At the risk of sounding like Rodney Dangerfield, the Suns aren’t getting no respect as they get set to embark on their 2008-09 season Wednesday in San Antonio.
A smattering of national and local writers generally expect the Suns to fall among the bottom tier of playoffs teams in the rugged Western Conference, and I could not find a single so-called analyst audacious enough to pick the Suns to reach the Finals.
In past years you could always count on at least a Marc Stein or Scoop Jackson of ESPN.com to show some Suns love, but this year it’s all about the Lakers, Celtics, Hornets, Spurs, etc.
A quick look at HoopsHype’s predictions from the last three years show just how far the Suns have fallen.
In the 2006-07 rankings, two of five experts predicted the Suns to go all the way, and three of the five experts picked Phoenix to win it all last season. In both years, all five of the experts tabbed the Suns to win their division.
Now this year only Suns color guy/homer Eddie Johnson picks them to even hold home-court advantage in a playoff series.
Here’s a smattering of how the other so-called experts view the Suns:
- On ESPN.com, none of the 18 experts have the Suns sniffing a title, with five teams receiving votes, including the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs and Rockets from the West.
- That doesn’t even include Bill Simmons, who picked the Suns to squeak into the playoffs by one game as a No. 8 seed with a measly 43-39 record, writing the window will close on the Suns’ title chances before comparing the squad to Entourage’s Vince Chase after “Medellin” bombed. Yikes!
- None of Sports Illustrated‘s six experts tab the Suns to even reach the West Finals.
- Closer to home, the Arizona Republic staff expects the Suns to win about 45-50 games, grab a low playoff seed and do no more than win a playoff series, if that. The Tribune’s Scott Bordow expects this season to be the end of an era rather than the beginning of a new one.
Not that the Suns care that nobody’s giving them much of a shot.
“It’s not a bad thing,” Steve Nash told the Republic. “It’s not a bad position to be in at all. I’m not going to say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s not a bad position for this team.”
At least the Suns aren’t facing the championship or else pressure that’s defined their past few seasons trying to validate head coach Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” system, at least externally, but as long as they’re healthy you’ve got to like them better than the squad that finished last regular season 15-5 after it started to gel following the Shaq trade.
Speaking of Shaq — whose deal I defended at the time because of the possibility of Marion opting out and ending the current window — I always felt his impact would be felt most this season after having a stretch and playoff run to get accustomed to his teammates, and I feel even more sure of that now with a whole new system in place better suited to him on top of that.
The Suns still have one of the best point guards in the league (Nash), one of the best scoring forwards (Amare), a four-time NBA champ patrolling the paint (Shaq) and a solid supporting cast with more depth than last season in Bell, Hill, Barbosa, Barnes, Diaw, Lopez and Dragic.
Everyone’s making a big deal about the age of Nash, Shaq, Hill and Bell – and the Suns clearly need all four of them healthy and productive heading into the playoffs – but there’s also a nice mix of youth and experience on the roster.
So while the Suns are a step below the Lakers and Hornets, I see them in a bunched next tier with the Jazz, Rockets, Spurs, Mavs and maybe even the Blazers, which should make for a battle for positioning much like last year’s down-to-the-wire race.
And with all the bad luck associated with the “Seven Seconds or Less” Era that averaged a 58-24 mark in the regular season, from Joe Johnson’s fractured face to Amare’s season-long injury to the Nash hip check and subsequent Amare and Diaw suspensions and the Game 1 collapse last year, maybe just maybe luck will be on the Suns’ side for once.