No one wanted a shortened season. Not the players, not the owners, not the fans, not even David Stern.
In an ideal world, those 149 days that made up the NBA lockout would have been filled with free agent signings, trade rumors, training camp, and eventually, basketball that actually counts.
The players, owners and league employees would have raked in 82 games full of revenue, and the NBA world would continue to turn as planned. But while a full season was the goal, the 66-game CliffsNotes version could actually help some teams.
Enter the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns.
The Suns are expecting to bring back every member of their 2010-11 team aside fromand possibly , who’s stuck in China.
Alvin Gentry’s group will already have an established chemistry — something that’s characterized great Suns teams during theEra. Roles, rotations and expectations are already defined after Gentry spent last season exhausting lineup after lineup.
is the unquestioned starting center. Steve Nash and are the clear cut leaders. is most likely the Suns’ new starting shooting guard. is still a floor spacer with an improved interior presence.
The rest of the Phoenix role players know where to fill in the gaps, and guys like, and understand how they contribute best.
Sure, bringing back a roster that went 40-42 a year ago doesn’t hold much value heading into an 82-game season where every team has a full training camp and free agent period to address its needs.
But in a short season where a handful of teams will struggle to even fill a roster in time for Christmas Day, the Suns’ advantage is significant.
The Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz all have five or more unrestricted free agents to re-sign or replace.
Teams like the Nuggets lost their best players — J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler — to the land of no return, China. The Suns, on the other hand, don’t have to rush to fill a roster. One season after playing through a pair of midseason trades, the Suns finally have stability.
This Phoenix team knows its personnel inside out, and save a relatively cheap shooting guard/point guard/big man,will be the only new face in Phoenix this season.
So while a handful of teams shuffle through different free agents and lineup combinations, the Suns know what they have and can get down to Xs and Os, rather than worry about who will fill out the roster.
While the shortened season gives the Suns a monumental advantage in the chemistry department, it’s even more beneficial for the Suns’ elder statesmen – Steve Nash and Grant Hill.
Yes it can be argued that playing more back-to-backs will hurt the Suns’ leaders, but Nash and Hill haven’t played an NBA game in almost eight months.
They’re well rested and more inclined to make it through a 66-game season unscathed than an 82-game season. The 37-year-old Nash has proven that his body breaks down late in the season, as his numbers and the Suns’ win total took a major hit down the stretch last year.
When Nash was battling pelvic instability in the final months of the season, Phoenix turned in an 8-13 record and Nash averaged only 10.0 points, 11.6 assists, 40.6 percent shooting and 35.8 percent shooting from three-point land.
In contrast, Nash averaged 16.8 points, 11.3 assists, 52.3 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from three over the course of the 52 games he played before the All-Star break. He was putting up MVP numbers and was on his way to another 50-40-90 year.
As the season progressed, however, Nash deteriorated more and more, and it shined through in his play. But that fluctuation in production will undoubtedly decrease next season. Nash and the 39-year-old Hill will be fresh off almost eight and a half months of rest by the time their season kicks off, and the duo now has 16 fewer games to fight through.
The Suns also caught a break with the Brooks situation. While his status remains murky, the lockout allowed the Suns to put off the decision of whether or not to re-sign the scoring point guard. They’ll have a few months of Nash to evaluate the market for MVSteve and make their decision on Brooks from there.
All in all, the lockout isn’t what anyone wanted. A full season was the best-case scenario for all parties involved. But the Suns may just benefit from this 66-game schedule, and for a team that missed the playoffs a year ago, they’ll take any advantage they can get.