A day later and I love it even more

J-Rich is bringing his high-flying game to Phoenix. (AP/Thearon Henderson)

J-Rich's high-flying game will be a great fit in Phoenix. (AP/Thearon Henderson)

I somehow managed to write 950 words in my gut reaction piece on the Jason Richardson deal yet still have 10 burning questions relating to the trade to sort out today.

1. Is this deal a continued purging of the D’Antoni years?

Only through names, not in actuality. If anything, it’s closer to a return to the D’Antoni Era.

Yes, D’Antoni liked Diaw more than most coaches would, but he’s not even really as much of a shooter to be considered a prototypical D’Antoni big like an Al Harrington or Tim Thomas.

As for the guards, Richardson is much more of a D’Antoni player than Raja ever was. If you remember at the time of the Raja signing, people were unhappy about it if it meant Raja would replace Joe Johnson (as he eventually did) because he would not fit the system as well.

The system made Raja into the offensive player he was, not vice versa. Richardson would have been a perfect player for the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, and thus I think the deal will signal a bit of a return to running-and-gunning.

Now, of course there won’t be as many threes jacked up and things will be more controlled with Shaq, but anybody with an ounce of basketball IQ could see the Suns were stifling Steve Nash with the way they’ve played much of the year. Now you at least have the option of crazy small ball lineups like Nash-Barbosa-Richardson-Barnes-Amare as well as a half-court game with Shaq. That’s the best of both worlds.

The Suns are really stupid if they don’t run more now with Richardson replacing Bell; that’s got to be the plan. I think the Suns will settle into a quicker pace and do a better job of utilizing everybody’s talents.

2. What does trading Bell do to the Suns’ defense?

General manager Steve Kerr has given major lip service to improving the Suns’ defense, but that doesn’t exactly jibe with trading away Shawn Marion, Kurt Thomas and now Bell in his tenure, as those three Suns were about the only players known as defenders during the D’Antoni years.

Raja hasn’t been quite as good defensively as in his All-NBA team years, but you’ve got to think this is a downgrade defensively to Richardson, although like Amare his athleticism should theoretically make him a good defender.

Maybe Suns fans should be optimistic based on Richardson’s comments to Suns.com.

“People don’t give me enough credit for my defense,” he said. “I can do a lot better job than what I’m doing now. I love challenges. Whatever the coaches and front office ask of me, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Sounds like he was dogging it defensively in Charlotte from those comments, so let’s hope that’s a different story in Phoenix.

And by the way, the Suns rank 22nd in defensive efficiency at the time of the trade, so maybe they can stop pretending to be the Spurs and go back to focusing on being one of the best offensive teams in the league, which really they already are, ranking fifth in offensive efficiency before the trade.

3. Are there enough balls to share?

Not sure.

This could be Nash’s greatest test yet.

We all know Amare needs his shots and Shaq was not quiet after the Milwaukee game about his need for touches. Now you add a guy used to taking a ton of shots in place of a guy like Raja who really was just a spot-up shooter.

The Suns better hope this becomes one of those teams that doesn’t care who’s getting shots as long as they’re winning. In that vein, this thing could blow up if they’re not winning.

4. What should the Suns do with the extra roster spot?

The Suns now have two weeks to sign a player to meet the league minimum roster requirement.

It’s no surprise Kerr has said the team wants a veteran backup point guard, because does anyone trust Goran Dragic at this point?

I read Damon Stoudamire’s name mentioned as a possibility, and the UA alum would be a perfect fit.

The Suns basically desire a quality backup point guard who is currently unemployed and willing to sign for the veteran’s minimum, and Stoudamire may fit that bill.

5. Does this deal make up for the Joe Johnson fiasco?

Well, it doesn’t take away the pain of wondering whether the Suns would have won a championship in the last three years with JJ, but it’s interesting how the Suns basically acquired Bell and Diaw for JJ three years ago.

As you may remember, the Suns signed Raja to that five-year, $25 million deal while contemplating what to do with JJ and then acquired Diaw in the Johnson sign-and-trade deal. They subsequently messed up in signing Diaw to his five-year, $45 million mistake of a contract so as not to see a repeat of the Johnson situation in which the guy has a great year and his price tag goes out of their range.

Now the Diaw overreaction is off the books and the Suns have their most dynamic shooting guard starter since JJ.

What’s funny is Kerr talked about not wanting to pay a backup power forward that kind of money, saying he’d rather direct those resources to a starting shooting guard like Richardson.

Now they’re paying him about the same as Joe Johnson, so in hindsight wouldn’t the Suns just have been better off giving JJ a huge deal knowing what we now know?

6. What’s the impact of losing Raja and Boris off the court?

First off, Porter should have better control of his locker room with a couple guys wanting to play hard and impress the new coach instead of a duo that has shown through their comments and actions they were far from happy that Mike D’Antoni is in New York.

We’ve all known for a while through his public comments that Raja wasn’t happy, and there were even reports that he was the reason Porter recently sent his team to the showers in the middle of a practice, but I didn’t realize how unhappy Boris was before his post-trade comments.

“It definitely wasn’t as fun,” Diaw told The Arizona Republic. “… It wasn’t as exciting for the fans. It’s not as fun for everybody (on the team). I’ll always remember Phoenix with Mike (D’Antoni). We went from a winning team that was the most exciting team in the league to a half-winning team that wasn’t exciting at all.”

I wonder what he’ll think of Charlotte.

In any case, it’s good to send a player who feels like that as far away from Phoenix as possible.

You’ve got to feel for Nash for losing a best friend teammate in Bell just like he did when he left Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas, but that’s life in the NBA.

Nash will be OK by the first time he assists Richardson on a fast break, and anyone writing about Nash being the next to go clearly doesn’t understand this move. This trade was bad for Nash as a person, but it’s the best thing that could have happened to Nash as a player.

The Suns are now embracing their inner Golden State Warrior with Richardson now joining ex-teammate Matt Barnes. Barnes is pumped to play with his old buddy again, and their familiarity should ease the Suns’ search for chemistry.

Dudley will provide the Suns with energy off the bench. (AP/Rick Havner)

Dudley will provide the Suns with energy off the bench. (AP/Rick Havner)

7. How will Dudley fit in?

 Quite nicely, thank you very much.

In his Suns.com interview he said he’s a Boris Diaw-type player, which is great, because that who he’s obviously replacing, only he’s on his rookie contract instead of making $9 million a year. (On that note, who else considers Diaw’s contract a negative in this trade? So basically the Suns are getting J-Rich, Dudley, a likely high second and getting rid of Boris’ deal just by trading Raja. Wow.)

He’s going to bring some intangibles, rebound a little, play the pick-and-pop game if necessary with the second unit, and I think in time he can develop into a really solid role player either as a starter or off the bench.

It’s also really comforting to read a Charlotte reporter write, “I’ll really miss Dudley. The man is way too unpretentious to play in the NBA. The Suns will love him. What a team needs, he attempst to provide.

“Many people – I can’t call them fans – believe the NBA is about spoiled players who refuse to do the dirty work. They never saw Dudley play.”

8. How does this affect lower-profile Suns?

First off, I think a consideration for this deal involved finding more time for Robin Lopez.

Regardless of whether he deserved it or not, Lopez just wasn’t going to be seeing much floor time in a frontcourt dominated by Shaq, Amare and Diaw aside from the games Shaq sits out.

Lopez has been a poor rebounder, with just three in 32 minutes against the Lakers and a rebound rate of 6.1 per 40 minutes, but the man hustles and gives it his all on every play. Last night he seemed to be the only player in a Phoenix uniform challenging shots.

The Suns need his infusion of energy and shot-blocking presence, and now with an undersized four in Dudley taking Boris’ minutes (meaning you can’t play him at center like Diaw at times), I expect Lopez’s minutes to go up.

The loser of this could be Alando Tucker, who was already in a roster crunch before the deal whenever he’s healthy enough to return to the court.

Richardson figures to play even more than Bell did, and Barbosa figures to steal away the remaining two-guard minutes. There’s no small forward minutes to be had with Hill and Barnes (and possibly Richardson in a small ball alignment with Barbosa), so I just don’t see where his PT will come from.

In the short term, this also means Dragic is the definitive backup point guard, but he may not see the floor much once he’s competing with a legit veteran backup, who the Suns can now sign with the roster spot freed up by dealing Singletary.

9. Speaking of Singletary, how many days until the Bobcats trade him?

You’ve got to feel for the rookie.

Since being drafted in the second round by the Kings this summer, he’s been dealt from Sacramento to Houston in the Ron Artest deal, Houston to Phoenix for D.J. Strawberry and now from Phoenix to Charlotte in this trade.

And although he’s going to a bad team, point guard is the one position Charlotte’s deep at with Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin.

At least the Philadelphia native and Virginia star will be closer to home.

10. Last but certainly not least, are the Suns now legitimate contenders?

Let’s put it this way, they would have been lucky to eke their way out of the first round before, and now I see them back in the muddled Western Conference pack behind the Lakers.

How many teams can throw out a starting five with as much offensive firepower as Nash-J-Rich-Hill-Amare-Shaq, with Barbosa and Barnes off the pine?

This team obviously needs to find an identity, hopefully one that includes scoring a ton of points and pushing the pace a bit, but the makings of a contender are in place.

Nash was quoted as saying something like he hopes the Suns aren’t blowing this thing up, but I think that is the last thing they’re doing. They recognized a change needed to be made on the court and off it, and what resulted was a fleecing of a deal.

Sure, December and maybe even January might not be pretty as the Suns feel their way out, but I think this could be a team that peaks at the right time.

The parts of an elite team are now in place.

Whether it is championship-worthy still remains to be seen.

Tags: Jared Dudley Jason Richardson

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