With Steve Nash leaving the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, an era in the franchise’s history has finally come to a close. Ever since Nash joined Phoenix in 2004, parting ways with Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks, the all-star point guard became the face and core of the Suns, winning back-to-back regular season MVP titles in his first two years in Phoenix. He joined forwards, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and took Coach Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” offense and attempted to run and outgun the rest of the NBA.
As a whole, the Phoenix Suns became bigger than the simple sum of its parts. It became a legitimate title contender. Unfortunately, the Suns met with heartbreak in 2005 and 2006 at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, respectively, in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs and Mavericks each went on to win the championship during those years.
In 2008, the Suns traded Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat. Shortly after, Coach D’Antoni moved on to coach the New York Knicks. Amar’e Stoudemire eventually joined his former coach in the Big Apple in 2010. Steve Nash, the last remaining piece of that illustrious core trio, finally moved on as well.
Led by coach Alvin Gentry, the Suns look to rebuild, and at the same, improve on last season’s fifty percent winning clip. Similar to their form from the early 2000s, Phoenix’s strengths lay in its offense. It was eighth overall in the league in points per game and sixth in assists. Conversely, its Waterloo is still its defense as the Suns were 19th in rebounds per game and a very poor 21st in points allowed. Beginning with this upcoming season, if done correctly, the Phoenix Suns will be able to juggle being competitive in an already tough division while slowly building its ranks to improve further down the road.
The team received four draft picks from the Lakers in the package for Nash – first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. That’s a partial framework from which the Suns can begin a rebuilding phase. The team, however, did not undergo a complete wipe of its slate as it opted to be active this offseason to fill in the gaps left by Nash and starting small forward Grant Hill, who signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns signed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Michael Beasley and Houston Rockets’ Goran Dragic. They also managed to win the amnesty auction for Dragic’s former Rocket teammate, Luis Scola. These three new faces are set to join returning players, Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown, Channing Frye, and Marcin Gortat as the new-look Suns of the 2012-13 season.
Dragic displayed his explosive potential when he filled in for Houston’s starting point guard, Kyle Lowry, while Lowry was sidelined for weeks with a bacterial infection that kept him hospitalized for an extended period. Dragic finished the 2011-12 shortened NBA season averaging 11.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 1.0 3PPG. It was his best season yet in his five-year NBA career. Goran isn’t a total stranger to the Suns franchise. In fact, his impressive season with the Rockets was only his second as a non-Sun.
He spent 2008 through 2010 backing up Steve Nash and even showed glimpses of his potential during starting stints when Steve was injured or given games off to rest. Now that he’s matured and developed his game, it appears that Dragic is prepared to take the helm and quarterback the team’s up-tempo offense.
It comes as a big plus to the team that they were able to land Scola after signing Dragic. They are familiar with each other’s play from their time together in Houston, which should be a big help as they both adjust to their new team and environment.
Scola is a solid scorer, effective as a finisher or trailer on the fast break. His stints in international play with his homeland Argentina national team show that aggressive and fast-paced offensive sets aren’t alien to him. In fact, his notorious lack of defensive ability and/or inclination makes him a good fit for a team that will value what he can put up on the scoreboard more than how many shots he can block or how many defensive boards he can grab. Outside of Gortat and Frye, the Phoenix Suns were very thin upfront, so Scola serves to add some depth at power forward, occasionally splitting time with Frye and Beasley.
Beasley serves as the interesting x-factor addition to the team this year. His immaturity hounded him during the first two years of his NBA career with the Miami Heat. Injuries and his inconsistent ability to get into the flow of Minnesota’s offense made sense for him to part ways with them and a fresh start with Phoenix. He has both the size and range to be a versatile player, able to fill either forward position. The Suns have had a good track record in revitalizing NBA careers, such as Channing Frye and Grant Hill who have been able to turn things around.
Whether Gentry will look to improve the three-point shot that Beasley has been known to occasionally knock down or get him to develop his moves at attacking the basket to make him even more potent from the wing, Beasley’s career might just get the second-chance jumpstart that it needs. Proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. Beasley will either grow up or mess up with the Suns, there will be no in-between. He showed back in 2010 that he’s capable of lighting up the scoreboard just shy of 20 PPG. Phoenix will need an improved, more mature version of that Michael Beasley to show up when training camp begins.
As far as the starting five goes, I would have to agree with the informed speculations made on Bright Side of the Sun as they broke it down to two viable options.
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: Michael Beasley
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Shannon Brown
SF: Jared Dudley
C: Marcin Gortat
For now, it looks like the Suns have a bright future ahead of them (sorry for the pun). Gortat has shined ever since coming from behind Dwight Howard’s shadow with the Orlando Magic. Brown can fill the crucial perimeter defender role that Grant Hill used to so effectively handle. Dragic’s development hasn’t reached its apex yet and can still surprise Suns fans and pundits alike. Beasley can finally man-up and grow into the potential that Pat Riley saw when he drafted him for Miami. Throw in a few opportunities to get lucky in future drafts and the Phoenix Suns’ road back to serious playoff contention may come sooner rather than later.