How did the Suns get here?

In his latest column, regular Steve Kerr critic Bill Simmons breaks down the series of events that turned around the Phoenix Suns.

You need luck with these things. Somehow, some way, Kerr got lucky four straight times. In order …

1. Gentry. Who fell from the sky, basically.

2. Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry talked himself into Shaq. Beautiful. Kerr dumped him for Ben Wallace’s expiring contract and bought Wallace out, saving Phoenix about $13 million (including tax), and leaving the Suns some wiggle room to sign Channing Frye, yet another good-chemistry guy and someone Kerr’s staff felt could spread the floor and shoot 3s. As weird as this sounds, Frye was a better fit for Phoenix than one of the greatest centers of all time.

3. Last summer, Kerr had to sign Nash — only the face of his franchise, the most popular Phoenix athlete ever and the heart of his locker room — to a contract extension. Kerr knew Nash couldn’t stop rehashing the past four years, thinking of all the couldas and wouldas and whatmightabeens. He knew Nash wondered if Kerr and Sarver knew what they were doing. He knew that, if this were anyone else, Disgruntled Superstar X would have demanded a trade or made it clear, “I’m playing this last year out, and if we fall short again, I’m out of here.”

But he also knew Steve Nash isn’t wired that way. He’s loyal. He’s Canadian. He’s old-school. He believes in things like, “I am the leader of this team, so as soon as I say that I might want to leave, I can’t lead anymore.” Nobody else would have stayed. Steve Nash stayed. Kerr promised him things would be better, that the window hadn’t closed, that he would, for lack of a better word, fix this. He even believed it.

4. After a draft-day trade with Golden State fell through last June, Kerr decided to keep Amar’e (a free agent in 2010) and hope for a quality comeback year/contract push. It wasn’t far-fetched. Amar’e was finally healthy and playing a fun style again. Why give away someone that talented? As the deadline approached and Amar’e postured for an extension that wasn’t coming, everyone attending All-Star Weekend in Dallas thought Amar’e was a goner. And if Kerr had gotten a juicy offer, he would have been. The offer never came. Amar’e stayed. Ironically, the guy trying to trade a player thought more highly of that player than anyone else.

Four lucky things. Four.

The non-trade improbably hooked Phoenix up to the Juvenation Machine. Nash was healthy and happy. So was Grant Hill. Amar’e was liberated by leaving the rumor mill, ripping off his best stretch of basketball in five years. Gentry had built his bench and boosted its confidence to game-changing heights, something D’Antoni steadfastly refused to do. Everything you needed to know about this team happened on the last day of the season, when Phoenix could have tanked to land a more favorable playoff matchup against Denver. The players voted to play, kicked Utah’s butt in Utah, then celebrated the whole way home. Grant Hill told Kerr he’d never played on a team with better chemistry. It was the happiest moment of Kerr’s career in Phoenix. Hands down.

For a time, Steve Kerr made one befuddling move after another. I never understood the urgency to break up the Nash-Marion-Stoudemire core that would have beat the Spurs in 2007 if not for a couple of bench-clearing suspensions. His decision to trade Kurt Thomas and two first round picks for a second round pick was apparently made on orders from his owner, who wanted to trim salary. But still.

Since trading away one of the greatest centers of all time, the Suns have gotten a lot better. Nash and Hill look young, and the team has a plethora of shooters to put out there with Stoudemire. It’s tough to defend four (or even five) three point shooters, especially when there’s a point guard like Nash, who’s able to break down his man and draw defenders into the lane.

I don’t know how I feel about a potential matchup with the Lakers, but the Suns certainly look like the second-best team in the West, and Kerr deserves a lot of credit for that.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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