I’m about to say something so outrageous, you may want to order Bill Cartwright to impale me on one of his elbows. So preposterous, you may dispatch the Oklahoma City Thunder to find some lightning to strike me with. So potentially upsetting, you may want to think of Charles Barkley in a tutu just to get your mind off what I’m about to say:
I have seen the future of the Phoenix Suns…and it is on defense.
No lightning? No sign of Coach Cartwright? Thank goodness. But still, I can sense most of you are staring at this blog right now the way Neanderthals stared at the dude who hit on the whole fire thing. “What’s up with that, and what does it mean?” I’ll explain.
But first, a primer on defense for Suns fans, who haven’t really seen a team that was characterized by top-notch defense since…since…the days of Dennis Johnson? Can that be right? Good grief, I think it is. Sure, the Suns have had good defensive players since then (Shawn Marion, Mark “Started Every Game With Three Fouls” West, etc.), but they haven’t really been a squad characterized by fierce defense the way some other teams have.
But I digress. Back to the defensive primer:
- Defense is not de thing around de parking lot.
- Defense is not “break-time” between scoring possessions.
- Defense involves remembering there are two baskets on the floor and that your goal is to keep your opponent from putting the ball in the hoop behind you.
- Defense involves communication between teammates during play that goes beyond, “Nice slam, J-Rich.”
- Defense is more than falling down and hoping for a charging call (although most teams need to learn this, not just the Suns).
You’ve seen some of these things over the Suns’ recent hot streak. There’s probably more to the concept of defense, but since it hasn’t been seen in Phoenix, really, since the early 1980s, that’s all I can remember. Why, you may ask, have I come to this conclusion, that the Suns we see down the road will be known for their defensive tenacity?
Because (cover the ears of the children and the faint of heart) I have been thinking a lot about life in a post-Nash world. Sure, the Sidewinder has been the best point guard in the NBA this season by a mile, defying anyone who says skills slip after age 30. The only thing that slips in Steve Nash is the occasional disc. But the man can’t play forever. He just can’t. I’m reasonably certain. Like, 75% certain. The Suns won’t be without him next year, and probably not the year after that. But someday. And probably sooner rather than later, relatively speaking.
Additionally, the Suns have shown they consider Amar’e Stoudemire to be a valuable commodity in trade scenarios, so it seems somewhat probable to speculate he won’t finish his career in the purple and orange, much as I’d like it to be so. And while he’s played better of late, the biggest number Jason Richardson has put up continues to be his salary, and in this age of NBA cost-cutting and labor uncertainty, that makes him a prime candidate for relocation at some point.
So, if we assume that, in three years, none of these guys (nor Grant Hill, who will be busy with his new duties as Image Director for AARP) will be in Phoenix jerseys, where does that leave the team? I, personally, have a hard time thinking free agents are going to continue to regard the Valley as the desirable destination it has been in the past. Budget conditions have changed too much in the league overall and inside the organization specifically. So we’re not likely to get a “core” guy we can build around by going that route. Who, then, from today’s team seems likely to be here?
To my mind, it’s going to be Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic, most likely Louis Amundson, probably Leandro Barbosa, maybe Jared Dudley and, if he shows something next year, possibly Earl Clark.
Not a lot of scorers in that group. LB has best shown he can be a prolific NBA scorer, but he’s famously streaky. Dragic has tantalized us with his offensive potential, but we haven’t seen enough.
But most, if not all, of those guys can play defense, and play it well. Better still, they can all improve, and they all seem like they actually enjoy playing defense. So, barring the unexpected arrival of a scoring savant in the draft, and positing that the Suns will be left with a team that doesn’t come by scoring opportunities as easily as they once did, it’s easy to conclude (speculatively) that the Suns will be a club that wins its games on the defensive end.
Now, don’t claw your eyes out. Defense can be fun! Think about it – after a Nash assist, a STAT slam, and the cheerleaders throwing t-shirts into the crowd, what’s the single most exciting event at a basketball game? No, not the Kiss Cam. The blocked shot. Crowds get absolutely juiced by a rejection. And, unless they’re thugs like the late-80s Pistons or mid-90s Knicks, defensive teams are lovable, often considered underdogs, and referred to by such fun adjectives as “scrappy.”
Defense. Possibly coming soon to a Purple Palace near you. But not before Steve Nash is done shoveling a few hundred (thousand?) more assists into capable offensive hands, and not before Amar’e throws down a few hundred (million?) more rim-wreckers. Until then, we happily live in a triple-digit world, safe from foreign concepts like defense as a team hallmark…and visions of the Chuckster in “Swan Lake.”