Suns to count on Fropez …. eventually


PHOENIX – If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Amare Stoudemire would miss extended time and Robin Lopez still would not crack the rotation, I would have thought you were crazier than Terry Porter trying to slow down the Suns.

Hell, I thought Lopez would make an impact in a rotation with Amare and Shaq by providing the athleticism in the pick-and-roll defense sorely lacking in last year’s San Antonio series.

But just because you look great chasing down Pac-10 point guards and smothering Pac-10 big men doesn’t mean that translates right to the NBA.

“I think he’s a hardworking kid, and it takes awhile for big guys in this league anyway,” Alvin Gentry said. “Very few of them step right in and all of a sudden are impact players unless you’re in the Shaq mode. I can see that even with Greg Oden. You just kind of know that going in and just continue to work, and I think he’s going to be fine.”

As a Pac-10 basketball writer, I watched a decent number of Lopez’s league games in college. You knew his offense would take a few years to develop as his collegiate offensive game consisted mainly of short opportunities and putbacks in contrast to his twin brother Brook’s polished offensive moves.

But Robin was such a great energy player in college that I felt like that would translate immediately, especially for a Suns team with Amare’s well-chronicled issues on the defense end and Shaq, who doesn’t exactly move like Fropez can.

There’s still no reason he can’t eventually become the Varejao-type player everybody expects him to be, but this year he’s grabbed just 6.5 boards per 40 minutes with a rebound rate (the percentage of missed shots a player boards) at 9.6.

Meanwhile, Lou Amundson corrals 11.9 boards per 40 with a RR of 15.2 and even 6-foot-7 Matt Barnes collects 8.2 per 40 with an RR of 12.1.

Clearly, Lopez must work on his rebounding, and he has not been the dominant defender he was in college although he does add a shot-blocking element to the Suns.

Still, he’s a legit seven-footer, and besides Shaq the Suns are playing the 6-foot-9 Amundson and three 6-foot-7 guys up front. Thus Gentry expects the Suns to be forced to speed up Lopez’s learning curve and throw him in the fire down the stretch, something he spoke to the rookie about on Tuesday.

“Somewhere along the line we’ll have to use him some because we’re just so doggone small that we’ll see if he can get in and help us a little bit on the boards and just being bigger and longer,” Gentry said.

‘It’s just going to take a little time’

Amare Stoudemire has been nowhere near US Airways Center since undergoing surgery on a torn retina last week, but don’t think he’s going all Stephon Marbury on us.

The Suns want him to rest at home because there’s nothing he can do around the team to better his situation.

Gentry spoke to Stoudemire on Tuesday and learned his eye is still painful and fills up with blood. Gentry expects STAT to return to the team after its four-game road trip next week.

“It’s just a time thing,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with anything except it’s just going to take a little time.

“He wants to be here, believe me. He really wants to be here, but it’s kind of one of those deals where what’s best for him physically, and we think right now just having him rest and stay around his house is the way to go.”

The coach doesn’t expect Amare to even begin doing “minor, minor stuff” for a couple weeks.

The Big Crime Scene

After Tuesday’s game, Shaq’s locker and the empty locker next to his were covered in “do not cross” yellow police tape. A toy police car rested in his locker.

None of his teammates dared fess up to creating the scene of a crime, and even Shaq claimed not to notice.

“What yellow tape?” Shaq asked. “I’m color blind, I don’t see any of that.”

Grant Hill called the whole thing “silly,” but Shaq was in no mood to joke when a reporter asked him about famed Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – who took away Shaq’s badge in June after his Kobe rap – challenging him to a free-throw contest.

“I don’t know who that is,” Shaq said. “I work for Chief Tom Ryff, Tempe PD.”

If such a contest were to take place, Sheriff Joe better work on his stroke because the Daddy is 16-for-23 (69.6 percent) at the line in five games since the break after Tuesday’s 6-for-7 performance.

“I’m always in a groove, baby,” he said. “I’m Shaqovic.”

No exaggeration

When Leandro Barbosa went for 41 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six steals last Friday against the Thunder, Steve Nash called them “Jordan-like numbers.”

Turns out since steals became an official statistic in 1973, only two players have reached such benchmarks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Walt Frazier with 41 points, 11 assists, seven boards and six steals in 1977 and, of course, Michael Jordan, with 41 points, 11 dimes, 10 rebounds and six steals in 1989.

And 1

Speaking of Nash, The Arizona Republic reported he will make the trip to Los Angeles despite an ankle injury suffered on Tuesday but will be a game-time decision. …

The Republic also reported the Suns would target Joe Smith with their empty roster, and that jibes with Gentry’s statement on Tuesday about the Suns not wanting to add a player just for the sake of adding a player after sending Courtney Sims back to the D-League.

Smith, a 13-year veteran, is expected to be bought out by Oklahoma City. He’s averaging just 6.6 points and 4.5 boards in 19.2 minutes per game, but the 6-foot-10 performer would provide the Suns with much-needed experienced depth up front.