Tim Kempton's Season Outlook

The regular season has arrived and the Phoenix Suns are poised for a special year. Having watched this team closely throughout the preseason, I think we are in great shape and have made some real improvements over last season.

 

The Suns improved in a number of ways by acquiring Grant Hill. He is just a phenomenal basketball player. What a lot of people don’t remember is that he is a 20-plus points a game scorer over his career and you just don’t lose that ability. In addition, his personality fits so well into the team and he is so intelligent. I think that he’s going to have a super year in this system

I have also been impressed with the bench play, especially Marcus Banks and Sean Marks. Marcus appears to have finally grasped his role on this team and accepted it, and due to the Suns’ lack of big men, Sean has been a real bright spot because of his ability to get up and down the floor, and score inside. He’s similar to Kurt Thomas, but even more athletic.

 

I actually kind of see myself in Sean because I was in a similar situation during my career. We always knew that he could play, it was just a matter of him getting minutes. Now he’s getting minutes and showing what he can do and his confidence is growing with the playing time that he is receiving. It’s a cycle. More minutes equals more confidence, which leads to more minutes and more confidence.

 

 

Kempton sees promise in Marks.
(NBAE Photos)
 

I have taken a personal interest in his story because I love the way he plays, he’s a great guy and very level-headed about the game. All the guys at this level are talented. If you make it to the NBA, you make it here for a reason. It’s just a matter of finding your way into the rotation, and Sean is doing just that.

 

The rookies have shined through, too. Both Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry earned valuable experience by staying all four years in college. They weren’t drafted in the top 10, so they aren’t considered superstars, but they are off to a tremendous start.

 

It’s important to have rookies that understand the game and themselves. You can see it right away because the difference between college and the NBA is drastic. A guy who gets by on talent in college can struggle in the league because almost everyone is physically gifted in college.

 

We all know that the Suns are an upper-echelon team, but there are about five or six teams that have the pieces to possibly make a run at the Finals. As the year goes on, though, you will see a certain type of progression and consistency that will be limited to just a couple of those teams.

When the 1992-93 team I was on entered the season, we thought we had the pieces in place to make it to the Finals. We had Charles Barkley, we had leadership and a great point guard in Kevin Johnson, a three-point threat in Dan Majerle, role players like Cedric Ceballos (who averaged 13 points a night without a play getting called for him) as a hustle guy. We had a solid big man in the middle in Mark West, who despite not being counted on to score points, accepted his role for the good of the team. We also had some solid veterans in Tom Chambers and Danny Ainge.

We knew we had all the pieces headed into that season and we progressed as the year went on. It was a magical season, but we just ran into the wrong team. In the Finals, the Bulls were just a little bit hotter than we were. An interesting fact from that series is that although we lost in six games, we scored the same amount of points as Chicago in the Finals. I think we both scored 706 points. That’s how close those six games were.

 

With this year’s Suns team, we’ve seen improvement already. Now the question is whether they will progress during the season. Will everybody stay healthy? I think that is the main key to the Suns winning it all. They have the right amount of youth mixed with the right amount of experience, and they have great guys coming off the bench in Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.

Will this be the year the Suns win their first NBA Championship? We won’t know for another eight months, but it’s going to be a lot of fun watching their progression along the way.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

For most college students, the end of summer vacation comes once school starts in the fall. For the past few years, mine has officially concluded at the ending of Suns training camp. With the team ready to tip-off the regular season tonight in Seattle, I guess I’m a little late hitting the books.

Among the highlights of the offseason was the luncheon for Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo. 

(NBAE Photos)

Having been a college student now for what seems like 35 years, it seems like I find myself learning more outside of the classroom than inside it. Not to take away from the importance of school, but my job with the Suns has taught me much more about journalism, videography and life itself.

Take this past summer for example:

READING – didn’t do as much of it as I’d have liked, but that usually ends up being the case for me over the summer. I read a couple of novels (counting CliffsNotes), some Suns blogs and of course, comic books.

WRITING – for the Suns I did quite a bit. When the organization drafted Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker, I had the opportunity to discuss the move with not only Tucker, but new General Manager Steve Kerr and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. Both are confident the guard has plenty of potential, not only for his ability on the offensive end of the floor, but his ability to “badger” opponents on defense as well. What the front office like best is the fact both he and second-round pick DJ Strawberry have plenty of collegiate experience.

ARITHMETIC – One Team. One City. One Goal. Mathematically, it added up for Phoenix’s first ever WNBA Championship. I’m obviously a bit biased, but don’t think it could have gone to a more deserving group. Everybody you speak with from the front office to the players themselves is a class act, and it’s no wonder why so many people were pulling for them (other than the fact it involved rooting against Bill Laimbeer that is).

CHEMISTRY – While the Mercury were busy perfecting their chemistry on the court, the Suns did their best to improve their chemistry off of it. The signing of All-Star forward Grant Hill is a move which just looks better by the day. He’s looked great in practice and many are predicting he’ll be making his eighth All-Star appearance when the game is played in New Orleans later this season.

You can’t seem to talk to anybody about Hill without some discussion of the person he is when away from the game of basketball. I’ve had the chance to talk to him a few times now and couldn’t agree more. But to be honest, what’s really impressed me throughout preseason is his decision-making ability. Whether he has the basketball in his hands or not, he seems to do the right thing each and every time on the break. With he and Steve Nash on the court together, Phoenix’s assist-to-turnover ratio could be tops in the league this season.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION – I don’t think I ever regretted a workout more than when Jeramie McPeek and I decided to take on Steve Koek and Josh Greene in a little two-on-two. Still in our work attire, we decided to play a “quick” contest to seven points, the winner having to win by two. That little stipulation cost us dearly as we played and we played and we played deep into the afternoon. McPeek and I emerged the victors (although I felt like anything but for the remainder of the work day) but it was Koek who delivered the best line. Passing by the air hockey table, an out-of-breath Steve asked, “Air hockey, why couldn’t we just play air hockey?”

STATISTICS – Having been a fan since the day the organization drafted him, going to San Diego with Amaré Stoudemire for the motion capture process was indeed a surreal experience (although I’ve learned in my time surreal is just another way of admitting I’m getting old).

It was my first time traveling to San Diego and playing video games for “business” and it’s an experience I highly recommend. Speaking of San Diego, I had another great time at Comic-Con this past July. Fellow blogger Adam Beechen and I caught up on old times and Jim Lee sketched me a picture of the X-Men’s Rogue (those of you who appreciate comics can really appreciate the coolness in that).

HISTORY – It was in the making when the Suns.com Newsroom was unveiled on August 8. A number of celebrities were in the house including Stoudemire, D’Antoni and Suns owner Robert Sarver. The organization has been very good to us web guys over the years and the team is definitely enjoying their time in the new digs.

GRADUATION – We’re just a few hours from tip-off now and I am definitely ready to roll. My Suns predictions include a new franchise record of 63 wins, an All-Star appearance for Grant Hill and, of course, an NBA Championship.

Send/Receive: Kerr Answers Fan E-Mail

Here we go, Suns fans. The start of the 202007-08 season is upon us and I know you’re all as excited as I am. We have a really good team and high expectations. But it’s only November, and as the cliche goes, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’

Shawn Marion, who helped “paint the planet orange” with teammate Sean Marks earlier this week, has been nothing but professional, according to the Suns’ GM. 

(NBAE Photos)

We’re hoping to get off to a good start, build some momentum throughout the year and play our best basketball in May and June. If we can do that, maybe we can pull off our goal — winning the franchise’s first championship. In the meantime, I know there are many questions that you have as we get started, so I’ll try to answer a few for you here. Thanks again for all your support, and Go Suns!

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Question: When people talk about players or teams having ‘championship experience’, what exactly are they referring to? It’s just 4-7 extra games played than a team that has been to the conference finals, right? Is there something about knowing you’ve won it all that is so invaluable? Or do the finals really carry that much more pressure that you can’t really understand unless you’ve been there? Please enlighten me!
– Jennifer, Litchfield Park

Answer: Jennifer, having played in the Finals five times, I can tell you I was much better prepared after my first experience in 1996. I was so nervous that year, and my performance suffered. After that I settled down and played much better the following year and in subsequent Finals. It’s not just the extra 4-7 games beyond the conference finals – it’s the knowledge as a player that you’ve done this before, and it allows for more of a comfort zone. So yes, I do think it makes a big difference.

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Question: With the start of the season just days away, there hasn’t been any mention of the trade request by Shawn Marion. Will he be a sun for the 2007-08 season?
– Carlos, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Answer: Carlos, I’m a big Shawn Marion fan and I always have been. I think he’s perfect for our team because of his speed and versatility, and I anticipate that he’ll be here all year. Shawn has been nothing but professional throughout training camp and preseason, and I think he’s poised to have a great season.

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Question: Role players make such a difference in the NBA. In your career you delivered at crucial moments in games while not being a star. Have you spoken, or worked with, any of the Suns role players, and given them any insight into how to maximize their impact on the court?
– Chad, Tucson

Answer: Chad, I haven’t spoken to any of our players about specifically being a role player, but I have spoken to our entire team about the importance of establishing a foundation of work throughout the season. I believe that if each player takes care of his own business each day throughout the season – getting extra shooting, conditioning, watching game film, etc – then we’ll be that much stronger as a team come May and June. I always felt as a player that if I knew in my heart that I’d done everything possible to prepare for each game, then I had earned the right to make or miss a big shot. Either way, I wouldn’t have any regrets.

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Question: Hi Steve. As a kiwi I am proud that Sean Marks has made it to the NBA and spent a number of years with two great teams. If I could fit them I would love to be in his shoes. That said, what areas you think that Sean needs to improve or at least demonstrate to avoid a season of DNPs.
– Michael Stoodley, Tauranga, New Zealand

Answer: Michael, I’m glad to know you’re following the Suns down in New Zealand. First of all, we couldn’t be happier to have Sean on our team. He’s a fantastic human being and a top notch teammate. Secondly, I think Sean will get a chance to play this season. He shoots the ball really well, which will spread the defense out – something very important to our style – and he’s a better rebounder than people think. What will keep Sean on the court, though, will be improved defense. He does have some trouble holding ground on the block, because he’s not overly strong. But he plays hard and he’s smart, so he can make up for some defensive deficiencies. I’m hoping he can break through this year and forge a role with us, because he’s good enough to do it.

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Question: The question I have is – Diaw seems to flourish when Stoudemire is injured yet his production drops when Amare returns. What needs to change in order for Boris to maintain that same level of productivity when he’s playing alongside Amare? Does Amare or Boris need to adjust their game?
– Peter, London, UK

Answer: Peter, you’re very perceptive! I agree, Boris tends to get lost in the shuffle a bit when Amare is on the floor. The reason is that Boris is at his best with the ball in his hands, dribbling, passing and creating shots for his teammates. When he and Amare are in together, Boris doesn’t have the ball as often, and he’s not as comfortable playing without it. One of the keys this season will be for the two of them to learn to be more productive together, and I think that will happen. We’ve made it clear to Boris that it’s up to him to be aggressive all the time, even when Amare is on the court. Boris is in great shape and has the mindset that he’s going to take more responsibility this season.

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Question: As far as a championship is concerned, how much does the 202007-2008 Suns team resemble any of the Bulls or Spurs teams you played on?
– Brandon Harshe, Phoenix

Answer: Brandon, this Suns team is totally different than the Chicago and San Antonio teams that I played on. Both of those clubs were superstar driven teams that relied heavily on half-court offense and solid defense. Our team this year is going to try to outrun and outscore opponents, and we don’t rely on one or two scorers to get that done. It’s a team effort, and we feel like we have the best top 7 in the NBA. I think with the way the league has evolved the past 5 or 6 years, small and fast is the way to go. And I don’t think any team in the league can play with us in an up tempo game.

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Question: hi Steve, I’m a HUGE phx fan out here lost in L.A. I’m just a lil worried about the 5 spot. Can we expect tenacity on defense from B. Skinner? I mean, can he bang with the likes of duncan and the up and coming likes of andrew bynum and the rest of the bigs? i have seen that the past few years, it is the one position that needs improvement, well, at least on the defensive side. so, how does brian skinner look?
– Karlo, Los Angeles

Answer: Karlo, Brian has been injured much of training camp, but he put together two good practices this week and he’s starting to come around. He’s a good shot blocker and rebounder, and he’s certainly big and active enough to be a factor. You’re right, big men have given us trouble the past few years, but at the same time we’ve given opposing big men plenty to worry about as well. In fact, you can say that the only guy we haven’t had an answer for has been Duncan. And let’s face it – no one has an answer for him. The key for us will be more than just Skinner playing a role. Our key is Amare continuing to improve defensively and avoiding foul trouble. With Amare on the floor, we have a huge offensive advantage over anyone at the five spot, including the Spurs. For us to win playing our style, Amare has to be on the court.

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Question: Can we expect Amare Stoudemire to play 82 games again? If so, will he receive nearly as many minutes as he did last year? Best of luck to you, and the rest of the Suns.
– Jacob Kuna, Tucson

Answer: Jacob, obviously you never know how many games a player will play, but I feel confident in Amare’s health. His knee surgery last month was a minor procedure, and he’s bounced back quickly already. The fact that he played in 82 games last season is encouraging, and hopefully he can do the same — or come close — this season.

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Question: The Suns have undoubtedly been the best team for the past 2-3 years. The problem with getting over the hump has not been injuries, refs, defense or any of those other things people mention. The problem has been those two games at the end of the playoffs where the Suns “run-out-of-gas” or lose heart or something in the fourth quarter. It’s happened each year against the Spurs and Mavs. Phoenix is up by 20 with 13 minutes to go and the team just stands around and watches while they are steam-rolled by the “Spurvericks”. What are we doing to address this? In my opinion this is the only reason the Suns don’t have three rings now.

Germar Derron, Atlanta


Answer: Germar, we’ve been close the last few years, and we’re hoping we can bust through this season. You won’t hear us complain about bad luck with injuries, suspensions or referees. I don’t believe in excuses. We just have to have internal growth and improve at both ends of the floor. I feel great about this team, though, because some of those ‘run out of gas’ problems you mentioned should be taken care of by Grant Hill’s presence. His playmaking ability should ease the pressure off of Steve Nash, and assuming Boris has a good year too, we have enough guys to make plays that we won’t have to wear Steve out. On top of that, we will have learned from the past few years. Experience makes us better.

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Question: Steve — The team has had a policy of selling off draft picks in recent years. Please tell me we won’t be selling Atlanta’s pick next summer (assuming it ends up in the lottery).
– Evan, Gilbert

Answer: Evan, trust me, we haven’t enjoyed selling off first round picks, but in the current economic state of the NBA, you have to do what you have to do to keep your core intact. I’m happy that we have kept Amare, Shawn, Steve, Boris and the others together, because to me, continuity is critical to long term success. With that said, we’ll need an infusion of talent next season, and the Atlanta pick is potentially a high one. We’ll need it to ensure that we add to the talent we already have.

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Question: Dear Steve,

Thanks for this opp. I think LB’s a much better 2 than 1, and Marcus is a better 1 than 2. Any chance Mike’s gonna let those guys develop into the “starting second unit,” and maybe get Nash a little more rest. Talk about putting speed on the floor!

Also, if there’s a lesson to be learned from San Antonio, would it be, “trust your 10 best players ALL YEAR LONG and IN THE PLAYOFFS, not just your best 5?”

Best wishes for success your first year!
– Edward Huesing, Scottsdale

Answer: Edward, yes, LB is better as a 2, so he’ll play a lot there. Marcus is a key guy for us this season, because he has the ability to be our 8th man and give us important minutes. He’s had a solid training camp, with occasional moments of brilliance. He needs to be more consistent to forge out a role with us, and I agree with you – he could really add something to our team if he plays well.

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Question: Now that P.J Brown is out for good and with the departure of Kurt, it looks like the Suns are going no where defensively. I know that we’re a very underrated ballclub but I don’t have anything to say when I get into an argument about basketball when it comes to Suns defense. Brian is a good additition but he cannot handle all the interior defensive load. My question is, are you looking to trade or add a defensive presence up until February or is the current roster set till the end of June?
– Abdullah, Tucson

Answer: Abdullah, we’re a better defensive team than people think. Some of the numbers are skewed because of our style of play, but that’s okay. Stats are stats – all we care about are wins. The bottom line is that until we win the title playing the way we do, people will always question us. That’s the way it goes. We’ve been close, but hopefully we can make the next step and get over the hump. I think our defense is good enough for that to happen.

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Question: According to your experience as a player, what else can the Suns do to go to the next level and win the championship? I think everyone needs to step up a bit, provide a better defense, be concentrated ans fight for every point and ball possession. In addition, it seems like the coach should use more players in the rotation…
– Sean, Rio de Janeiro

Answer: Sean, I agree – everyone has to get a little better. We as a team have to get a little better. The fact is, there’s very little difference between the team that wins the whole thing and the team that comes up just short. It’s up to us to pay attention to detail and make sure we do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance to win a title.

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Question: Steve when is the NBA going to realize that awarding a technical foul to a player who argues a call will lead to a more boring game for the players and a reduced fan base? Any chance they will reverse that rule or at least not enforce it?
– Bob Wernecke, Phoenix

Answer: Bob, I don’t think the league will change that rule, but that’s okay with me. Players simply have to adjust to the rule, and they will. The NBA officials do a good job of keeping games flowing, and part of that is knowing when and when not to call a T on a player. That’s part of the game.�