2009-10 record: 54-28
How it ended: Quite surprisingly, as a team that no one expected to make the playoffs advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals, before losing to the eventual world champion Lakers in six games. Still, you could make the case that the Suns were the second-best team to reach the NBA’s Final Four last season.
Coach: It’s a well-known fact that the guys thoroughly enjoy playing for Alvin Gentry, and in the NBA, that can carry you a long way. Especially since the Suns have adopted many of Gentry’s traits — by playing with confidence, intelligence, chemistry and professionalism.
Arrivals: F Hedo Turkoglu, F Hakim Warrick, G/F Josh Childress, F Gani Lawal, G Matt Janning,
Departures: C/F Amare Stoudemire, G Leandro Barbosa, C Jarron Collins, C Dwayne Jones
Projected starters: F Turkoglu, F Grant Hill, C Robin Lopez, G Jason Richardson, G Steve Nash
Position battles: Considering the Suns consist of a bunch of interchangeable parts who can play a variety of positions (as usual), there really aren’t many positions battles, per se. So jockeying for playing time will be less of a “battle” between multiple players and more of an audition to see who can play the most positions. For instance, Turkoglu may get more minutes at power forward than Warrick and Channing Frye one game, and less the next. A lot will depend on matchups and for the Suns, who is hot.
Chemistry experiment: The loss of Stoudemire won’t change much when it comes to Gentry’s philosophy, but it will alter the Suns’ approach considerably. Basically, they are more of an outside team than ever, with no proven low-post options (although Lopez is getting there). And you know what they say about trying to live by the jump shot. Still, if the ball movement is as quick as expected, and Turkoglu adds an extra strong passer as expected, then this could be another season of fun. It will just have be a different kind of fun.
Best case: The ball keeps moving, the outside shots keep falling, and the Suns remain one of the league’s most well-conditioned teams, leaving opponents gasping for air in the crucial closing moments. If all that takes place, another second-place Pacific Division is certainly within reach.
Worst case: Nash (36) and Hill (38) finally start to show their age, Turkoglu displays the type of inconsistency that indicate his best years are behind him, and other newbies such as Childress and Warrick fail to keep up in the fast-paced system.
Prediction: When it comes to predicting the Suns, well, there really is no proven formula. In the years they are expected to struggle, they flourish instead. Other times, when you finally start to believe they’re really on to something, they take a small step back. So the safe pick is to assume the Suns will finish somewhere in between. That way, when they overachieve you get to say, “See? I told you so.”