The Suns can count on LB


The Phoenix Suns’ offseason is officially underway.  Five months of rumors, contract talks and speculation is on the horizon.

Shaq is thought to be nearing his departure, Nash wants more money, Grant Hill remains unsigned and Amar’e is still on the trading block.

While it seems that nearly everyone on the Suns’ roster is up for grabs this offseason, Leandro Barbosa is one player who certainly “deserves” to remain a Sun in 2009.

Since being traded to the Suns on draft day in 2003, Leandro Barbosa has gone through endless changes on and off the court.

During Leandro’s rookie season, former Suns point guard Stephon Marbury took the young speedster under his wing – yes, THE Stephon Marbury.  Marbury taught the 20-year-old Barbosa the ins and outs of the NBA game.

The Brazilian native knew no one in Phoenix and found a friend and a mentor in the form of the Brooklyn-born point guard.  Their friendship grew so close that Stephon actually bought LB his first new car – a 2004 Cadillac Escalade.

Unfortunately, Marbury was dealt to the New York Knicks in January of 2004, forcing Leandro to lose his best friend and basketball mentor.

In addition to Marbury’s departure, Leandro faced a coaching change in his rookie season when Frank Johnson was fired and then-assistant Mike D’Antoni was given the reigns.

Barbosa blossomed under D’Antoni, while gaining another tutor in assistant coach Dan D’Antoni.

Dan would work with LB every practice and before every game, writing up daily “gameplans” for the Brazilian Blur.

Barbosa saw his first individual NBA success while working with D’Antoni, winning the NBA’s 2006-07 Sixth Man Award and posting a career-high 18.1 ppg.  Sadly, Barbosa lost another teacher and friend when Mike D left after the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

LB was a favorite of the D’Antoni boys, leading people to question his effectiveness in a different system. That different system came June 9, 2009, in the form of new head coach Terry Porter.

Leandro saw a decreased role under Porter, playing only 22 minutes per game and averaging only 12.8 ppg.

In the thick of his transition to Porter’s system, Barbosa’s mother was slowly losing a battle with pneumonia, forcing Barbosa to fly to Brazil in November of 2008.

Dona Ivete Barbosa, who Leandro considered his best friend, died of pneumonia on Nov. 14, 2008.

Barbosa, extremely sensitive and family-oriented, was devastated by the loss.  After over a week mourning the passing of his mother, an emotional LB returned to Phoenix with a heavy heart.

Barbosa continued to struggle under coach Terry Porter until Porter was canned during the All-Star break.

After losing his mother and undergoing his third coaching change in six seasons, it was hard to believe that Barbosa would be the same Brazilian Blur that Suns fans learned to love.

However, with interim coach Alvin Gentry re-implementing the run-and-gun, Barbosa played through his emotional struggle, averaging 16.8 ppg in only 27 minutes per game after the All-Star break, fourth most on the team.

After a 2008-09 season full of turmoil, Leandro Barbosa still proved to be one of the Suns’ most effective players.

Heading into what hopes to be a productive offseason for the Suns front office, Barbosa is one name that needs to be on the roster come late October 2009.

While Nash is demanding more money and Amar’e is planning where to jet to in 2010, Barbosa continues to go quietly about his work in hopes of doing whatever he can to help his team win.

Though Steve Kerr has made it clear that no one is untradeable, Barbosa has done more than his part to remain in Phoenix.

Barbosa’s current five-year, $33 million dollar deal is a steal considering his production and popularity.

The scary thing about LB is that he still has room to grow.  He showed last season that he is finally learning how to use his 6-10 wingspan to disrupt the passing lanes with 1.6 spg in the second half.

LB also proved that he is capable of running the offense, as he frequently played backup point during Goran Dragic’s rookie growing pains.

Although he may never be an All-Star in this league, Leandro Barbosa has exhibited the toughness and winning mentality that any team would desire.

When analyzing the roster this offseason, Kerr and Sarver should take a look at this comparison:

Jason Richardson

2008-09: 58 games (with Phoenix), 16.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.9 ast, 1.1 stl, 49% FG, 38% 3P, 33 min

2009-10 Salary: $13.3 mill

Leandro Barbosa

2009-09: 70 games, 14.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 ast, 1.2 stl, 48% FG, 38% 3P, 24 min

2009-10 Salary: $6.6 mill

The numbers speak for themselves.  Barbosa and J-Rich had very similar stats in the 2008-09 season, which begs the question: Why are they paying a player twice as much as they are paying a different player for the same production?

I am not saying to simply hand LB the starting gig, because what he brings off the bench is near impossible to replace.  But the team is clearly in a financial pickle, and if you can move one of your highest-paid players without worrying about a big drop in production, you do it.

After six years of NBA basketball and numerous obstacles overcame, Leandro Barbosa is more than ready to start in this league.  In 11 games as a starter last season, LB posted the stat line: 20.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.4 ast, 2.6 stl, 36 min.

Yes, I am ecstatic to have J-Rich in a Suns uni, but if a trade “needs” to be made, it seems only sensible that he is the first to go.

When Kerr and Gentry decide who stays and who goes this offseason, Leandro Barbosa “should” be the first name printed on the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns roster.