Um, gee, guys, I appreciate the engagement gifts (Yeah, I popped the question last week) of the two horrible losses to the Knicks and the Cavaliers, but really, you didn’t have to.
No, really. You didn’t have to.
Suddenly, the chinks we suspected were in the armor all along during the surprising start now look like giant cracks in a dam, and from what I’m reading online, confidence seems to be leaking out in a giant rush, if not from the team itself, then from NBA-watchers. Anyone who was starting to believe in the Runnin’ Suns is now asking serious questions.
I’m not, at least not so much, because I had a feeling the hot launch to the season was a bit of a happy illusion. Yes, there were a lot of road games, but the schedule was largely soft, and wins over quality opponents like Boston and Houston made me wonder if the Suns were going to be better than I expected (I’ve predicted fifty wins). But I suspect bad losses to contenders like the Lakers and Cavaliers, along with horrible losses to barely-there teams like the Knicks and a CP3-less Hornets squad, reveal something closer to what these Suns are really about – a team that doesn’t yet have quite enough to really match up with the league’s elite, and a team that, if their outside shots aren’t falling, can lose to anyone. And the Knicks qualify as pretty much “anyone.”
When the Guns of the Suns become the Nones of the Suns, the team doesn’t have the defense to stay close, and doesn’t have the inside game to get easy baskets until the bombers re-calibrate their sights. Cleveland ate the Suns alive down low, and nothing makes me grit my teeth harder than knowing Shaq relished every second, believing the Suns are worse off without him – which I know for a fact isn’t true. And, inexplicably, the Suns let someone named Danilo Gallinari (who’s actually going to be a very good player someday) have the game of his career, both from long distance and under the basket, because the boys in purple simply aren’t where they need to be to defend either.
None of which is to say I’m not still excited about this team, or that their start isn’t impressive, although you don’t want to end the “soft stretch” of your schedule with two losses like these. The bench is much, much improved, with Jared Dudley reaching his potential, and Goran Dragic proving he really does belong in this league. Channing Frye has been a great addition to the offense, pulling opposing big men outside and even then making them pay with his shooting touch. J-Rich has shown why he was one of the league’s best offensive guards in Golden State. Steve Nash has been playing out of his mind, Grant Hill remains immortal, and the return to the frenzied pace of previous years have brought back wins and fun.
Best of all, the Suns have yet to Unleash the Beast. Or, perhaps, he has yet to unleash himself? I’m speaking, of course, of Amar’e Stoudemire, whose season stats to this point are well below his career’s. And I’m not really sure why. With the Shaqtus gone to the cornfields of Ohio, there should be a lot more room for our Doctor Destruction to operate, and with the Suns once more having so many outside threats, he’s facing plenty of one-on-one opportunities. It can’t all be goggle adjustment. So the reason I’m not buying a panic button is because I have to believe Amar’e’s going to bust out in a big way, sooner or later, hopefully sooner, because he has that ability and we all know it, because he’s theoretically playing for a max contract next year, and because he really wants to prove he’s among the league’s elite players.
He’s one of the biggest guns in the Suns’ arsenal, and the team simply can’t get anywhere significant without him. If Amar’e can get going, really rev his STAT motor to the level of his glory-est of glory years, whether by his own motivation or by design of the team’s game plans, it’ll be other teams that just might be pushing that panic button.