The Phoenix Suns are back in a familiar spot, according to the ESPN Western Conference Summer Forecast at least.
Yes, this esteemed panel of 93 voters associated with basketball at ESPN in some way (I got a vote as well and picked the Suns fifth), has the Suns oh so barely missing the playoffs with a 44-38 record, just one game behind the Houston Rockets.
If this sounds familiar it’s because this is right around where most major prognostications put the Suns last preseason, more often than not eighth but generally in the 7-10 range.
Suns owner Robert Sarver likely isn’t surprised one bit based on his comments about his team’s projections on July 20 at the Lon Babby press conference.
“My guess is this year we’ll probably be predicted somewhere between eight and 10 in the West,” Sarver said. “I think most people think we took a pretty big step backwards losing Amare. Obviously Amare is a helluva player, and he’s going to be missed here.
“I don’t know that my expectations are really much higher than they were at the start of the season last year. We’re going to have to wait and see, I don’t really know. What I’ve tried to do is help our organization get some good talent knowing Alvin will figure out how to make it work. Whether we’re going to take a step forward or a step backward, I don’t really know.”
The West is ridiculously deep. It pained me to predict Utah to miss the playoffs (as explained in a TrueHoop post) and for the record I had the Jazz missing it by a game in a bunched-up West.
And even that wasn’t so much a knock on Utah so much as it was a statement about how many good teams there are in the West, and that’s not even mentioning a New Orleans team that gets better in the present with Trevor Ariza, a Clippers team with a healthy Blake Griffin, a Warriors team with loads of talent that could finally put it together and a Sacramento team with some really nice young pieces.
The East is going to be crazy at the top, but the West is going to be crazy from Nos. 2-God know’s what. The Lakers are head and shoulders the best team in the conference but beyond that nothing really would surprise me.
At the same time, I find it interesting that our voters have the Suns out of the playoffs. I assume Sarver will be correct and that most preseason predictions will have the Suns at the bottom of the West playoff picture — and potentially on the outside looking in. I get it, they lost Amare and don’t have a true power forward and who knows what exactly they’ll be getting out of Hedo Turkoglu.
I just can’t believe that the second-best team in the West last year when all was said and done, a team that came a Ron Artest box out away from making things real interesting on the Lakers and a team that should be the deepest in the NBA with Steve Nash at the controls will miss the playoffs. You can almost pencil in the Suns leading the NBA in offensive efficiency again and they have so many weapons that they could probably withstand injuries to anybody but Nash and (can’t believe I’m writing this) Robin Lopez (just because of how small they are without him) and be able to weather the storm.
The next reason I wouldn’t count on the Suns missing the playoffs is exactly because of predictions like this one.
Alvin Gentry foreshadowed the sour preseason punditry at the Babby presser.
“We like being the underdog,” he said. “I think everyone will pick us about where we were. The guys on this team have a tendency to find a way to overachieve if you want to call it overachieving, but I think we’ll be very competitive, I don’t look for us to take a step back, no.”
I had a real candid conversation with former Suns exec David Griffin at Media Day last year and he spoke about how the Suns have always done better as the hunters than the hunted (case in point last year, the year he was discussing at the time). You would think that expectations would come with taking the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals, but with Amare gone apparently those expectations have left US Airways Center as well.
The Suns are not seen as a reigning Western Conference finalist, they’re the team without a power forward and a soon-to-be 37-year-old best player.
It’s always possible that Nash slows down a bit, Hedo disappoints and some of the new pieces don’t mesh, but regardless this team is back in a familiar role as underdogs, a role they embraced so much a year ago.
So don’t blame these prognosticators and all the other prognosticators that will probably predict similar outcomes. If you’re a Suns fan you should be thanking them.
A Suns team that was at its best when counted out last season now once again has something to rally around.
Kerr on The BS Report
Former Suns general manager Steve Kerr recently joined Bill Simmons on The BS Report. He spoke candidly about the events that led to him leaving the organization this summer.
“I didn’t think I was going to go either,” Kerr said. “Then the season ended and things kind of changed a little bit. Contract negotiations didn’t go quite as I expected, and at the same time Doug Collins left TNT to go coach the Sixers and that job opened up, and from there it just sort of happened. I didn’t anticipate it, but it happened, and I think this was the best decision for me just to be home a lot more.”
Kerr also said he was “on board” with the deal the Suns eventually offered Amare, saying it was something team executives spoke about all season.