The 2009-10 Suns understood The Secret


I’m still trudging my way through Bill Simmons’ epic Book of Basketball (which I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys Simmons’ colloquial style), but his chapter on “The Secret” really makes me think of the Suns of yesteryear.

In this chapter, Simmons learns from Isiah Thomas that “the secret of basketball is not about the basketball.”

He later explains it like this in relation to the Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s:

Those teams were loaded with talented players, yes, but that’s not the only reason they won. They won because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics, and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won as long as everyone remained on the same page. By that same token, they lost if any of those three factors weren’t in place.

When I read that passage during last spring’s playoffs, I really felt the Suns had a chance. The 2009-10 Suns possessed some talented players sure, but they were so good because they were a team that really seemed to grasp The Secret.

They did truly like each other, know their roles, ignore stats and value winning. Steve Nash has always sacrificed to make everybody happy, and they remained on the same page throughout the playoffs.

The only thing is they ran into a more talented squad with players who also embraced The Secret, led by a coach who could write a book on it he’s won so many titles.

I still believe last year’s Suns validated The Secret to some extent in that they were a team that truly did embrace it, they just didn’t have quite enough talent to defeat the Lakers. But there’s a reason that a squad few thought would be better that seventh or eighth came so close to shocking the world and reaching the Finals.

Simmons also lays out four key pieces for a champion:

1.  One great player.

2.  One or two elite sidekicks.

3.  Top-notch role players and/or character guys who won’t threaten your culture.

4.  The need to stay healthy and catch a couple breaks.

This section brings visions of the D’Antoni Suns to my brain. They could check three of these four boxes, yet we all know which one they couldn’t check.

Steve Nash was their unselfish superstar setting the tone and keeping everyone happy. Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion were the elite sidekicks. Guys like Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas were the top-notch role players and character guys.

But the Suns never did get any breaks. They suffered damning playoff injury after damning playoff injury and never got any luck. And thus those Suns never made it to the promised land.

Judging by that criteria, the 2010-11 Suns don’t have a championship-worthy team (if you didn’t already know that). Nash isn’t a prototypical superstar on a championship team, there are no true complementary stars and nobody quite knows what their role will be at this point in the offseason.

I still maintain this will be a fun team that wins a lot of games and might make a bit of a run in the postseason, but this isn’t what championship teams have looked like over the years.

Simmons gets in a few shots at Steve Nash by placing his two MVPs in the “Outright Travesties” department, with the 2005 MVP ranking as the seventh-biggest travesty and 2006 third. However, Simmons would have given Nash Dirk’s 2007 MVP assuming the previous two awards went to his so-called rightful owner

He also ranks Nash as the 38th best player of all time, a spot behind his buddy Dirk. Simmons ranked Two Time this high thanks to the way his style was so contagious to his teammates and his magnificent 2007 along with his other myriad of achievements.

This book is obviously now a bit dated, so I wonder where Simmons would rank Nash after his spectacular 2009-10 and whether he has a shot at cracking the top 30 with a few more great years as he continues to age gracefully (he was bumped up “two or three spots” in Decemeber 2009).

Tags: Bill Simmons Steve Nash The Book Of Basketball The Secret

  • JasonK

    Agreed about 'Antoni's (D removed) lack of bench killing the Suns too.

    And give the Lakers credit, it wasn't just talent that gave them the win. The Suns were right there, and just didn't have enough effort and confidence to finish off the Lakers. Also implying, I disagree with the Suns players knowing their role. Aside from the obvious Amar'e NEVER knowing his role, 10-man rotations in the playoffs is just too much for most coaches.

    This season's post season success hinges solely on Hedo. If his attitude improves, if the PHX medical staff can make him healthy, if his 3 is falling, then it's back to the WCF to battle the Lakers.

  • KJ Loyalist

    The thing about MD’s suns is that they were always hurt because Mike played 7 guys into the ground.

    Had he really built his bench as asked, those injuries wouldn’t have been so damning.

  • Steve

    Mike _’Antoni. I like it.

    I would add a fifth element necessary to win a championship. Defense. Hardcore, unwavering defense that can be sustained for at least two consecutive quarters. You can’t win without a lockdown defense. I think this is the most important factor of all. Even more important than having a superstar. Last year’s Celtics had no superstar, and they probably should have won the title if they hadn’t completely folded in 6 and 7. Detroit won the title without a superstar. Both those teams had great players, but they didn’t have a LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Durant, or Howard. They didn’t even have anyone on the Nash or Amare level. Defense is what wins it. You HAVE to be able to come up with stops when you need them.

  • Sean

    I read that book (or most of it) this past spring, right after the Suns had been eliminated. I had the same thought as you Michael: the Suns were a prime example of “The Secret”.

    I also agree – to a point – that the Lakers also knew The Secret. The difference to me is that it’s a bit of a delicate balance in LA because so much of it is held in place by Kobe’s ego. I remember their Portland loss at home near season’s end, when Phil called a play for Pau and used Kobe as a decoy. Kobe was NOT happy, and I wondered if the Lakers would even get out of the 1st round. They figured it out, Kobe went all MJ on the Suns and the rest is history.

    The thing I’m most interested in for this next Suns’ season is how the players jell together. They have an aging, still effective star (Nash), a not-quite-elite sidekick (J-Rich) who played “elite-like” in the playoffs, a promising young big (Fropez), and a whole lot of good players. I hope they can follow Nash’s lead and develop good chemistry. If the 2011 Suns make a playoff run, it could really elevate Nash’s status as a great team leader.

  • Drew

    Great book. Great comparison. Any team with Nash and Hill have a chance to understand the secret right off the bat far better than any other team. We have great locker room leaders. I agree that Hedo is the key this year. He can be brilliant if he buys into the secret and the Suns can surprise a lot of people.

    This might sound odd, but I think perhaps JRich was trying too hard to live the secret this past season. (Thats me giving him the benefit of the doubt that his sitting behind the 3-point line all game was benign). The two-time dunk champion has the athleticism necessary to get to the rim, collapse the defense and kick out or finish. THATS what we need from him. Yet he spent a lot of time shooting long 3s. Can someone help me understand his game? I’m testing out theories.

  • Mel.

    Drew, I found myself wondering that a bit, myself. It seems premature to chalk it up to that whole “transitioning skill set due to age,” especially considering that the guy’s still a year shy of his thirtieth birthday.

    My guess would be that maybe he’s just trying to integrate himself into the Sun’s system at the expense of some of his more unique talents. “Shooter see, shooter do.” When you’re on a team that has guys like Dudley and Frye bombing in long balls, I can see where the impetus would be to just fall into the trend and work on your dead-eye. STAT was the exception to that rule, so I’m wondering if his departure might not provide an opportunity for J-Rich to get back in the damn arc and into the mix.

  • Sean

    Drew – great question about J-Rich. I think he deferred a little too much to the Nash-Amare duo and the multi-headed Suns shooters (Frye, Dudley, Barbosa, et al) during the season. Then in the playoffs with their backs against the wall vs Portland, maybe Coach Gentry asked him to be more aggressive. J-Rich was incredible against the Blazers! Check out this analysis, showing that J-Rich had 3 of the top offensive games of the *entire NBA season* in that series, including the #1 offensive game for anyone playing over 35 minutes.

    I also noticed that J-Rich backed off somewhat against aggressive wing defenders, such as Kobe and Artest in the Lakers series.

    Also, note in that link – the Dragon had the best (most efficient) offensive game of the whole season, vs the Spurs in Game 3.

  • john marzan

    the phoenix mercury and diana taurasi knew what the secret is all about.

  • Eagle Sun

    Don’t underestimate the Suns! If we get another respectable Center, the Suns are a potential championship team.

    Soneone like Earl Barron would give the size to beat big teams. We do need much good strategy to win a championship, and Warrick, Rolo, Turk, and Lawal will need to improve.

    J-rich will also need to attack the basket as well.

    But the Suns could really win 60 games this coming season, and could get to the finals if they improve and play smart.

  • Drew

    Thanks for the thoughts Mel and Sean. Whatever his mindset is, he better see the benefit of driving. That collapses defense just as much as a center jacking up 3s does. And if he doesn’t see that niche, I think our import from Greece will, and JRich could see himself and his heafty contract shipped to Sacramento by All-Star break for Carl Landry or Jason Thompson… (please let it be so!!!)

  • Zane

    The Book of Basketball is my favorite book, and Bill Simmons is pretty much my favorite espn writer.