Watching the kind of attention being paid to the Suns in media around the country during All-Star Week reminds me of the story of a man’s comment as he was being ridden out of town on a rail:
“If it wasn’t for the honor,” he said, “I’d just as soon walk”.
The thing is this was closer to the worst of times that than the best of times for the Suns to be hosting the All-Star festivities, the problem being that it focused the attention of the media at a time when things were not going all that well for the once proud Phoenix franchise.
Consequently, every visiting media member found himself duty bound to send at least one dispatch back to his home office detailing the plight of the team in gloomy terms that usually reserved for the Clippers.
The coach was being fired, the stars were being traded, and the team that used to rattle of 55-60 wins a year was on the brink of going back to expansion mode, so went the common thread that ran through all of the dispatches.
The alleged setting of the Suns seemed to cause more angst that the sinking of the Titanic. At least there were survivors on the Titanic, and many pundits seem to hold out similar hopes for the Suns, or at least all Suns not named Steve Nash.
So let me say this about all that:
First, the roof may be sagging a bit, but the sky is not falling on the Suns. Granted they have fallen from the bona fide contender status they enjoyed the last few years, but they have not fallen below the basketball version of the Mendoza line. With all their troubles, they are still five games over.500 and very much in the hunt mathematically for a playoff spot.
The owner says Pete Vecsey’s report in the New York Post that Terry Porter is about to be fired are erroneous, and that’s the only fact we have to go on at the moment. (Although it must be duly noted that just because Vecsey writes something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true).
The Suns obviously have serious issues, and in fact are bleeding from numerous self inflicted wounds, not the least of which (but not the most either) was the gamble to change their identity with the Shaq deal. As surprisingly good as Shaq has been he remains, through no fault of his own, as much a part of the problem as the solution.
Although both are vulnerable to criticism, neither Coach Terry Porter nor Amar’e Stoudemire deserve nearly as much heat as they are taking locally. Porter was dealt a hand that very few coaches are equipped to deal with, and none of them would have worked for what Terry is being paid. And while Amar’e has some holes in his game the identity crisis and management miscues the team has been caught up in has been especially disastrous for him.
Financial considerations aside, I think it’s far too early to give up on Amar’e, and I predict that if he is traded to the right team, (i.e., one with a strong coach and a solid core group) he will be dynamite. In that type of situation he WILL rebound and defend, and the rest of his skills need no upgrade.
Here the things he DOESN’T do are exacerbated by the fact nobody else on this team really does them either, so he can’t learn by example. And there’s really nobody to teach him, at least nobody he’ll listen to.
I don’t pretend to know what the Suns are going to do in the next few days, but I do believe that if they don’t do anything they’ll still make the playoffs, and won’t be dispatched as easily as is widely assumed.
The financial considerations I so casually dismissed may make it necessary to “blow the team up”, but it is a very painful option, one of those situations were the operation may be a success but the patient may die. Translation: Running up the white flag at this point would likely cause an alarming drop in the population of Planet Orange.
I think part of the problem is that a string of success and world class entertainment has raised expectations to a level that exists in very few NBA cities (like maybe three or four). Trust me, fans in most cities would be delighted with a 28-23 team. Some might even be mildly grateful for a 23-28 team.
The bottom line: The poet who said, “Of all sad things of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been” could well have written that about the Suns. Just a few short years ago they had assembled a talented young core that gave promise of greatness, but they either couldn’t or wouldn’t (and in any case didn’t) hold it together and build on it.