The regular season has arrived and the Phoenix Suns are poised for a special year. Having watched this team closely throughout the preseason, I think we are in great shape and have made some real improvements over last season.


The Suns improved in a number of ways by acquiring Grant Hill. He is just a phenomenal basketball player. What a lot of people don’t remember is that he is a 20-plus points a game scorer over his career and you just don’t lose that ability. In addition, his personality fits so well into the team and he is so intelligent. I think that he’s going to have a super year in this system

I have also been impressed with the bench play, especially Marcus Banks and Sean Marks. Marcus appears to have finally grasped his role on this team and accepted it, and due to the Suns’ lack of big men, Sean has been a real bright spot because of his ability to get up and down the floor, and score inside. He’s similar to Kurt Thomas, but even more athletic.


I actually kind of see myself in Sean because I was in a similar situation during my career. We always knew that he could play, it was just a matter of him getting minutes. Now he’s getting minutes and showing what he can do and his confidence is growing with the playing time that he is receiving. It’s a cycle. More minutes equals more confidence, which leads to more minutes and more confidence.



Kempton sees promise in Marks.
(NBAE Photos)

I have taken a personal interest in his story because I love the way he plays, he’s a great guy and very level-headed about the game. All the guys at this level are talented. If you make it to the NBA, you make it here for a reason. It’s just a matter of finding your way into the rotation, and Sean is doing just that.


The rookies have shined through, too. Both Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry earned valuable experience by staying all four years in college. They weren’t drafted in the top 10, so they aren’t considered superstars, but they are off to a tremendous start.


It’s important to have rookies that understand the game and themselves. You can see it right away because the difference between college and the NBA is drastic. A guy who gets by on talent in college can struggle in the league because almost everyone is physically gifted in college.


We all know that the Suns are an upper-echelon team, but there are about five or six teams that have the pieces to possibly make a run at the Finals. As the year goes on, though, you will see a certain type of progression and consistency that will be limited to just a couple of those teams.

When the 1992-93 team I was on entered the season, we thought we had the pieces in place to make it to the Finals. We had Charles Barkley, we had leadership and a great point guard in Kevin Johnson, a three-point threat in Dan Majerle, role players like Cedric Ceballos (who averaged 13 points a night without a play getting called for him) as a hustle guy. We had a solid big man in the middle in Mark West, who despite not being counted on to score points, accepted his role for the good of the team. We also had some solid veterans in Tom Chambers and Danny Ainge.

We knew we had all the pieces headed into that season and we progressed as the year went on. It was a magical season, but we just ran into the wrong team. In the Finals, the Bulls were just a little bit hotter than we were. An interesting fact from that series is that although we lost in six games, we scored the same amount of points as Chicago in the Finals. I think we both scored 706 points. That’s how close those six games were.


With this year’s Suns team, we’ve seen improvement already. Now the question is whether they will progress during the season. Will everybody stay healthy? I think that is the main key to the Suns winning it all. They have the right amount of youth mixed with the right amount of experience, and they have great guys coming off the bench in Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.

Will this be the year the Suns win their first NBA Championship? We won’t know for another eight months, but it’s going to be a lot of fun watching their progression along the way.

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