(Harry How/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Harry How/NBAE/Getty Images)

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 amico@probasketballnews.com.

  • JOHN SERPE

    Excellent blog Sam. May I respond to a couple points. Satisfied with our Suns, yes, with a qualifier. Suns are not on the elite level, nor are they consistent enough to feel comfortable about them making the playoffs this season. On ‘certain” nights, yes they are very good. To many nights however, our Suns are just so ordinary and even that term is being kind. Surpassed expectations, absolutley, but we went into this season with NO hope at all, do the math. What will the second half bring? Probably with some luck a 7 or 8 seed. If and it’s a giant one, Suns play like the last six minus Portland we survive to the second round. Beyond that lets be realistic, it’s all just Arizona wishing and dreaming.

  • http://yahoo.com krov

    keep going suns! we’ll i hope there will be no trades at all.

  • Tim Wilson

    You are absolutly right, this is a very fun team to watch and root for. Nash is amazing as always. I especialy love rooting the underdogs,like Dudley and Amundsen. Who could have guessed Frye was a decent 3-point shooter. Over achieving under dogs like they are, are just plain old fun to watch!!!!!

  • Gary Boersma

    I am a firm believer of your feelings. The suns have come a long ways under their circumstances. They have some great talent. I feel that if they can just be a little more consistent in there scoring and not have getting so far ahead in the beginning quarters only to fall short at the end there is great promise for them to make the play offs. They have my vote As you say time will tell. Thanks for your positive commits as I am sure they are shared by many of us.
    Gary fro Payson Arizona

  • flyeaglefly

    Frankly I am pleasantly surprised.The Play of Dragic and the Defense from the Bench has been better than expected. Now, Fewer turnovers,More Consistency by JR and Grant AND More agrresiveeness from Stat and well make it to the Playoff land in the sky. GO SUNS

  • anthony papp

    guys lets think here, when we were 14-3 who did we have for the most part? BARBOSA! we have the potential to be a champ. We havent had barbosa(our third best player) like the whole year except wen we were #1 in the NBA, i mean we show signs of it. Like in that 5 game win streak. remember last year the first three games after the all star break? we scored 140 points in 3 straight games. dont count the suns out

  • William Green

    I think the Suns are on the right track. Phoenix may not be the best team record wise, but in my opinion I feel the team can compete for a title. IF AMARE GETS TRADED for any of the rumored deals the Suns might as well go on vacation now. JJ Hickson and Ilgauskas??? Andre Iguodala?! I think Amare may not be the only one who needed eye surgery.

  • flyeaglefly

    Lets all e-mail Kerr and Sarver,DO NOT TRADE STAT!!! Go Suns

  • J.Rashad

    SO I GUESS STEVE KERR IS TRYING TO PLAY NBA GOD INSTEAD OF JUST MANAGING HIS OWN TEAM…COME ON MAN YOU TRADE SHAQ FOR BEN WALLACE? NOW YOUR THINKING ABOUT TRADING AMARI FOR JJ HIKSON???? WOW!!!! YOU MUST JUST BE A LABRON FAN AND IS TRYING TO DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO MAKE IT EASY FOR LABRON TO WIN A RENTED CHAMPIONSHIP….COME ON MAN SHAQ IS ENOUGH GIFTS FOR THEM…WHAT ABOUT MIAMI, WADE NEEDS SOME HELP, AND I KNOW THE SUNS CAN GET A BETTER DEAL THAN JJ HIKSON..IF THIS TRADE HAPPENS STEVE KERR SHOULD BE FIRED!! HE HAS NOT MADE ONE SMART DICISION SINCE HES BEEN IN OFFICE…HES BEEN MORE FOCUSED ON CLEVLAND IMPROVING THAN THE SUNS!!!! THIS BUDDY BUDDY TRADE SYSTEM IS DISCUSTING….IF YOU WANT TO HELP ANOTHER TEAM TRADE AMARI TO A TEAM THAT NEEDS HELP CLEVLAND ALREADY HAS THE BEST RECORD IN THE NBA THE REIGHNING MVP, A 4 TIME HALL OF FAME CENTER AN OUTSTANDING BENCH AND A OK COACH….HELP SOMBODY ELSE!!!!!!!! THIS WILL DESTROY THE EAST AND MAKE TEAMS IN THE EAST NONE COMPETITIVE BECAUSE OF BIAS TRADING!!!! WE ALL LOVE LABRON BUT THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS

  • http://absolute-webhosting.com Doug Parker

    I am not satisfied, but they are growing and getting better. From a team stand point, they just need more size in the middle, that has been the problem with the Suns for years. They have gotten a lot better in that area, give Robin Lopez’s play, and Channing Fry. Clark has some size for a 3, but letting Amar’e go would hurt this team from that point, not to mention many other areas. I sure hope they can work something out to keep him and add some size inside by finding another way to get 1 more big who can play. We are rich with shooting guards, and that should be the area too move not with Stat.

  • JOHN SERPE

    We might as well trade Amare, all the “shopping him around” was evident in the Dallas loss. I thought he was gone a few times from all I read and heard. I doubt if his or the teams enthusiasm will be as high from now on? Mavericks are just a “tougher” team than our Suns right now. Nash has a sore back, of course he does, we just won how many in a row, but it can’t last with older players, they break down, especially when their fragile to begin with. This was a bad omen loss, the decent just may have started.

  • JOHN SERPE

    So, our Suns decide to ride this season out. Probably means Amare is just not viewed as a superstar type player by the league. Star, yes, Allstar, certainly, but not SUPERSTAR and that’s what the Suns have been missing since Barkley. We tried to fill those shoes with Shaq, it didn’t work, Shaq is no longer a superstar except in the minds of us who saw him play when he was Superman. Thats why teams won’t part with big time players for Amare. We can can blog our fingers to the bone debating our Suns problems but to me it comes down to this. Suns this season are a good team some nights, very good once in awhile, contenders when the full moon is out. Said it before, lean times they are a coming.

  • Jonathan

    Not trading Amare is a good move.. but only if you sign him to another deal! Kerr talked in his interview about how nothing stood out that strengthened our team both now and in the future. However, losing Amare this summer would hurt our future as we lose him, don’t get anything in return, and don’t get money relief. The key to us getting more money relief and ultimately bettering our team for the future is getting rid of Richardson and Barbosa. Dudley and Dragic make Barbosa expendable and Richardson is not worth even close to what he is paid. The Suns need a draft pick or to be in the hunt for one of the bigger names besides Lebron. They also need a CLOSER!