I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure Steve Kerr would last the season.
I had my doubts about Alvin Gentry, too.
I wondered how well Steve Nash and Grant Hill will hold up, and if Amare Stoudemire would still be with the Suns after the February trading deadline had passed.
Basically, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Suns at the beginning of the year. I knew they had to do something relatively special. I knew making the playoffs again would be a start. I knew getting a little production from all those young guys on the bench would certainly help.
Other than that, I knew nothing.
You might say I still don’t, and you might be right. But one thing I am sure of is, heading into the playoffs, the Suns have been the NBA’s biggest (and best) surprise.
They own the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, possess home-court advantage in the first round against Portland and like any true contender, have fared well on the road.
I remember at the beginning of the season, when Kerr told me the Suns “are due for some good luck.” Kerr knew he probably needed it to keep the franchise headed in the right direction. He knew he probably needed it to remain GM of the Suns.
ESPN analyst Mark Jackson compared Kerr to a prize fighter during the Suns’ big win in Utah to finish the regular season, saying Kerr was against the ropes … that he was all but down for the count … that he had to come out swinging and save some face.
Then Jackson gave Kerr much-deserved credit for drafting under-the-radar guys like Goran Dragic (2008) and Robin Lopez (2009), and making trades for young hustlers such as Jared Dudley and Louis Admundson.
It makes all of it easy to forget last season, when things appeared to be deteriorating quickly. The Suns, it appeared, were setting.
Remember how Nash seemed angry and hurt after the Suns traded good friend Raja Bell (and Boris Diaw) to Charlotte in a deal that landed them Dudley and Jason Richardson? Remember how fans and reporters usually took Nash’s side, implying that it may have been the wrong move?
Well, it doesn’t seem like such a lousy idea these days, considering the Suns are where they are and Bell was just waived by Golden State (following a trade by the Bobcats). Nothing against Bell — who’s a fine person and made a nice contribution to the Suns during his time in Phoenix — but it just goes to show that Kerr actually did have a plan.
And remember when Kerr gave Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland for two guys whom nobody really wanted in Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic? Like Bell, Shaq is a wonderful person. But he just didn’t fit in with the Suns.
But rather than phoning it in and waiting for his walking papers, Kerr hired the previously interim Gentry as full-time coach, then pulled off a few moves that suddenly make perfect sense.
It’s almost as if Kerr built the team in his own image, as the Suns are overachieving and fun to watch, hard workers who can shoot the lights out.
Like the GM, the team has proven everyone wrong. And not once have Kerr, Gentry or the players said, “I told you so.”
Unless, of course, you’ve been following them on the court. Then you’ll know they have said it practically every night.
With the playoffs upon us, all the doubts can finally be put to rest. If you love the Suns, that alone has to feel pretty good.
Sam Amico is a reporter for NBA.com, the founder of ProBasketballNews.com, and a regular contributor to Suns.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.