The Suns have often been very good, rarely bad, and overall better-than-solid.
They are nine games above .500 at 31-22, and own the sixth playoff seed heading into the All-Star break. They have played 28 road games, more than anyone in the Western Conference except Dallas and New Orleans (both have also played 28). Prior to Wednesday’s loss against Portland, the Suns had won a season-high five straight.
The question is, are you satisfied? If not, you should be. This is a team that got younger during the off-season, remade it’s core by subtracting Shaquille O’Neal and replacing him with Channing Frye, and often relies heavily on once-inexperienced guys like Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson.
They also have a coach in Alvin Gentry who is in his first full season leading the team, a starting small forward in Grant Hill who’s 37 years old, and a point guard in Steve Nash who’s 36. Of course, Nash is still an All-Star, and arguably still the best point guard in the league. The ball is still in his hands he still knows exactly what to do with it every time. And he still has center Amare Stoudemire to pass it to.
So when you think about it, the Suns may have surpassed expectations. Not their own, mind you. But they sure have been a lot better than a lot of the so-called experts predicted before the season. Most folks didn’t even have the Suns making the playoffs.
Yet it’s hard to think of a team that is more fun to watch and easier to root for. And that’s coming from a guy who covers the NBA out of Cleveland.
Now, that’s the good stuff. There’s plenty of it, and for basketball fans in Phoenix, there’s plenty to be thankful for.
But there is something else to consider, and it was brought up by no less than our old friend Shaq.
O’Neal is now a member of a Cavaliers team that, as of this writing, had won a league-best 12 straight games. When someone mentioned to him that the Cavs had the look of champions, Shaq quickly responded by saying that good teams take it to another level after the All-Star break. You can get excited before the break, Shaq implied, but it’s what happens after is what really matters. That is when you find out who you really are.
All of that is what we’ll soon discover about the Suns. We’re about to find out if they’re a real contender, a team that will be one-series-and-done in the playoffs, or a team that will struggle at the end because of all the youth.
I hate to be a negative thinker, so I refuse to believe the Suns won’t be in the playoffs. Personally, I think they have the type of potential to do what Orlando did last season and surprise their way into the Finals. And why not? The Suns have an All-Star big man and an All-Star point guard. In the old days, that alone would be enough.
The Suns also have capable shooters and a good mix of hustle players and veterans around Nash and Stoudemire. They have a sharp coach, a man who understands how to meet the needs of his team without being a walkover and catering to it.
Trust me, the pieces are there for very good things. But it all comes down to it all coming together at the right time.
As Gentry said after the Portland loss, “Everybody keeps wanting to go, ‘Boy, you guys are only three games out of second place (in the West).’ We’re 3 1/2 games out of being in 10th place. So you can look at it that way too. If you keep losing home games where you have to go on the road to win games to stay in the playoff race, you’re going to get yourself in a bunch of trouble.”
So what kind of team are the Suns? These months after the All-Star break will provide the answer.
Right now, all we can do is enjoy the ride and keep believing. The best news is, so far, this group of Suns has made that pretty easy.
Sam Amico is a reporter for NBA.com and a regular contributor to Suns.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.