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.

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NBA consensus mock draft (6/16)

Chad Ford and Draft Express updated their mocks, so it’s a good time to take another look at the consensus. I also added Rotoworld’s most recent mock to the equation, and added a column (“consensus”) that makes a pick if two or more of the mocks agree on a player.

A few random thoughts…

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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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