At Age 29, I'm An NBA Veteran

Today is my 29th birthday. If I was a player in the NBA, I supposed I’d be a “veteran” by now.

Even a little Amare can be intimidating.
 

I know this because I was watching the Utah Jazz’s Matt Harpring shoot free throws when the commentator described him as an “NBA veteran.” This was (kind of) deeply disturbing to me because Matt and I went to Georgia Tech together in the late 1990s. Although we never met one another on campus, I like to think we would’ve been good friends because we had so much in common. We’re both named Matt, we went to Georgia Tech, great hair, and the ladies like us. You can understand why I was offended when the commentator implied that Matt and I were getting old. I turned off the TV and cranked up Tupac.

It’s bizarre when you realize that your heroes are younger than you. This month our own Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa both turned 25. Hypothetically, if I was a bully and I was raised in Brazil, I could’ve beaten Leandro in a game of 1-on-1 and perhaps in a brawl over a hard foul. I mean really, what could a 3rd grade Leandrino have done against me the mighty 7th grade stud?

I can’t make the same claim against Stoudemire because he’s been beating up 7th graders since he was five–the same year he got his first tattoo.

Since I’m on the subject…Amare has to be the most intimidating dude in the NBA. Yeah Big Ben Wallace is, well, big. But you can’t take him too seriously with that ‘fro. Anyway you look at it, Amare is intimidating. Even when he was injured and sitting the bench in his suit, he blocked two shots a game just by staring down the jump shooters. He’s “hell boy” even when he’s standing still.

As I type this, there is a four-inch tall bobble head of Amare on my desk. I stole from a co-worker last season. When I get angry at my computer, I slam my fist on the desk and my little Amare nods his head to agree with me. That’s the only time mini-Amare seems cool with me. The rest of the time he just cocks his head to the right with a stare of disappointment and disbelief. Even with a stubby body and a massive head, Amare intimidates me–a grown man.

I shouldn’t be too self-conscious about turning 29 because there are a lot of guys playing in the NBA who are older than me. Although I don’t like the Clipper’s Sam Cassell, mostly because he made those awful faces in the 2006 playoffs, he’s living proof that old guys rule. The man is 38-years-old. He was born in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, the same year that “…the age of Aquarius…” was the number one song.

But Sam’s a baby compared to Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo, born 1966. Do the math. 202007 – 1966 = 41 years of awesome. I’d love to play Mutombo 1-on-1 just so I could get dunked on by a guy who’s only 14 years away from getting senior citizen discounts at most restaurants.

I shouldn’t be discouraged by my age. Good things happen with time. Look at Steve Nash. Although he’s always been a good player, his league domination didn’t start until he got out of his 20s. He got his first MVP award not long after he turned 31, then he did it again at age 32. He’s 33 now, and he’s still playing at MVP caliber. Everyone knows he’s going to play into his 40s. This is good news for all of us.

I feel so much better now. I’m only 29. I have all year to prepare for the world-domination that begins at age 30. It’s fair to say that 2009 is going to be a good year for me. By then I’ll have earned back-to-back MVB. Most Valuable Blogger.

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Matt Smith moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some re-runs of The Real World and Road Rules Challenge. Check out his website: www.supafly.com

Getting the Clogs Out

Right now most of you out there you’re probably trying to figure out why the Suns lost. I know this because you have become so spoiled with all these 60-win seasons that any time they lose, or even if they don’t win in the style to which you have become accustomed, you are baffled and fretful.

Despite Nash’s efforts on Wednesday, the Suns couldn’t overcome Yao Ming’s Rockets. 

(NBAE Photos)

But the fact of this matter is that figuring out why the Suns lost this one is your basic slam dunk. What’s really baffling is how they actually had a chance to win.

The Suns, who hang their hats on their offense (and usually lose their shirts when it’s not there), went some seven minutes without a field goal in the third period and shot 27 percent in the fourth period., Two of their top guns, Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell, were a combined 5 for 19, and Coach Mike’s Gang that normally shoots better than anybody else in the league, hit a dismal 42 per cent as a team..

Yet with 51 seconds to go the Suns were down two!

So how come?

Well, the short answer would be Steve Nash, who scored 11 of his 29 points and four of his team’s six field goals in the fourth period. A slightly longer answer would include an uncharacteristically stout defense led by Shawn Marion (5 steals, 4 blocks) and Amare’s 25 didn’t hurt (although he did struggle a bit from the field.

As for why the Suns ultimately did lose the tall answer would have to be Yao Ming. The 7-6 Rocket center scored 31 points, including 10 in the fourth period. Yao, who has to be the best free throwing 7-6 Chinese Center in NBA history, hit all seven of his tries from the line, and his feather-soft little hook shot at 1:08 gave the Rockets an urgently needed bit of breathing room at 96-92. If the guy plays this well all the time he’s liable to carry the USA as well as China in the All Star Game balloting.

Yao is not always this tough against the Suns, usually because they set a pace that he finds hard to keep up with. Not that this is a knock against him. After all, many much shorter Americans have the same problem.

But this game was played not on Phoenix Faster Than Daylight Time but on Yao Standard Time. And in fact, Yao actually managed to actually beat Amare down the court a few times.

To put some numbers to this revoltin’ development, when the teams met in Houston earlier this month the Suns had 31 fast break points and shot 63 percent from the field while cruising to a convincing victory. Last night they had 10 fast break points.

“We’re just not in sync”, sighed Coach Mike, not for the first time this year. “But,” he added, also not for the first time, “we will be.”

One thing that will “unclog the sync” faster than Liquid Plummer is getting Barbosa healthy. I haven’t heard him complain much, but my suspicion is he’s been bothered by an ankle problem for the last several games. And I think it has affected both his shot (2-for-11) and his explosive finishing drive to the hoop.

It should also be noted Bell’s back isn’t 100 percent and, as good as his numbers are, Amare still hasn’t worked his way all the way back into top game shape.

I offer these caveats neither as excuses nor to detract from Houston’s victory, but merely to point out they are solid reason for believing Coach Mike isn’t just whistling past the graveyard when he offers assurances the team will hit its stride.

The bottom line: At least the Suns are not making the always fatal in the NBA mistake of peaking too soon.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs Houston Rockets

Another loss and some fans are ready to call this a lost season. And now that people know I work for the Suns, I seem to discuss the team a lot more than before. But that’s ok. I like to talk about the team even if it’s to convince people we’re not at the end of the Suns’ world quite yet.

Hey, I’ll be the first one to admit that a Suns loss is frustrating. As a fan, I want the bragging rights of my team going on a 15-game winning streak. I like the ability to rub it in to my non-Suns-fan friends that my team just beat theirs by 25 points. And I like to go to bed after a win knowing my team is in first place.

But guess what? Even after 2 straight losses, the team you root for (I assume you’re rooting for them if you’re visiting Suns.com) has the 4th best record in the league. They have the 2nd best record in the Western Conference. And they are 2.5 games up on the 2nd place team in their division. All of that and they’ve also recorded the longest winning streak in the league so far this season.

In the past 10 games, the team has won 80% of their games. Over the season, they’ve won 73%. If that continues for the season, Phoenix would end with a 60-win season. Not too shabby, I’d say.

Of course, they still have 67 games to play and a lot can happen in that time. Teams aren’t going to just roll over and let Steve Nash and gang win. So let’s look at some trends in the numbers and see what we can find:

  • When the Suns allow their opponent to score 100 or more points, they are 5-4.
  • When Phoenix doesn’t score 100 points in a game, they are 0-3.
  • The team is 0-3 when they shoot under 42% from the field
  • When allowing their opponent to shoot 46% or higher from the three-point line, Phoenix is 0-3
  • The Suns are 0-2 when they grab 37 rebounds or less in a game
  • They are 9-2 when getting 40 or more rebounds per game. And they are 8-1 when securing 41 or more.

Looking at the percentages and numbers that are cropping up after each loss, it seems like the team doesn’t really need to make a lot of big changes to turn these losses into wins. The numbers are all correlated in some way. For instance, scoring 100 points or more and shooting more than 42% usually go hand-in-hand with the Suns. And shooting percentages are something fixable – especially with the group Phoenix has right now.

The other two numbers are more defensive-minded than offensive. Playing at such a fast pace, Phoenix isn’t going to have a lot of guys that grab 15-20 rebounds each game. But if they just grab a few more rebounds per game that may make the difference. Why do just a few rebounds seem to make a difference? Think about what the maximum point differential that can happen with just one extra rebound. If the opponent shoots and then gets an offensive rebound, the worst thing that could happen is a three-point play (either with a made basket and a foul/free throw or with a three-point shot). If an opponent shoots and Phoenix grabs the rebound, the best thing that could happen is a three-point play on the other end of the court. That’s a possible six point difference on just one rebound. Usually, it would be less – four points or even two points – but those three to four extra rebounds a game could potentially add up to an 18 or even a 24 point difference for the Suns.

Bottom line: In my opinion, the “problems” we’re seeing with the team right now are easily fixable. It just takes inching the shooting percentage up a point or two and grabbing a few more rebounds. Even if the team keeps winning at the percentage they have so far this season, I think I would be perfectly happy with that as well. The regular season is to get the team ready for the playoffs. Maybe we should stop asking “Are we there yet?” so often and try to enjoy the ride a little more.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs Golden State Warriors

For those of you who stayed up to watch the entire Suns/Warriors game on Monday, you probably went to bed trying to figure out where the Suns went wrong. I know I did.

At times I was upset with the refs for being biased against the Suns
(they weren’t – see below), upset with the Suns for not shooting well
(also incorrect -see below), upset with the Warriors for shooting too
well and upset with myself for not turning off the TV to help my blood
pressure.

But in looking at the statistics, I realized there wasn’t any reason to be upset at the refs or the Suns’ shooting. If you’re looking at just fouls and free throws, the Suns had one less foul than the Warriors did and shot seven more free throws. Phoenix also shot 49% from the field and 42% from the three-point line – usually a good indicator that they’ll win (7-1 when they shoot 49% or better and 4-1 when they shoot 42% or better from the three-point line). Unfortunately, the Warriors shot an amazing 46% from the three-point line (making 5 more thee-point shots than the Suns and scoring 15 more points – which just happens to be the difference in the final score.

Despite the loss, there were some interesting things that came out of the game. There is one statistic in the box score that shows exactly what happened in the game. If you took that statistic out of the box score and looked at everything else left, you might actually believe the Suns had won the game. Unfortunately, you can’t take out the turnovers and points-off turnovers. The discrepancy between the two teams in that statistic was enormous. Golden State scored 37 points off of 20 Phoenix turnovers. The Suns only scored 7 points off of 11 Warriors turnovers. The guys in purple lost by 15 points so if they would have been able to cut down on turnovers – or at least stop the Warriors from scoring on those turnovers – they would have had a chance in the game.

If you look at all of the other statistics, the Suns did what they normally do to win:

  • They had well over 42% of the total rebounds in the game (now 11-1 when that happens)
  • They had over 40 total rebounds (now 9-2 when they do that)
  • Phoenix has only allowed their opponent to shoot better than 50% in a game twice (both losses)
  • The team scored over 100 points (after Monday’s game, the Suns are 11-1 when scoring 100 or more)
  • The loss against the Warriors was the first time the team has lost this year on a non back-to-back game

Other interesting statistics (that probably don’t have any bearing on the game but that are interesting):

  • When Grant Hill has 1 or less fouls in a game, the Suns are 2-3
  • When Shawn Marion scores 10 points or less, Phoenix is 1-1
  • When Marion has zero assists, the team is 1-2
  • Monday’s game against the Warriors was the first game in which Leandro Barbosa did not have a rebound

Have you noticed any other trends in the numbers that I’ve missed? Feel free to leave them in the comments below or e-mail blog@suns.com.

Eight Was Great – But the Best is Still Ahead

The offseason of 2001 was a big one for the Suns. Jason Kidd was traded to New Jersey in exchange for the talented but troubled Stephon Marbury, Dan Majerle returned to finish his playing career where it began and the franchise hired a new television producer.

Joe Crispin taught Bob Adlhoch that sometimes losses like Monday’s just happen. 

(NBAE Photos)

OK, maybe that last one wasn’t so big for the Suns, but it was a pretty big deal to me. After covering the NBA and the Suns in a variety of roles for 10 years, I became a team employee and began living life on the NBA road.

That 2001-‘02 season was memorable for very few things – mostly losses and the dismissal of coach Scott Skiles. After one particularly bad road loss, I boarded the team bus and was greeted by the smiling face of Joe Crispin. You have to be a die-hard fan to remember Joe – a 6-foot combo guard (euphemism for a short guy who can shoot but isn’t quick enough to cover other point guards) from Penn State. As we talked on the way to the airport, I asked him how he managed to be in such a good mood in the midst of a season gone wrong. “Bob,” he said, “I learned a long time ago not to tie my happiness to the outcome of basketball games.” This thought had never occurred to me – not bummed out after a loss? Some might argue that’s why Joe isn’t in the league anymore, but I learned a good lesson that night that has been affirmed by Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni many years later. An 82-game season is a LONG time. You can’t get too high after wins or too low after losses. It’s too easy as fans, coaches, broadcasters and players to fixate on one game. After a great win you feel invincible, after a bad loss like you may never win again.

Phoenix rode an 8-game win streak into Oakland on Monday night, only to be out-run and out-gunned by a smaller, quicker, (and on this night) better shooting team. On the same night, San Antonio lost to the same Sacramento team the Suns hung 80 first-half points on 5 days ago, Dallas lost at home to a Gilbert Arenas-less Washington Wizards and the post-KG Timberwolves upset the red-hot Hornets.

The point of all this is that these things happen. The Suns played well enough Monday to win most games against most teams. And as I’ve written before – you wouldn’t know on the plane ride home from Oakland that an 8-game win streak had been halted tonight. While the players relax, the coaches begin planning for the invasion of T-Mac and Yao on Wednesday night (6:30 PM, MY 45 HD) and Dwight Howard and the Magic on Friday. The season’s too long to do anything else.

And one more fact to pass along about this team and what lies ahead. At 11-3, the Suns are off to one of their best starts in franchise history – but you knew that. What you might not know is that over the last 3 seasons, the Suns’ record after December 1st has been 149-56 (.727). Let’s enjoy the ride.

One last story about Joe Crispin and the Warriors: we were in the Bay Area for a game and Joe attended a college game the night before at Stanford. He was down near the court just before halftime and someone in the athletic department asked him if he wanted to be that night’s contestant in the half-court shot. He politely declined, saying it wouldn’t be fair for a professional to take the shot, but was talked into it by his buddies. He promptly drained the shot in front of a sold out arena (not like he hadn’t hit a big shot or two in his life) and won an autographed Michael Jordan jersey for his effort. Nice parting gift.

Our Swiss Army Knife is French

Every time I walk into a hardware store, among the Leathermen, utility sets, adjustable wrenches and multi-head screwdrivers, I expect to see a new, versatile product on the market, “The Amazing Boris.”

Boris Diaw could be the key to a Suns championship this season. 

(NBAE Photos)

The marketing for such a product would be simple: “It does everything well – scores, rebounds, passes and defends.” Below that blurb, it’d read: “When operating to full capability, extremely dangerous to other team.”

Boris Diaw can (and has) played all five positions on the court, and he’s a matchup nightmare at each one. He’s too fast for most centers and power forwards, too strong for most small forwards, and too big for most guards. He’s given us tantalizing glimpses of awesome skills, most notably a couple years ago in the playoffs when he came from nowhere to be a focal point of the Suns’ offense and defense in the absence of Amare Stoudemire.

But, “When operating to full capability.” That’s the key phrase, right there. Boris has taken a lot of abuse from Suns’ fans and the press for not always living up to that performance in the years since. Some of it has been deserved – He admitted to not being in the best of shape prior to last season, and he never really found his legs during the year. Plus, there was the adjustment of playing alongside Amare, healthy once more. Boris wasn’t sure how aggressive he needed to be, or what exactly his role was. I think he’s still figuring it out.

But when fans are inclined to complain that Boris doesn’t score more, consider this: The Suns don’t need him to score more. They have plenty of scorers. They don’t need Boris to pile up huge numbers of assists or rebounds – The Suns have players who excel in those areas. What the Suns need is for Boris to augment all of those categories across the board, to do a little here and there, whatever it takes, whatever is needed on a given night.

Think about it: Just about every championship team has had a great role player, without whom it would have been impossible for the team to take home a title. For the Bulls, it was Dennis Rodman. For the Lakers and Spurs, it’s been Robert Horry. With his skills in every area, as well as his intelligence (everyone who’s spoken with him knows how smart he is), Boris should, and I predict will, become the ultimate role player.

Consider his statistics from the other night against the Warriors: 26 minutes, 8 points, 8 rebounds (3 on the offensive glass), and 7 assists. Do any of those numbers jump out at you? Not particularly, but with another bucket, two more boards and 3 more dishes, that’s a triple-double, and there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t take a player capable of such production with such apparent ease on a night-to-night basis.

(Yes, I’m aware the Suns lost to the Warriors, but that had more to do with an uncharacteristically large number of Phoenix turnovers and some lights-out shooting by Golden State’s big guns than anything Boris did or didn’t do.)

He’s a one-man bench, the ultimate luxury, the ultimate plug-and-play hoopster. And there are 29 general managers around the league praying Boris never realizes consistency for his oh-so-tantalizing “full capability” we’ve all glimpsed, because if he does, they might as well cancel the next two or three seasons, because there won’t be much point in playing. Just leave the championship trophy in the desert for a while, and take a few years off, everybody.

I’m a Boris Believer. I’m convinced that he’s the key to the Suns’ fortunes, that Nash, Marion, Stoudemire, Hill, Barbosa, Bell and everyone else are going to give them exactly the excellence we’ve come to expect, but if Boris blossoms, that’s what’s going to send them over the top.

“The Amazing Boris.” There’s no one like him, and he’s not available in any store.

And ain’t I glad.

Suns Do Enough To Win

Not much to really get exited about in this one. But not much to complain about either. The Suns did what they needed to beat the NBA’s unhealthiest team.

Amare Stoudemire scored a game high 29 points in the Suns’ 8th consecutive win. 

(NBAE Photos)

And although they let the Clippers hang around perhaps a bit longer than necessary that was only because one of their best weapons, the three ball, was misfiring. Other than shooting 24 per cent (4 of 17) from Arc City, the rest of their game was actually in pretty good working order.

All except for Shawn Marion’s that is.

“Pretty good” just doesn’t get it for Shawn, who was a force on the boards with 17 rebounds and a demon on defense (5 steals, 2 blocked shots). In fact, he had his hands on so many Clipper passes and dribble you wonder if maybe his nickname shouldn’t be changed from The Matrix to The Octopus. Oh, and he also scored 21 points.

He gets my game ball by unanimous vote (1-0), but knowing how he loves to play the disrespect card he’ll probable grumble that the Associated Press story didn’t mention him until the second paragraph. (Just kidding, Shawn. Just kidding)

Although the Clippers are minus three starters, including their two best players, they were coming off a victory Wednesday night, and with 38-year-old Sam Cassell leading the charge actually led the Suns by one at the half.

Cassell, who looks like a tall E.T., scored 18 of his 26 points before intermission, and tacked on the other 8 in the third period, sat out the fourth.

Among the most encouraging aspects for the Suns was the aggressiveness of Amare Stoudemire, who gradually seems to be getting his full pop back. Even though foul trouble cut his time to 30 minutes he still managed 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

It was also encouraging to see Boris Diaw come alive with 11 rebounds and 4 assists, and good to see Raja Bell back in action. Of course, that meant shuffling the lineup and bringing Leandro Barbosa off the bench after a spectacular run as a starter, but as usual, the Suns adjusted pretty well on the fly.

True, Barbosa was only 2 for 10 from the field and missed all five of his threes, but that was probably due more to the fact that as hot as he’s been the guy was bound to miss a shot or two sooner or later.

The bottom line: The Suns weren’t perfect last night, but they were better than they had to be, and did the thing they do best (and most) — win.

Bonus bottom line: This is not only a better team than last year’s but the best of Coach Mike’s yet.

'Tis the Season for Stuffing

‘Tis the season to be stuffing, and the Suns embraced the spirit of the season by positively gorging on points, especially in the first half. Just to show you what kind of pigs they made of themselves while shoveling points into themselves with both hands, consider this:

When you hit right at 50 percent from the field and put 63 points on the board in the first half, you’d like to think you’d be in the lead going to the locker room, or at least in the GAME, but the Sacramento Kings did both, and yet were neither. In fact, they were trailing by 17 points!

That’s what happens when your opposition hits 11 of its first 12 shots and 18 of its first 21, and goes on to shoot 75 percent for the first 12 minutes. You’d think with that kind of start the law of averages alone would cool the Suns down in the second period, and sure enough the Suns did cool off, hitting only 60 percent.

Coach Mike D’Antoni admitted his team played “pretty good” in the first half, and that the first period was “unbelievable.”

It wasn’t just the hot shooting either. The Suns had it all going, moving the ball as well as they have all year, running the break like they invented it (when actually they only reinvented it), and all the while taking better care of the basketball than is their wont, what with only seven turnovers.

All in all, it was an impressive reminder of just how good this top-of-the-line point machine can be when it is hitting on all cylinders. And don’t let that relatively modest final total of 127 fool you. If Coach Mike hadn’t opted to keep all of his starters on the bench the entire fourth period it could easily have been 157.

Granted, as my colleague Jerry Brown of The Tribune suggested, this was a mismatch of such magnitude that even the Nevada Boxing Commision might have refused to sanction it, what with the Suns having the best point guard on the planet and the short-handed Kings not even having a bona fide point guard available. As if this weren’t bad enough, they were also minus main man Ron Artest, who was back in Sacramento dealing with a family problem.

And it was Steve Nash (surprise, surprise) who triggered the avalanche, hitting his first five shots, and kept it rolling with 15 assists in just 27 minutes — which is three more than the entire Kings team had in 48.

All five Suns starters were in double figures, and could easily have been named Player of the Game en masse, but this night I think my game balls will go to the entire bench brigade, led by Marcus Banks, who not only had eight points but also six, count ‘em six, assists. And how about the trio of Brian Skinner, D.J. Strawberry and Alando Tucker combining for 24 points?

I know the case for the starters is more compelling, but those guys have closets full of game ball already and the subs don’t often get the opportunity to show what they can do. Besides, they’re my game balls, and I can give ‘em to who I want to.

The bottom line: How about a 10-2 record and 7 straight wins? Its’ a happy Thanksgiving, indeed!

Trading Places

Robert Frost once wrote “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.”

Just like the movie, the Suns will trade places with the Kings in back-to-back games starting Tuesday night. 

(NBAE Photos)

While I certainly draw no comparisons between Frost’s great works (Google The Road Less Traveled if his name is new to you) and the television broadcasts I produce or direct, I feel the same way about each game. The first 10 minutes of each broadcast is pretty much scripted. When I meet with the announcers and other production team members each morning, we talk about what topics to cover at the top of the show. In tonight’s game against Sacramento (8:00 pm, FSN AZ), we will:

  • recap the Suns offensive explosion at Houston
  • look at Grant Hill and his assimilation into the Suns’ fast style of play
  • highlight Brian Skinnner’s defensive prowess of late
  • give you a look at young Sacramento shooting guard Kevin Martin who is 2nd in the NBA in scoring

Once the referee tosses the ball up at 8:10, not one person in the building or watching at home has any idea what will happen. What will the storylines be? Who will carry the scoring load? Will Steve Nash dish out another 15 assists for the 3rd straight game? As Frost said, it is truly discovering.

One thing we discovered last season is how much we enjoyed swapping analysts from other teams with Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle. Our Saturday broadcast from Houston was our first opportunity this year to make our trade. As Tom Leander wrote on his blog last season, the idea to trade announcers is one that had been used in baseball from time to time over the years but was new to hoops. When I started asking other producers around the NBA if they would be interested in participating in a “trading places” scenario with us prior to last season, many were uncertain how it would work. By December, teams were contacting me to ask if we would like to make the announcer trades when we came to play them.

Houston’s Matt Bullard was this year’s first trade – Dan Majerle for Matt Bullard would never get the commissioner’s blessing when they were players – but Matt was fantastic in his 2 segments with Tom Leander. He gave us some great insight into the changes implemented by new coach Rick Adelman, the expectations mounting with year 4 of Yao and T-Mac together in Houston (and still no playoff series wins) and the return of Steve Francis to his all-star roots. He also had some great observations on the Suns – a fresh perspective on Nash, Stat, Trix and the fellas – not to mention his excitement in watching Eric Piatkowski drain a couple of threes.

It’s something we’ll continue to do this year. The first 2 segments of the 2nd quarter is our usual spot. We have already brokered deals for Jerry Reynolds (Eddie Johnson’s former coach) on Wednesday night when the Kings come to Phoenix and hall of famer Walt Frazier when we get to New York on December 2nd. Walt was the MVP of the first NBA All-Star game in Phoenix in 1975, so he should have some good memories to share of that game as we discuss the 2009 game that Phoenix will host.

And an update on LB and his 80s movies – he loved Trading Places (big thumbs up, man!), so now I have to rifle through my DVD collection to see what should come next. I think I might steer him through the John Hughes collection (Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Buhler’s Day Off) but I’m open to suggestions.

One final note – please leave your feedback below. Although all of us in the broadcast department work very diligently to put together entertaining broadcasts, we don’t do it in a vacuum. If you have ideas to share, please do so.

Let the discovering begin!

Voices From the Picket Line

As some of you may have heard, there’s a strike going on here in Los Angeles. The writers of film and television have stopped working for the studios and production companies as they try to hammer out a fair and equitable working agreement.

I’m a writer. That means, for the first time in my life, I’ve been walking a picket line.

We, the writers, are all very committed to our goals in this strike (I won’t bore you with details – this isn’t the forum for it), and it’s been impressive how many have turned out to support the Writers Guild of America. We march with pride and purpose, and we have no intention of stopping.

Most days these last two weeks, I’ve walked four hour shifts, carrying a sign outside a television studio, and trying to convince passing cars and trucks to honk and show their support. Occasionally, there’s a little bit of chanting (“Writers! United! We will not be divided!”). But outside of that, pretty much all we do is walk in ovals back and forth across a driveway.

That being the case, we have to find something to talk about to fill the minutes – and the laps from one end of the pavement to the other. So I’ve made the most of the opportunity – trying to talk basketball with as many people as I can.

It’s been interesting, surveying folks as to their favorite teams. Most, of course, say the Lakers, but a surprising number proclaim their support for the Clippers. “We’re writers,” one woman told me. “We root for the underdogs.” There’s a sense of oppressors versus oppressed when it comes to Clipper fans…I wonder if they can go on strike against the purple and gold?

I’ve noticed that, among the cars that cross our picket line to enter the studio, drivers with Laker bumper stickers are much less likely to treat the picketers in a friendly way. Some do, don’t get me wrong, but some definitely don’t.

In all honesty, I’ve yet to see a car with a Clippers bumper sticker.

Laker fans among the strikers tend to fall into two categories: Lifers who have been here forever and are truly passionate about the team, and bandwagoners who are relatively new arrivals, seduced by the glitz, Kobe’s style, and the team’s shiny history. When I ask either group about Kobe, they say basically the same thing: “He’s a great player, but…” I get the sense they like watching him do what he does, but that they might be happier if it was anyone else doing it. Lamar Odom, Dick Cheney, Attila the Hun…Anybody.

But when I ask one man if he favors the Lakers trading Kobe Bryant, he squints at me, and answers with a question: “What would we get back for him?”

It’s Hollywood. Everything’s a negotiation.

Among picketers who have a preference for neither LA team, there are a fair number who don’t watch or care about basketball. I keep a list of those people, to remind myself who not to stand next to as I march. Some have hometown loyalties, so I marched the other day with a (God help him) Bucks fan. I’ve also come across a “Jazz nut,” (her words) and a couple Easterners with sad expressions who admit to rooting for the Knicks or Sixers. Boston fans, I’ve noticed, have a bounce in their step, but I guess I should expect that, since the Celtics and Patriots are undefeated, and apparently the Red Sox had a pretty good year.

When I mention to anyone who knows even the slightest glimmer about basketball that I’m a Suns fan, their eyes immediately light up with delight. “Steve Nash!” they exclaim. Apparently, it’s a new slang expression, interchangeable with “Awesome!” or “Too cool!” More educated fans compliment me (though they really mean the team, I’m pretty sure) on the Suns’ style of play, and how it’s helping rejuvenate interest in pro basketball.

Not one Laker fan gives me any grief over Raja Bell’s altercation with Kobe Bryant in the playoffs two years ago. A couple non-Laker fans recall the moment with guilty grins. A few grins aren’t even guilty.

I ask how they would respond if the players were in our situation, striking against their employers for better conditions, wages, or whatever. Would the players’ salaries, higher than most ordinary humans to begin with, make it hard to support them? I find myself agreeing when one woman answers, “Not a bit. It’s not their fault how much they get paid. They’re being paid what the market will allow. Their peak earning years are very short – eight to ten years, if they’re lucky – and they should do whatever they need to protect their financial futures and security.” It’s a pro-labor stance, obviously, which is to be expected, since we’re all feeling pretty pro-labor out here at the moment.

I like walking with these people, feeling part of a united community of writers. I like talking basketball with them, too. But we all have places we’d rather be – generally at keyboards in front of computers, telling the stories we love so much, rather than wearing treads in the asphalt as we shuffle along carrying our signs.

Our strike essentially coincided with the start of the basketball season. We’re hoping it doesn’t last nearly as long.