Who would have thought it, only a few months ago? The Phoenix Suns on the verge of making it into the Western Conference Finals.
A month ago people were talking about Lakers and Mavericks with the Spurs and Nuggets having outside chances. No one was talking about Phoenix.
They have been a cursed team ever since Steve Nash was body-checked into the scorers table against the Spurs by Robert Horry. They haven’t really contended for this sort of success since that day.
The Suns have made the Conference Finals twice in the last six years, only to come up short. They almost made the conference finals in 2006 but were thwarted by a Robert Horry body-check that resulted in players being suspended.
Nash won two NBA MVP trophies and had one of the most dominating starting lineups in the league during those years, but still came up short. They let Joe Johnson go, traded away Shawn Marion and draft pick after draft pick, leaving them with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire and question marks.
The team has really turned it around this year and it all stems from the play of its leader: Steve Nash.
Nash has a history of making players into stars. He did it for Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson and he’s doing it now for Jason Richardson and Channing Frye. It seems no matter who he is playing with on the court, they are better because Nash gives them the ball in the right spot at the right moment. The point guard shows confidence in their ability to score and they do.
He handles that ball out there with such confidence. He runs the floor with ease and seems to always find an open player. Whether he earns the assist or not, the team usually comes out of each set with a decent shot at the basket.
Amare Stoudamire is not complaining.
He has been the beneficiary of Steve Nash’s leadership since Nash arrived to Phoenix in 2004. Now, that’s not to say Amare isn’t one heck of an NBA player on his own merit, but Nash has certainly made his job easier. In fact, this summer Amare might be thanking Nash a whole lot if Stoudamire is able to cash in on a big payday in this summers free agent market.
Amare may now be the premier big man on the market this off-season. Sorry, Chris Bosh. He is almost assured a max contract from somewhere. Hopefully for the Suns, he is able to stick around and continue his alliance with Nash.
GM Steve Kerr will have some tough decisions to make this off-season, but for now he should be happy to watch the team he has built perform in the desert. The Suns have achieved higher than expectations.
Kerr has finally found the right mix of players. Something the team has been searching for since it lost to San Antonio in the Conference Finals in 2005. Players have come in and players have left. Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson, Shaquille Oneal… the list goes on and on. They have never found the right mix of players.
But this year, led by Nash and Amare, the Suns have found the magic necessary to compete with the top teams in the very tough Western Conference. Kerr is the one who brought them in. Not all are household names, but they have fit in well. Most are castaways from other teams or former stars that lost a bit of their lustre.
Channing Frye, a tough inside player with a three-point shot let go by New York despite consistent play. Jared Dudley, a defensive specialist who played a key role on a rebuilding Charlotte team. Grant Hill, the ageless wonder playing like he is wearing a Duke uniform, was let go by Orlando and was pondering retirement before Kerr snapped him up and added him to the Suns frontcourt. Goran Dragic, the apparent successor to Steve Nash emerging as a hero in these playoffs was acquired from the Spurs after being drafted 46th overall in 2008 (don’t they wish they had that one back now). And Jason Richardson, emerging as a possible future star in this league was a key Kerr acquisition at the end of the 2008 season and has been a focal point for the team on offense.
Finally a balanced attack. One that coach Alvin Gentry has used perfectly in taking down the Trailblazers and now the Spurs.
Kudos to GM Steve Kerr for sticking with the right pieces and making smart off-season moves and trades to fill in the missing holes. And kudos to Alvin Gentry who has gotten the most out of this team.
One thing is for certain, this is not a team I would want to be facing in the Conference Finals.
Good luck to the Lakers.
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***Kristoffer Pedlar The Zan Tabak Herald