Is it time to panic?

Pro: These aren’t the same old Suns

There’s almost always cause for optimism on Planet Orange.

The storyline usually goes something like this: An overlooked Steve Nash rallies the troops from a dry spell, the Suns rattle off 10 straight, sneak into the playoffs and make enough noise for the nation to see them as a potential threat.

But not this year.

The Suns are an afterthought in the Western Conference playoff race (11th place, three games back of eighth) and that aforementioned optimism is quickly fading. ESPN’s John Hollinger gives the Suns only an 11.7 percent chance to make the playoffs and also projects them to go 22-28 for the rest of the season, ultimately finishing in 12th place in the West.

Yes it is only 32 games into the season and no I’m not sold on Portland, Houston or Memphis, but this Suns team doesn’t have the same chemistry that allowed last year’s Suns to rally and sneak into the Western Conference Finals. There’s also no star player to rally around when times are tough.

When Phoenix stood at a mediocre 26-21 last season, Amare Stoudemire went into beast mode and carried the Suns to a 28-7 record to close out the season. Who on this team is capable of putting the Suns on their back the way STAT did?

Then add in that 26-21 isn’t exactly 14-18, and Phoenix is teetering. The Suns are winners of only three of their last nine games, and are fresh off of losses to the league-worst Sacramento Kings, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers — those three teams have a combined 30 wins.

Phoenix’s only bright spot recently came against a Detroit Pistons team that’s still clinging to Ben Wallace as their starting center and features Tracy McGrady at point guard.

There are no more excuses with this team. Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus have been aboard for five games now, and even though they’ve been who we thought they would be, the Suns are still struggling.

You no longer get the feeling they can beat any team on any given night. You no longer believe in chemistry overriding the talent of their opponent. They give away games, have no go-to scorer, struggle rebounding and forget to play defense in stretches.

This is a mish-mash of random players and that’s what it’s looked like on the hardwood all season long. Who would’ve thought the Suns would have Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in purple and orange?

Nothing seems right this season. It’s not the same old Suns — it won’t be the same old result.

– Mike Schmitz

Con: Give it time

I have seen Hollinger’s Playoff Odds and understand the theme of Schmitz’s argument.

When you lose to the Clippers, Sixers and Kings in a week, you don’t look anything like a playoff team.

The thing is that this rendition of the Phoenix Suns has played a grand total of three games together. They were awful in their debut against the Sixers, very impressive against the Pistons and then pretty good for three and a half quarters against the Kings before their meltdown.

It’s depressing to think that the Suns are four games below .500 after one of the easier patches in their schedule and that they sit in 11th place in the West (although just 2 1/2 games out of eighth).

But as disconcerting as all that is, I’d rather focus on the fact that this team has played three games together, that the newcomers have been together for all of two weeks. During that time the Suns have already changed their defensive schemes once before they even were able to get comfortable with each other.

So much of basketball is about trust on both sides of the ball. You need to trust that when you help, your teammate will have your back, and you need to trust that when you make a leading pass your teammate will cut right to that spot. You need to play with one brain and exude the kind of chemistry that is often developed over years or at least a camaraderie-filled training camp like the one of last season. Even last year’s magical Suns team took until the very end of January to really “get it” and mesh into a conference finalist.

All this isn’t to say that time will heal everything, it’s just to say let’s give it a chance to happen before panicking. The roster was fundamentally flawed to start the season, and the Orlando trade took care of that issue. On paper, this is the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

These Suns may yet never come together for a playoff run and it may be time to blow things up and get value for Nash, but let’s give this team a couple of weeks to gel before we start looking ahead to 2011-12 and beyond.

– Michael Schwartz

What do you think? Is it time to panic? Let us know in the comments.

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