(P.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images)

(P.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images)

With the preseason winding down, I still don’t have a solid feel for how good the Suns are going to be this season.

The operative word is HOW. I know they are going to be GOOD. Certainly good enough to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, but how much better than that, if any, is a different question.

And maybe there are some clues to be found in last year when, even though they went the first part of the season with a coach who wasn’t a good philosophical fit for them nor they for him, and the whole season with a center who, despite surprisingly good numbers actually cramped their style, and lost their leading scorer in February the Suns STILL won 46 games and led the league in scoring.

And the reason I am sure they are going to be at least that good is that all of last year’s plusses are back and the minuses are gone.

Granted, they are going to miss Shaq’s bulk. But they are going to like missing it because Channing Frye is such a much better fit for their freewheeling style than was The Big Cactus (nee Aristotle-Diesel). Fry has more shooting range (about 20 feet more), and the offense, which wasn’t exactly stagnant with Shaq, will flow even more freely.

In addition to not having to carry the extra baggage they had to lug around last year, the Suns can reasonably can look forward to normal great years from Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Grant Hill, and Leandro Barbosa – and from what I’ve seen, an even better year than last from Jason Richardson, who figures to benefit from Shaq’s absence and an improved attitude.

Moving right along, Jared Dudley was a great pickup, Louis Amundson is your quintessential role player, rookie Earl Clark has the tools to really help in suspect areas like defense and rebounding (although it’s not yet clear he knows how to use them), and Goran Dragic seems at least  little less tentative going into his second season.

And, of course, Alvin Gentry is a much better fit with the Suns than was his hapless (and mostly blameless) predecessor. In fact, Coach Alvin and this group look like they were made for each other.

But enough already about plusses. What about pitfalls?

Well, for one thing, two of their three absolutely vital keys have a lot of mileage on their sneakers and the third has had health issues much of his career. Reading from left to right, of course, that would be Nash (13 seasons), Hill (15) and Amar’e (knees, eye). If one of them goes down the ship will be hard to keep afloat.

For another, there is size. The Suns are smallish and figure to have rebounding issues. And of course, even though they may actually try to play it, defense is never going to be their strongest suit. And finally, there is the West, which may be even more top heavy this year than last.

So what do we really have here? Well, what we have here is a team a lot like last year’s, only healthier and happier.

Further deponent sayeth not until he sees at least one real game.

  • cameron

    Im a huge Suns fan. Its sad to see what the Owner Sarver has done to this team. Im shocked he hired his financial advisor Steve Kerr to be the Suns GM… Zero Experience-He was an average player and an average commentator. Sarver should have NEVER gotten rid of Bryan Colangelo! In sarvers case you get what you pay for!!! Should have forked out the few million for Bryan to stay!!! NOW with that being said. Mr Gil you are mistaken when you think the Suns will reach the playoffs! They will be lucky this season to be over .500! The coach is disappointing me, he needs to be playing Dan Dickau over Dragich. Dragich has had his turn and failed miserably! If the Suns want a chance they MUST TRADE AMARE! Stop wasting time on someone who is not a Team player! Amare is a Joke! His Rookie year was his best. Everyone loves him because he can make a 15 footer.. Well thats great and all but hes a POWER FORWARD not a shooting guard or a Forward. His defense is about as good as Steve Nash’s(no offense Steve). All that aside Amare does not know how to drive the ball to the hoop like PF’s are supposed to do!!! Why do people miss this huge flaw in his game? Lets Trade Amare for a quick Center, a True Power Forward or a number of other young players or 1st round pics. The Suns Organization needs to STOP being greedy and make a fair trade for Amare. Why not trade for Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh? Those guys play HARD. They are not scared to play some defense. Stop trading away all of our Great players(Bell, Marion) and trade the players who need to be traded. Jason Richardson has been way too streaky to keep on our team… You cant have 20pts one night and the next no 2pts. If thats the case lets get Bell back! Atleast bell would average 9-10pts a game. Last thing I would like to say… Amare has stunck… Bench him! Dont play in his Ego! Starting lineup should be: Nash, Barbosa(Dickau on occasion to get some experience), Frye(he has a lot of potential), Amundson, and Hill. Reward the players who are playing well! Bench the rest or Trade them. If no trades are made we wont make the playoffs again! Sad but true!

  • http://aemgonline.com Tom

    Cameron, though some of the things you say are very true, some of your takes on what this team needs to do have me shaking my head.

    Re: Kerr and Sarver I think you’re right. They are inexperienced at their position and it shows. Not so much in the trades they’ve made, but in their draft history. It’s been very poorly run. At least we now have Gentry who seems to want to develop the young talent and see what we have. Coach D wouldn’t do that so Kerr and Sarver didn’t work the draft angle very well at all.

    I think you’re wrong that we won’t make the playoffs. Unless Nash goes down, I’m predicting this to be a 4 seed team, make the second round.

    Whether you want to admit it or not, Nash still has game, Amare is in a contract year, Hill played fantastic last season and will be solid, J-Rich is back in a style which fits him like a glove, LB will shine as usual, Dragic will improve, he’s only in his 2nd year. Give the boy time. Dudley and Amundson are our energy guys. I think they’re are some of the best at what they do in the league. A team needs guys like Dudley and Lou and they are instant energy and hustle.

    If this team stays healthy (Nash and Amare), and we can learn to board just a little bit better, this team will make the 2nd round. And with a little luck, who knows how far they can go.

  • sara

    amare is great dont second guess the team no they dont have a big star like shaq,they dont need big ppl to prove that they are a nba team that can win they just have to come out every night playing like they mean it..so what if we dont have chris paul or shaq or james,we got amare nash and lb and grant.

  • Paul

    There is absolutely no reason why the Suns this year can’t make the playoffs. They have a solid team with great talent. I am excited to see how this season progresses

  • Rajalya

    I think Cameron is being more negative than he needs to be. Kerr has made some controversial moves that he shouldn’t have made that wasted 2 years of SUNS and I hate him for that. But maybe things would have been different if Tim Duncan hadn’t hit a 3 to win game one 2008 playoffs, or if Amare didnt get injured… but it didn’t. Anyway, I understand that it’s so hard when you’re a SUNS fan and you wait 5 years for a championship and you miss years like 2006 and 2007 and 2008 because of bad luck, injuries and stupid Robert Horry making Amare and Diaw suspended. >_> cuz we cud have had atleast one but maybe two rings by now.

    But what Cameron said about Amare isnt true, he will excel once again and Amare is the best we can have. Also, Dragic is MUCH better than what happened last year. I don’t see how he won’t be better than Rondo next year under this style. Rondo, and some other younger point guards werent as great till their 3rd year either. Even tony parker wasnt that great till he got much better with his jumpshot.

    Anyway, the past is the past and the SUNS I feel are underrated this year. Like the 2004-05 Suns who surprised everyone by winning 62. Maybe they won’t get to 62 this year because of stiffer competition but i dont see how 55 isnt a possibility which definately guarantees 4th place, behind the Lakers, the new look Spurs and maybe someone. Maybe its just me being too optimistic because I love the SUNS but NW Division will have stiff competition with Denver, Portland and Utah together and I don’t think MAVS are better than the SUNS because every starter is over 30 and besides Dirk noone is THAT good. Plus hopefully luck will be in our side and help us win a few, instead of losing some tough games. but regardless, i feel we will be 4th place.

  • Jay

    First of all, I think the trade with Jason Richardson was great. At least we have a shooting Guard that we know for a fact can put up some big numbers on any given night. Tom, I think you are wrong about Dragic. Cameron you are correct, Dragic was signed as a player that was supposed to be able to come in and backup Nash. However, he looks like a JV kid playing Varsity for the first time. Why not get a guy like Keyon Dooling who we know can come off the bench and start if needed. I would not trust Dragic to start a game in the WNBA for the Phoenix Mercury. We can’t dwell on the past you guys, all we can do is hope for the future. I like this team the way it is looking. I’d rather have Barbosa playing a mix of point guard and shooting guard. Also, we still have a chance to get a really good backup shooting guard and small forward by the name of Gerald Green. You guys look him up!!! He is a free agent and still has not been picked up yet. I emailed Steve Kerr about it and he replied immedieately. He said that they always looked at him but did not think they could find minutes for him. If they are not going to play this Carlos Powell guy a lot of minutes, they need to give him a chance. He has some impressive scoring and steals numbers in a small amount of time that he gets on the court. I think this guy could be our missing link. From one big fan to another, you guys keep supporting the Suns.

    Steve, I hope this gets back to you and you consider it.

  • miles

    dragic has much more skill than you can judge from last season.

    he was a very nervous rookie that was shipped over seas and played under some of the very greatest active players (nash, shaq, amare – all all-star caliber).

    you should read about how he played in the euro-league over the summer, he owned ricky rubio and put up numbers like any grown point guard would.

    before you judge a rookie point guard, you have to wait until he gets substantial minutes. many many point guards do not bloom until a few years in. take chauncey billups and steve nash for example.

  • Jay

    I am long time phonenix fan Miles. When Nash played for us his rookie year every time he got in the game he would do something great. I understand what you mean about giving the rookie time, however when they signed him, they said he would be ready to be an impact player.

    That was not true.

    By the way, check out that guard Gerald Green. Tell me what you think

  • JOHN SERPE

    Right again Joe, “How” good? What can we expect from a small team with a no defense attitude? Well, my opinion is probably good enough to keep it interesting unless we lose a big name to injuries. That means as usual we win on nights when the attitude is up, and look tired and disinterested when it’s not. Clone the DiAntoni years, it’s all we have. Prediction: Second round exit.

  • Jeremy Roscoe

    Cameron you have no idea. Amare doesnt know how to go to the hoop? That must be why he never dunks?!?! Granted that his defence needs to improve, he is still nearly the hardest player to defend Dickau!! Are you kidding me, he’ll be cut before the start of the season… I think Frye will really help Amare out as long as his head is in the right spot and Richardson, Nash, Hill and Barbosa will really benefit from the extra space.

  • Dave Mishler

    We will make the playoffs if Nash,Amare,and Hill stay afloat ,If not we wont. Our weakness is Rebounding,Lopez is overrated and Dragic is a poor relief for Nash to say the least, and now we got rid of Dickau. For our team to really get back to a TOP tier (5 ) Team we must rebuild and Kerr and Sarver are NOT the ones to do it. I have been a fan since the teams Inception and lived with the 93 Loss to the bulls to a poor coaching performance by Westphal.We Just can’t seem to get the whole package together.BUT I never say die and will remain a Sun Fan.Go Suns

  • R.P.G.

    The people who doubt Steve Kerr are those who never had an opportunity to talk to him, having a quick conversation with him will quickly realize he’s a very intelligent basketball mind and a man who has a plan and knows what he’s doing. It’s not Kerr’s fault that he can’t get to keep all those players he drafts over the years… It’s Sarver opening his checkbook, looking up at Kerr and saying “no”.

    For Amare, he is a very dangerous offensive player with the ball, fearless to get to the basket with it and gets beat up for it, he has a nasty shot just behind the free-throw line as well as having a very high ft%, which is good for someone who has more “and-ones” than anybody else on the team. His weakness is indeed his defense, his fault is that he doesn’t move laterally, he has lead feet on D, however where he is good on defense is when the ball is up, he is aggressive on D when it comes to jumping up, he can do that all day.

    Dragic will become our future PG, I just know it. If you saw him in Euro league this year all you can say from him is “wow” what a difference 1 year makes. Someone above mentioned he was nervous and trying to not make an embarassing mistake being in such a professional league as the NBA and it slowed down his style. Gentry told him exactly what he needed to hear “if you look at me with the ball, you’re going on the bench”. Expect him to be a legit 2nd PG this year, with between 12-20 minutes a game, exactly the amount of time needed to give Nash a break and not break!

    The Suns I predict will be in the bottom 4 of the playoffs assuming everyone stays healthy, if I’d pick a number I’d say either 6 or 7. Dallas is a playoff contender but the chemistry just isn’t around as it once, Marion just finds himself (again) in a team as the 3rd most important person which he complained about when he was on the Suns too… The Jazz are a threat with their all around brick wall Boozer and sharpshooter AK47… The Spurs are still the Spurs, but the dusty Texas landscape is jamming the joints of the oldest team in the NBA… The Rockets are gone, Yao who?… The Lakers are biggest competition, however they are not unbeatable, Suns will not get beat up as much like last year… Portland and Denver are our biggest issues and whom I see will be with us at the end of the season. Portland is a young energetic and aggressive team ready to outscore even our Suns and Denver has defense and offense that will make just as much suprises as the Suns will.

  • http://msn.com Manuel Romero

    All right. Cameron, granted, Kerr has made some moves over the last 2 years that have left me yelling at the t.v., but the stuff said about the team and players was way off base. Amare is one of the most dominant post players to hit the NBA. Don’t hate on him because he likes shooting the 15-footer from time to time. Goran Dragic has the potential to be a great point guard for the pure facts that he is athletic, hard-working, talented, and as far as teachers go, there is none better than Steve Nash. Steve and Grant are looking to have another great season and the bench is going to have substantial chances to put points on the board with Gentry at the helm. The fact that Gentry plays with a 8 to 10 man rotation means that the Suns’ younger players will get more experience while playing more minutes and since the Suns are going back to running, the bench can keep putting up points while the starting five can catch their breath and come back and cause more havoc on the floor. I’m not saying championship yet, but I am saying that this Suns team is very similar to the one who surprized the west in ’04-’05, and in case anybody forgot, nobody believed in that team either. So for all the doubters, be prepared to remember these words come April

  • Cameron

    I guess I opened a bag of worms with my comments. I just wanted people to think a bit about this team and what it needs and what it needs to get rid of. I forgot to mention though that Robin Lopez should have been Cut or Traded. I HATE when players are OVER Hyped by the organization. I actually think Pat Burke might be a better center then Lopez. At least Burke entertained us with his Threes. Lopez just runs under the basket and hopes the Center hes guarding happens to be there and thats assuming he gets back there in time.

    As for Amare and his Dunks… If you remember Shawn Marion a few years ago would dunk the ball more than Amare and thats because Shawn makes moves to the basket and always makes sure to get open. Dunking is neat and all but as a Power Forward if you cant dribble the ball and back your apponent to the basket to score you are hurting your team more then helping.(Amare backing down another guard doesnt help). Example: Last year we played Minnasota Twolves and they won even though they were the worst team in the leauge. They were able to do this because Al Jefferson ran over Amare and EVERY time Amare tried to make a play towards the hoop he was stopped. I think it was a season low in scoring for Amare that game. My point is that Amare cannot dominate in the paint against any of the top teams or really any team with a decent Center/Power Forward. So I still say trade him while there is a little value left. Compare Amare to Boozer who can dominate in the paint and back apponents down. Thats what we need. Points in the paint is extremely important for this team. Whenever we have more points in the paint than the other team we win.

    Dickau should have NEVER been cut! He moves faster, passes better, and plays better defense than Dragic. Sorry to see him go with all his potential. Talk about a guy who never got a chance.

    As far as Dragic playing great overseas. Well thats great and all but it would be similar to him playing in the D-Leauge here. He is playing against guys who cant make it in the NBA. It would be like Nash playing at a local YMCA. Of course Nash would be the best player out there.

    Lastly, I would LOVE nothing more then to Eat my words if the suns make the playoffs. I just dont see it without a major Trade happening.

    Go Suns!!!

  • rich

    amare is the best power forward in the game after tim duncan!!!! i dont know what amare your watching that doesnt know how to get to the hole hahahahaahaha but hes unstopable when he faces up and goes to the hole!! so somebody tell cameron to shut up. yeah “trade amare” lets trade amare for some nobodies at golden state like they were gonna do ….. yeah you and steve kerr are geniouses cameron. kerr should sign you up to be his assistant you guys would be perfect together making all the right moves.

  • Leo

    If (and this is a big “If”), the Suns intent this year was partially intended on rebuilding, it wouldn’t be Amare (as Cameron suggests) who should be shipped, it would be the older players, Hill & Nash that I would let go of. I wouldn’t have signed Hill and, would have let Nash play out his contract and then he could have gone on next year to sign w/ a legit contender, so that maybe he could win a ring elsewhere. Now, I agree this sounds disrespectful, considering what Nash has meant to this organization over the years however, it isn’t as though he has ever delivered a Championship to the Suns. I mean, if the Lakers can deal a guy like Shaq away after all that he did for them, then it’s not such a ridiculous notion that Nash should be phased out, so that younger players can be brought in. I think that, the team should be built and shaped around Amare, Barbosa, and all the young talent on the team. I don’t think Richardson is a good fit….he seems like a ball hog and, his track record w/ the law already doesn’t bode well. Look to several years ago when Kidd, Cliff Robinson, and Penny Hardaway all had brushes w/ the law and/or negative pub because of spousal abuse, drug use, and carrying weapons….the Suns usually don’t carry many players like that on their roster. Frye is ok, but no lock to be anything special. He does have youth and potential growth on his side, though. Admundson & Dudley are solid. Clark has potential. I think Dragic will never be quite as good as Suns mgmt makes him out to be (I would have kept Dickau, as he plays hard). Lopez will most likely be a journeymen type of Center. The book is still out on Tucker as he hasn’t been given any real time to grow, and Griffin is well….who knows… way too early to tell. Most importantly, all franchises are made or broken at the top of the food chain. Sarver has been a sub-par owner, Kerr “is” the worst GM in the NBA since Isiah Thomas has been ousted, and there is just way too much talent in the West for the Suns to be taken seriously….and I am someone who has followed them for over 30 years so, it bothers me to say that. They may make the playoffs, but they will be ousted early.

  • Jay

    Will you guys please look at this kid Gerald Green and email Steve Kerr that he would be a great pickup. Nash needs that one more slasher to help him out. Take a look at his game logs and tell me he could not fit in with our teams tempo.

    We need to get rid of Dudely!!!!

  • Sheeram

    Oh wow, some of you guys are negative so easily. Dragic wasn’t what I expected last year either, but trust me on this. HE IS WAYYY BETTER THAN DICKAU WAS, and a lot younger. Dickau got his chance, he has played 7 years in the NBA with different teams and the reason he didn’t last was because he wasn’t that good. Dragic has greatly improved in a year… I also prefer Dragic over Gerald Green. He was the 2007 Dunk Contest winner right. Green isnt bad but Goran is better.

    Also, Jared Dudley is a very important player. We need players like him, not get rid of him. It’s also great how we have a center who can knock down three’s. However, that is also a negative because we will not get as many rebounds as a bigger player. Its either one or the other. If the Suns get the rebound, they will win. Although I am sort of worried, I remember that the 2005-06 SUNS were playing with small players as well. Their tallest players were Marion on PF and Diaw (6′ 8”) on C.

    Every year there is an underrated team that makes big noises, and as long as SUNS stay healthy, I believe that it will be us. I also believe we need some help in trades or something though. But, at this point, I believe we can make it to the second round. With some luck or a good trade, we can get back to the Western Conference Finals. :D :D

    I was looking at the predictions before the season in ESPN from this year and Past years. This year, most so called ‘Experts’ believe SUNS will be 7-8 and even a lot for the 9th position. Every single season, there’s always a team who is rated too high and doesn’t live up to its expectations and every year there are also teams that are underrated and somehow goes deep into the playoffs or the FINALS because of how everyone looks over them or they acquire someone.

  • Jay

    Cameron,I think Robin Lopez does an excellent job for us. We did not get him to score a bunch of points for us. Instead, we need him to be a solid pressence down by the basket. I think he does that well!!! If Amare or Frye need a rest or get in foul trouble, he can come in and guard who ever is at that position. Also, he plays hard every night and never takes a position off.

    I do agree with you that we should have kept that point guard. I do not like Dragic at all.

    P.S.
    Look at Gerald Green and email Kerr about him!!! I promise all phoenix fans that he is our missing link right now.

    Steve, trust me on this one!!!

  • Cameron

    Leo, If Amare played every year like he did when he was a Rookie and had that mentality that he did then which was to proove himself as a dominate force then YES I would agree with you that we should just rebuild around Amare. HOWEVER, you have to look at how he has played the last few years. He doesnt have the drive to win.. Atleast not with our team. He clearly wants to be the center of attention at all times. The problem is hes just not good enough. Is he a Dwight Howard, Lebronn James, or a Shaq? The answer is No, because you cant build around an average to slighly above agerage player. You build a team around a STAR. But if you put him on a team like Memphis or any other losing team and he will appear to be a superstar and in that case you could build around him with lesser quality players to feed into his Ego. He clearly no longer wants to win in a Suns uniform. Watch is body language and the way he talks in interviews. We need TEAM players on our team and players that really want to WIN. Amare will not sign with the Suns unless he is offered a max contract deal! Does he deserve $20 million like Lebronn/Dwight/Wade/Garnett, etc? NO! Hes a 12-15$ million dollar player(thats when he actually trys to play and trys to win). If he played like he did when he was a rookie then yes he might be worth the money. I know stats now are better all around but his drive and heart isnt into the game anymore(atleast not as a phoenix sun).

    Jay,

    Robin Lopez is too slow. Hes a typical tall guy who cant move like we need him too. Not only that he always appears to be confused on the court(how long has he been playing basketball now in his life–10yrs or so?) He just doesnt fit on our team. I know hes young so send him to the DLeauge and let him grow until hes actually good enough to be a Center in the NBA. I will admit that in last years PreSeason he played GREAT. Its been all downhill from there. Its no wonder our players struggle, its because during practice our starters are playing against the 2nd and 3rd string guys who are horrible (Barbosa, Dudley, Amundson not included).

    Dragic will NEVER be someone the Suns build around. He clearly cant pass and cant shoot the ball(pretty important for a PG position). Someone was saying well look at Nash when he was with the suns…. First of all you could see that Nash wasnt a typical Point Guard. He could run, pass, and shoot, and understood the game. Secondly he was NEVER EVER given a chance because Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd were on the same team.

    Jay, I do agree that we MUST get a better backup Point Guard for Nash. I dont know if Barbosa can be a true point guard. He plays much better off the ball and is more of a shooting guard than a PG. I personally think that Hill should backup Nash. I say start Hill and Nash together then take hill out after 5 mins for a rest of 3 and bring him back for Nash and let nash rest(or something along those lines).

    If a trade doesnt happen soon we will be LUCKY to be a .500+ team. By doing nothing our Season will be one of the most boring in the last 5 seasons…

  • JMed

    Sarver and Kerr have destroyed this team! Sarver gave up on an incredible team. One that would have beat the Spurs and won a title if not for some ridiculous suspensions. Sarver’s answer to the loss was to hire the analyst who said, “you have to suspend him” over and over and over. Kerr, you are a moron. They didn’t have to suspend him! If you had said something like, “it would be a shame if they players that stood up got suspended”. Wouldn’t that be a better thing to say? Anyways, the team has been destroyed and draft picks squandered. Sarver’s last chance to redeem himself will be this summer. If he tightens up his coin purse again then the whole town of Phoenix should boycott the games until he sells the team. If the fans don’t boycott the owner he will bleed the organization bone dry.

    However, the Suns will definitely make the playoffs. I am predicting a 5 or 6 seed which means little chance for making the second round.

    Stoudemire and Richardson’s defensive liabilities are minimized with the run and gun style which bodes well for the upcoming season. Hopefully a miracle can be performed by Gentry and the Suns can learn how to play half court defense for a few possessions in the playoffs. Don’t count on it though.

    I was skeptical of the Frye signing at first, but once I saw that we did not over pay him, I am more optimistic about what he can do for the team. Frye’s perimeter skills are better than I thought. Hopefully Frye’s skill set will force Stoudemire to operate in the post, which is where he should be.