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Right now Alvin Gentry feels like a chef with the recipe for Jumbalaya staring him in the face.  A lot of ingredients are sitting on the counter, now he needs to figure out the directions and how to stir them together.  He was a master chef last season and hopes to whip together another culinary masterpiece.

You, of course, start with the main ingredient, Steve Nash.  Over the past 10 seasons, Steve’s teams have averaged 55.4 wins per season.  Only two active players have averaged more: Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki (who, I might add, won many of his games with Nash). So the chance for a successful regular season are obviously high.  Nash came into the preseason as fit as ever. He will have to work harder to create points as he now operates without Amar’e Stoudemire.  Steve and Robin Lopez have proven that they can be a highly effective pick and roll combo. Still,  it is evident so far in the preseason that Nash, who turns 37 this season,  will face even more trapping defenses and double-teams without that monster in the middle and potent low-post scorer.  Expect his turnovers to be higher early in the season as some of the new players like Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick figure out their spacing on the floor.

On the wings, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson return as starters.  Hill, now 38, will continue to be that reliable mid-range jump shooter , Olympic-style sprinter on the break, and lock-down defender.  Richardson is headed for an explosive scoring season.  His comfort level and confidence with this team is at an all-time high and #23 knows that he will have to pick-up much of those 23 points that Amare took to New York.  JRich was sensational in the playoffs and it has carried over into the preseason.  Get ready for some “elevate and levitate” this season with the still high-flying Richardson. He is also in a contract year, which never seems to hurt one’s production.

Robin Lopez has had an up and down preseason, sometimes showing the promise of becoming a dominant force in the paint and other times finding himself in early foul trouble. Remember, he is still only 22 and continues to evolve offensively.  Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, a highly intelligent player who was a member of the Gold-medal winning Team USA at The World Championships this past summer, has maintained that Robin will be a better pro than twin brother Brook.  And Love has first-hand experience against both having played them when Stanford and his UCLA  Bruins squared-off in college.

Then there’s the big enigma: Hedo Turkoglu and how he will fit into this team.  He has yet to find a rhythm, but it is still too early to panic.  Grant Hill always talks about how long it took him to adjust to this style and pace in Phoenix.  Hedo has tremendous skills and will bring a new dynamic to this team when he hits his stride.  He has a pure stroke and uncanny playmaking ability for someone 6-10. Hedo is dealing with some new challenges like guarding power forwards and playing off-the-ball while Nash does his thing. He also has dealt with some minor injuries including a back issue early in his Phoenix debut game against the Jazz. The question will be:  Is Hedo better off as a starter or possibly coming off the bench with the 2nd unit?

Speaking of the second line Suns, they will once again energize this team.  The preseason game against Utah exemplified the pure adrenaline rush that Dragic, Dudley, Childress, Frye and Warrick can bring. This could be an even more effective bench than last season as Childress is an upgrade defensively over Barbosa and Warrick is an upgrade offensively over Lou Amundson.  Gentry has this Fun Five pressing full-court and turning-up the heat with their pressurized, in-your-face defense.  Childress will join Dudley as a fan favorite with his hustle and then Josh also brings terrific athleticism (insert Dudley’s athletic hands comment here).  It’s apparent too that Dragic and “JChill” have instant chemistry on the court.  Warrick, meantime, will dominate the highlight reel with his verticality. Hakim told me earlier this week that, at its peak, his vertical jump was 40 inches.  Currently it is still 38 to 39 inches off the ground.  The guy can fly.   Lest we not forget Channing Frye, who will do what he does best….let it fly.  Channing also showed increasing toughness and a willingness to mix it up inside during the playoffs last year.  Rebounding will be an issue again for this team and Frye along with Lopez will have to box and chase along with the rest of their gang-boarding brethren.

As for my preseason prediction, I would be surprised if the Suns jumped out to the kind of start they had last season winning 14 of their first 17 games.  New faces and a daunting early schedule would make that kind of a beginning fairly miraculous.  An 8-9 start would not surprise me, followed by a very strong December (going 10-4), which could propel them into another playoff run.

The leadership of Steve and Grant will be critical during the inevitable bumps along the way.  The wise one and voice of reason, Hill said it best when, at halftime of the outdoors game in Indian Wells this past weekend, he noted that this team cannot immediately try to live-up to where last year’s team finished.   It’s a process.  And one we will all enjoy following starting October 26th in Portland.

  • JAS

    Oh! Don’t worry about a great start to what I predict will be a lackluster lets go for a draft pick season. Suns will be lucky, very lucky to be 8 and 9 to begin this season. My prediction, 4 and 13. This followed by a December xmas present of 6 and 4, which will propel them to possibly make the playoffs by the skin of Turks beard, if he isn’t out with injury by then. We have no chance, impossible, forget it, the fat lady is singing pretty this year. Our Suns best players are a commercial for social security. We have leaders who can no longer log enough minutes which turns us into just a rag tag bunch of glorified bench players. I’m watching just for the love of the game.

  • Taylor

    im sure JAS also predicted the suns going to the WCF last season… people forget this team has Nash, people keep retiring him and he keeps shutting them up… amare played 2 games i believe in 2005-06 season and we still went to the WCF..i think we will “overachieve” once again

  • JAS

    Taylor, I respect your opinion and the right to make it, but if your telling me that because our Suns have Steve Nash everything is okay, it’s my right to tell you your dead wrong. No, I along with many other people alot smarter about basketball than me didn’t project the Suns going to the finals. But they got there, why, because of chemistry and as you stated overachieving. Yes, it could happen again. I just happen to think that a teams level of talent and karma evens out and we squeezed every drop last year. Fact, Steve Nash is woefully inept at guarding his opposite postion, can no longer log huge minutes and has slipped badly in the turnover dept.. Amare was no big defender either but he helped mask that problem. Suns haven’t filled that hole with Turk, it’s just deeper now. I love the Suns, have been a die hard fan for 20 years but it continues to amazes me how rabid devotion makes it impossible for some fans to constructivley criticize their team. Get mad at the real culprit, the owner. Championships are the dreams of us fans. Owners dream in only one color, make no mistake it’s green.