It’s been a summer of change for the Suns, and that’s OK. Remember last summer, when then-general manager Steve Kerr shipped out Shaquille O’Neal for two guys (Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic) who would never suit up?
And things still worked out well for the little team that no one really expected to make the playoffs. Actually, things worked out great, as the Suns advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals on sheer resolve, not to mention the inspiring play of Steve Nash, Grant Hill and a bunch of youngsters off the bench.
Of course, Amare Stoudemire had plenty to do with that, and we all know he’s now a Knick. Good luck in the Big Apple, Amare. You will be missed.
And good luck to Kerr, whose reign as GM can now be considered a success. He is certain to be a winner in whatever venue he decides to pursue. (Right now, that’s TNT broadcasts of NBA games.)
But this is about the future, or at least the here and now. This is about the new-look Suns, who boast a new team president in Lon Babby — a former player agent who knows a little something about negotiations and wily roster maneuvering. Say what you will about Babby, but he’s not likely to overpay anyone.
This is also about old standbys such as Nash, Hill, Jason Richardson and constantly emerging big man Robin Lopez and backup guard Goran Dragic.
And this is about newcomers such as Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress, who returned to the NBA after a two-year stint in Greece. One GM told me Childress could be the most underrated acquisition of the offseason, with Childress’ skills and athleticism making him a good fit for the Suns.
Of course, the same can be said for Turkoglu, especially if the Suns are getting the Turkoglu from two seasons ago in Orlando. One thing’s for certain: His ball-handling, passing and perimeter shooting skills seem to have been designed for Coach Alvin Gentry’s freewheeling offense.
“We can put the ball in his hands and take some of the pressure off Steve as far as making plays at the end of the game,” Gentry said at Turkoglu‘s introductory press conference.
It’s true that the Suns got a little older by making Turkoglu one of their main pieces. He’s 31, while Hill will be 38 when the season starts and Nash will be 36. But everyone else is either in their peak years or still getting there.
Another thing to consider is the Suns will remain one of the league’s most entertaining teams. They averaged a league-best 110 points per game last season and it’s hard to imagine that dropping off much. As long as Nash and Hill are around, the Suns are also likely to be highly competitive. Just like last season, the Suns are a solid combination of youth and Guys Who Have Been There.
I don’t know what Gentry has in store, and there’s no doubt I’m nowhere near as smart as the man, but I envision a starting lineup that looks like this:
Lopez at center, Turkoglu at power forward, Hill at small forward, Richardson at shooting guard and Nash at the point. Basically, the same as last season with Turkoglu in for Stoudemire.
Then, off the bench in the frontcourt are Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Warrick, second-year man Earl Clark and rookie Gani Lawal.
In the backcourt, it’s Dragic and Childress — and the Suns may still yet pick up another guard, especially since Leandro Barbosa was dealt to Toronto in the Turkoglu deal. Zabian Dowdell, a free agent who spent the past three seasons overseas after a fine career at Virginia Tech, fared well for the Suns in summer play and may be a possibility.
But while the roster and the front office have undergone some changes, it should pretty much be more of the same for the Suns. Namely, a lot of engaging basketball and probably more wins than anyone expects.
SCHEDULE COMING SOON
The 2010-11 NBA schedule will be released sometime within the first two weeks of August, giving fans the chance to see when the likes of the Lakers, Celtics and suddenly suave Heat of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are coming to town.
Just a guess here, but the Suns are likely to appear on national television quite a few times after last season’s trip to the conference finals.