Returning to Phoenix

Well, I’m back in Phoenix after a couple of weeks in Albuquerque playing for the D-League Thunderbirds. It was definitely time well spent, and I think I was able to show guys like President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr I was working on exactly what they had asked.

Alando Tucker used his time to study and practice the game while in Albuquerque. 

(NBAE Photos)

At the beginning of the season, Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told me this was an option for the team, and they were probably going to take advantage of that. DJ Strawberry and I knew coming in with all the great players and All-Stars here we weren’t going to be getting a ton of playing time, so it never came across as being a demotion and they reminded us of that. They wanted to ensure we stay in shape because coming down the stretch of the regular season, it would be nice for the coaching staff to be more familiar with what we can do and see how they can use us.

Kerr and Assistant General Manager Vinny Del Negro let me know exactly when I was being sent a few weeks ago. Again, because it was pretty much scheduled, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Heading to Albuquerque, I wanted to work on my mechanics like I always do, but it was also important to stay in game shape and to make game decisions you can’t make during practice or by watching the team play. That’s what makes the D-League such a great option, it allows a guy like me to continue playing and continue learning.

My coach with the Thunderbirds was Jeff Ruland. He definitely had more of a military-based style than Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, but I think in his position he kind of has to. He’s working with guys trying to get to the NBA level, and you need to shape them so they’re ready for the professional level. The important thing was the fact he understands the game, and I respected his knowledge of the game. He knows both ends of the floor and exactly what everybody at every position should be doing.

I roomed with Darvin Ham who spent some time in his career with both the Bucks and Pacers. He’s also a guy who won a championship ring in Detroit, so I definitely picked his brain as much as possible. Darvin was never drafted, so he took a road in which he had to work very hard and had to constantly keep a strong mindset. He got himself signed and played a lot of important minutes with some important teams. He’s really a great guy and helped me a lot while I was down there. Darvin and I watched all the Suns games and talked about a lot of different things. Darvin remembered the style of play as very hard to guard and said players knew coming into a contest against the Suns they were in for a long night. They force you to have an offensive mindset regardless of how talented you are on the defensive end of the court.

As a whole, I gained a lot of respect for the D-League through the experience and especially the guys that are playing there. Those guys – including the coaches – work hard and earn everything they get. Sometimes they bus 10 hours just to get from one city to another, so it’s not like they live a high-profile life but they continue to work hard. It helped a lot being in Albuquerque in terms of getting back into a rhythm and gaining some confidence. Getting the D-League Performer of the Week Award was very cool but most important to me was getting back into game shape as a whole.

DJ has joined the team now and my only advice to him is to keep working. Darvin and I spent a lot of time either watching games or going to the gym, so I let DJ know before he left to just stay focused and improve what he feels he can to help this team.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs

If I hadn’t watched the last two games and you asked me to look at the stats and tell you which game I thought the Suns won, it would have been the New Orleans game.

Grant Hill and the Suns blocked San Antonio’s home winning streak on Monday. 

(NBAE Photos)

The Suns did everything they should have to win that game (stats-wise) and couldn’t pull it out. On the other hand, many of the box score indicators for a win in the San Antonio game weren’t there and the Suns scraped by with a W.

Phoenix shot a higher percentage against New Orleans – 47.5% as opposed to 46.8%. They allowed a much lower shooting percentage against the Hornets – 40.7% vs. 45.9%. The Suns also shot better in both three-point field goals and free throws. Additionally, they had more rebounds, a higher percentage of the total rebounds, more assists and a better assist/turnover ratio against the Hornets. Yet it was the San Antonio game that Phoenix won. What happened?

Actually, there were several things that happened in the San Antonio game – some of them seemingly small, yet statistically relevant. For instance, Phoenix lost by 3 points to the Hornets and had one less offensive rebound in that game. Just one extra offensive rebound could have led to a two or even a four point turnaround that would have changed the outcome of the game. They also had one less turnover against the Spurs.

Phoenix increased the number of steals and the difference in steals against the Spurs. In the Hornets game, the men in purple only had one more steal than the Hornets. Against San Antonio the Suns had 5 more steals. That creates more scoring opportunities for the Suns and less for the Spurs.

On the other hand, if you watched the two games and didn’t look at the box scores, you probably would have picked the San Antonio game as the one Phoenix won. They seemed to be playing with more intensity and a lot more enthusiasm. Here’s another interesting statistic: in the New Orleans loss, the Phoenix starters had 21 fouls during the game. In the San Antonio win, they had 14. The starters also played 10% less minutes in the Spurs game than in the Hornets game (167 vs 183). Both Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa played about 33% more minutes on Monday night than they did on Saturday.

Overall, the Suns win in San Antonio was a good one. It showed that the team does know how to play together. There were some problems that the team can still improve on but that is the reason they play 82 regular season games. If teams were perfect right out of the gate, they could just go right to the playoffs.

What are your thoughts on the game?

Chin Music with Brian Skinner

In recent weeks, Suns forward-center Brian Skinner has attracted almost as much attention for his stellar defense and timely offense as he has for his distinctive two-tone goatee.

 

Who has the best facial hair?
(Daniel Banks/Suns Photos)

Glue-on Skinner beards have popped up in the stands at US Airways Arena (generally attached to someone, not so much just showing up on their own), reminding fans of the Rambis Youth years, when Suns faithful would turn out in thick-framed spectacles in honor of Kurt Rambis.

Hopefully, in the weeks to come, cheers for B. Skinner’s jumpers and rebounds will prove louder than chatter about his whiskers.

But not too long ago, I happened to visit the Suns, spend a little time with the man, and compare notes on our facial hairiness.

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Before I get to the transcript of that encounter, however, let’s take a look back at some great moments in NBA mustache-and-bearded-ness with these trend-setting styles:

 


THE VAN DUNK
As worn by hoops legend Wilt Chamberlain, this menacing mustache-beard combo told opponents, “I can score 100 points on you anytime I want. And then maybe I’ll score with every woman you know.”


THE SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN
This look, modeled by former ABA and NBA great Artis Gilmore, says, “I may look genteel and refined, but I’m perfectly willing to ram this basketball up your left nostril without saying, ‘Excuse me.’”


THE UPPER LIP OF AUTHORITY
Thinking thirty years ahead, Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni sported this neatly-trimmed ‘stache, which tells players, “Make fun of me all you like…One day, I’ll be Coach of the Year.”


THE “WHAT THE — ?!”
As modeled by former Nets guard Mike Newlin, this, uh…unique…style says either, “I’ve forgotten to shave for the last seventeen years,” “I am Bigfoot’s nephew,” or, “I’m covering scars from a nasty knife fight,” we’re not sure which.

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On to more contemporary modes, which brings me to my conversation with Brian Skinner. I’ll set the scene: I approach Skinner after practice, moments before the Suns are to leave on a road trip. He’s due on the bus. But, good guy that he is, he makes time to talk fashion. I introduce myself as a Suns.com blogger, eager to get his opinion on my own Van Dyke (that’s what they call the beard/mustache-no sideburns thing). Our exchange goes something like this:
BRIAN SKINNER: It looks like it’s coming in pretty good. How long have you been growing it?

ADAM BEECHEN: Well…fourteen years.

BS: Oh. Uh…It’s definitely getting there.

AB: Based on your experience with just having the goatee, would you recommend I shave the mustache and just go with the chin-fuzz?

BS: Well, that all depends on the shape of your face…

AB: Uh huh, and with the shape of my face, what would you suggest?

BS: A ski mask. Just kidding! I think you’ve made the right choice with the Van Dyke.

AB: Okay, here’s one thing I’ve really been wondering. How do you get the beard to grow half black, half orange?

BS: Excuse me?

AB: I mean, I thought maybe it was diet-related, so I’ve been eating a lot of orange foods, like peaches, carrots, the boxed macaroni and cheese flavoring powder…Um, what else…?

BS: …Oranges?

AB: Oranges! Why didn’t I think of that? Let me write that down…

BS: I really have to be catching the team bus to the airport…

AB: Right, right…One more question: What does it take to have truly NBA-worthy facial hair?

BS: A chin on a head at the top of a 6’ 9”, 255-lb. body.

At which point, Mr. Skinner ran for the bus, which I’m told he made by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs New Orleans Hornets

The Suns have lost 3 out of their last 4 games and they have to play San Antonio on Monday and Dallas on Wednesday. If you read the message boards or most newspaper articles, you may think Phoenix is on its way to the draft lottery.

Despite all of the doomsday talk around town, the Phoenix Suns still have the third-best record in the league despite being tied for the most road games played so far this season. The two teams ahead of them in the standings (San Antonio and Boston) have played 4 less road games.

Of course, no one would argue the team has looked especially good over the past week. During the past four games the Suns have lost to Minnesota (3-19), Miami (6-17) and New Orleans (15-9). Over the next three games, they play San Antonio (18-5), Dallas (16-9) and Toronto (14-11). Phoenix still hasn’t won a game when they score under 100 points. San Antonio allows 93 ppg, Dallas allows 98 ppg and Toronto allows 95 ppg. Of course, Phoenix usually scores more than their opponent’s average. Needless to say, the next three games should be interesting.

Other trends in the Phoenix Suns’ world:

  • They are 11-3 when they get more blocks than their opponents
  • The Suns have out-blocked their opponents 149-87 this season
  • The Suns are 16-2 when they get over 42% of the total rebounds in the game. They are 0-5 when they get 42% or less of the total rebounds.

What do you think about the Suns so far this season? What trends have you noticed that we haven’t discussed yet? Feel free to leave the comments below or to e-mail blog@suns.com.

Suns Ace First Part of Test

The word on the street was that this was beginning of a character test stretch for the Suns, and while I’m not at all sure this is the case, one thing I AM sure of is that if it was they flat out aced the sucker.

 

Boris Diaw helped turn the tide for the Suns in the 4th quarter against the Jazz.
(NBAE Photos)
 

“Character” in hoops is supposed to be defined by defense and the Suns showed plenty of it last night to snap a two-game skid (trust me, for Suns fans even one loss qualifies as a “skid”.)

With the offense still struggling to find its rhythm and the team’s deadly three-point shooting looking more sickly than deadly (4-for-17), the Suns delivered one of their finer defensive efforts in recent memory — holding the league’s fifth highest scoring team to 98 points.

Although the Suns didn’t always defend the floor that well they defended the basket fiercely. Led by their two-man “Swat Squad” of Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, the Suns – who rank second only to Denver in this category – blocked 13 shots and their hustling defense set up 25 points off turnovers.

Amare had six of those blocks and Marion added another 5. Marion also had 26 points and 15 rebounds, and in Coach Mike’s words, defended Jazz star Carlos Boozer “about as well as he can be defended.”

And while Steve Nash lost a tooth via an inadvertent elbow from Boozer, he found his shooting touch, going 10 for 12 from the field and hitting three of his four 3-point attempts. In fact, take Nash out of the mix, and the Suns were 1-for-13 from downtown.

“We’re not flowing yet offensively,” said Coach Mike, “but we’re playing well enough to win.”

Well enough, indeed! The Suns are tied for the league lead in wins with 17, lead the league in scoring, and are a league-best 10-1 against teams with winning records.

Although the Big Three accounted for 73 of the team’s 103 points, the Suns also got significant contributions from several other players, most notably (and perhaps most encouragingly) from Boris Diaw.

Diaw, who has been semi-maligned for not living up to his promise he showed in a spectacular first year with the Suns, came through with a pair of tide-turning three-point plays in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, the first of which he set up with a couple of fierce offensive rebounds. And Grant Hill, who was only 2-for-10 from the field through the first three periods, also had a three-point play early in the last period and hit a jump shot with 1:36 to play to give the Suns a three-point lead.

This was the fifth straight loss for the Jazz, but don’t let that fool you. This is a much better team than that skid indicates and they just happen to have fallen into one of those funks that even the very best NBA teams fall into at least once during the long, long season. (Suns fans please note the previous sentence.) It also didn’t help that this was a back-to-back game for them and they were without 6-11 center Mehmet Okur, who had a strained a left trapezius (I don’t know what it is either, but it must smart).

This game kicked off a stretch in which the Suns visit New Orleans, San Antonio, and Dallas, play Toronto at home, and the Lakers in Los Angeles – but not to worry.

Off this outing against the Jazz, the Suns’ defense, energy, and work ethic are ready for the test.

The bottom line: I’ve never been among those who thought the sky was falling, or even thought it was cloudy for that matter. Although there have been a few funky moments here and there, this is, and has been from Day One, a very good team with a decent chance to win it all.

From the Locker Room to the Web: Suns.com Reporting 101

To openly plagiarize the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Working as a reporter for Suns.com for a game night at US Airways Center certainly has its ups and downs. Okay, make that one “down.” Being employed by the Suns, the usual media impartiality of covering a professional sporting event is admittedly a bit skewed to the home side. That being said, we obviously root for the team, but professionalism wins out, meaning most of our cheering stays on the inside when mingling with regular media (with the exceptions coming on those game-winning shots and wins). When you grow up a sports fan, suppressing those natural emotions to cheer along with every home three-pointer and slam dunk is a bit odd, but those disapproving looks from outside media keeps you in your place. Usually.

As with just about every area of the arena on a game night, plenty goes on before, during and after every event at the arena. And that’s includes Suns.com’s responsibilities covering the defending Pacific Division Champs. And that’s where “the best” happens. The website not only gets some pretty enviable access to the team on a season-long basis, it’s also a great chance to see the inner workings of an NBA game. And thankfully no night is ever exactly the same.

About 90 minutes before the start of a game, the media filters into the locker room to get player quotes about any breaking stories or in most cases try to work the room for any bits of info that can be used as fodder for their columns or newscasts later in the night. On Wednesday, the biggest questions making the rounds included the team’s concerns on dropping the last two games and the condition of Toronto’s T.J. Ford, who left Tuesday’s game in Atlanta on a stretcher with a neck injury.

For the players who dress in a hurry (either because they really want to hit the training room/court as soon as possible or they just want to high tail it out of there before the inevitable onslaught of voice recorders and cameras begins), they are usually long gone by the time media access begins.

For the late player arrivals and/or the slow dressers, they’re left to mentally prepare for the night’s action while handling media chit chat, getting in a quick snack and watching any one of the plethora of NBA games airing on the locker room big-screen TV.

If I owned a big screen TV as large as what’s in the player’s locker room, I’d probably take my time getting out of there, too. Still, the locker room tends to fill up quick, eliciting that familiar cry, “TV,” meaning you’re blocking some seven-footer’s view of the boob tube and you’d better get out of the way, right quick.

Sitting in on Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s pre-game press conferences reminds me of those basement scenes from the TV sitcom “That 70’s Show.” Of course there’s no drinking or smoking of any kind going on in there… then again I don’t remember Kelso, Hyde and Fez ever watching a countdown to tip off clock, either.

My point is, what there is a lot of in the coach’s office is hanging out. The media uses the allotted time to plant themselves on one of the couches and very informally ask the coach just about anything, and with D’Antoni you’ll get just about any answer possible. One of the most amiable coaches in the NBA (except maybe when a call doesn’t go his team’s way out on the floor), he holds court while flipping TV channels between the multiple other NBA games on the docket for the night. And no, this TV isn’t as big as the players’ version, but in there, the media know well enough not to block the view.

Some of what is discussed in there is “on the record,” meaning the media is allowed to run with it and attribute it to D’Antoni. Tonight’s gamut of topics included him praising Brian Skinner (“Brian’s fooled me. He’s better than I thought. We’ll put him out there more and see where it goes.”) and Jazz point guard Deron Williams (“He’s got the body, the shot… He’s got all the tools, except maybe experience, which he’s getting now.”), the Suns’ defense (“We just have to buckle down and guard somebody. It’s been like this for two years and it’s our biggest weakness… guarding and rebounding. Until we solve that problem, were going to have some ups and downs. Everybody knows that. We’ve improved some but the last two games we took a step back and it cost us.”) and a partial travel itinerary of Team USA Basketball next year (“Macao, Shanghai, Beijing… It’s tough.”)

And then there is the stuff which is “off the record,” too, which includes… well, I should probably save that for what will undoubtedly be a final blog entry at a later date.

I’ll spare you what happens during the game, especially since it’s very reminiscent of what the average NBA fan does – a lot of watching the game.

Win or lose, post-game press conferences are much more structured than what transpired before the game. They are held in a neutral room of the arena a few minutes after the final buzzer, where D’Antoni fields questions from the media on the game. No matter how well the Suns do on any given night, he usually always hints that there’s always room for improvement, but tonight he seemed pleased with the overall result that ended Phoenix’s two-game skid, especially on the topic of defense.

“There were some really good things, and it started on the defensive end,” he said after the Suns’ 103-98 win over the Jazz. “I thought we were active, and that’s what we need. We need guys who aren’t hesitating and are using their instincts – especially on defense. I thought the energy was there the whole night and low and behold we scored 36 points in the fourth quarter because of the energy and because of the way we played.”

And then the mad rush into the Suns locker room begins. The media jockeys for position for all the major players of the night, camping out at their respective lockers to break down the game. Fans of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” or the local sports segment of their favorite news channel know the drill, all too well.

From Amaré Stoudemire talking defense, “When I missed my first three shots I kind of figured I would step it up defensively. Tonight wasn’t quite my night shooting the ball from the field, but it happens that way sometimes and you just have to find a way to will it out defensively,” to Shawn Marion on a season-best 26 points and five blocked shots, “You can definitely score, but if you can get that big stop when you need to, it seals the win and makes it that much easier.”

As for Suns.com, well, the end of the post-game is the start of crunch time for us, whether we’re writing stories or posting game night videos. Not saddled with the same deadlines as those of most media outlets, our motivation is to get our content up on the website as soon as possible, and hopefully, as entertainingly as possible, too.

So, while I’m at it, I may as well wrap this up by lifting yet another very appropriate final line from that same Dickens novel: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Thankfully, my “rest” does not include a trip to the gallows like in the book. It’s of the sleep variety, and with that, “from the US Airways Center where the Suns beat the Jazz 103-98 tonight,” that’s a wrap.

Road Ramblings

I’d like to start this blog entry by taking a look at my Top 5 NBA cities, many of which were on the Suns’ latest road trip:

 

1) New York: Growing up in Long Island, it was always great returning home to play in front of my friends and family. We’ve had countless arenas come and go over the years, but Madison Square Garden is still standing. Everybody wants to play well under the bright lights of the Garden. I’d be going through lay-up lines, and guys I played against in high school would come down and say hello or just yell something out at me from the stands. There is no better place to play.

2) Indiana: It’s a little bit of a homecoming for me because I played college ball at Notre Dame, but I think Conseco Fieldhouse is by far the best basketball building out there. The atmosphere is unbelievable and the fans are really knowledgeable. They also appreciate the way the Suns play basketball.

3) Toronto: It is very similar to New York in that it is a very cosmopolitan city and the basketball culture is getting better. The food and the atmosphere in that city are outstanding.

4) Chicago: It is a terrific basketball city and the arena has some history to it because it is the “House That Michael Built.” Plus, I am a fan of the Midwest.

5) Boston: I hate the building, but love the tradition. It might be the worst building in the NBA, but Boston is still fantastic because legends like Red Auerbach and Larry Bird make up its championship history.

 

My honorable mention choice would be Seattle. They have a storied past, as well as excellent food and restaurants. And lastly, if we could get a team back there, Vancouver might crack my Top 5. It was so much fun going back there in the pre-season, especially when you have someone like Steve Nash on your team.

 

 

You never know who will be in the crowd at the Garden.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE Photos/Getty Images
 

 

New York Stories

 

Having just visited New York last week with the Suns, it made me recall some memorable stories from the road, one of which occurred during the 1992-93 season. We were facing the Knicks, and Charles Barkley was really getting into to it with an official named Eddie F. Rush. As Charles was going off, I was trying to stand between him and the ref. When the official started walking away, he went over a table in pursuit of Rush and I tried to tackle him. Unfortunately, my plan didn’t work out because he broke the tackle and I came up with a fistful of air. I looked up and saw Charles storming after the official into the locker room.

 

A good New York story comes from when I was playing with the Nuggets. After finishing our game at the Garden, I went out with some family and friends and stayed out pretty late. When I got back to my hotel room, I was so tired I just collapsed onto my bed, dead to the world. The next thing I knew, I woke up and the bus was already gone, so I had to hightail it to the airport in a cab. It was the only time I ever overslept in the NBA.

 

Back in my playing days, we used to always stay overnight in New York because we flew commercially. But now that we have charter flights in the league, coaches have tried to keep their players out of places where they might get into trouble. That’s why a lot of coaches don’t allow their teams to stay overnight in New York. They don’t want their guys out all hours of the night.

 

Although most teams adhere to that practice, the Suns did stay overnight during their recent visit. Everything was fine with our guys because we have a mature team. The players talk amongst themselves about being responsible and Steve Nash will talk to them about when they need to rest and when they can enjoy themselves a little bit. Not that there are many teams with a curfew in the NBA, but there is no need for one with the Suns. They are much better than most teams as far as taking care of their bodies.

 

Speaking of Steve, being on the road with him is a great experience. Since Steve spends his summers in New York, he has a few favorite joints that he likes to go to. This past week we went to one of his favorite restaurants in the East Village. All of the people at the restaurant love him and he even has a picture of himself in his soccer uniform hanging on the wall.

 

 

 

Nash always leads with a smile.
Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos/Getty
 

 

I talk about him all the time and people may get tired of it, but I don’t. People absolutely love him, but not just as a basketball player. They love him as this Canadian guy who loves to play rec-league soccer and goes to Greenwich Village because he’s not going to be recognized. He is like the Pied Piper on the team in that if he wants to go somewhere, everyone follows him. They follow him because they know he’s such a good guy and that they are going to have a great time.

 

Basketball fans love Amaré Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, but with Steve it’s different. He’s much more diverse in his fan base. His reach extends much further than basketball.

Basketball is just a microcosm of Steve’s influence on people. It’s very similar to what it was like being around Jordan and Barkley. They were all-encompassing, as well. But Charles was a little different though. Charles’ personality was so large and loud, whereas Steve is so laid-back and genuine. But they both had the same effect on people. Even kids that don’t know basketball know Steve Nash. That’s what’s amazing to me.

 

Road Blunders

 

Sometimes life on the road can get guys preoccupied, and that’s when blunders can happen. On this recent trip, the assistant coaches and I were walking into the freight elevator in Madison Square Garden. The freight elevator is quite large and is used to transport elephants for the circus, so it can fit at least 15 people. So all of us were crammed inside of the elevator, and all you heard was Dan D’Antoni yell out in disgust. It was at that point that he realized that he had forgotten his suit at the hotel.

 

It wasn’t so bad that he had forgotten his suit. In fact, he called his brother and had him bring it with him on the second bus. The problem was that he let everyone else in the elevator know that he did. With three games still left on the road trip, that’s not something he should have done. All he heard about for the rest of the trip was how he forgot his suit. He’s still hearing about it.

 

And although most blunders happen on the road, they can happen to a home team, too. When we visited Minnesota last week, we noticed something off with Wolves guard Marko Jaric. He came out of the tunnel and onto the court with his uniform top on backwards. You never know what’s going to happen next in the NBA, so check in soon for the latest and greatest……

A Reunion with Penny

One of my former co-workers used to give me a hard time, saying that I didn’t know anything about the NBA, pre-Penny Hardaway. While that was a bit of an exaggeration, Penny was one of my favorite players to watch in the mid-90s during his heyday with the Orlando Magic.

The “special edition” cover of Fastbreak

(NBAE Photos)

I loved his smooth and explosive, inside-outside game. I loved his pairing with Shaquille O’Neal; together the NBA’s version of peanut butter and jelly. And who didn’t love those Li’l Penny commercials? Those are still all-time classics.

If you happened to read my Citizen profile on PlanetOrange.net, you might have noticed that listed “Recruiting Penny” as one of my all-time favorite Suns moments. It was the first time I was ever asked to help our basketball operations staff attempt to lure a free-agent to Phoenix, which was a thrill in itself. But hearing my then-hoops hero acknowledge that the fake Suns magazine we put together with Penny and Jason Kidd (Backcourt 2000) on the cover really made him feel wanted by the Suns? That was a moment I won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, Penny’s career in Phoenix wasn’t what we had all hoped. Or what he had hoped for that matter, after tattooing “Part 2, Heaven Cent” on his bicep. He had a great playoffs in 2000, leading the Suns in scoring, but was hampered by knee problems the rest of his time in purple and orange.

Injuries continued to follow him to New York, after the Suns traded him and Stephon Marbury to the Knicks in 2004, and had seemingly ended his career in 2006. Although I don’t even remember hearing about it, Hardaway was apparently traded back to Orlando in Feb ’06, only to be waived and find himself out of the league.

After playing just four games in 2005-06 and sitting out the entire ’06-2007 season, Hardaway is back at age 36 for one more go-around, having earned a roster spot with the Miami Heat. While it’s not the comeback story of his teammate Alonzo Mourning or the Suns’ Grant Hill, Penny has fought his way back into the Association and I, for one, am happy to see it.

I caught up with the Heat veteran, always a great interview and a class act, for a quick Q&A before tonight’s game.

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McPeek: How does it feel to be back in the league after a year away?
Hardaway: It feels good, man. It’s a blessing because so many people had given up on me. That’s always the easy thing to do, but I felt in my heart that I wasn’t finished yet, so that’s why I continued to proceed to go out there and work hard, and try to get back to the league.

McPeek: How did you spend the past year?
Hardaway: I was just working out. That’s all I did. I just focused on working out every day, because I was so hungry and really wanted to get back into the NBA. It was very hard to be away, because I felt like I deserved to be back.

My name was so big back in the day that I think it kind of came back to haunt me. When I wanted to get back in the league last year, I think a lot of teams just didn’t want to take that chance. But I’ve proven to teams that I’m healthy. Hopefully I’ll get that respect that I never gave up and I got back.

McPeek: Did you have any doubts yourself as to whether or not you would make it back?
Hardaway: Before I had surgery about a year and a half ago, I did have doubts, because I felt like, “If this is where my knee is, I’m not going to be able to play.” Luckily I found out that there was a bone spur lodged in the back of my leg and removing that allowed me to get back on the floor.

McPeek: Do you cherish this opportunity even more now?
Hardaway: I do. I’m enjoying it. It’s such a different league, man. There are so many great young guys. But it’s still an opportunity to be back out on the floor and to have as much fun as possible.

McPeek: How strange is it teaming up with Shaquille O’Neal again?
Hardaway: It’s strange and fun. It’s something that I didn’t think would ever happen again in our careers, but you never say never. This season started out really bad with our record, but it’s still been a pleasure playing with him again.

McPeek: How does it feel to come back and play another game in Phoenix, where you spent several years of your career?
Hardaway: It feels great. I still have lots of friends here and I still come back here during the summer time and play golf. I still love Phoenix. You know, it’s a spot that I really didn’t want to leave, but unfortunately I got included in a trade with Steph. I went to New York and that didn’t work out, but now like I said, I’m back.

McPeek: What are your thoughts on this Suns team?
Hardaway: A great team. I mean, Coach D’Antoni has done such a great job. I knew how smart he was when he was an assistant coach and then became head coach with us. I knew his mind was just unlike any coach that I had ever played for because he’s offensively amazing. He’s just a great coach.

McPeek: There are still several players on this Suns team that you played with, but how happy are you for Leandro Barbosa with the growth that he has made in the years since you were teammates.
Hardaway: That’s my boy. He’s a man now. He’s learned how to play the game. He had a lot of help with (assistant coaches) Phil Weber, Coach Grgurich when he was here, and I guess that Coach D’Antoni’s brother has really helped him. His natural-born talent was always good, but he just needed some help, and he listened well and learned well.

McPeek: Lastly, I’ve got to ask you about Amaré Stoudemire, who underwent a micro fracture procedure on his knee in 2004, a few months after you were traded to New York. Having gone through that surgery yourself, what was your reaction when you heard and did you share any advice with Amaré afterwards?
Hardaway: Yeah, I spoke to him a lot during that time as he was coming back from the micro fracture. I just told him to stay patient. It’s frustrating and you don’t understand the injury, and it’s just hard to come back from. But you have to be patient with it, and now he’s overcome it really well.

I’m happy to see it. Amaré is a good guy and he has become a great player, which we all knew he could be. He’s fought through his injuries and is playing well.

By the Numbers: Phoenix Suns vs Toronto Raptors

The Suns are on a 4 game win streak and have averaged 120 points during those 4 games. They have shot 54% while allowing 49% shooting.

Individual players have also stepped up their game during this current streak. For instance:

  • Raja Bell had been averaging 9.9 points per game through the first 15 games of the season (he didn’t play all of those games due to injuries). Over the 4-game win streak, he has averaged over 16 points per game.
  • Steve Nash averaged 10.6 assists per game in the first 15 games. He has averaged 16 in the winning streak
  • Amare Stoudemire averaged 8.25 rebounds before the current streak and 10.25 rebounds during the 4-game streak.

And despite “common knowledge” that seems to be floating around the message boards during this streak, the minutes for the starters have not gone up during this current streak. In fact, except for Amare Stoudemire, who increased 7 minutes per game during this streak, Steve Nash is the only other starter who increased minutes at all (less than one minute).

This leads me directly into the next analysis that I have done regarding the league. I have heard from friends and read on blogs and message boards that the Suns are playing their starters a lot more minutes than most teams and that Coach D’Antoni’s rotation is much more limited than most of the teams in the league. I finally decided to do some analysis on this to try and settle it once and for all. There are two steps that I am doing in this analysis. The first part will be today when I look at all of the teams in the league and determine where the Suns stand in number of “regular players” and total minutes for the top 5 players on the team. After Friday’s game, I will show an analysis of just the playoff teams from the 2006-202007 season to determine what the best teams in the league did regarding their lineups and where Phoenix was ranked in that group.

First, I need to explain how I came up with these numbers. After thinking about it for awhile, I figured that to count a player as a “regular”, he would need to play in at least two-thirds of his team’s games. To make things go a little quicker, I counted both DNP-Coach’s Decision and DNP-Injury as a non-played game. So players that dressed and just didn’t play are counted the same as players who didn’t dress (like Dwayne Wade because of injury or Stephen Jackson because of suspension).

I also decided that a player would need to average at least 12 minutes per game to be counted as a regular player. If he only averages 3 minutes per game, that doesn’t allow the player to make a significant contribution to the team’s win or loss so I didn’t count him as a “regular.” So if a team played 18 games, a player on that team would have needed to average 12 minutes or more in at least 12 of the games to be counted as a “regular player” in this analysis.

Here’s what I found:

6 regulars – 2 teams
7 regulars – 3 teams
8 regulars – 10 teams
9 regulars – 12 teams
10 regulars – 3 teams

Just off the top of your head after looking at this breakdown, where do you think the Suns stand in the list? From what I have heard and read lately, it seems like most people would think the Suns are in the 7 regulars section. Actually, they fall in the 8 regulars section.

The next thing I did was add up the minutes of the top 5 players on each team. This could be either starters or non-starters. It’s really just the 5 players on the team who get the most minutes. So if a team started a certain player because he was tall and always got the jump ball but only played him 13 minutes per game, he would not be counted in the total. On the other hand, if a 6th man played 40 minutes per game and he was in the top 5 minutes played on his team, he would be counted. I did this to find out where in the 10 teams the Suns ranked. I figured if the top 5 players played more minutes, that would leave less minutes for the other regulars.

Of the 10 teams that had 8 regulars, the Suns top 5 played more minutes than 8 of them. So in my analysis, the Suns are in the bottom third of the teams regarding rotations and the distribution of minutes between players. But what does this all mean? Does playing more players give you a better chance of winning the championship? Does distributing the minutes better allow a team get further in the playoffs?

I’ll have more on that in Friday’s ‘By the Numbers.’ Until then, enjoy the Suns’ 4 game win streak and feel free to e-mail me at blog@suns.com or leave a comment below if you disagree with how I did the analysis or if you have any suggestions on how I can look at these numbers better.

Glory Road – TV Life on the NBA Road

In case you were wondering about the glorious life of NBA travel, here’s a 2-day timeline for December 4 & 5:

Steve Nash had 18 assists when he visited his home country of Canada. 

(NBAE Photos)

Indianapolis, Indiana
8:00am – wake up, surf the usual hoops related sites (HoopsHype, ESPN.com, azcentral.com, usatoday.com) and rifle through recent press clippings and game notes for the Suns / Pacers game tonight.

9:30am – call Tom Leander to discuss our pregame topics for the broadcast. As I indicated in my blog entry from Nov. 20th – live sports is completely unpredictable and we plan only the first 10 minutes of the show. The rest is up to the players and coaches with the TV crew doing our best to stay on top of everything as it unfolds.

10:00am – finish research and note prep for the game and get ready for the day.

11:30am – hop a cab with Tom and Dan Siekmann (Suns director of broadcasting) to grab a quick, greasy bite at White Castle. I’m not much of a fast food guy, but having visited my family in Chicago so much growing up, I can’t pass up a chance for a bag of Sliders. Anyone from the Midwest knows my weakness. As well as In and Out Burger has done since opening up locations in Phoenix, I have seriously thought about trying to acquire a White Castle franchise for the Valley. With all the Chicago transplants, how could it not be a license to print money? I’m keeping it as a back up plan in case this TV thing doesn’t work out.

12:40pm – check out of the hotel, load up our equipment and hop a cab to Conseco Fieldhouse. This is the coolest looking arena in the NBA – inside and out. The design fits the name, with red brick and green steel construction giving it the feel of a Midwest fieldhouse even when it has 18,000 rabid Indy fans screaming for their Pacers. It is a perfect match for the capital city of a state that has had a love affair with the game of basketball (at every level) for over a century. Their PA announcer begins the introductions by saying something like “In 49 states it’s just a game, but this is Indiana!”

1:00pm – crew arrives at the arena and we begin setting up all of our equipment, computer networks, etc. that will make our broadcast look as good as it did in NY two nights before. We hire a local crew and TV truck from which to work in each city and we spend the next 3 hours or so teaching them the things that are unique to a Suns broadcast (music, graphics, video tape elements) and a little about our team and the storylines we’ll be watching for.

4:30pm – after building graphics and editing highlight packages for the last 3 hours, time for dinner in the Pacers’ media lounge: chicken, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes and salad on the docket tonight. Not too bad as free food goes.

5:30pm – return to the TV truck, finish editing tonight’s tease (first thing you see at the top of the broadcast – tonight it’s about the Suns being dominant against the Eastern Conference, Grant Hill’s big night in NY and Jim O’Brien taking over as coach of the Pacers)

6:00pm – confirm our transmission lines with Phoenix and check in with the studio pregame show, Suns Gametime. Tom gets seated and all the announcers talk back and forth to make sure everyone can hear everybody else.

6:30pm – on the air in Phoenix, Tom stands by to be part of the first segment of Gametime. Dan Majerle will follow in segment 2.

7:00pm – We’re on the air live from Indianapolis! The workday that began about 11 hours earlier now reaches its peak.

9:13pm – Steve Nash hits a 3 that buries the Pacers. I’d say it was an amazing shot, but I run out of ways to describe what Nash does. It would be amazing if I hadn’t already seen him do it about 20 times in the last 3 plus seasons.

10:00pm – after a post-game interview with a happy Amaré Stoudemire, we pack up all the equipment that we set up just a few hours earlier, move it to the team bus and load up for the airport.

10:30pm – head through security where all our carry-on bags are checked and we are wanded (do they think we’re going to sabotage our own plane?) Tonight we are heading to Toronto, so the security is pretty tight since it will be an international flight. On the plane we’ll be given customs declarations paperwork to fill out and need to show our passports upon landing at the Toronto airport.

12:00am – after waiting on the ground (not sure why) and watching the snow come down, the plane is de-iced and we take off for Canada.

1:30am – touchdown in Toronto, Ontario. It’s not snowing but it has been recently. The airport is in the middle of nowhere, about 45 minutes from downtown. By the time we arrive and I get my bags up to my room, it’s almost 3:00am.

9:30am – alarm clock rings and I fight the urge to throw it across the room. It can’t be morning already. I stay in bed until about 10:00 trying to get motivated to do something and questioning my choice of career. Selling insurance suddenly doesn’t sound too bad.

11:00am – call Tom (didn’t I just do this?) to confirm the topics for tonight’s broadcast that we talked about on the plane last night. It’s always interesting when we come up to Toronto because Nash is such an icon here. He is referred to as CanJe – or Canadian Jesus – because of his cult following in the great white north. As I crack open the Globe and Mail, it occurs to me that this is the first time we’ve been here that Steve Nash’s face wasn’t plastered all over the newspaper. I guess it’s human nature to get used to things or take them for granted.

12:40pm – check out of hotel, load up gear into our cab and head for the Air Canada Centre. Not as cool as Conseco Fieldhouse, but it has its own charm. It’s a HUGE building and seems to work well for either hockey or basketball – a rarity for multi-purpose arenas.

1:00pm – meet with crew and truck personnel. Toronto is one of my favorite cities to broadcast out of. People are highly qualified, hard working and have great attitudes, and the equipment is fantastic as well.

4:30pm – more media room food after another afternoon of editing and general pre-production (what we do before we go on the air). Pasta tonight – again, not bad. Sometimes you just want to eat.

5:30pm – brief meeting with Leo Rautins, the Raptors announcer who will be part of our analyst swap tonight. Leo played on some pretty good Syracuse teams in the early 80s before a journeyman professional career. He’ll give some good insight into the Raptors rebuilding process and some keen insight on Nash – his good friend. Rautins is the coach of the Canadian National team and is heavily recruiting Nash to play for team Canada. More on that during the broadcast.

6:15pm – after some minor transmission problems, we connect with Phoenix and all the announcers (Kevin Ray, Tom Chambers, Tom Leander) get the chance to talk a little before Suns Gametime.

7:40pm – Rautins joins our broadcast in the trade for Majerle. This trade has become one of my favorite parts of our broadcast. As much as we don’t like to give up Majerle or EJ, Rautins brought great perspective and stories. He spoke of his (and Samuel Dalembert’s) recruitment of Nash to play for team Canada one last time and how watching LB drain 3’s from everywhere gave him flashbacks of team Brazil’s win over Canada this summer. He also interrupted himself mid-sentence to fawn over a power jam by Amaré – “I love how that guy plays!”

10:15pm – a 45-point 3rd quarter opens the floodgates and ends the Raptors’ night. We board the bus and head to Toronto airport to go through customs and hop our flight to the nation’s capital.

11:40pm – flight leaves Toronto. The fellas seem in a particularly good mood tonight. The card game is louder than usual and the table is full. Everyone seems satisfied with having started the road trip 3-0. Mike D’Antoni has stressed to his team since training camp that winning a championship is a process that should be enjoyed, not a destination to be sought. It’s nice to see the players heeding that advice – they really seemed to have fun tonight.

12:40am – we land at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, wearily climb aboard the bus for another one of the longer rides from airport to hotel. I can barely keep my eyes open.

1:45am – arrive at the hotel. We stay in Georgetown, just a mile and a half from the White House. Still can’t think of anything but hitting the rack. No game tomorrow (thank God!) so I’ll catch up on sleep and start the whole process over with games against the Wizards on Friday and the Timberwolves on Saturday.

Long days, short nights – those of us who televise sporting events are used to it. And I don’t know any other group of people that enjoy their careers as much as we do. See you on TV.