I have played on a lot of teams during my playing days – club teams, college teams, professional teams from the United States, to South Korea to Russia – and there is one thing about this 2011-12 Phoenix Suns team that makes them extremely special.
It’s not the play of 16-year NBA veteran and two time MVP Steve Nash,the shooting ability of Jared Dudley – paired with his innate sense of hustle and heart – or even the pick-and-roll punch of Nash and Marcin Gortat that makes this team unique.
Nash has said numerous times this season, in a variety of ways, that this Suns team is not stacked with talent from top-to-bottom. No one looks at the Suns roster and compares it to, say, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, with Kidd and Nowitzki, or New York’s ‘Melo and Amar’e or even Minnesota’s star of Kevin Love paired with one of the best benches in the league.. That is, of course, until you look at what the Suns have been able to do, and the fact that they are still very much alive in the playoff hunt.
So what can you attribute the Phoenix Suns momentum to in spite of one of the craziest NBA schedules in history?
It’s something you don’t often hear about regarding a professional team in ANY sport, but it is something that parents talk about while passing out orange slices after Sunday soccer games. It’s discussed on the wooden bleachers in high school gymnasiums.
It revolves around things like, togetherness, unity and chemistry.
From the outside looking in, this team is a little baffling. There seem to be no bad apples or hidden agendas. Players don’t focus on stats like scoring averages, shot attempts, minutes played or assists. The only stat that truly seems to matter to this team can be found in the win-loss column.
I can tell you from experience that is extremely rare.
I played on a team early in my career that was, by no means, stacked with talent. Yet I saw players looking at stat sheets during time outs to see how many shots they had taken or points they had scored. I saw players fall out of the rotation, completely detach from the team and do little else other than show up and put a uniform on.
That behavior, I’m afraid to admit, is far more prevalent in professional sports than what I have witnessed first-hand with this Phoenix Suns team that is now sitting at 25-26, two games out of the 8th spot in the West with just 15 games left in the season.
It is an absolute rarity in the NBA for a coach to look down his bench at a guy who may have not seen a minute of action for 10 games and not only feel comfortable calling his number but also have complete faith that he will go in and rise to the occasion. Not only do those players come up with valuable performances for the Suns, but they also play with an attitude that screams: “Whatever’s best for my team.” Then they sit back down and know they may not be called upon again for another 10 games.
The team environment has become something where players from Marcin Gortat – who has played a team-high 1,674 minutes – to Josh Childress – who has played 264 minutes this season – each fully embrace each other and are collectively concerned with one stat, and one stat only. When that buzzer rings at the end of 48 minutes each night, will it be a W or an L posted?
There have been so many instances where this behavior worked out to the Suns’ benefit. On March 15, Sebastian Telfair and the entire Suns’ bench came up with a victory in Los Angeles over the Clippers after trailing double digits without Grant Hill and Steve Nash playing. Then on Monday Shannon Brown stepped into the starting lineup vs. the Spurs at home on when Grant Hill was unavailable, and he came up with a career-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Markieff Morris shook off his rookie year struggles on Sunday at Cleveland with 22 points in 26 minutes.
This team just continues to surprise, and it’s not always big minutes and big performances that count.
These things all add up to a legitimate playoff hunt, and now Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s name has been thrown around as the NBA Coach of the Year.
Add this all up, and it is truly one of the reasons I love sports. The power of the team is greater than the power of one or two. If you never give up and work hard, no one can ever really count you out.