I’ve been in a state of shock wondering if the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns will be the worst rebounding team of all time after the Blazers took a 46-20 advantage on the boards at one point in Thursday’s fourth quarter. I really hope I misread that stat sheet.
So for a little bit of optimism, I give you the Suns’ senior vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin.
In the following Q and A, Griffin discusses why the Suns are in a position to undersell and over deliver, the Shaq Era, and that dirty word known in these parts as “rebounding.” For more from Griffin, be sure to read Wednesday’s season preview in which Griffin will be quoted about the Suns’ outstanding “Culture of We.”
On his outlook on the season:
“I think we’re in a position to undersell and over deliver, and I’m excited about that. We haven’t been in that position since the first year Nash was brought in. Everything after that was overpromise and under deliver. Coach D’Antoni was the guy who came out here one year and said, ‘If we don’t win 70 games, I’m not a very good coach.’ It’s hard for people to function in that environment from a pressure thing at times, so I think we’re in a position now where don’t count the wins. Don’t count anything about how far we go in the playoffs and just say we’re going to be the most entertaining we’ve been in a long time, and if that results in the numbers of wins we need, that’s great.”
On what those lowered expectations mean for the team:
“Huge. I think it’s big for this team in particular because we’ve seen what we do when we’re expected to win. It’s difficult, and this team didn’t handle it well. It’s a leadership entity our front office (didn’t handle well). So we know we don’t do that very well, and we know we’re really good at being the hunter, and when we’ve been that historically, we’ve always shocked. So I’m excited, we get to out and just kind of let it all hang out and not have a whole lot to lose, so it’s a good position to be in.”
On what he would tell fans disappointed with last season:
“I think that the team that they saw the second half of last year while Shaq was on the court, we still scored 117 points a game with Alvin Gentry at the helm. We’re faster, we’ll shoot better, we’ll probably score more. I think we’ll get more stops. I think we’re built to defend the pick and roll better, so I think if you’re a fan of our team and you watched and you were like, ‘They’re almost what I want them to be, but they’re not really quite there.’ (Now) the pieces all fit. I know you’ll come watch our team play and you will leave feeling gratified because our guys are the kind of guys who will leave everything they have on the court, and that matters. You’re going to get your money’s worth, and it’ll be a hell of an entertaining product, and if we win enough games to go the playoffs and do some damage, then that means we were right and were better than people thought, and if we don’t, you’re still going to have a hell of a good time here.”
On rebounding, rebounding, rebounding:
“I really believe the way the puzzle pieces fit, we should (be better offensively), but that’s really a function of defensive rebounding. Historically when you look at our numbers, the stat wonk in me would tell you that the most important thing for us is our defensive rebounding percentage and our ability to get stops without fouling. I think we’re built to stop the pick and roll better. If you look at who our expected starters are, we may need to play more bench guys just to get more rebounds, but we have those guys on the bench. I think we can fill in most of our holes, and I know people won’t be able to deal with what we’re doing on the offensive end, so you may see some shootouts. You just might see some shootouts here, but I think we’re going to be intimately better in the last two minutes and the fourth quarter than we’ve been in a long time.”
On the Shaq Era:
“I think what we found was the way we played with him on the court despite the fact that we put up 117 points, we probably worked through him and slowed down the other 11 too much. We probably played to his benefit more, to his strength more and to everybody else’s weakness too much. It wasn’t anything he did, it was just the natural flow of the way a game would be played. It’s compelling when you play on the court with him to throw him the ball because you know what he’s going to do. So I think what happened is now we won’t have that compulsion to do that. It’s going to make us play faster, it’s going to make us shoot more from long range. This team is better suited to do that than any team we’ve had in a really long time. I don’t know how you would guard us right now. It’s not going to be easy.”
And a few bonus questions, courtesy of friend of the Valley Arash Azarmi, who also recently spoke with Griffin.
On developing the young players:
“It’s the new direction because we never really had any younger guys. We never used any picks. The mandate at one time was to get eight really solid guys and five guys who were still happy even if they didn’t get to play. Now the mandate is (to) make every practice as competitive as you can, have as many young, versatile athletes as you can. So I think developing the young kids is a huge component of that. It’s also a huge component of maintaining your (salary) cap and tax structure. You can’t be really competitive in this league very long unless you have a core of young talent to develop and bring along.”
On signing Channing Frye:
“I think Channing is a big part of the reason why the puzzle pieces seem to fit so well. He’ll probably be the latest in a long line of guys who comes here for less money and leaves for well more. So far he’s spaced the court, which helps Amare and the pick and roll. When he plays with Robin, once he gets healthy, he’s going to help Robin in the post. He really is going to be a guy that will give more than we bargained for. He’s very good around the rim with either hand, and when you have an open court situation it suits what Channing does.”
On bringing back Steve Nash and Grant Hill:
“They’re our leadership and pillars really. They’re the guys who are going to make everyone work for everybody else. They teach the culture. They are exactly the embodiment of what we want to be as a team. They’re stone cold winners who care about results more than anything else. And when Steve and Grant Hill are doing it, we expect Earl and Goran to do it without hesitation.”
On the Suns’ wait-and-see approach to the Amare Stoudemire Situation:
“I think ultimately we are in a unique and positive situation. He does have the opportunity to opt out, which means the guy is going to play incredibly well during the season. It also gives us the opportunity to take a look to see how he’s progressing, to see how his injury situation is and to see how this whole thing fits. It’s possible we don’t have enough talent. It’s possible that we have too much talent. It’s the right thing to do for both parties and what he was comfortable with, so we’re excited.”