NBA PM: The West’s Surprise Team?
The Western Conference has been ridiculously tough over the last few seasons, with one or two games meaning the difference between making the playoffs or missing out, as well as having home court advantage or starting the postseason on the road.
It’s been just that close.
Naturally, with rosters all but set, we’ve already been starting to look at who the top teams in the league might be, and on the West side it’s harder than ever to decide which teams are the likely postseason qualifiers. There is one team, however, that seems to be getting the least attention, and it’s a team that could very well be in a bracket when the dust settles on the 2012-13 NBA season.
Losing Steve Nash and Grant Hill are blows to the Phoenix Suns, for sure, though those were also pieces of a past that Phoenix has quickly left behind. The payroll for the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals a couple of seasons ago was more than majority owner Robert Sarver was willing to sustain, and he began moving in a new direction when he traded Amar’e Stoudemire, the front court foundation of that team. When GM Lance Blanks traded Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers this summer it represented the end of that era altogether.
It was an exciting era, to be sure, with edge-of-your-seat postseasons series against the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Lakers, in particular, but they never captured the ever-elusive NBA championship.
Rest assured, there are equally exciting times ahead for the Suns.
To start with, while Goran Dragic is no Nash, he is also not the same player he was when Suns fans last saw him. He is a much more controlled player, who often exhibits the court vision he learned while mentoring under Nash. A Kyle Lowry injury forced Dragic into a starting role with Houston last season, and during his 28 starts he averaged 18.0 points and 8.4 assists while shooting 84 percent from the foul line, 38 percent from three and 49 percent overall. As a starter last season he was more efficient than Chris Paul, to put those numbers into perspective. The Suns will miss Steve Nash, but Dragic is more than ready to lead his own team.
The Suns have also ramped up their front court game with the additions of Luis Scola and Jermaine O’Neal, two solid veterans who will contribute as much off the court as they will on it. In the case of O’Neal, he will likely contribute a lot more off of it, as the likelihood that he will play a lot of games is, as always, low. Scola is a tough customer, and will push his new teammates to new heights, and two players in particular need just such a push.
The real x-factors for the Suns, the players who will likely determine whether or not the team makes the playoffs, will be Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson. Of all the new additions, these two players have the most to prove, but they also have the most potential to do so. If Beasley will listen to head coach Alvin Gentry, whose system is ideal for Beasley’s skill set, and pay attention when Scola talks, he could finally find his home in Phoenix. As for Johnson, if he can’t get an open look in Phoenix he will never get one. The three-point specialist has struggled to be a reliable shooter during his brief tenure in the NBA, and if he can’t find his shot soon Phoenix might be his last stop. If, on the other hand, he finally finds himself in Phoenix, he could turn out to be one of the real steals of the summer. Like Beasley, he fits Gentry’s system to a tee.
Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley are solid vets, Kendall Marshall and Markieff Morris have great potential, and Channing Frye can kill a team with his three-point shooting. In short, the Suns have a very nice mix of young and improving players, established veterans, players with something to prove and a potential star in Dragic.
Most of the early predictions, even, from our own staff, have the Phoenix Suns missing the playoffs in 2012-13, but don’t be surprised if those predictions are selling Phoenix short. The Steve Nash era might be over, but another era of greatness could be right around the corner.
Blatche Headed For Brooklyn?
Free agency is all but over in the NBA, yet there are still a few players out there trying to find a home before the start of training camp. Among them is Andray Blatche, who is in Houston working out with John Lucas as he prepares for his next NBA gig. His most recent meeting was with the Brooklyn Nets. Blatche talks with HOOPSWORLD about his breakup with the Washington Wizards, how John Lucas is helping him, his chances of landing with the Nets and more in this exclusive interview:
Bill Shonely Gets His Due
Admittedly, I didn’t really know what it was all about.
All I knew was my grandmother couldn’t stop yelling at the radio.
From the box, which was attached to a record player, came phrases like: “Lickety brindle up the middle,” “He takes it across the cyclops,” “Vandeweghe for threeeee!” and, of course, “Rip City, baby!”
I didn’t know what it was all about, but I knew it was extremely important to my grandmother.
Over the years, of course, I came to know the voice of Portland Trail Blazers radio guy Bill Shonely all too well. I discovered the NBA for myself when Hakeem Olajuwon was drafted by the Houston Rockets. By then my grandmother had been singing the praises of Clyde “The Glide” Drexler for more than a year, and I had become a casual fan of the league. When Olajuwon was drafted, I was sucked completely in. I still cheered for Portland along with my grandmother, but when I was back home in Houston I was all about the Rockets.
Long-time Rockets announcer Bill Worrell will not doubt have his day, but this year it’s Bill Shonely and his Rip City routine who will be given the Curt Gowdy Award for Broadcasting on Thursday.
Shonely was the original voice of the Blazers, and his career with the team literally spanned three generations. My grandmother was first, then my dad, who was never a hard core sports fan but enjoyed listening to Shonely call a game, and then me. My grandmother died in 1996 at the age of 92, and while she had a hard time remembering much of anything at the end, her ears perked up when the subject of the Blazers arose. She didn’t live to see her hero honored with what is essentially a hall of fame induction, but somewhere her spirit is paying close attention.
A special thanks to Bill Shonely, the voice of the Blazers, and one of the voices of my youth. It’s hard to imagine a person more worthy of such an honor.
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