Shaq Shines

The buzzword around the Suns these days is “Patience.”  It will be a process and a journey with a brand new system implemented by Terry Porter.  There are times when the team struggles with the new half-court sets and the “push your man baseline” defensive concepts.  But through repetition and commitment to The Porter Principles, you can see progress every day.  And the model student at class is one of the oldest:  Shaquille O’Neal. [Read more...]

Nash hopes to play beyond current contract

So I just returned from two days in Tucson and here are some early impressions of training camp:

  • Terry Porter has instantly placed his imprint on this team with a no-nonsense approach which will make this a tougher team mentally and physically.
  • Terry is drilling the team on defensive fundamentals and even putting the guys through defensive slide drills!  (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Shaq do the same drills we all did back in high school!)
  • Matt Barnes was the offensive star of the scrimmage last night at St. Gregory’s High School. He has a very quick release and showed off his accuracy from faraway. [Read more...]

Catching a Draft


Steve Nash is congratulated by Commissioner David Stern on draft night in 1996.  (NBAE Photos)

You have a ticket to see and hear the real scoop on NBA hopefuls from the perspective of Suns GMs, coaches and scouts.

I have witnessed some shrewd moves like the drafting of Michael Finley at #21 overall in the first round of the 1995 draft. The Suns fell in love with his fire and athletic skills during the Desert Classic showcase camp here in Phoenix. In 1999 the Suns headquarters were at Bank One Ballpark and we were all stunned when they snagged a wiry kid out of Vegas named Shawn Marion. That pick along with the year they chose Amare (also at #9) were examples of the “misdirection” our staff created leading up to the draft. Even those of us close to the team were choking through the smoke screen and led to believe they had eyes on another player. In 2002 the Suns brought Jared Jeffries in for a second workout and interview. All the while, they were craving and hoping for Amare to still be there at #9, and thanks to the Clippers choosing Chris Wilcox 8th, Stat was indeed available. We can also thank Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe for taking Nene and Nikoloz Tskitishvili ahead of Amare as well! [Read more...]

Shaq Trade Generating Lots of Exposure Already

Shaquille O’Neal will bring buzz, exposure and basketball frenzy back to the Valley. (NBAE Photos)

Charles took non-NBA fans and turned them into basketball fanatics who couldn’t wait to watch the next Suns game and witness the next unpredictable move by Sir Charles.

I also felt it was a curse because when Barkley left for Houston it was my belief that the Suns would never be able to generate that kind of passion, that kind of exposure, that kind of basketball frenzy ever again.

Well here we are witnessing the Second Coming with Shaq. His press conference and arrival in Phoenix has been met with a Barkley-like Buzz along with the skepticism which will only fuel the drama as this titanic trade plays out. Media outlets locally and nationally carried his press party live. Radio stations phones are lighting-up. The internet blogs are overflowing with “expert” opinions and predictions of whether this gamble by the Suns will pay off.

In my mind, it has already paid off in terms of interest and intrigue world-wide! Shaq flashed his flamboyant personality–displaying his wit, his playfulness, and his overall magnetic appeal. And like one of his vicious power james, he hammered home the message of leading this team to its first NBA title, all the while making the critics “eat their words.” Shaq is resolute about taking Amare to the next level and making Raja Bell an even better shooter. He stopped just short of guaranteeing a championship, but added that guarantee could come after a few practices with his new team.

This is one dynamic player and personality who has taken all 3 of his previous teams to the NBA Finals. Is he the same player he was even two years ago? Maybe not, but he doesn’t have to be when surrounded by Nash, Amare, Grant Hill, Raja, Barbosa and Diaw. Think about opposing coaches game-planning for this double-barreled attack. The Suns can now dismantle opponents with their speed game and new-found power play.

Believe me, I know what Shawn Marion provided. As I’ve said in the past, he covered more real estate than Century 21 and was the quintessential Sun in Mike D’Antoni’s system. But in the end, he wanted out. He asked to be traded. He could have opted-out and walked away after this season leaving the Suns with nothing in return. So the Suns made the bold move, and it’s no disgrace to be dealt for quite possibly the most dominating big man this league has ever seen. Now we will see if this roll of the dice works on the court. It’s NBA theatre at its best featuring the Biggest (and hopefully Baddest) star this league has to offer. Tune in to the Shaq and Awe of Suns basketball. I’m sure you will!!

Tom's Top 5

 

Joe Kleine is on Tom Leander’s First Team of top per-sun-alities. (NBAE Photos)

Well, I figured we know the great performers on the court, but what about off the court. Since joining the Suns in 1993 as a studio host, many colorful characters have come and gone. I have intereacted with these players through various interviews and features for our pregame show, Suns Gametime. Also, for the last 5 years, I have been travelling with the team, and you really get to know a guy while 35 thousand feet in the air amidst wicked turbulence!

So I am submitting my own Top 5 with the caveat that my 3 broadcasting partners(TC, Thunder and EJ) are ineligible because they are obvious “shoe-ins” and then I’d have only two spots left! Also, I am disqualifying two of my all-time favorites–Hawk and Van(Dick Van Arsdale)–because they have received so many honors(Ring of Honor, Hall of Fame etc.)that making my list would be like Angelina Jolie winning a State Fair beauty contest.

So here goes…

Tom’s Top 5 “Per-Sun-alities” [Read more...]

Gameday Countdown

I am asked many times what it’s like travel with the teams and visit such great cities. The truth be told, I actually spend 90% of my time in the hotel room either reading or prepping for the upcoming game.

Preparing for a game such as Phoenix vs Dallas is quite a lot of work. 

(NBAE Photos)

For example, last night I worked until about 1:30am and then today in Dallas I woke-up and immediately hit the internet(okay, after grabbing a 3 shot grande gingerbread latte at the downstairs Starbucks!). The best sites for hoop junkies are “Hoops Hype”, ESPN.com NBA, NBA.com and of course our very own Phoenix Suns website. I also jump on azcentral.com to see what Paul Coro has written about the team. We also receive daily clips from Julie Fie, the Suns Media Relations Director. Then it’s onto the local papers(Dallas Morning News this morning) along with USA Today, which had a great spread on Grant Hill written by Greg Boeck. All of that reading and note-taking eats-up about 2 hours of my morning.

It was then onto a quick lunch across the street at one of the best sandwich shops in the country: Potbelly’s. Awesome sandwiches! Today I had lunch with our producer Bob Adlhoch, who turned *#&% today(sorry, he’s sensitive about his age). We talked shop and shopping–ideas for the game tonight and if we had finished our holiday shopping. Hah!

Then back to the hotel room for 3 more hours of prep. I have a jam-packed file on every team in the league. It’s stuffed with notes and various articles I have clipped over the past few years. It’s a great resource and includes more than just the numbers that you would find in the game notes. I put my two, large roster sheets together with those notes, anecdotes and pertinent stats. Then I compile a list of “topical cards” with some sideline stories. For instance, tonight I have one on Paul Westphal, the new assistant for the Mavs and the man who coached the Suns to the Finals in ’93. I also have one on the hot topic here in Dallas: “Romo’s Romance.” Funny stuff with Cowboys QB Tony Romo and his new flame Jessica Simpson. She was at the Cowboys’ last game and he bombed, so fans and even Terrell Owens want her out of the picture. That’s sure to get a comment from Dan Majerle. I always try to come-up with a couple “unique” topics that Dan can run with!

So after about 5 hours of prep in the room, it’s off to the fitness enter to clear the head. Then I’ll pack-up and head off to the arena where it’s time to talk to some of the broadcasters, coaches and players for last-minute material. Hope you all enjoy the show. The Suns and Mavs never disappoint!

Sights and Sounds from the Road

With the Knicks in the bag, we have now landed in Indianapolis. It was a sobering win in New York when we all heard on the bus about Stephon Marbury’s father passing away. His dad was at the game last night and then left for the hospital with chest pains.

Amaré Stoudemire and Grant Hill are working together to bring about a successful season. 

(NBAE Photos)

Steph was notified in the lockeroom after the game that a heart attack apparently took his father’s life. Another bizarre and tragic chapter to Marbury’s emotional ride with the Knicks. And though during his stay in Phoenix he didn’t endear himself to many within the Suns organization, I certainly hope he can find some peace and strength in his life. It certainly makes you stop and begin to appreciate what you have in life and even in a basketball team.

As the Suns continue to roll along with one of the best records in the league, they are doing so in workman-like fashion. There is not a lot of levity or collegiate enthusiasm with this squad. The veterans have been through the paces before and don’t get too high after wins, or too low after the few losses they’ve sustained. Mike D’Antoni has talked about the need for added enthusiasm and energy with this team, but right now their talent is carrying them through the early-season battles. Make no mistake, the chemistry is good on this team, but let’s face it: the fans, the broadcasters and even the players may be taking this successful run for granted at this time of the year. It’s human nature. And we saw it even in the mid ’90s after the first few years of the Barkley era. The team was rolling out 62, 56 and 59 wins a year, but even with the most charismatic, outspoken player ever to grace the NBA in Sir Charles, the team’s magnetism began to wane in the 4th season. They finished at .500, lost in the first round of the playoffs and began to lose that “buzz” which surrounded the Barkley Years.

So here we are in Year 4 of the Nash Years, but fortunately this team is not regressing. In fact, the Best Show on Sneakers still appears headed for another 55-60 win season. With the addition of Grant Hill and Brian Skinner, they should be better equipped for the rugged playoffs. But it’s the journey to that ultimate goal we ALL need to appreciate and savor. We all realize how “life comes at you quickly” and before you know it, we’ll be talking about the good ol’ times with Nash, Shawn and Amare kickin’ tail and taking names in a system designed by Mike D’Antoni that features freedom and a fast-pace brand of basketball that is now being replicated around the league. But while many will attempt to imitate, few will ever duplicate this wildly entertaining product. So enjoy each game, each pinpoint, left-handed Nash spin pass, each Marion steal and breakaway jam, each Amare crush and Boris kick-out to an open 3-point shooter (don’t groan, fans, his teammates love him for it!), each Raja big shot, each Leandro blur-by and sweet pull-up J by Grant.

Enjoy each step along the way. It’s a lot like reading a Pat Conroy novel, rich in text and imagery. You can’t skip the middle chapters if you are going to fully appreciate the dynamic ending.

Stoudemire Soon

Greetings from Miami where the boys have a day off after a tough loss to the Hawks last night in Atlanta. Amare played some 3 on 3 at a light workout today. He moved well and says each day he is feeling better.

But Stat will wait and see how that right knee responds tomorrow morning before deciding whether or not to suit-up against Shaq and the winless Heat. But keep your expectations in check because Amare will have to work his way back into “game shape” before we see the eye-popping numbers on a consistent basis.

When he reaches that level, he has now provided a new term to use when he begins to heat-up on the floor. Last night on the plane flight here to Miami, he was referring to the “Stoude-fire” we will witness when he regains form. You just have to love his confidence and bravado!

Miami, by the way, has now lost 17 straight games if you include the end of last regular season, the playoffs when they were swept by the Bulls, the preseason, and now into the ’2007-’08 campaign. They obviously were built around Dwayne Wade and Shaq, but Wade is still recovering from his shoulder and knee surgeries and is not expected to return for a while. Right now it’s the knee that is holding him back.

I am really looking forward to seeing Penny Hardaway in a Heat uniform tomorrow night. Though his time in Phoenix was filled with disappointment and injuries, he was always a wonderful guy to be around. Always accomodating to the media and just one of the friendliest superstars you will meet. In fact, I still remind Penny to this day of his greatest assist. It was the eve of the deal that sent himself and Stephon to New York. The Suns team had been stuck on the runway in Toronto for 5 hours because of a nasty storm in Chicago–our next destination. Finally we took off but would have to be re-routed to Milwaukee. The turbulence was fierce and the players were hanging onto their armrests for dear life. Knowing we were close to finally touching down, an anxious Stephon Marbury asked Penny to open his window shade to find out if he could see the ground. Penny leaned over right in front of me and opened his shade. We could both see nothing but ominous, milky clouds outside and we were very near the ground at this point! But Penny eased all tension when he lied through his teeth: “No problem, guys. I see the buildings and the downtown area. It’s clear.” Moments later with the players now breathing easier, the roller-coaster ride ended with the plane slamming down on the runway.

Penny now is trying to rewrite the final chapter to his career. He has been working out over the past year and a half, playing in semi-pro leagues and hoping to walk off into the sunset as a productive player on a team that won it all two years ago. He and Shaq both want to prove that they still have some magic left after beginning their careers with the Magic and making it to the Finals in ’95. We will get our first glimpse of their “curtain call” tomorrow. See you then on MY 45.

Pop, Do The Right Thing!

Okay, fans, let it out. And let it out Loud! The venting over the recently handed-out suspensions has begun. Fans not only in Phoenix but across the NBA nation are screaming about the ludicrous “letter of the law” interpretation which will severely hinder the Suns chances in Game 5 on Friday.

The Suns have been stripped of their Power Source AND their versatile back-up at the 5 spot.

The suspensions of Amaré and Boris are an absolute travesty. We all know it. And so too does Gregg Popovich, who should do “The Right Thing” and sit Tim Duncan for Game 5. Duncan could conveniently come down with a case of the 24 hour flu because you know if the Spurs end up winning this series; it will be the most hollow series victory in the history of the league. Popovich realizes his player (now known as “Cheap Shot Bob”) not only embarrassed himself with the cowardly and unsportsmanlike act, he embarrassed the proud Spurs franchise. Pop knows the Suns will be heavily outmanned at the center position, and any dominating performance by Duncan would just add to the injustice of today’s ruling handed down by the NBA.

Pop is a smart man. He’s a fair man. He could even the tables by making this unprecedented move. Sure it’s a pipe-dream for Suns fans, but could you imagine the reaction to such a bold move? He would be properly lauded for failing capitalize on the league’s unjust ruling, one which punishes the victim instead of the perpetrator.

Horry’s action should shame Spurs fans. Not only could it have resulted in a serious injury to Steve Nash, it now has tipped the scales in the Spurs’ favor for all the wrong reasons. And I don’t want to hear that “Amaré and Boris should have known better.” That was an instinctive movement on their part. A predictably human reaction. But each player quickly caught himself with no further escalation of the incident.

I’m not even going to analyze the rationale of the league with this decision. There is nothing we can say or do to change their narrow-mindedness. They have a rule and are sticking by it. Obviously this rule needs to be reviewed and re-written to inject common sense and allow for an interpretation that could be flexible enough to include extraordinary circumstances.

The NBA may also be losing out on a golden opportunity. The Suns are the heartthrob of NBA fans around the world. They are called the most entertaining and fascinating team this league has produced in years. The NBA has been advocating a more wide-open and exciting brand of basketball with the Suns as their beacon. The defensive rules have been tightened in hopes of loosening-up the nets with the kind of high-scoring games we used to witness in the ’80s and early ’90s. TV ratings are on the rise. Fans are talking about this game again, purchasing tickets and buying the jerseys. The NBA had a chance to stand behind the kind of team that has rekindled interest in this great game. A game defined by grace, speed and skill. Instead, it has handicapped this team and its chances of achieving their first NBA title.

This is not to say the Suns cannot or will not win Game 5. This resilient Suns team has constantly played its best when faced with desperate situations. On Friday night, in front of their furious fans, it will take a Herculean effort from Nash and Marion and a break-through game from Leandro Barbosa to stun the Spurs. So keep the faith even after you may have lost some in the game’s governing body.

In the meantime, the only person left who could somehow diffuse this volatile situation is the Spurs Head Coach. Horry and Duncan for Stoudemire and Diaw seems like a fair enough deal. Do you think Popovich would make that deal if proposed to him in trade talks? You bet he would!

Oh, Nellie…He Nose Sports Medicine!

Talk Radio. It can be informative and it can be ruthless. I sometimes kick myself for listening to some of the local shows because of all the senseless and ignorant vile that can be spewed by listeners, guests and even the hosts!

 

 

Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson attempts to stop the bleeding.
(NBAE Photos)
 
Today’s hot topic was “Blood Gate ’2007″ or the “Nash Nose Affair” in Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals.
First let me say that I am close, personal friends with Aaron Nelson so I have a somewhat biased opinion of his professionalism and dedication. But what I saw from my seat just rows away from the bench in Game 1 only solidified and justified the lofty perch to which I hold Aaron. I have never been more proud of him. 
With national television cameras and 20,000 rabid fans in the arena watching his every move, his every attempt to somehow patch a bloodied Steve Nash together, Aaron Nelson impressively kept his cool and maintained his composure. Not once did he appear to panic or succumb to the pressure of the moment. Now mind you, he was fighting a losing battle. There was no time to send Nash to the lockeroom, where stitiching him up would have been the only reasonable way to stop the bleeding. If he does head back to the lockeroom, he is not around to hit that clutch 3-pointer or driving lay-in that kept the Suns in the game(the team also seemed to be fighting a losing battle at the time!). So give “Nellie” credit for at least those�five critical points! 
I was actually sitting with a good friend of mine, who happens to be an anesthesiologist and knows quite a bit about surgeries and bleeding. He pointed out that with Nash’s heart-rate going back up when he returned to the floor, it would immediately trigger more bloodflow and that’s exactly what happened. The bleeding erupted again, soaking the bandages and creating a terrible mess and now resulting in an unnecessary controversy as the fans and so-called “experts” are teeing-off on Aaron over the talk show airwaves.
I understand the fans’ passion for the team and their desire to see the Suns finally reach the pinnacle, an NBA championship. I also regretfully understand talk radio and its need for inflammatory topics and opinions as it evokes a reaction and calls from listeners. But get one thing straight: the Suns did not lose Game 1 because Aaron Nelson was unprepared or unqualified in that situation.
The Suns lost because Gregg Popovich manipulates a game better than any other coach in the league (working the refs and calling strategic time-outs). The Suns lost because Tony Parker has learned how to hit a jumper (and now the Suns must learn how to slow TP down — my call is for Raja to give him a dose of his physical D). The Suns lost because in the final�five minutes they took lower percentage shots than the Spurs(LB fires a tough�three vs Tim Duncan’s three-foot jump hook in the lane). The Suns lost the game because they were basically out-executed down the stretch.
These Spurs are a well-oiled machine that rarely breaks down late in games. The Suns will be wise to build an early lead and take that late into the 4th quarter which will force the Spurs to take quicker shots instead of the Suns.
I still say: Suns in 7. And when they march on to the Western Conference Finals against Golden State — in what will be the most entertaining series the league has EVER seen — this bloody mess will be long forgotten.