2008 NBA Preview: #7 Phoenix Suns

Offseason Movement: The Suns signed Matt Barnes to a one-year contract. Barnes had a nice season for the Warriors two years ago (averaging 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds), but fell out of favor in Golden State and saw his minutes cut. He’s a decent three-point shooter (37% in ’06-’07) and is otherwise an energy guy with a pretty good handle. The team drafted Robin Lopez, the more defensive-minded of the Lopez twins from Stanford. (You know, Sideshow Bob.) He may be the future at center once Shaq hangs ‘em up.
Keep Your Eye On: Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq’s scoring numbers have been in a freefall since the ’04-’05 season. At that point in his career, he was averaging 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds. In 28 games with the Suns, he averaged 12.9 points and 10.6 boards. Clearly, Shaq can still rebound when he wants to. He shot 61% from the field with the Suns, but his blocks have slipped from 2.3 four seasons ago to 1.2 last season. If he is committed mentally and physically, there’s no reason that he can’t play 60-70 games at a 15/10 clip. If the Suns can get to the playoffs with everyone healthy, they’ll be a factor. If Shaq is out of shape and the knees start to bother him, the Suns season is pretty much over.
The Big Question: Will trading away Marion ultimately pay off?
GM Steve Kerr took a big risk last season when he traded Shawn Marion to the Heat for Shaq. Two years ago, the Suns were a couple of bench-clearing infractions away from upending the eventual-champion Spurs. The franchise could have kept that group together, but Marion was an offseason headache and Kerr ultimately decided to take a couple of aspirin last year. We’ll never know what would have happened had he kept that group together, but it did seem like the window was closing as the Marion drama affected the team’s chemistry.
Outlook: Cautiously optimistic. If we’re talking about getting to the Finals, the Suns are one of those teams that needs everything to break the right way. The team should benefit from a half-season and a training camp with Shaq, and if he, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire can all stay relatively healthy, the team has the juice to go a long way in the West. But Nash is 34 and Shaq is 36, so chances are one will miss significant time, and that can’t overlap with the playoffs. The Suns have spent the last few years giving away most of their draft picks, so they are pretty much “all in” this season. If they don’t make a serious run, Kerr might decide to blow the team up and start over with Stoudemire as his centerpiece.

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