Editor’s Note: This is ValleyoftheSuns’ contribution to the seventh annual “NBA Blog Previews” put on by CelticsBlog.
Team Name: Phoenix Suns
Last Year’s Record: 33-33
Key Additions: Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall
Key Losses: Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez, Michael Redd, Josh Childress
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Nothing much aside from trading away perhaps the most popular player in franchise history to the team’s most hated rival, allowing another popular veteran to flee to Tinseltown as well and remaking the franchise with a slew of young guns.
Obviously, trading Steve Nash was the most significant move. That deal signaled the end of a proud era of Suns basketball and ushered in a rebuilding project with a brand new roster. It was painful for many Suns fans to see Nash dealt to “that” team, but it’s what the organization had to do to finally move on, and it received four draft picks to boot.
From there the team signed Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic, acquired Luis Scola via amnesty waivers and traded Robin Lopez for Wes Johnson and a first.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
It’s hard to say exactly until the team hits the hardwood for the first time, but this team should possess solid depth. Everybody in the expected starting lineup should be good for at least 10-15 points a contest, and if Kendall Marshall develops quickly the Suns could possess a productive bench unit.
It’s often said that the one and the five are the two most important positions to fill for an NBA team, and that’s where the team’s two best players reside in Dragic and Marcin Gortat. They should combine to be a nice pick-and-roll combination.
With a handful of quality young athletes and a style that will continue to focus on beating teams down the floor, the Suns figure to be one of the better running teams in basketball as well.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The team appears to lack a go-to player who can take over games. There are many players who can score double-digit points, but unless Beasley really emerges no offensive star who can win a game on his own.
The Suns largely lack in experience as well, aside from Scola and backup big man Jermaine O’Neal. This is a young group that has not been through the playoff fire save for the players on the 2009-10 Suns squad that are still around.
Aside from O’Neal there’s nary a shot blocker either, and the team will really need to buy into Elston Turner’s defensive schemes to turn themselves into even a league-average defensive squad.
4. What are the goals for this team?
To “make playoffs,” as Dragic and Gortat like to say. Head coach Alvin Gentry made sure to point out at Media Day that the Suns aren’t trying to chase the Lakers this season. Although it doesn’t exactly take a basketball genius to come to that conclusion, the playoffs are a fair goal for this young team loaded with interesting talented players.
After all, hoping the young guys develop and the team plays hard every night does not exactly get your blood boiling so far as team goals go, but clearly that’s a major aim of this season as well. The past few years the Suns have been straddling the line of trying to get younger while staying competitive. Although the team surely wants to still win, cultivating young talent now is a primary goal of the season as well, perhaps more so than in seasons past.
Overall Gentry succinctly summed up what he’s going to ask of his team:
“For us, what we’re going to do is we’re going to play hard every single night and compete like crazy. We’re going to play unselfish basketball. I think if we do those things right there we’ll be a tough-minded team. If we do all of those things, we’ll take the results.”
5. Who will step up to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Nash and Hill?
You would be hard pressed to find two veterans as well-respected in the entire NBA as Nash and Hill. Their departure leaves a crater-sized leadership void to fill.
Jared Dudley feels like he already was a leader for this team, and he’s right, but of course not at the level of the Suns’ former graybeards. Dudley was always a more vocal leader than the Suns’ vets, and he expects to take that full leadership role upon himself this season.
Then there are a pair of veterans in Scola and O’Neal who have been around the block and figure to lead by example if nothing else. Gortat has been trying to be a leader since arriving in Phoenix, and we know he’s never afraid to tell a teammate exactly how he feels. Dragic has also embraced a leadership role as a more confident player in his return to Phoenix.