The Sun Sets on the 2008-09 Season

Both co-captains expressed a desire to return to Phoenix. (Barry Gossage/NBAE/Images)

Both co-captains expressed a desire to return to Phoenix. (Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty)

If you looked towards the Suns’ horizon last night, you couldn’t tell if you were looking at a sunrise or sunset. Despite not making the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season, the arena contained more positivity and optimism than it did despair. [Read more...]

Tucker On 2008-09 Season, Summer Plans

Alando Tucker scored 16 points for the Suns in his first career start.

First of all, I just want to say thank you out there to all the fans. You guys really stood by us through some tough times this season, and even in those final games where we knew we were out of the playoffs, you still came out and supported us and that means a lot to all the guys on this team. [Read more...]

End of Season Brings Many Questions

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Summing up the season in the past tense of a currently popular catchall, it was what it was.

The Suns spent the first half of it in search of their identity, before deciding that whoever they were they weren’t Terry Porter. And while blaming him for the team’s struggles is unfair, the switch to Alvin Gentry clearly lightened the mood enough to let them go back to being who they once were. And it would be surprising if he isn’t retained as head coach.

Along a decidedly bumpy road there were some good times, some bad times, and a few downright ugly times. But with Gentry, the Suns were once again the best offensive team in the league, and that’s certainly something to build on. And it also suggests making wholesale changes in the roster would be inadvisable.

While Gentry stopped considerably short of assuring that this won’t happen, he did identify “consistency” and “accountability” as essential cornerstones for improvement, and stated bluntly, “We HAVE to get better on defense”. Mind you, he didn’t say they had to get good on defense. Just better.

“With the offense we have,” he says, “we don’t have to have a real good defense. But we do have to be able to make a few stops late and keep teams from driving down the lane for wide open lay-ups.”

If this sounds like déjà vu all over again, it’s only because these were exactly the same things the Suns were saying at the end of LAST year, year. And frankly, they came up a few tads short on all three fronts.

Where Coach Alvin stopped short was that, in answering a direct question as to whether or not these goals are achievable with current personnel, or major changes have to be made, he said, “That’s something that will have to be evaluated.”

Amen! And let the evaluating (and the rumors) begin.

Shaq Gets "Punk'd" by Lou

<br><strong>Shaq may look serene here, but Lou is in trouble. (Josh Greene/</strong>

Shaq may look serene here, but Lou is in trouble. (Josh Greene/

I never saw the resemblance between Suns forward Louis Amundson and famous prankster Ashton Kutcher until Tuesday, when the ponytailed reserve decided to punk the “Master of Mischief” himself, Shaquille O’Neal. [Read more...]

Suns Win 8th Straight at Home

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Next year (as in wait ‘til) has come a little early this year for the Suns. Their off-season will officially arrive at the close of business Wednesday evening, and the record will likely show that they posted a 46-36 record, closed out the year with nine straight home wins, and led the NBA in scoring and field goal accuracy.

Not all THAT shabby, in other words.

But these are the kind of honors that ring hollow in view of failed pre-season expectations and wasted late-season opportunities for a reprieve. In fact, they remind me of what the man said as he was being ridden out of town on a rail in the Old West:

“If it wasn’t for the honor,” he blurted, “I’d just as soon walk.”

It’s true that missing the playoffs is as much a matter of geography as bad defense and/or bad karma. Their record would be good for a fourth seed in the East, but all it got them in the West was bupkus. To make matters worse, it was their third bupkus, having “won” the “award” with 48-34 in 70-71 and 49-33 in 71-72.

It’s also true that losing Amare Stoudemire halfway through the season was a much more damaging blow than many, encouraged by the spectacular success the Suns enjoyed the last time Amare went down, didn’t fully appreciate at first.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact the Suns are at a crossroads, with problems lurking down whichever path they decided to take. Do they unload their aging stars and start over, or do they try to build on what they have? And would either direction take them back to where they could at least see the promised land.

Don’t look at me for answers. All I’ve got are questions. But in the interest of full disclosure, I feel less optimistic about this franchise’s future than I have in more than half a decade.

I do know one thing for sure. Trading either Steve Nash or Amar’e Stoudemire makes no basketball sense whatsoever, unless in the highly unlikely event, it would bring approximately equal talent in return. We are talking about one guy who remains one of the best point guards in the league and another whose offensive upside ranks him among the premier talents. The only caveat on Amar’e is health, with his knee and eye problems making him something of a risk (but of course this lowers his trade value).

And the West doesn’t figure to get any easier any time soon. San Antonio may finally have crested, and Dallas has issues. But the Lakers will still be the Lakers, and Portland is on the rise. So, believe it or not, is Oklahoma City. And New Orleans, Denver, and Houston still have some future ahead of them.

The bottom line: I think I’ll just leave it blank for now

Matt Barnes Says Goodbye to 2008-09 Season

Matt Barnes lists playing with Grant Hill among his highlights of the 2008-09 season.

Hey fans, just wanted to make sure I check back in with you before this 2008-09 season comes to an end. You know, it’s kind of tough to swallow, having all of the talent we have here and to still be going home in a couple of days. I know the team is frustrated but right now our focus is on finishing the season strong. We owe that to our fans and want to be able to give the young guys a little bit of time to play. [Read more...]

Hill Likens Dallas Game to World Cup Final

This is the guy I would want on my team for a World Cup Final. (Jeff Vinnick/NBAE/Getty Images)

This is the guy I would want on my team for a World Cup Final.
(Jeff Vinnick/NBAE/Getty Images)

After calling the Suns matchup against the Mavs in Phoenix on March 10 the “Super Bowl,” Grant Hill upped the ante by referring to this Sunday’s showdown against the Mavs as the “World Cup.” [Read more...]

Nash & Co Keep Hopes Alive with Win Against Rockets

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

His brilliance tends to get lost amidst all the fussing and fuming about this decidedly up and down (and nearly out) season, but some nights Steve Nash’s artistry not only reminds us of how much he has meant to this franchise over the years but demonstrates just how much he still does.

This was one of those nights. A night when the artistry that made him a two-time MVP and sure fire Hall of Famer engineered a victory that preserved whatever playoff hopes the Suns still have.

Nash had 25 points, and 17 assists (and only 1 turnover), but as usual when he’s at his brilliant best, those scintillating numbers actually understate his masterful game management and clutch play down the stretch, and once again served as a reminder of what a total disaster the Suns would be without him.

Nash had nine of his points in the last 5 minutes of the fourth period, and he sealed the victory with a three-pointer, a medium jumper and a steal in two-minute span after the Suns had erased a seven-point deficit with a 15-0 run.

During this winter of fan discontent even Nash caught some heat, especially about his defense, although carping about Nash’s defensive limitations has always struck me like grumbling that Heifetz was a lousy piano player.

The other two members of the Suns’ Over The Hill Gang also made major contributions in a win that kept the Suns within mathematical range of the Mavericks (but also rubbed salt in what may turn out to have been a fatal wound incurred against lowly Sacramento). Shaquille O’Neal battled Yao Ming to a virtual draw and Grant Hill hit 10 of 13 shots from the field.

In a sense this game was the proverbial microcosm of the season for the Suns, which is to say that parts of the time they looked like a seed that could take out anybody and in other parts like a lottery lock.

This was their sixth straight home victory, four coming against playoff teams, and they have led the league in scoring and points in the paint by a wide margin since the All-Star break even with two of their most explosive scorers in street clothes. But unless Dallas loses at least four of its last seven games all this gold will not glitter even if the Suns meet Coach Alvin’s stated goal of running the table.

In fact, much of the local buzz has already shifted to who will go and who will stay, and whether the Suns should try to keep their core group together or tear everything down and start over.

The bottom line: One thing to keep in mind is that “disaster” is definitely relative. The Suns will almost surely win 45 or 46 games, which might very well be good for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in the East. On the other hand, even 47 wins might not be good enough to get into the playoffs in the West. But alas, the Suns have sort of been there done that. The 1970-71 team missed the cut with 48 wins, and the ’71-72 team missed it with 49 wins.

LB Optimistic About Returning Against Kings

(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

As the Suns make their run for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they could receive a little aid from someone whose specialty is running. Scoring guard Leandro Barbosa is expected to return to the lineup tonight as Phoenix welcomes the last-place Kings. [Read more...]