Looking back on preseason and midseason predictions can be a sobering thing, unless you’re Mike Schmitz, who predicted the Suns to finish 40-42 and 10th in the West at the beginning of the season (yes, I am planning a trip to Vegas with him).
The rest of us at ValleyoftheSuns predicted playoffs in both renditions of our predictions, and Schmitz joined us in the midseason edition.
This time instead of predicting the ValleyoftheSuns gang is looking back at the season that was before providing some insight on the offseason that will be.
What’s one positive to take away from the season?
Michael Schwartz: Sure, Marcin Gortat was the most positive surprise, but we take Steve Nash so much for granted at this point it’s easy to overlook how special his first half was. Nash shouldered the load for making a mishmash of changing parts continue to work on the offensive end, yet he still went for 16.8 and 11.3 on 52.3-40.8-91.7 shooting in the first half, and for the season he ranked second in adjusted plus/minus in the entire league while practically the rest of the roster was in the negatives. It may be expected by now, but it’s still amazing for Nash to have such a special season at 37.
Mike Schmitz: If there’s one silver lining to this bust of a season, it’s Marcin Gortat. Not only has he developed into a viable starting center averaging 13.0 points and 9.3 rebounds with the Suns this season, he’s a cornerstone for a franchise notoriously hurting for centers. Gortat more than picked up Robin Lopez’s slack this year, and outside of Steve Nash was the most productive. Not much went right this year, but the development of Gortat gives Suns fans one thing to smile about.
Tyler Lockman: I’ve admittedly been a Channing Frye hater in the past, particularly last season when he displayed no ability to rebound the ball despite being a center. Naturally, I was endlessly skeptical of the massive contract he got in the offseason. But as Frye’s game evolved this season, I came around. He learned to rebound and shot the three-pointer as well as ever. Going forward, he is most definitely a keeper on this team.
Tyler Emerick: All Marcin Gortat needed was an opportunity. The Polish Hammer averaged about 16 minutes per game in Orlando, but when his playing time was bumped up to almost 30 in Phoenix, Gortat flourished. Enough so that he earned a starting role toward the end of the season (even though he was basically the main guy well before that). Gortat represents hope. He plays hard every possession unlike a certain former All-Star that came over with him from the Magic. If he improved this drastically in the minimal amount of time in Phoenix this year, just imagine what a full season, with training camp, will do for him.
What’s one negative to take away from the year?
Michael Schwartz: Robin Lopez was the biggest individual disappointment to me, and his weak season leads to my biggest negatives as a team: defense and rebounding. The Suns ranked 25th in defensive efficiency, yielding 107.4 points per 100 possessions, and 29th in rebound rate, corralling 47.6 percent of the available boards. On the rare occasions the Suns got a stop all so often they gave up a board, and that’s a big reason this team never found consistency this season.
Defense and rebounding
Mike Schmitz: Robin Lopez, on the other hand, took about 10 giant steps back this season. The 23-year-old center came into the season with a world of expectations after making huge strides at the end of last season. He was far and away the biggest X-factor for a Suns team hurting for rebounding and an interior presence. But Lopez couldn’t deliver, averaging 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 rebounds in 14.8 minutes per game. The once-promising seven-footer lost about eight inches on his vertical in one season due to injury, and it showed in his uninspiring play.
Tyler Lockman: It was chemistry that made the 2009-10 Suns’ surprise run to the conference finals possible. The 2010-11 Suns had about as much chemistry as David Stern and Mark Cuban. Right from the start, the new group featuring Hedo Turkoglu, only the Suns’ second biggest mistake of 2010 (read on), did not mesh at all. Things did not get much better with Vince Carter joining the team. The chemistry that got the Suns so far a year ago was totally absent this season.
Lack of chemistry
Tyler Emerick: I was wrong here. I had Hakim Warrick in my preseason projections as a potential breakout player. That didn’t quite work out to say the least. I thought he could step in and be a difference maker with Nash. Well, instead he was a difference maker in the other sense of the word. Warrick was mostly lousy and didn’t play well enough around the rim. I can’t begin to count the number of easy shots he missed. If the team wants to move him and upgrade in size, I’d be all for it.
Why didn’t this team make the playoffs?
Michael Schwartz: The aforementioned lack of defense and rebounding certainly played a major role, but the biggest reason was instability. The Suns basically played with three different teams with the Hedo/J-Rich stanza at the beginning of the season, then the Orlando reinforcements team that took about a month to gel and finally the re-done bench unit with Aaron Brooks. Once that group finally got rolling Nash and Channing Frye then got injured and a critical four-game losing streak knocked them out. Last year’s team defined stability and camaraderie, this year’s squad never had time to gel.
Mike Schmitz: All season long the Suns lacked basketball’s version of Mariano Rivera and failed miserably to put games away. Not only did they have no go-to guy to turn to, they also struggled with crunch time defense, resulting in an 11-13 record in games decided by five points or less. During the final two months of the season Phoenix went 2-6 in such games, cementing themselves on the outside looking in.
Inability to finish games
Tyler Lockman: The Suns’ biggest mistake of 2010 was not re-signing Amare Stoudemire. Yes, he wanted a lot of money, but the Suns ended up spending a ton of money anyway on a bunch of guys who didn’t really work out. Stoudemire may have broken down near the end of his contract, but another shot at a title with the 2009-10 team intact and Steve Nash still playing well would have been worth it.
Not re-signing Amare Stoudemire
Tyler Emerick: You can’t lose to the Kings three times and expect to make the playoffs. That’s just not going to happen. With so many teams bunched up in the West, it usually comes down to who takes care of the games they are supposed to win. The Suns were somewhat competitive against the top tier teams in the league, but they also played down to their competition. And about the only thing they did on a consistent basis was choke down the stretch of a tight ball games.
Losing to bad teams
What should the Suns do about Steve Nash?
Michael Schwartz: The 1500-word version of my thoughts on this situation can be found here, but basically I feel the team needs to see what kind of offer it can get for him. If there is something out there involving quality youth that can expedite the rebuilding process then you pull the trigger. Otherwise you maintain the status quo and look into extending Two Time. It’s a tricky situation because he means so much to the franchise and is still its best player by far, but after a 40-win season with no means on the horizon to vault back into contender status the Suns need to start looking at a full rebuild job.
Entertain trade offers, pull the trigger if there’s a good deal
Mike Schmitz: The Steve Nash dilemma is the Suns’ toughest chore this offseason. I think their decision must be situational based on who else they could lure to Phoenix or what a Nash deal can bring to the Suns. If Phoenix could land a legitimate big without giving Nash up, it wouldn’t hurt to let him finish out his career as a Sun and help the Suns tread water while putting up points. But if the Suns can land a young stud and a pick or two, it makes sense to deal an aging Nash and turn the page to a new chapter.
Deal him for young talent
Tyler Lockman: I, like most Suns fans, think it would be fitting to see Nash end his career in purple and orange, but that may not be the best option for the team’s future. Nash is no doubt still a major contributor, but if the Suns can’t put a capable bunch around him, his final seasons go for naught. The Suns should respectfully and quietly explore what kind of return they could get on Nash, and if that creates a brighter future, pull the trigger.
Explore trades, move him if it’s worth it
Tyler Emerick: I’d like to see Nash win a championship, but I realize the Suns can’t just give him away. Lon Babby called him the stars and the moon of the franchise. It’s going to be hard to get anything back for him to rebuild around so I can’t really see him going anywhere unless he asks to be traded or the organization gets a deal that blows its socks off.
Deal him if you get a great offer, otherwise keep him
Would you rather rebuild in full force or aim for a low playoff seed?
Michael Schwartz: Going hand in hand with the previous question, the Suns need to take a fall from the treadmill of mediocrity and start focusing on 2012-13 (next season will be shortened anyway). The summer of 2012 features a host of quality free agents and that draft is loaded as well. Be bad this season, acquire assets for players like Nash and try to put together a young exciting team that can start growing together beginning in 2012-13.
Mike Schmitz: There aren’t many teams who consistently make the playoffs, let along compete for championships, which is what fans need to realize more often. It’s easy to be greedy and think NBA Finals every year, but that’s just not a reality. So what’s wrong with keeping a team competitive while trying to bring in some young players? There’s a flaw in the logic around rebuilding. It seems people think it automatically brings you to the top of the NBA in a few seasons, but some teams never bounce back from rebuilding. It’s a lengthy, grueling process so if you can build a team that consistently makes the playoffs until that young star comes along, that’s the best option.
Tyler Lockman: As hard as it can be to suffer through rebuilding seasons, it looks necessary in Phoenix. Making the playoffs is nice, but if you’re a perennial one and done team as a low seed, there is not much payoff. The Suns have solid young pieces to work with (Frye, Dudley, Gortat, Childress) and some financial flexibility. Better to expend your efforts on building a true contender than to sputter along and eventually bottom out.
Tyler Emerick: The Suns don’t have a future franchise player and until they do, it’s hard to commit to rebuilding because who are they going to rebuild around? I would try to milk this Nash era for as long as possible and hope something falls in the Suns’ lap before accepting an extended playoff drought. Championships aren’t won by pieces, they are won by superstars. And yes, I realize you probably have to have a couple bad seasons in order to land a superstar, but even then there are no guarantees. It’s all about luck.
Tags: Steve Nash