A lot of Phoenix Suns fans – myself included – were rather disappointed with the way the 2006-2007 season ended. This past month, however, I think we’ve all gotten plenty or reminders as to just how lucky we truly are.
Hill’s first All-Star appearance was right here in Phoenix back in 1995
Hill’s first All-Star appearance was right here in Phoenix back in 1995.�� (NBAE Photos)
The biggest reminder came in the signing of six-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill. Hill, who was reportedly suited by more than 10 NBA teams, took a significant pay cut to play here in the Valley. The two largest reasons for Hill choosing the Suns – a shot at playing for an NBA Championship and an enjoyable system which fits his style of play. There are a number of teams out there who would love to have just one of those two attributes, let alone both.
“Style of play.” It’s a term I’ve heard a lot since the summer began, particularly from prospects who made their way to the US Airways Center for workouts. It appeared every potential rookie I interviewed brought up the fact that the Phoenix Suns utilize a system which fits their style of play. It’s precisely why Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry have worn smiles from ear-to-ear since being selected by Phoenix on Draft Day.
People want to play for the Phoenix Suns, everyone from aspiring young rookies to All-Star veterans. I think that speaks volumes about not only the organization, but the city and its fans as well. Anybody willing to put up with summers as hot as the ones in Phoenix are, must really like everything this team and this city has to offer.
For players to turn down offers for more money, and from teams in which they would “be the man”, to play for the Suns should make fans as well as the organization very proud. Don’t take this out of context as a direct comparison, but it really is reminiscent of what players have done for years to play for the New York Yankees (considered by many, the powerhouse of sports organizations worldwide). Players taking pay cuts (although you wouldn’t know it by the Yankees’ payroll) to play for a team they can be proud to say they represent is something not done for many organizations.
As far as the moves the Suns have made this offseason, I definitely say so far so good. Hill is not only an All-Star and an Olympic gold medal winner, but a class act as well. He will be great in the locker room and I think will reap the benefits of having other All-Stars around him. With the exception of Joe Dumars early in his NBA career and a young, inexperienced Dwight Howard later on, Hill has never consistently had other All-Star players around him. Now he’ll have three, including a two-time MVP in Steve Nash. As fans, how can you not be excited about a guy who has played in six All-Star Games joining a team as arguably their fourth option??
I think Mike D’Antoni put it best during last week’s press conference when he said, “Arizona just got better, the Suns just got better, even if he doesn’t play a minute. If you’ve been around him and his family, we just got better.”
My favorite moment of the press conference came shortly thereafter when D’Antoni added, “I think he’s a young 35 and we’re looking forward not only to his leadership, but his playing ability.”
A smiling Grant Hill interjected that he is only 34, to which D’Antoni responded, “See, he’s getting younger all the time.”
Obviously D’Antoni isn’t adding Hill with the aspiration the star won’t log any playing time. But it speaks volumes that a guy can potentially make an impact for a team before even stepping onto the floor. Everything Hill does beyond that will be icing on the cake.
I know a lot of people are concerned with Hill’s age, but weren’t a lot of people expressing similar concerns about Nash a few years back? Hill pointed out that the excellent training staff enjoyed by the Suns also played a part in his decision-making process. Also keep in mind this is a guy who played in the All-Star Game just two seasons ago and was a top candidate to partake in the game just this past winter.
Perhaps I’m so quick to defend the age of the veteran because when people talk about him being “over-the-hill” it makes me feel a bit older too. I first moved to Phoenix from New York in August of 1994, and in desperate need of a hobby, began following the game of basketball. I had first expressed interest in the game during the early 90s after Phoenix had acquired Charles Barkley from the 76ers. Although I knew nothing about the sport, I proceeded to tell everybody in New York I was a Suns fan. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over too well.
When the Knicks qualified for the NBA Finals in 1994, the whole city of New York was in a frenzy. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the hype and quickly found myself going from basketball novice to basketball thinks-he-knows-it-all. It was a great series which went the distance of seven games, and while my home team came up short to Houston, the NBA had definitely captured my interest.
I moved out to Phoenix shortly afterwards and the 1994-95 season was the first I planned on following from the beginning. While I appreciated the veterans of the game in Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, it was the young up-and-comers who most sparked my interest. I loved watching the future of the league in guys like Anfernee Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. Perhaps it was because I had never really gotten to see guys like Magic, Bird and Michael (at least not at this point), I liked to believe I was watching the quintessential in these younger renditions.
To me, the 1994-95 season produced two of the most anticipated rookies in memory (perhaps due to the fact it was my first season following basketball, I’m not sure) in Duke’s Grant Hill and Cal’s Jason Kidd. Hill was so popular in fact, he became the only rookie ever to lead any sport in All-Star voting (for a game which ironically enough took place right here in Phoenix). While Kidd didn’t qualify for the contest, in no way did he take a backseat to Hill in terms of spotlight. Night after night, the two produced some unbelievable highlights and their play ultimately helped them to co-Rookie of the Year honors.
For Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry meanwhile, their NBA journey is just beginning. And if summer league is any indication, their marriage to Phoenix should be a beautiful one. Having seen Tucker play, I can honestly say he’ll be among the most exciting rookies to watch this upcoming season. He plays hard and does a great job of getting ahead of the pack which makes the Suns even better in terms of their ability to run (which to me is like somebody saying “Yeah, he’s kind of like Superman only stronger”).
As long as the Suns can find ways to consistently rebound underneath the basket, Tucker will often find ways to show off his speed. Is he as fast as Leandro Barbosa? No, but not many are. I think Tucker makes up for that, however, with his ability to think fast. He’s got great reaction speed and in this system, that’s equally if not more important than being fast physically.
Strawberry meanwhile surprised many in the 202007 Summer League, but surprising people is anything but new to the former Maryland guard. The son of former Major League All-Star Darryl Strawberry first began turning heads as far back as the workouts in Orlando, Florida. His defensive toughness matched with his quickness is not a combination seen often in this league. While he’s still obviously a ways away from the overall ability of Shawn Marion (not to mention the All-Star appearances), his play reminds me of the Matrix nonetheless. If Strawberry plays at the two-guard position, his long arms are going to provide many headaches for opponents. It’ll be kind of like when Marion had the task of guarding Sam Cassell in the playoffs a couple years back. The only question right now is whether or not Strawberry’s feet will be able to keep up. On offense, those feet have not been a problem, particularly in Phoenix’s contest against Portland where the New York native contributed a game-high 27 points.
As a Mets fan, I’ll be the first to admit I may be a little biased when it comes to Strawberry. But I’ve seen first hand how dominant those athletic genes can be, especially in Major League Baseball. It’s actually the son of former slugger Cecil Fielder currently leading the National League in homeruns. Just behind him is former Mariner and current Red Ken Griffey Jr. who is of course the son of former star Ken Griffey. Where the children of former Major League Baseball stars rank in terms of NBA stardom, I’m not too sure. Guess we’ll just have to wait until the 202007-08 season to find out.