Team A just missed a world championship by a single play, coming so close that its long-suffering fans could already start plotting out the parade route.
Team B is losing to bad teams at home, players are bickering and management is meeting into the wee hours of the night trying to figure out what’s wrong with them.
Team A features a locker room full of players who are truly there for each other, competitors who played the “nobody believed in us” card all the way to the championship round.
Team B’s head coach told The Arizona Republic, “I’ve been on teams where guys don’t like each other at all. But when we stepped on the floor, I respected that guy, and I knew he had my back. Some of that’s not present right now. . . . At times it looks like we’re not together on the floor.”
Team A’s star player publicly criticized the team because he felt management lied to him during contract negotiations but even after fracturing his face did not let that affect his play on the field. His teammates love him for that.
Team B’s star player has always been treated fairly by management but is allergic to putting his nose in the crowd to grab a rebound or playing help defense. It’s doubtful his teammates feel quite as glowingly about him.
Team A’s leader says things like, “I am so proud to be a part of this team.”
Team B’s leader frequently talks about his squad being in a “dark place.”
Just two years ago Team A was who we thought they were and Team B was potentially a suspension away from a title, but now on the day the Cardinals came oh so close from their first Super Bowl victory the Suns never seemed so far away from their first championship.
It’s kind of crazy that throughout the Cardinals’ 20 years of abysmal football, the Suns have generally been the team Valley sports fan could count on, a team that has pretty much been somewhere between good and legitimate title contenders nearly every one of those years.
Now the Cardinals are the team everyone’s talking about, the team all the Phoenix Bandwagoners are jumping on as Cardinals Fever envelopes the Valley the way Suns Fever has for so long.
Who would have thought even a couple months ago that the freaking Cardinals could take this city’s attention away from the struggles of the Suns for a month?
It’s funny how sports is. Since John Paxson sank a three-pointer that made Phoenix fans feel just as queasy as they did after Santonio Holmes’ touchdown catch more than 15 years later, the Suns have fielded five teams with a legitimate chance to make a title run, and all five fell short of the NBA Finals.
Now a so-called “worst team in playoff history” reaches the Super Bowl despite a lackluster end to the regular season.
It’s been a very strange year on the Arizona sports scene. University of Arizona football is up, and ASU football is down. ASU basketball is up, and Arizona is down.
And strangest of all, the Cardinals nearly win a Super Bowl as the Suns contemplate blowing up a collection of individually-talented players that has a decent shot at missing the playoffs altogether.
“We don’t have a great spirit,” Nash told The Arizona Republic. “We’re not very positive. Right now, our sum is not as good as the parts. . . . Instead of fighting, it seems like we don’t really believe what we’re doing or we don’t have the answers.”
At some point soon the Suns need to decide if this team is wired right to take a run at things or just to start over.
That could mean a relatively minor tweak of dealing Leandro Barbosa for more of a backup point guard or a fundamental organizational shift by trading Amare or Nash.
I can’t imagine the Suns unloading Nash in such an abrupt fashion after all he’s meant to the franchise nor do I think it’s the right move.
Amare, on the other hand, grates on fans’ nerves more every passing day, leading to the question of the decade for this franchise: Do the Suns want to rebuild around Amare, or would they be better off going in another direction?
Before the season, to me the question would have been more or less what do the Suns have to do to beg Amare to take a max extension?
But Amare hasn’t played like a franchise player or given the kind of effort expected of a player who could command such a contract. As individually talented as he is, unless he somehow just “gets it” one day, I don’t see him being the first banana on a team that wins a title.
I don’t know what it’s going to take for Amare to wake up and mature into the player he should be, but how many of you who originally opposed the rumored Amare-KG deal (like I did vehemently) wouldn’t take that trade in a heartbeat in hindsight?
2008-09 has been a “bad season” by the account of Steve Nash and likely anybody else in the organization, and any minute the Suns might decide this just isn’t working and blow it up.
But no matter how dark things look on Planet Orange today, the Suns and their fans can take solace in one fact.
If the city doormats better known as the Arizona Cardinals can make it to a Super Bowl, is it that hard to fathom the Suns winning it all one day?