Frye and Stoudemire should make for a potent frontcourt attack.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

From the basketball writer that predicted the Y2K hoax and Balloon Boy’s whereabouts, Suns.com’s Stefan Swiat will lay his already shattered reputation on the line to predict with all uncertainty, how the Suns will fare this season. Brace yourselves to see the limb he will not go out on:

Basketball experts are predicting the Suns to finish anywhere between 10th and seventh in the Western Conference. ESPN’s Marc Stein, perhaps in an attempt to receive extra Cold Stone at halftime, wrote that the Suns will be the surprise team of the Western Conference, finishing sixth overall. Thanks Marc!

“I just know that in the past, the core group of this team has been in a situation where they’ve won at least 10 straight games every year that I’ve been here except last year,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “Some kind of way we just have to play good enough basketball to so that we can get into the playoffs. We have to find a way to be better than one of those teams that finished ahead of us last year.”

When people wonder how the Suns are going to do this season, I tell them at as long as they all stay healthy, they are definitely a playoff team. Phoenix missed the playoffs by two games, holding the second-best record of all-time by a team (46-36) not to participate in the postseason.

The Suns would’ve been the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but has the misfortune of playing in the highly-competitive Western Conference. But the offseason brought with it a few advantages.

First, when you look at the final standings from last season, the Rockets ended up with the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. But they’re missing their top three scorers from last season and it’s going to be tough for them to manage enough firepower to sneak into the playoff hunt.

Also, after the Suns’ ninth-place finish last season, the next closest team to them in the standings were the Warriors, who were 17 games behind them. Everyone is talking about how the Clippers are much-improved – which they may be – but they finished 27 games behind the Suns last year.

The Thunder have been getting billed as a young and exciting team that’s on their way up, but they concluded the season 23 games behind the Suns. That’s a ton of a ground for these teams to make up over an offseason.

“For the style of play that we have and what we’re trying to get done, this is a good team,” Gentry said. “Most of these guys have been here and played in this system so it’s just a matter of executing and getting in great shape so we can play this way for 48 minutes. And if we do that, I’ll be happy.”

So let’s say that the Suns remain the same and finish ahead of everyone they did last year and move ahead of Houston, they’re a lock for the playoffs. That’s just the minimum to expect.

Now what if a star player on one of the other top seven teams get injured? Besides the Lakers and the Spurs, the rest of the teams would have a tough time absorbing an injury to a key player.


Sixth Man of the Year candidates better watch out.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Now what about the Suns? Why do I think they’ll be better this season? I’ll give you five quick reasons:

1) Improved chemistry: It wasn’t that Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t a positive locker room influence and a presence in the paint – which he was – but now every single member of the team thrives in an up-tempo offense.

Plus, these guys really get along. There is a clear pecking order in the locker room with Nash and Hill as the team leaders and Amar’e Stoudemire bringing an upbeat attitude every day to practice.

I just spent an inordinate amount of time with them on a road trip and everyone jokes around with each other all the time.

It goes a long way when you enjoy going to work with people that you like.

You don’t want to disappoint each other and it makes it tough to turn against the group when difficult times arise.

2) Channing Frye: With the 6-11 Frye spreading the floor from the perimeter, Stoudemire has the entire paint at his disposal. They’re the perfect complements to each other on the offensive end.

3) Diminished expectations: How many times in sports do people give up on a player or team too early and they come back at them that one last time like a villain in a horror movie? That’s right. Too many times. And I think the Suns could play that Michael Meyers-type role. There’s nothing more dangerous than talented players with nothing to lose. In the words of Cool Hand Luke, “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”

4) A healthy Amar’e: You have to remember, Stoudemire was the NBA’s fifth leading scorer in 2007-08. He was the team’s leading scorer and would have been 13th overall in the NBA last season if he would have played enough games. He missed 29 games and played only two under Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry. That’s a lot of production the team was missing. When Gentry was asked about STAT’s ceiling as a player, he responded, “I don’t think he has one.” But Gentry knows that the team has to be patient. “To think that a guy can sit out seven months, play eight games and be back to where he was is really unrealistic,” he said. “I think he’ll get there. Now will it take 10 regular season games, 12 or 15 regular season games? We don’t know that. We just know he’s working to get back towards that.”

As I look into my crystal ball, here are some other predictions I only want you to remember if I’m right:

1) Amar’e Stoudemire will have one of the best statistical seasons of his career. His shooting touch from the outside is as good as it’s ever been and the team is on pace to score a lot of points with him being the first option. With him looking to silence doubters, playing for the biggest contract of his career and him being well-rested, I would have said with utmost confidence he’d be a shoe-in for an MVP-like season… if he would have came back from his injury just a couple months earlier. But since he’s working his way back into shape, I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays well early, but becomes an utter monster after the All-Star break. After missing most of the 2005-06 season, he averaged 9.6 rebounds a game in 2006-07, while after a shortened 2003-04 season, he averaged 26 points a game in 2004-05. STAT is known for coming back strong from injuries.

2) Leandro Barbosa, who for some strange reason isn’t in the preseason discussion for Sixth Man of the Year, will be at the season’s end. Currently, Boston’s Rasheed Wallace, the Lakers’ Lamar Odom and San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili have the inside track. But all of those teams have a ton of threats on offense that will keep those three players from having remarkable numbers. Not to say that the Suns don’t, but they also average a ton of points, so there are more to go around. To keep in perspective how explosive Barbosa can be, he led the team in scoring 13 times last season despite reporting to the team late due to his mother’s death. He’s also coming off a FIBA Americas Championship where he personally dominated the tournament and led his team to a gold medal.

3) Channing Frye will make a run for Most Improved Player. Whenever this guy gets minutes, he produces. As a rookie in New York, he averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in 24 minutes a night. That’s over 25 points and nearly 12 rebounds per 48 minutes. Now with the opportunity to make mistakes and not be looking over his shoulder, Frye is going to thrive in Phoenix. Last year, he averaged only 4.2 points and 2.2. rebounds in 11.8 minutes, while this preseason he’s already averaging 12.3 points on 43 percent shooting from downtown. Expect those numbers to rise as he becomes more comfortable too.

4) The bench will be a factor. Remember when two years ago everyone criticized former Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni for not resting the starters enough and not developing the young players? Well, Gentry heard that too. When he took over last season, the minutes of Louis Amundson, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic all skyrocketed. All of those players responded too, playing their basketball at the end of the season. When the starters went to the bench with the lead at the end of last year, the reserves would hold or increase the lead. Expect all of them to pick up where they left off last season.

5) Steve Nash will lead the NBA in assists. He finished third in the league in assists last season, but was tied for first with Utah’s Deron Williams in assists per 48 minutes. Expect increased production from the two-time MVP this season, considering everyone in the organization is on the same page offensively this season. Just that little bump should make all the difference for Nash, who in my mind, looked fresher when he came into camp this year than he did last year. It might just be my imagination, but he looks a little quicker to me this year than last year.

6) Sorry to report, but the Suns won’t break the record for most points a game by a team. That honor belongs to the 1981-82 Nuggets, who averaged 126.5 for the season. Last year, the Suns 117.7 after the All-Star break, and although I think their scoring will rise a little, almost 10 points a game more is a lot to make up. I can’t wait to see them try though. However, they will lead the NBA in points and field goal percentage again though.

Suns broadcaster Tim Kempton told me he thinks this team will win over 50 games. He might be right. I think their best-case scenario is around 55-58 wins, if everyone stays healthy and they pull out all of their nail-biters.

Their worst-case scenario is 45 games, which will be good enough for an eighth seed. I’m guessing the median of the two will be good enough for the sixth or seventh seed, but they’re going to come on strong in the second half of the season and be one of the surprise teams in the league this season.

One thing that’s easy to predict is that no one is going to want to see them in April.

  • Brad Evans

    Dont let these guys fool ya. “lucky to make the playoffs” Thats just what Steve and the boys want people to think. I think there playing possum. You wait, these guys are going to rain hell on peoples heads!!
    Its going to be a Sunny season.

  • http://Suns.com Vaid

    I can’t wait to see my Phoenix Suns team get back to the run and gun team like they were for four year of five in a row i love Earl Clark Good Player Same As Taylor Griffin great picks
    and also including Channing Frye Hes going to be a good center for the Suns this season even with Robin Lopez Improving as well

  • Osbert L. Malinao

    go suns, cant w8 for the start of the season… so xcited, the suns gonna run every team over… they”ll HIT n RUN everyone!!!

  • Jason

    I agree with this article, except you left out the 2 most important predictions…

    1. PHX will win the West!
    2. The Suns will win the title this year!!

    The NBA Championship will come home to PHX!!

    GO PURRPLE & ORANGE!!!

  • Beavis

    Wow, very optimistic attitude and a good article. Everything you said is very possible, but you also have to take in the fact that our biggest weakness(Rebounding) could be a major factor in where we end up this season. This is our worst rebounding team ever. At least before we had Marion. I don’t think Frye can be the rebounder we need him to be if he’s shooting too many threes. He definitely won’t get that many offensive rebounds, so we will need him to crash the boards on the defensive end. Our best rebounder is Amundson. If he would get starter minutes he would lead this team in rebounding. Probably about 8-10 rebounds a game which is nearly as good as Marion. However, he won’t get those minutes because he can’t shoot. Therefore, he can’t makeup for the impact that Marion had with this team. Amare will have to carry the load. Can he? My best case scenario is we win about 50-52 games. I feel like this team is really just a great rebounder away from being a contender. We need one more star. I hope we can fulfill our potential as a team this year and make the playoffs. Then perhaps we can give Amare his extension and sign a good rebounding player for next season and get back to that contender status we used to be at. I think this team can do that. Our bench is the best we’ve had in the Nash era and I know that Nash and Hill still have enough left in the tank for a couple more years. We just need one more piece to the puzzle to make a run at it.

  • chucknashty

    I think that the suns will be the surprise team in the west this year, sounds so funny doesnt it? I agree that they are a star role player away from really contending team in the competitive west. But it doesnt matter, they could still go all the way, stranger things have happened.

  • phxhoopsfan

    It seems that there are many optimistic Suns fans. I take the realistic approach. The Suns will be lucky to make the playoffs next year. The Suns will be lucky to still have Amare at the end of the year. Can you say, “rebuilding process”. This team is horrible. They are only a shell of the talent they had a few years ago. Horrible front office and personel decissions have left the once mighty Suns as the an average NBA team. From Sarver’s terrible fumble on resigning Joe Johnson, giving away 1st round pics, to the comical hiring of Steve Kerr.

    The Suns are tiny and they can not defend or rebound. Now with the new roster they will not be able to spread the court like they once did. The 3 ball will not be even close to the weapon that it had been in the past. Amare should have a good statistical season(offensively). He is a decent off the ball shot blocker but he is still a defensive liability on the ball. The bench is terrible aswell(whether LB starts or not). Dudley, Amundsen, Dragic, etc… Good one. Us Suns fans are in for a long season!!! Fire Kerr and impeach Sarver!

  • jimmy z

    The Shaqless Suns will once again be the most entertaining team in any sports arena. I luv the big fella but let him slow down Lebron. Nash will again dominate the game the way it is supposed to be played.

  • stat_#1

    phxhoopsfan:
    While your reply has a few good points, I totally disagree with most of what you said. Ownership/management has been horrible and they are small, but they are by no means “horrible.” Also, your quote about the bench just shows your ignorance. While we may not have the most talented bench, they are not terrible. They are some of the hardest working players in the NBA, especially Amundson and Dudley. We will have a tough time rebounding, but I’m looking to Amare to really step up this year (he is playing for a contract). Jarron Collins should be able to help a little bit with that. We will definitely be able to spread the floor. Steve, J-Rich, LB, and Channing can all hit it from deep, which will open up the basket for STAT (who’s also a great mid-range shooter). I also believe the defense is getting better. We’re not a lock-down team by any stretch of the imagination, but we are forcing more turnovers. LB in particular is finally utilizing his 7′ wingspan to get in the passing lanes. Our pick-and-roll D is also better than last year, since Channing is much more mobile and will be able to get out on the shooters. This team is too talented to not make the playoffs. I may be an optimist, but your take is more pessimistic than realistic.

    P.S. – How can you say they are rebuilding when they resigned to 30-something-year-old players?

  • stormwarlynn

    the suns will surprise the west and they will take it all
    becouse they are not greedy ball hogs like so many others

    go suns
    semper fi

  • phxhoopsfan

    STAT_#1-

    First off you need to drop your obvious bias for the Suns. I have been a fan my enter life. I am only stating the obvious and comparing the Suns to the teams they have had just a few years ago.

    Yes this team is terrible! The bench is terrible too(one of the worst in the league). The NBA is about talent. Not how hard you try to work. If you combo talent with work ethic then that is what wins. Not talentless hard workers. The ablility to spread the floor is not even close to the years past aswell. It will be pic and roll everytime down the court. Lets pray LB and J Rich are on the floor 48 minutes of 82 games. This team is in big trouble. Getting the 8th seed is not a successful season in my mind!

    The rebuilding process will begin when they trade Amare this year after conceiting that the year has been lost. You need to get realistic and look at the Suns without your bias. This team is not very talented. Somewhere in the middle of the pack.

    Just like the Dbacks its going to be some time before the Suns are relevent again in the NBA. When you were so close to a championship you dont hold back like Sarver did. Look at Portland its been almost a decade for them to rebuild. I guess tickets will be easier and cheaper to get now. All the ban-wagon Suns fans are going to have to find another hobby. Enjoy your new hobby STAT_#1…

  • claude

    the suns will win the championship this year, because my man leadro barbosa is back. shaq is gone, and amar’e stoudmire is also back, so good luck suns

  • SUNS FAN

    The Phoenix Suns will be the Champions of the ’09-’10 NBA season, forget the Lakers, Magic, Cavs, or Celtics, It’s all about the Suns. Who will win MVP, not Kobe, Superman, LeBron, or KG, the MVP will be Amar’e Stoudemire!!!

  • JOHN SERPE

    It’s about the little things fans. Suns have talent and it’s been here for many years, but you have to bring heart, toughness, and most importantly CHEMISTY with it. It’s a team sport, not a boxing match. Hustling for loose balls, boxing out and rebounding in the trenches wins games. Suns can’t afford to play great one night and look like a high school team the next. If the dedication ever comes together we could be the cinderella of the league. It doesn’t happen often, but this group may just be the ones to finally do it.

  • Michael

    Wow, quite a pessimistic reaction from phxhoopsfan. While I’m not going to respond in a transitory attack, I will disagree with you on several of your points, first being our bench. Holding bench players to an extremely high standard is a futile exercise, as they are bench players. Leandro Barbosa is a very strong off the bench player, Dragic is an improving second year player, and Amundson is a trash-heap player, someone who picks up all those ugly statistics that add up to a win. As for our starting five, I fail to see the weakness that you are occupied with. Amare Stoudemire (in my mind) is, if not the best power forward in the league, at least in the running. Steve Nash is probably between the 4th and 7th best Point currently (although without the juggernaut occupying the lane, I’m willing to bet that his numbers improve greatly). Frye has played extremely well, and should bring a better synergy to our team than his ogre-ish predecessor. Richardson is a good scorer, and keeps the pace well, and Grant Hill is a veteran that brings a sense of leadership to the floor, while still representing a solid performer. I’m not sure what side of the Suns you’re seeing, as this reminds me ALOT of the team we had a couple years ago, and with Gentry coaching, will average between 110 and 120 points a game this year I’m willing to bet, as Porter did everything he could to destroy the Suns overall gameplan and we STILL had a high average. The only real question is what we add to this roster in order to bump us from a mid-range playoff team to a top 3, and I think the answer to that will have to come next season. Being so down on a franchise that has CONTINUALLY brought you playoff teams is quite cynical in and of itself. Have faith, and let the good times roll.

  • phxhoopsfan

    I guess I should have expected a huge Suns bias here. I’ll say it again. I have been a Suns fan for my entire life. Amare is my favorite player. I used to believe that he would transform into a top 3 player in the NBA. That has not happened. Amare can not be put into this category because he is an average rebounder and a below average defender. He only averages about 1 assist a game. He does not set anybody up. He can not even post up with his back to the basket. There is no way he is the best PF or even close to that. I will say that he is one of the best finishers in the game though, but basketball is so much more then dunking.

    Take a look at last nights game against the worst franchise in the NBA(LAC). It took the Suns untill the 4th quarter to pull it out. Amare only took 6 shots(6 TO aswell). This is due to the Suns inability to spread the court. Although J-Rich did not play he will not make a large difference becuase of how streaky he is. If G. Hill is going to be our leading rebounder we are in major trouble.

    The reason I am so down on the Suns franchise is because they were so close to a championship and didn’t try hard enough to push over the top. Sarver was and is deathly afraid of paying a luxory tax. Everyone knows you don’t buy professional teams to make money(unless its the Yankees, or Cowboys). I will continue to watch and evaluate this low to average talent based Suns team. PHX fans need to get real and accept that this team is no good. The 7th or 8th seed is not a successful season!

    I don’t accept a high price crappy product! Ownership needs to know us fans know they destroyed our team! Demand better product or you will not get it! Wake up, “sheeple”.

  • http://yahoo David Wicklund

    I think that it was about time they got rid of Shaq. I think losing him will improve the team. Plus he never could play upbeat basketball. When you have five guys on the court that can play up beat it makes your team that much better.

  • Hesam

    With the big liability, Shaq, gone suns play smoothly at a 60% level with possible losing games against Boston, Lakers, Dallas, Cavs and couple of other teams.
    Suns players like Nash must become scorers and shooters instead of assist-leaders and defenders or rebounders.
    Suns also need a talented 7 footer who can shoot.
    Last year my prediction came near perfectly.
    Assumind none of main players get injured this year I’m predicting a 49-33 season.
    And loss at western semifinals.

  • http://myspace.com Kevin

    yahh,
    GO SUNS !!
    im expecting a better season for the suns this season, because now that channing frye is in, he is a talented young man, he can control the paint, and has the power to size up bigger guys like shaq or dwight howard
    another reason is that amare is back and running, healthier, stronger, and hopefully he will stay with the team and bring back some defense in the suns
    another reason is the my fav, steve nash, he needs to play up tempo offense and need him to atleast score 15+ points a game, and he needs those assists to feed suns with more stats
    barbosa and the other guys will be a BIG help for backup this season, they play good offense and defense

  • flyeaglefly

    If the HEALTH god looks favorably upon us we will finally be able to get to the top four seed spot. PLUS we finally have a coaching staff that is the best weve had for a long time. Thank goodness for my direct tv packakge so we here in Arkansas can enjoy EVERY game .GO GO SUNS

  • breakingshadows

    I do see the perspective from Kerr’s point of view wanting to go young and build a team from that but did he really choose a future talented young group? NO! I believe out of all the “young” talent he chose is probably Earl Clark and Channing Frye. Not too bad but look at it this way, can two bench players carry them in “clutch” moments to help them win big games or even games in the playoffs? Definitely not! His moves were more of a “salary safe” move which does not help the Suns’ situation after last season. I was not a fan of Shaq’s so with him gone I believe if they stay with the ‘run and gun’ game they have some chance but when it comes to playoffs obviously the team with best defense will always win. Now making it to the playoffs? It is a possibility but think of it this way. The West consist of the toughest teams to compete against for playoff hopes. Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavs, Blazers, Hornets, Jazz. 8th seed would be my prediction for the Suns this season but lets not forget the improving Memphis Grizzlies which I believe have the best young talent on their team, now they did not resign Hakeem Warrick which would of been a great deal of help with his athleticism but they did get Iverson. Minnesota has some very good talent as well, as long as the coach understands how to use each player. Which I believe that T-wolves, Grizzlies, and the Suns are all contenders for 8th seed. Only time will tell but Suns fans should not get their hope up and stop posting so biased comments.

  • Emerson Costa

    Leandro Barbosa will be the MVP this season!

  • Patrick Marquez

    Steve Nash will be an MVP contender this season. Healthy Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill and leandro barbosa and couples of athletic rookies = excellent chemistry for the suns!GO SUNS! finish it no.1 in the division!

  • CLINTON

    I think we are going to finish 3rd or 4th and go deep into the playoffs

  • Jessenia

    I loved the article… very optimistic. Leandro Barbosa is the most amazing player. No, he’s not Kobe Bryant nor Lebron James. But he has such a positive and encouraging attitude. I’d take that in a player over an arrogant super-star. LEANDRO BARBOSA 6TH MAN OF THE YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tony4Real 973

    In reality I dont know how many of you all watch every phoenix suns game but I do. And I know that the talent is there Nash is the second or third best point guard in the league. An adition we need that I think will make us a considerable contender is a 2 or a 3 that can create of the dribble and take a little pressure off of nash because if you really watch nash like I do he is one of the best scorers in the league.
    Just like how Chris Paul passes and get his(scoring) Nash has to score more points offensively.
    We have the talent to win a championship right now but is about how the coach uses the talent. Dragic is improving steadily, Barbosa is good but needs to become a more all around player, J Rich is a good scorer btu it may be nice sometimes if he can work inside out sometime instead of the opposite all the time. Amare is a great scorer and a descent rebounder but he needs to dominate in more areas sometimes he seems to just focus on scoring a little too much. Frye is ok and I expect him to play about 25-30 mins a night.
    We got horses, scorers and an unbelievable passer my only question is our desire. You got to want to play defense every night I know we can do it but are we? New season lets get some new results and get this ring.