rebounding and defense will be lamented on talk shows (probably every time the Suns lose a game), but in some ways Thomas was not really a good fit for Coach Mike’s system. And while there will be the usual grumbling around the league about lack of defense the bottom line is the Suns play better defense against the rest of the league than the rest of the league does against the Suns.

Some of the annual carping about the system has already started. An unidentified scout was speaking for many of the cognoscenti recently when he said, “I love Mike’s system, but it’s not really built for the playoffs.”

To which I have only two words, namely, hog and wash.

Anybody who really pays attention to the NBA knows it wasn’t Coach Mike’s system that did the Suns in the playoffs last year, it was the $%$#$ NBA system.

But seriously, you don’t win 60 games and come within a whisker/suspension of an NBA title without playing decent defense. The key stat in pro hoops is not points allowed, but point differential. Check the leaders in points allowed and you’ll find that most of them don’t score a whole lot of points themselves.

All in all, I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to go see that “movie” again. In fact, while the title of my first book about the Suns was, “The Little Team That Could …And Darn Near Did”, the title for the next one will be, “The Year The Car Finally Beat The Train Across The Tracks.”

Fantasy Draft Day Is In the Books

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is the NBA fantasy draft has been completed. Ironically enough, the bad news is also that the NBA fantasy draft has been completed.

STAT says he dedicated a lot of the offseason working on his defense, primarily to help our fantasy team with some steals and blocks of course.

(NBAE Photos)  

Don’t worry, I think the Suns.com team did a fine job representing and like the real Suns will be a team to reckon with come the start of the regular season. But like with any fantasy draft, you can’t help but look back and think of the things you’d like to have done differently.

But before we get into that, let’s take a look back at how today’s draft unfolded:

7:00 I wake up and see Micah Hart of the Atlanta Hawks has already sent out an e-mail informing everybody of the draft order. Yesterday I discussed the simplicity of picking early in a draft, the benefits of picking later and the stress of picking in the middle. The Suns.com Newsroom Team will be selecting sixth out of twelve. No comment.

8:30 On my way to a video shoot for class and weighing my options. I discussed my desire to draft Amaré Stoudemire yesterday, and while I feel he would normally slide a bit later, I don’t have much of a choice as he definitely will be gone come the second round. On the way down I’m going to complete the one-two punch ideally with an Allen Iverson-type player.

10:55 Not a good sign. I’m literally getting to my desk five minutes prior to the draft. I think I’m having a bit of a panic attack from the rush here and the thought the computer would auto draft Greg Oden for me.

11:01 Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the first three names off the board, no surprises there. With just three teams ahead, I’m starting to wonder if Shawn Marion will drop my way forcing me to make an interesting decision.

11:02 And just like that, the Matrix is off the board with the fourth overall pick. The only person left even debating taking instead of Stoudemire is big Dirk Nowitzki…. But there he goes.

11:03 And with the sixth overall pick in the 202007 Fantasy Basketball Draft, the Suns.com Newsroom selects… Amaré Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns. Understandable I would want to make sure to grab a key Suns player, but I’m sure people are wondering why it wouldn’t be their two-time MVP Steve Nash. For starters, I think the scoring system in this league is going to favor STAT over Nash. I also think Boris Diaw is going to bounce back and have a solid season and Grant Hill will return to All-Star form. With other playmakers around him, I don’t think as much will be demanded of Nash and I wouldn’t be surprised if his numbers fell a little (to the benefit of the team of course). Finally, Stoudemire has center eligibility and good centers in the NBA are hard to come by these days – especially ones who could potentially average up to 30 points-per-contest this season.

11:05 Steve Nash is selected eighth overall. You’ve got to love an NBA team which has three players selected within the first eight picks. Dwight Howard (who I’m a huge fan of) follows and the first round closes out with two solid point guards, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul, followed by Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala.

11:09 Coming back my way again and believe me, my fingernails are paying for it. Carmelo Anthony just went off the board which gives me a tough decision to make. I’d love to have partnered Anthony with Stoudemire, but I still have Iverson available to complete the one-two scoring punch. Tim Duncan is still out there, but I refuse to give in to temptation. My other options are Yao Ming, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

11:13 Went the route of Allen Iverson. I’ve learned from past drafts that switching things up on the fly generally doesn’t result in much more than aggravation (i.e. Tom Brady). I worry about the wear-and-tear on Iverson’s body, but love the fact I can play a guy at point guard who can explode for 50 points on any given night. The guys in the Suns.com Newsroom are quite disappointed in me, but I doubt they’ll have complaints when we’re hoisting that Championship trophy above our heads… there is a trophy, right?

11:15 Jeramie McPeek is really lacing into me about the Iverson selection. Says he doubt the guy will even show up for our fantasy practices. Practice?!? I stand behind Iverson and while he may miss a few games here and there with injuries, the second round is too early to take a guy who isn’t a sure thing. Yao Ming and Ray Allen are both as susceptible to injuries as Iverson, and Pierce is a question mark in terms of where he’ll fit in with KG and Jesus Shuttlesworth. I expect great things from Pierce and should he be available come round three will be doing back flips over it, but Iverson is a guarantee and in round two that’s what I’m looking for.

11:25 With our third overall pick we’ve gone the route of Milwaukee’s Michael Redd, who happened to be my first non-Sun NBA interview by the way. He’s a great guy and will make a great addition to this team… Plus, Stefan Swiat vowed to take the heat if he gets injured which is an added bonus.

11:28 Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor just went off the board to the Grizzlies.com team. I like Okafor and think he’s due for a breakout season. Thought his injury problems would allow him to slip a little but guess not. At this point in the draft all your explosive scorers have pretty much gone off the board and I’m pretty comfortable with our trio of Stoudemire, Iverson and Redd. Jermaine O’Neal is still out there as is Kevin Durant. Those forwards can definitely light it up, but I’m not too big on O’Neal’s injury history or the fact that Durant is a rookie with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I would happily grab either though were they still available come our next pick.

11:33 This is it. All the superstars are off the board and this is when fantasy titles are won or lost. If you go with those can’t-miss players early like I suggested, you know what you’re going to get out of them. Now is the time for gambling and those guys who could potentially put your team over the top. I’m realizing I haven’t been in a fantasy draft with this many teams before. O’Neal would be a steal if he falls to me with six teams choosing ahead– and there goes O’Neal to OrlandoMagic.com followed by Rashard Lewis. There’s something wrong with that picture.

11:35 We now have our fourth player in the form of Washington’s Antawn Jamison. You’ve got to be happy with getting an All-Star in the fourth round. Jamison is a great all-around player when he’s healthy and can score from both the inside and outside while also contributing rebounds. Leandro Barbosa was selected just before him which was kind of a surprise. I thought with him being a sixth man, teams would wait on him a little longer. Speaking of surprises, our selection was followed by Ron Artest who I think is suspended the first eight games of the season.

11:42 Although I did not agree with the pick, we’ve gone with Sacramento’s Kevin Martin here in round five (thanks to Swiat). Martin was great for me a couple years back when my dad suggested I grab him towards the end of the draft, but round five just seems way too early for the guy. I scrolled down to look for Grant Hill who is ranked #149. That is a huge mistake for whoever pre-ranked these players. I know the other guys drafting won’t sleep on him that long, but I am very interested in seeing how late I can allow him to slide. If I could draft him come the seventh or eighth round, that would be the kind of pick that really carries a team.

11:46 Jason Richardson has been drafted to close out round five. As we prepare for round six, I’m seeing names like Randy Foye, Andrei Kirilenko, Corey Maggette, Andrew Bogut and Eddy Curry. This is a big round in my opinion as those guys can go one of two very different directions this season. In a league with standard settings, Kirilenko would be the guy hands down. I’m not sure how his type of statistics would work with this kind of scoring, however. Maggette meanwhile will be playing without injured All-Star Elton Brand for a large chunk of the season and will probably be much more productive in Los Angeles.

11:53 Wow, what a series of events which just took place in the Suns.com Newsroom. During a heated debate between the possibilities of Kirilenko, Maggette and Detroit’s Richard Hamilton, the computer auto selected Danny Granger for us. Should Granger live up to his potential and play like he’s capable of playing, we may have just secured that championship… by complete accident.

12:00 Made my pick intentionally this time, Los Angeles Clipper Al Thornton. I’m going to put my stock in Hill being available in the next round and went with our first rookie. I remember watching Thornton when he worked out here in Phoenix over the summer and was more than impressed with his game. With Brand out, he’s definitely going to get some opportunities to shine alongside Maggette and former Sun Tim Thomas.

12:10 The trigger has been pulled, Hill is finally a member of our fantasy team. Maybe a little early in terms of how long we could have waited, but definitely a steal nonetheless. I said I wanted to wait until round seven or eight to grab the five-time All-Star and patience has paid off (maybe I’ll apply that lesson to life sometime). Hill is going to contribute here in Phoenix and expected averages of 15 points, four assists and three rebounds are more than you can ask now that we’re past the midway point. Right now, we’re hoping Jameer Nelson can slip to us so we can grab him as our backup point guard.

12:15 Nelson went the pick just before us to the Bourbon Street boys. I made a controversial move of sorts in selecting Houston’s Steve Francis over Daniel Banks’ suggestion, Cleveland’s Daniel Gibson. Banks was working with the Spurs last season and got the chance to watch Gibson up close and personal in the NBA Finals. Banks says he likes the fight in Gibson and I’m not opposed to the sophomore, but Francis to me has tremendous upside. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge he can be a complete bust, but back in Houston and playing alongside Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, big things could be ahead for Francis. And if you can get big things from a guy selected in round nine, you’re team is probably doing big things.

12:29 We were busy debating between Mike Dunleavy and Daniel Gibson when Hawks center Zaza Pachulia was selected for us. I’m not complaining too much as I had all three of them in the queue and had no idea where to go anyway. Each of those three players is so completely different, how can you choose?

12:35 Round 11 now and I’m looking in the direction of Memphis’ Hakim Warrick next. The Newsroom seems to agree and the fact we’d be in unison about anything is definitely a concern. Too bad Chicago is so forward-heavy right now, otherwise Tyrus Thomas would be a solid– And as I type that, there he goes.

12:50 Warrick it is. Hopefully Memphis’ new Head Coach and former Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni will hook up that run-and-gun system and make him the go-to man for that ballclub. I’ll have to get the message to their new Director of Media Relations Dustin Krugel (AKA Meat) and insure that’s the case.

12:55 Round 12 and I’m very, very hungry. Right now anybody is looking like a good choice as long as they get us to the end of this draft. Derrick Zimmerman of New Jersey is still available, isn’t he?

1:00 Just grabbed Dunleavy who was still available. We’re in agreement that we’re going Acie Law IV next and are currently debating how to close things out here. DJ Strawberry or Sean Marks? I’m in Marks’ corner, but it appears I’m outnumbered. Marks has center eligibility, but the consensus is that Strawberry will make more of an impact with the Suns this season.

1:16 Just waiting to wrap things up. I’m going with Strawberry as our final pick.

1:18 Strawberry is off board and following the selection of Dallas’ DeSagana Diop (Mavs.com, what a surprise) the draft is complete. Here is our roster as it stands:

Amaré Stoudemire
Allen Iverson
Michael Redd
Antawn Jamison
Kevin Martin
Danny Granger
Al Thornton
Grant Hill
Steve Francis
Zaza Pachulia
Hakim Warrick
Mike Dunleavy
Acie Law IV
DJ Strawberry

3:51 Following lunch and a few assignments, I’ve had some time to reflect on our team now. I think if I can accept the fact this is a 12-team league and therefore teams aren’t going to be as loaded with talent, I’ll be more than happy with our squad. My projected opening day starting lineup consists of Allen Iverson, Kevin Martin, Grant Hill, Michael Redd, Antawn Jamison, Hakim Warrick, Al Thorton, Amaré Stoudemire and Danny Granger. All guys with heart (something which the Boston Red Sox could definitely use right about now) and all guys I’m confident will contribute throughout the 202007-08 campaign. I also like the fact that we’re not relying heavily on guys like Steve Francis, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Dunleavy, Acie Law IV and DJ Strawberry, but have them on standby should their services be needed.

Barring any huge, blockbuster trades, I’ll check back in to update you come the start of the 202007-08 season. Go Suns and go Suns.com Newsroom Team (we’ve definitely got to shorten that name).

Sleep Not a Priority as Fantasy Draft Approaches

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… well one of the most wonderful times of the year anyway. Time to start thinking about building that fantasy basketball dynasty and taking your team to the top.

The smörgåsbord of All-Stars, Shawn Marion, is a hot commodity in fantasy leagues with his ability to do it all. 

(NBAE Photos)

For me that process has come a little early this year. Usually my friends and I like to reserve our draft for the most last second, most inconvenient time possible. Say five hours before the first game of the season tips off for example. This season, however, the Suns.com staff was asked to participate in an NBA-wide fantasy basketball league – with opponents coming everywhere from houstonrockets.com to orlandomagic.com. Kind of like a “who’s who” in the world of NBA Web sites if you will.

The draft is a day away now, and already my mind is weighing out all the possibilities. During class, all I could do was think of which options are best depending on where we end up selecting. With 12 teams participating, the margin for error is slim. Obviously there aren’t any mysteries with the first four or five selections. Unlike Alex Rodriguez, athletes like Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are considered can’t-misses when it comes to October. Picking at the end of the first round, meanwhile, has its advantages as you can get yourself a nice one-two punch say in the form of Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. But where do you go if you’re dead in the middle? Is it too early to pick Amaré Stoudemire or do you chance waiting for him to come around again?

The scoring system in the league is unlike any I’ve experienced before, but it has made my strategy simple. The system gives you a point for every player’s point scored, three-pointer made, assist dished, rebound grabbed and blocked shot… um, blocked. Field goal percentage and free throw percentage are also factored in somehow, but that’s way too much algebra for me.

Anyway, while I am far from an expert in math, there is something which jumps out at me immediately. Most leagues I do are about balance and finding ways to be strong in a number of different categories. For example, you’ll have five different categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals) and win based on the amount of total categories you beat your opponent in. This is obviously where a guy like the Matrix comes in handy. The Swiss Army knife of the NBA can help a fantasy team in a number of ways, from scoring to rebounding to blocking shots and grabbing steals. The scoring system we’ll be using in this league, however, makes guys whose strong suit is putting up points much more valuable.

If you get one point for each statistic, guys like Michael Redd and Ray Allen are much more valuable than in other leagues. Normally I would select Dwight Howard well before these scorers because he’s going to contribute fairly good numbers in a number of different categories. But here, I’ll take 30 points, three rebounds and three steals from Redd over 17 points, 12 boards and two blocks from Howard. Not to mention the fact that Redd is also going to help a lot more in the three-point category as well as free throw percentage (however that works).

So now you see what I’ve been dealing with all day and why a number of times during today’s class I found myself looking over statistics rather than my notes. Tomorrow morning is the draft and I’ll be sure to give you the breakdown of how things play out. Then over the course of the season I’ll keep you updated in terms of how things are going throughout the league as the Suns.com Newsroom Team tries to capture that all elusive fantasy championship.

If anybody has any suggestions in terms of where to go tomorrow, don’t hesitate to throw in your two cents.

One Step Forward

So the Suns have played their first preseason game, and they won, which is great, but for me, the best part of the evening was the fact that Grant Hill walked not just on the floor, but off it.

Grant Hill smiles at the camera as he is introduced at a Phoenix Suns press conference. 

(NBAE Photos)

I’m not sure what my worst fear was, perhaps that at some point his foot would just fly off his leg into the third row. Everyone knows the woes this superstar has endured with his ankle over the last half-decade, the surgeries, the missed games, the comebacks and the setbacks. Last year, he was finally healthier than he’d been in a long time, played in more games than he’d played in a long time, and both of those circumstances went a long way toward the Suns bringing him in as a free agent this summer.

I, for one, was cautiously thrilled. Grant, at his best, can do literally everything on the basketball court. Run, shoot, pass, defend, slash, dribble, you name it. And he’s nothing but a positive presence, the kind of teammate any player would want. But I was cautious, because his ankle…Any conversation about Grant Hill inevitably features the phrase “but the ankle…”

Like Grant, I’ve broken my ankle. Unlike Grant, I don’t rely on mine to make my living. I don’t pretend to have endured what he’s gone through, or anything close to it, but from the fraction of what we’ve endured that we do have in common, I can’t help but admire his commitment, his dedication and his sheer will to persevere. They’re more reasons I’m glad he’s wearing the orange and purple.

I am not much of an athlete. I grew up playing sports and loving them, but I’m not at all gifted athletically. I’m a typical weekend warrior – pickup basketball here and there, and a semi-regular appearance at a Sunday softball game played by fellow writers here in Los Angeles. I joined that league a couple years ago, and had a steep learning curve. I’d never played bat-and-ball sports as a kid, and was really only learning the nuances of the game as an adult. My fellow players were very kind to me about it, and stationed me way out in right field on defense – actually in foul territory – where I couldn’t hurt anyone and would see minimal action.

I was a little better in the batter’s box, and could usually slap through a hit and get on base. Well, one Sunday, I was on first base, and a guy singled up the middle, and I ran around second toward third, and our third base coach started yelling, “Slide! Slide!” So I started to slide. And then I realized I don’t know how to slide. And running full speed is not the time to really stop and try to figure out the mechanics, you just sort of have to either commit to trying to slide, or don’t. I, of course, tried something halfway between trying to slide and not sliding, and wound up about six feet short of the bag with a broken ankle. I was out, by the way.

I’ve never been in more pain in my entire life.

And I screamed. I’m not too macho to admit it. I screamed and screamed, hoping maybe to disperse some of the pain in the form of sound. It didn’t work. I swore. Loudly. And I kept repeating, “I don’t know how to slide!” As if anyone needed reminding, at that point.

So I got a nice ride to the hospital in an ambulance, a few Vicodin (whee, pretty colors…), some X-rays and some crutches. Come back tomorrow and see the orthopedist, Mr. Beechen.

I went back the next day (someone had to drive me, as I’d broken my “driving” ankle), and I got into the elevator with two older women and a man I’d never seen before. The women looked at me sympathetically, and asked how I’d broken my ankle. I told them. The man asked, “Were you at Beeman Park?” I looked at him, surprised, and told him I had been. He nodded. “I heard you.”

Did I mention I had yelled pretty loudly?

Anyway, the orthopedist told me it was a simple fracture, very clean, six weeks to heal, a little physical therapy, good as new. But it was hard. Hard to deal with the pain the first few days, hard to be off my feet for several weeks, and really hard to be away from playing sports I loved so much. Then, when I was able, physical therapy was hard, too. And when I got back on the basketball court, back on the softball diamond, then came the hardest part: Trusting my ankle, to the point where I could run full speed, make cuts, jump and not worry about coming down on someone’s foot and cracking the bone all over again. The psychological hurdle. Even now, years later, it’s still there in the back of my mind. It probably always will be.

And that’s just me, Average Adam, who suffered the cleanest, simplest bone break you could ask for. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a world-class superstar athlete like Grant Hill who’s been down that track with more serious injuries to the same joint multiple times. But I can admire him for how he kept pushing, how he kept working, how he returned to form last season, and how he (and the Suns, and their fans) expects him to flourish this year. Not hopes. Expects.

Welcome to Phoenix, Grant. We’re delighted you’re here and wish you good health, lots of baskets, and a championship ring.

And because we wish you those things, don’t be surprised if, should I ever see you on a softball field, I turn on the sprinklers so you can’t play.

And the Emmy Goes to… Me!

Three Rocky Mountain Emmy Award-nominated Suns.com TV productions culminated in a win in the category of Advanced Media (read: Internet), Sports, last Saturday night at the awards show.

Koek flashes the Emmy hardware in front of the Suns.com Newsroom.
(Josh Greene/Suns Photos)

While I personally received a statue, the bigger significance is that we at Suns.com can now add “Emmy Award-winning website” to our impressive portfolio of awards and recognitions as one of the top team sites in all of sports.

The video that won was the one I shot and edited of Raja Bell’s�reunion with his teammates at LAX after the suspended Suns’ guard watched from a local bar as the Suns won Game 6 of their opening round series with the Lakers in the 2006 playoffs. Bell, suspended for “clothes-lining” Lakers star Kobe Bryant in Game 5 at US Airways Center, returned for the Game 7 series clincher and the Suns wound up advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

I was actually in Tucson producing the live webcast of the Suns’ public scrimmage at McKale Center when the awards show took place Saturday back in Phoenix. While there were no acceptance speeches for the winners, I had prepared one anyway, so here goes.

  • First, I’d like to thank Kobe Bryant. Had Kobe not been the kind of player who would precipitate being thrown to the court by Raja Bell in the middle of a playoff game, I might never have received this award. Thanks, Kobe.

 

  • I also have to thank Raja for not only being the kind of player that would actually throw down an opponent in the middle of a playoff game, but also for being the kind of player who would allow me to record the big reunion with his teammates, then grant me an interview on the charter flight back to Phoenix, and finally acknowledge the fans who waited hours at US Airways Center upon the team’s return late into the night. “Raja’s back!”

 

  • I would be remiss not to include a bit of thanks to the NBA for suspending Bell for Game 6. I think they got this one right and remember at the time being relieved it was only for one game. More importantly, had the league not taken action, there would have been no reunion to film and no video to submit for nomination. There will be no thanks for this past playoff’s suspension decisions forthcoming.

 

  • Thanks as well to Mike D’Antoni and the Suns for pulling off that huge win at the STAPLES Center. Not only did they provide us all with some of the most exciting playoff action this side of 1993, but had they not come away with a win in Game 6, the award-winning video sequence would have never been shot.

 

  • Thank you to former Suns media relations manager Dustin “Meat” Krugel, who sat next to me on the bus ride from the arena to the airport and encouraged me to hustle off the bus and tape Raja meeting up with the guys. I believe his exact words to me were, “You gotta get that.” Thanks and good luck in Memphis, Meat.

 

  • I’d like also to thank Suns’ VP, Interactive Services (and my boss) Jeramie McPeek for his constant encouragement and creative freedom to produce content on the fly, and often on my own. He also accepted the award for me on Saturday night, even though I technically beat him out of getting one himself. Thanks, Boss. Kudos also to the rest of the Suns.com staff: Josh Greene, who makes a cameo in the video interviewing Bell in Phoenix, Brad G. Faye, and our newest additions of Dan Banks, Dan Hilton and Stefan Swiat.

 

  • Thanks in general go out to the Suns’ organization for seeing value in what we do on the website. Throughout the league, other teams’ web geeks (as Laurel D’Antoni is fond of calling us) are jealous of the access we are given and the contact we allowed with the players. Besides the occasional inappropriate word here and there (most often occurring during big celebrations) or particularly private player meetings, there is very little we are not allowed to shoot and post on Suns.com.

 

  • Finally, thanks to Teresa, my girlfriend and biggest supporter over the last nine years. With or without this job, and the rewards and awards that come with it, being with her is the biggest award I could win. Thanks for being there, Babe.

�(Music fades in, mic cuts out…)

State of the Suns

With the 202007-08 season officially underway, I wanted to give you an update on the team’s progress as we begin exhibition play this week.

Training camp went extremely well in Tucson, as the players arrived in great shape and good spirits. We had six days of practice, film sessions and bonding, and the team made significant progress during that time. Mike D’Antoni doesn’t believe in long practices, but he does believe in lots of running and conditioning. Our team plays at such a fast pace that it’s imperative for the players to get used to running for long stretches at a time. Early in the week the practices became ragged as players wore down, but by the end we were much sharper and better conditioned. I know that Mike feels like the team is really taking shape quickly.

There were plenty of things to be excited about, but to me what stood out most was the attitude and play of Shawn Marion. You’re all aware of his trade demands a couple of weeks ago, and the concern coming into camp was how Shawn would respond to his teammates and visa versa. Having been a player in this league for 15 years, I understand that there’s a business side to the game and a basketball side. The frustration Shawn felt was based on the business side, and now that the season is beginning, he knows it’s time to play basketball. He’s extremely important to our team – a guy who makes everyone around him better – and I was happy to see him playing like his usual self (He had 30 points and 10 boards in Saturday night’s intrasquad scrimmage). Most importantly, he displayed high energy, great enthusiasm and simply enjoyed being around his teammates. I don’t think there will be any lasting effects from the summer issues, because Shawn is a pro who takes great pride in his daily performance for the team. He’s going to be fine, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t have another All-Star year for us.

Another high point was the play and presence of Grant Hill, who will almost certainly be in our starting lineup on opening night. Grant fits right into our up-tempo style, and he gives us another playmaker and distributor, which takes pressure off of Steve Nash. What is underrated about Grant is his versatility, as he can play multiple positions at both ends of the floor. That is what makes him so good for us, since we like to force teams to match up with us. Grant is healthy, running well and looking very sharp. He had 21 points and 6 assists in our scrimmage, and consistently made his mid-range jump shot. I believe he’ll even become a three-point shooter this season, particularly from the corners, where the line is only 22 feet. But where Grant can really make a difference is with his ability to get to the free-throw line. That’s an area we were weak in a year ago, but Grant will help us get easy points when we need them by drawing fouls.

I was also happy with the play of Boris Diaw and Marcus Banks. Boris arrived to camp in terrific shape and played his usual style of beautiful, unselfish basketball. He’s our best low-post player, and he showed the fire and aggressiveness that was missing at times a year ago. He might have been the best player on the floor Saturday night at the scrimmage, leading his team to the victory. I look for a huge bounce-back year from Boris. Marcus obviously struggled last season and never found his niche, but he has rededicated himself this year and is looking for playing time. We’re playing him more off the ball to take pressure off of him, and that way he can concentrate most on what he does best: playing defense. Marcus showed good maturity all week long in Tucson, shot the ball very well and looks much better than he did a year ago. We’re hoping he can establish himself as a consistent threat off the bench.

Our two rookies were very impressive, as well. It’s always a tough adjustment to go from college to the NBA, but both of our guys – DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker – played well. They’re tough, they defend and they quietly get their work done every day. In short, they are very professional, especially given how young they are. Whether or not they can crack the lineup remains to be seen, but we feel very good about their overall development.

One guy I didn’t mention was Steve Nash, because his play is pretty much a given. Steve is in tremendous shape following another strenuous offseason conditioning program, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. With Grant and Boris there to provide ball handling and passing help, I think Steve will have less pressure on him to make plays this year, which will help him conserve energy for the playoffs.

Our two shooting guards – Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell – both looked fit and ready to go. Each one shot the ball extremely well throughout camp, and LB’s defense was better than ever before. He is ready to take the next step and become a more complete player.

The biggest question that I repeatedly received over the past couple of months was, ‘Who is going to replace Kurt Thomas?’ The answer is a tag team of Brian Skinner and Sean Marks. Brian is big, active and can run at our pace. He’s an excellent defender and shot blocker. Marks will surprise some people this year – he can really shoot the ball and may get more of an opportunity to play given our roster makeup. Both will help as the season goes on, depending on matchups and situations.

And finally, I know many of you are concerned with Amare Stoudemire’s health, so I wanted to close with an update on his progress. Amare is already rehabbing following his knee surgery, and he is going to be fine. Our medical staff is happy with his progress and expects him to be back on the floor in about two weeks. Whether or not he is ready for opening night remains to be seen, but if not, he’ll be in the lineup shortly thereafter. We feel once he’s on the floor that we’re going to field our most explosive team yet in the Mike D’Antoni era, and there’s no doubt we’ll be potent. Our goal, of course, is to take the next step and improve to the point that we can compete for an NBA championship.

After one week, anyway, we’re on the right track…..

Camp is Over Already?!

I guess I should start this entry by talking about my rookie initiation during the team dinner on Thursday night. It was my first time going through something like that. Even as a freshman in college, I didn’t go through a hazing process.

 

The Suns rookies enjoy a night of hazing.
(Dan Banks/Suns Photos)
 

You probably saw the video on Suns.com of DJ Strawberry, Doug Thomas and I singing for the rest of the guys. I’ve gotten so many calls from people who have watched it and seen the pictures up on the website. People will call and the first thing they’ll say is, “I’m so pretty,” so I’ll know they’ve seen it.

We had heard the vets were going to ask us to sing, so we went to the hotel after practice and before dinner to rehearse what we’d be doing. But that sort of backfired on us. I don’t think Steve Nash and the coaches appreciated us being so prepared, which is why they then made us run around the restaurant, dancing pretty and barking like dogs. They said we shouldn’t have gotten rehearsal time, so they switched it up on us.

It was a lot of fun, though. We actually enjoyed it and it helped remove some of those rookie jitters.

The scrimmage game went really well on Saturday night. It was the first time I was able to perform in front of a crowd with my new teammates and it meant a lot to me. It was exciting, the fans really made it with their enthusiasm. Players really ride that enthusiasm and it was great having the fans behind us and being able to ride that momentum.

Getting to put on that jersey and knowing I was going out there to play a “competitive” game meant everything to me. It’s always been my dream to play in the NBA. I come from a small town, so for me to be able to represent Lockport, Ill. meant a lot. I’ve got a lot of people behind me and know when I wear that Suns jersey I’m not only representing my team but a lot of people who care for me. Knowing that the jersey I’m wearing is for a team that has a lot of camaraderie and respect for one another just made the feeling that much better.

It was a pretty good game overall. We were getting up and down the floor. I was able to go out there and provide a spark, and tried not to do more than the coaches had asked of me.

There were some highlights in the game. Sean Marks had a big block, Doug Thomas had an impressive dunk, Steve Nash hit a couple threes, Shawn Marion did a great job getting up and down the court, Grant Hill played extremely well… those are a few of the things I noticed while watching. This team is definitely going to keep fans on their feet this upcoming season.

The biggest thing that surprised me was how fast training camp went. It seems like yesterday I was coming in for my first day and wondering how fast I would begin picking things up. But the coaches and my teammates have helped make things so easy and that’s important. I think I made some accomplishments this past week in terms of building relationships and working on my game, and I think that’s going to go a long way this season.

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In Tucson with the Phoenix Suns

I didn’t exactly know what I would be asked to do while I was in Tucson for the team’s public scrimmage Saturday night. But I never would have guessed it would involve driving a legend around town or playing a role in the game itself.

Boris Diaw dunks the ball during Saturday night’s scrimmage. 

(NBAE Photos)

The team hotel is about 25 minutes away from the McKale Center,
so a number of the employees have been carpooling back and forth all week. But to my surprise, I was asked to give Al McCoy a lift to the game.

As you may remember from a previous blog post, Al is one of the first people
who comes to mind when I think of Phoenix Suns
basketball, so you can imagine how thrilled and honored I was to share a ride
with the Voice. We didn’t really discuss anything important on the way.Just normal things like his kids, my kids, where
we live, the Diamondbacks (Congrats, D-Backs!) and the ASU game. But to be discussing normal things with Al
McCoy in my car was a surreal experience to say the least.

At the game, I was planning on keeping statistics for
another blog post I am working on. But as
seems to happen a lot at this job, my plans changed quickly when I heard the
scorer’s table needed someone to run the 24-second shot clock.Obviously, this isn’t something I have ever
done before, nor is it something I ever thought I would get the chance to do –
even if it was only for a Suns vs. Suns scrimmage.

“How hard can it be to run the shot clock,” I asked myself.
“Everyone knows how to do that. You just restart it every time the ball hits
the rim!” Little did I know that was just the beginning of the job. Now I’m not
here to say that running the shot clock is rocket science, but it does take a
lot more concentration than I realized.
And in a real-game situation, where an extra second means a possible
extra shot, I’ve got to think it can be a little stressful.

For instance, without looking at the rulebook (it’s
obviously all outlined there but I didn’t have that luxury at the time), try to
answer the following questions that came up during the scrimmage:

  1. When a
    basket is made, when do you reset the shot clock: after the ball goes
    through the hoop, when the player who is passing it inbounds touches the
    ball or when the player who is inbounds catches the ball?
  2. When a
    player shoots and misses, and there is a scuffle for the ball, when do you
    reset the shot clock: at the point
    the ball hits the rim or when someone finally gets possession of the ball?
  3. If a
    player shoots a ball and it circles the rim a couple of times, when do you
    reset the shot clock: at the point
    the ball touches the rim or at the point it falls off the rim?
  4. Does
    the clock get reset to 14 seconds anytime the ball goes out of bounds and
    there is less than 14 seconds on the clock? If not, what are the situations in which it does get reset?
  5. What happens on a jump ball?

Sitting here calmly at my computer, I’m able to come up with what I think are fairly good answers.
But at the time when I had sweaty palms and was worried one of the assistant coaches or players was going to come storming over to me complaining that I wasn’t doing the shot clock correctly the above questions were swirling around my head without any real answers. (The answers, as far as I understand them now, are at the bottom of this blog post.)

Thankfully, everyone at the scorer’s table was really great about the whole thing. I had about three
minutes to learn how to run the machine before the game started and then we were off! The guy running the game clock (I asked his name twice, but now can’t remember it again) was really, really great. He was patient with me as I learned the ropes during the first quarter and would prompt me to reset it if I forgot.

You’re probably asking yourself, “How in the world could he forget to reset the clock?” Well, when
you’re a huge fan, it’s easy to get caught up in the game and forget what your role is at said game. Luckily, by the middle of the second quarter I got the hang of watching and enjoying the game while still performing my shot clock duties.

The lead referee was also very helpful. He came over to me after the first quarter and told me I was doing a good job. Then he pointed out that it was better to be slow on the trigger rather than quick (something the game clock guy was also trying to drill into my head). In his words, “In this case, it’s better to
give them 26 seconds as opposed to 20 seconds.” But never once did I feel like
they were wondering why they ever asked me to help.

If you’ve ever listened to Al during his post-game wrap-up, you know he always spends three or four minutes breaking down the key statistics. It usually sounds something like, “Steve Nash had 15 points and 9 assists tonight. Shawn Marion had a very good shooting game – hitting 14-of-18 and scoring 30 points. And Brian Skinner and Sean Marks each had 11 rebounds to help the Suns win 97 to 91 tonight.” Well, on our way back to the hotel, I got my own personal post-game show, as Al offered his expert analysis to his audience
of one. It was exactly like taking Al McCoy out of my car speakers and buckling him into the passenger seat of my car!

After I dropped Al off at the hotel and headed to my room, I called my wife and told her I was glad it was dark in the car, because I had grin from ear to ear the entire way back. It was quite a night.

By the way, the answers to the questions above (if I understand them correctly) are:

  1. When the player who is inbounds touches the ball.
  2. When someone finally gets possession of the ball.
  3. At the point it falls off of the rim.
  4. There are specific points when the ball can be reset to 14 seconds: (a)
    Personal foul by the defense where ball is being in-bounded in frontcourt,
    (b) Defensive three-second violation,(c) Technical fouls and/or
    delay-of-game warnings on the defensive team, (d) Kicked or punched ball
    by the defensive team with the ball being inbounded in the offensive
    team’s front-court, (e) Infection control, (f) Jump balls retained by the
    offensive team as the result of a held ball caused by the defense, (g) All
    flagrant and punching fouls.
  5. The shot
    clock is reset to 14 if the defense causes the jump ball (a held ball by
    both teams) and the offensive team retains the ball on the jump. Otherwise, it is reset to 24.